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An open letter to Kashmiris

An open letter to Kashmiris
In this picture taken on August 9, 2019 security personnel patrol along a street in Srinagar as widespread restrictions on movement and a telecommunications blackout remained in place after the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy. (Photo by Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP)

“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

–Prophet Muhammad

Dear Kashmiri brothers and sisters,

It is easy to pontificate from a secure perch. While you have been forced to stay indoors, cut off from the world as internet is down, phones are off and curfew is on, I pen this missive, seated at my air-conditioned office. I know I am not a powerful politician, a pontiff or an imam. I am a common Indian. And ordinary individuals too have a right to opine. For how long can one see the historic events unfold and say nothing? After all, bottled up thoughts and fettered feelings needed an outlet, you see. So, here I go.

I first knew Kashmir while I was studying at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in the mid-1980s. A Kashmiri classmate, like most Kashmiri boys and girls–tall and handsome–spoke Urdu with a different accent and it was sheer joy to just listen to him. It took me sometime to understand why he pronounced Gandhi as Gandi and waqt (time) as waqat.

We would eagerly wait for this Kashmiri friend to return from vacations. Not because he would tell us how the mighty Chinar trees looked radiant during autumn. Not also because we expected him to tell us how the snow-capped Himalayas appeared invincible as they had to the poet Allama Iqbal. Addressing the Himalays, Iqbal called it India’s santri and pasban (guards). We were not interested to know how pristine and clean the waters of Jhelum looked to the naked eyes. Instead, we awaited the pouches of pistachios and other dry fruits he brought for us. Those pistachios were crunchy and tasted heavenly.

Did I say heavenly? Yes. You see, no conversation about Kashmir is complete without the mention of heaven and paradise. Wasn’t it Mughal emperor Jahangir who couldn’t help commending Kashmir’s enchanting beauty when he visited it in 17th century? He famously paid tribute to the “Paradise on Earth”, quoting Amir Khusaur’s Persian couplet: “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hamin ast, hamin ast, hamin ast (If there is a paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here). Jahangir also got built the beautiful Shalimar Baugh near Dal Lake. I have never rode shikaras on the placid Dal Lake, the jewel in the crown of Kashmir. But my younger brother who was there last summer tells me it really feels wonderful. I envy how God blessed Kashmir with so much beauty.

Sorry for the distraction. One does get digressed by beauty. Who doesn’t? Beauty is known to have melt the stoniest of hearts and hardest of souls. And you have got a whole lot of bewitchingly beautiful sites, something tour-operators justifiably market in maudlin prose. And poetry. Bollywood has banked on Kashmir heavily. How can one forget the 1964 romantic film Kashmir ki Kali and its songs, starring Shammi Kapoor and Sarmila Tagore?

Unlike the rest of India, Kashmir was not part of the territory that got prised out on August 15, 1947. But Kashmir or let us call it Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) faced an existential crisis the day a British named Radcliffe ruthlessly drew a line on the commands of another British named Mountbatten, vivisecting India into two nations—India and Pakistan. Though neither with India nor with Pakistan, Jammu &Kashmir became vulnerable.

Fearing to get annexed by Pakistan, the erstwhile ruler of J&K Maharaja Hari Singh signed an Instrument of Accession with India. With certain conditions, of course. Mark it. Neither the Maharaja nor Shaikh Abdullah whose family was destined to rule the state for decades wanted J&K to go with Pakistan. They favoured the secular, syncretic India over exclusivist and Islamic Pakistan. Having lost a few futile wars and many skirmishes over Kashmir, Pakistani rulers have sold a utopian dream to the masses. This dream is exemplified through the rousing rhetoric ‘’le ke rahange Kashmir” (we will take back Kashmir). I am not surprised if cricketer-turned Pak PM Imran Khan too reiterates his country’s oft-repeated declaration that Kashmir is its “shah rug” (jugular vein) just as India has always maintained that the state is its “atut ang” (unbreakable part).

I know you are outraged that Article 370 and 35A which gave special status to J&K have been revoked and the state has been bifurcated into two Union Territories. But if you reflect and ponder carefully and honestly, you may accept how this “special status” remained albatross around your necks. How it impeded your path to progress. And how it gave Hindutva forces in India a tool to demonise and vilify you with. You must now smell the change in the air, reconcile with the new reality brought in by the brute majority of the BJP in Parliament. And the geo-political condition around the globe. You may ask why I am addressing you and not the government which defanged Article 370 that accorded you special status.

Here is why. I remember meeting Sajjad Lone, leader of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, at a meeting at Mumbai Press Club half a decade ago. At that closed-door meeting (I was not allowed to report it by the organisers) I had huge arguments with Lone. “Mr Lone, don’t fuel separatism. Stay with India and tell the youth in Kashmir to get mainstreamed and join our growth story. Think about Muslims in rest of the country too,” I said. He tried to snub me with a harsh response: “You have not lost your father and sons. We don’t care what happens to you.” One can understand Sajjad’s pain (his father Abdul Ghani Lone was killed at a rally in Srinagar in 2002) and sympathise with him and many unnamed others in the valley who have lost their dear ones in the three decade-long conflict. Those lives didn’t need to be wasted.

Life is beautiful, and life is precious. And don’t forget the Kashmiri Pandits who were driven out of their homeland when you talk of the dreaded dark nights and menacing presence of jackboot on your soil. Home is dear to everyone and only the homeless know the true value of homes.

Dear friends, when you reflect honestly you will also realise the folly, the Himalayan blunder some leaders of the secessionist movement, aided and abetted by Pakistan, committed. They mischievously turned a battle for territory, a purely political battle, into a sort of jihad, a religious war. Just because it was a Muslim majority state, the fight didn’t merit to be turned into an Islamic battle. The bands of handsome boys, many barely out of their teens, who should have been learning to make their life useful for their families and society at large were indoctrinated to don military fatigues and carry automatic machines. Such jihadists got valorised as ‘’martyrs”’ when they fell to bullets of the military. And their “mission” was romanticised as if their fight was a fight to reclaim, not a piece of land, but the soul of Islam.

In an article eminent Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan recalls an incident in early 1992. He writes that one day two well-educated Kashmiri youths came to meet him in Delhi. They were not members of any militant group but supported the militant movement. “The men passionately defended the ‘movement’, and even claimed that shortly the Kashmiris would score a ‘glorious success’. Then, on my request, they penned a few words in my diary. ‘Once we separate from India’, they wrote, ‘our land will become an Islamic Kashmir’,” recalls Khan.

Since the boys refused to agree with Khan, the latter wrote the following words in his diary:

“If Kashmir separates from India, the independent state of Kashmir that would come into being or, if Kashmir joins Pakistan, the Pakistani province of Kashmir that would be formed, would be a destroyed and devastated Kashmir. The choice before Kashmiris is not between Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir, but, rather, between Indian Kashmir and a destroyed Kashmir.”

Nearly three decades have passed, and tens of thousands of lives have been lost since the Maulana’s meeting with the two Kashmiri boys that cold morning in Delhi, but the words of those two Kashmiris have remained wishful thinking. An independent Kashmir is a chimera, an illusion.

It is time to be realistic. The lives lost cannot be brought back; the youth wasted cannot be salvaged. But you can protect and prosper with what is not lost. Some of your discredited leaders are calling the defanging of Article 370 and 35A a conspiracy to turn Kashmir into an “open jail.” Don’t buy the propaganda that you will be “colonised” by India, your territory stolen, and your dignity tattered. You are part of us.

Once the curfew is lifted and normalcy restored, come out of your homes. Pickup, not the stones and other lethal weapons, but your pen. Don’t endanger your future and the future of your children. You don’t need to look elsewhere but to the life of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) for inspiration. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.”

By Mr. Mohammed Wajihuddin

DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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