Let’s Talk About Kashmir

On August 5, Article 370 was read down.

Even though I am not an expert on Kashmir, I have a keen interest in politics. I had mixed feelings when I heard the news. I couldn’t understand why politicians in Kashmir spoke in favour of Article 370 when it was apparently the only thing that ‘separated Kashmir from the rest of the country’.

Soon after, I read that all former chief ministers had been detained (they still are) including Farooq Abdullah, who is a current member of parliament.

I waited and then 100 days passed.

Nothing happened.

No one was talking about Kashmir. The internet was shut down and phone lines were disconnected for a long period of time.

In the meantime, the media had many things on its plate to be busy with.

So nothing happened.

Inspired by Gandhi, who had once said “be the change you wish to see”, I decided to host a small gathering to talk about Kashmir. Six people showed up.

Arunima is a senior research fellow in Mumbai University, Jugal is a journalist with Kashmir Observer, Sunil works with a non-profit organisation, Tejendra is a student at IIT-Bombay, Manasee is a teacher and Surabhi is a BPO employee.

All of us, including me, were in need of a space to talk about Kashmir.

When we met, Jugal shared his experience of his time in the Valley as a journalist. He talked about society’s collective consciousness and its general lack of empathy towards the people of Kashmir.

Arunima recounted talking to Kashmiri students at a protest.

Everyone engrossed in the discussion. Image credit: Rashmi Sinha.

Hum kya kar sakte hain. Dekh rahe hain ke kya ho raha hai (what can we even do? You can see by yourself what is happening),” a student said.

Surabhi told us about meeting a Kashmiri couple in Rajasthan who told her that they never leave their house without their Aadhaar cards.

Sunil shared his concern with the ‘We vs Them’ narrative. “Why are we creating this distinction when we talk?” he said.

Manasee had a lot of questions with the regard to the detention of the former CMs, the usurping of the freedom of speech of Kashmiris, the constitutional ethos, and so on.

Is the lockdown going to help the Kashmiris to decide to anything? What is Azadi really? Can’t we do anything to put an end to the unrest first? What about the constitution of the country? Why and how was it not applicable to Kashmir when the three former CMs were under detention and were being asked to sign bonds to not speak about Kashmir for one year? Is this trade of exchange of freedom to speak in lieu of freedom to be a democracy? And now that Article 370 has been read down, how is it okay to detain politicians without any charge? And till when? It’s been 110 days.

The media narrative, Tejinder said, has been built to keep news from Kashmir away amidst the discussions around the National Register of Citizens and the Ayodhya verdict. These issues, according to him, cut short the reaction time to what was and is still happening in Kashmir.

People are grappling with news one after another with no time to react and respond. There is a certain level of undercurrent othering that has been happening for a while now. This has led to people mellowing down, taking whatever is coming their way. My issue is with the lack of protests. There are always two sides to a coin but here, only one side is getting the leverage while the other side is dissolving into oblivion. Whenever there is friction, there is negotiation and eventually comes a better deal for both sides of the coin.

Jugal, a journalist himself, rued that many media houses today are pro-government – in plain sight.

“Kashmir ranks one in the world for the number of internet-shutdowns. There is no access to the internet till date, and the Kashmiri media organisations are dying a slow death. The schools are open with very less number of students turning up for classes. How are people mentally coping with so much restraint for such a long time, with no end in sight?” he said.

In my opinion, the country has a right to know what is happening in Kashmir.

Our final wish is to know more about our fellow Kashmiri citizens, their heartbreaks, their pain, their joys and their lives right now.

We desperately want a stronger media and more information to flow.

So let’s keep talking.

Rashmi Sinha is a mother of two, a freelancer and she is passionate about politics, books and movies. She has worked in the social sector for the last couple of years

All images provided by the author