Kashmir has never been our priority. What is the misery in Kashmir, why do they have this misery, what is the truth behind this misery; we have never tried to learn about it. We have always seen Kashmir from the glasses of the Government, irrespective of whichever Government’s glasses they were. There are very few people among us who have been to Srinagar. Visiting Srinagar as a tourist is one thing and visiting it to understand Kashmir is a different thing. The picture of Kashmir that is embedded in our minds is that there are terrorists on each and every road and street of Kashmir and they can fire a shower of bullets at any point of time, but Kashmir is not like this. Kashmir is very beautiful, by way of its natural beauty and also by way of its people.
I went to Kashmir after nearly 25 years and I tried to find out those truths whose pursuit is the creed of a journalist. The people of Kashmir met me with a lot of love and affection, without showing any bitterness they shared their misery and without making any comments expressed their wish that the people of Hindustan should talk to them, understand their minds and feelings. One thing they are unhappy about is that there is no dialogue between the people of Hindustan and maybe because of this the people of Hindustan are not able to understand the grief and misery of the people of Kashmir. The people of Kashmir also have a lot of complaints about the media of Hindustan. They say that the Hindustani newspapers write something on Kashmir only when there is an encounter in Kashmir, when there is stone throwing or a big ‘hartal’ ( strike ). When Kashmir remains peaceful, then the Hindustani media does not evince interest in Kashmir.
These days Kashmir is a peaceful place. The discontentment of 2008-09 and 2010 cannot be seen on the roads. The Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has written a book on the situation of Kashmir and he has said in the book that tourists are coming to Kashmir, the markets are open in Kashmir, schools are open, this does not mean that everything is fine in Kashmir. This narration of the Director General evoked a lot of criticism in India and some leaders even went on to demand that Government officials should be banned from the right of writing books. The people of Kashmir say what type of democracy is this, which speaks of keeping even thoughts under watch. They said clearly that the beauty of democracy is because every person who lives there can get an opportunity to give free expression to thoughts without any fear.
Indian politicians, journalists and the common people should visit Kashmir and build a humane relationship that comes from the heart with the people of Kashmir. There is still time, and that time is still there because Kashmir is still peaceful. Whether or not the Government takes advantage of this opportunity, the politicians of this country should take advantage of it and involve themselves in the problems of the Kashmiris. Tomorrow it might be too late.
I roamed about in almost all the areas of Srinagar and I got indications that this is the opportune time for the problems of Kashmir to be given the foremost priority with seriousness. In Kashmir I met the Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah of the Jammu Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party. I had a fairly long conversation with them. One thing which all of them said was that the Indian Government should listen to peaceful voices. If the Indian Government does not listen to peacefully presented demands then it would send a message that it understands only the language of unrest, weapons and destruction.
I also had a meeting with former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti. Mufti Sahib, before becoming the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had been the Home Minister of the country. He clearly believes that this is the exact time when the Indian Government should take the initiative of building confidence in Kashmir. Mehbooba Mufti showed me a photograph, in which an 11 year old child was being taken away by the police. The allegation was that this child was working against the country. Catching the hand of the policeman with one hand and her brother’s hand with the other hand, his 7 year old sister is seen shedding copious tears. Mehbooba Mufti asked me a question that if you think that an 11 year old child is not with India then who is there in Kashmir who is with India? This question is not only Mehbooba Mufti’s, but that of almost all the people residing in Kashmir.
There is no doubt that Kashmir is co-terminous with Pakistan, so the Army will always be stationed there. But what should be the size of the Army there and what should be the role of the Army, a debate on this is necessary. The people of Kashmir are ‘terrorised’ of the Army, they tell many stories about the terror of the Army. When a single soldier of the Army commits a mistake then his blame comes on the entire Army. This is the time to think whether the people of Kashmir are our brothers, human beings or partly slaves.
The names of Kashmiri leaders which I have written above, they all want that Hindustan’s political parties should understand the view point of the Kashmiris, but they regret that the political parties of India, like the Indian Government, do not give priority to Kashmir. They have respect for some of the leaders like Prakash Karat, A. B. Bardhan, Arun Jaitley, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mani Shankar Aiyar, but these leaders too, like the Indian Government, do not feel Kashmir is their priority. If any of them visits Kashmir, then he goes quietly to take some rest. The people of Kashmir want to build communication with these leaders.
In Kashmir, there is a lot of suspicion in the air about the interlocutors appointed by the Indian Government. The Kashmiri leadership believes that their reports are not correct. The people of Kashmir believe that a major part of their report is prejudiced and far from reality. The people of Kashmir have a huge amount of respect for Atal Behari Vajpayee. They feel that if Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have remained the Prime Minister of the country for a few more days then he might have done a lot to resolve the problems of Kashmir. The speech given by P. Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha during his tenure as the Home Minister had also raised a lot of hopes in the minds of the people of Kashmir. He had said that Kashmir is a unique problem and its solution would also be unique, but his statement remained just a statement.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani called for a Bandh in Srinagar; I extended my stay by a day, because I wanted to see for myself the reality of the Bandh called by this alleged separatist. On the day of Bandh I roamed around all of Srinagar and found that 90 per cent of the shops were closed, buses were not plying on the roads and neither were there any crowds or hustle bustle in the streets. In spite of this whoever wanted to walk on the roads was not being stopped by anyone. Private cars were running, private taxi were running, some hotel owners had even kept their hotels open, but they were not being stopped or closed by anybody through force of sticks or by noisy slogans. When a Bandh is called by political parties in Delhi or in any other part of the country, then the working members of the party close the shops by force, they damage autos and taxis and put fire to Government property. By looking at this Bandh in Srinagar I felt that it was voluntary and the hidden strength behind this Bandh should be understood. There are a lot of misconceptions in our mind related to Srinagar. The first misconception is that the Pakistani Flag is hoisted in each and every household, the people of Kashmir want to merge with Pakistan. This also is not true, because they know that when Pakistan cannot even provide food to its own people, cannot bring about development, and is unable to provide employment then what will it give to them. The misery of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is also known to the people of Srinagar. They want that the agreements made with them should be fulfilled, they should be viewed respectfully, they should not be made fun of and they should not be dealt with in the manner of a “Sone Ke Pinjre Me Bandh Chiriya” (a bird in a golden cage).
The Chief Minister of Kashmir is Omar Abdullah, the people of Kashmir had a lot of expectations from him and those expectations have not ended. The people believe that Omar Abdullah has to do a lot on the signals of Delhi, but he is a Kashmiri, is young, so it is possible that he might be able to do something for the problems in Kashmir. On my asking whether the people of Kashmir will again give a chance to Omar Abdullah in 2014, the people answered, maybe they will. The other name that is already preparing for the elections, is that of Mehbooba Mufti. Indian politicians, journalists and the common people should visit Kashmir and build a humane relationship that comes from the heart with the people of Kashmir. There is still time, and that time is still there because Kashmir is still peaceful. Whether or not the Government takes advantage of this opportunity, the politicians of this country should take advantage of it and involve themselves in the problems of the Kashmiris. Tomorrow it might be too late.