Growing up, I heard many stories about Kashmir, the paradise on Earth. Even though my family had some of their best experiences in this beautiful place, I also heard stories full of prejudice against the people of Kashmir. Even though my family has been doing business with Pakistan and Afghanistan, trusting the Muslim community has always been a challenge, deeply coloured with the trauma of the partition.
History is never black and white, and I am sure some of the anger and mistrust against the Kashmiri Muslims might be justified. I guess the betrayal of the Kashmiri pandits, and the injustices towards their community have created a really big divide. The people of Kashmir have been facing similar betrayal, which started with the forced annexation of Kashmir, and the unjust treatment by the Indian army of innocent civilians.
The first time I went to Kashmir, I myself experienced the hardships of living in a region where you have a gun pointing at your head the whole time. It is quite strange but I feared the army more than any terrorist, as the army was all around me, and had the power to shoot on sight without a question. Armed Forces Special Powers Act has taken the life of more than 10,000 innocent victims since it was enforced
I am very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to meet many Kashmiris, and at the recent Asia Pacific Youth Conference I met two friends from Kashmir. The conversation with them proved to be much more effective than watching Times Now or NDTV, as most of my opinions are often shaped by these mainstream media channels. Tahmeed and Mushtaq said that Burhan Wani took up the gun because he was left with no choice, as his innocent brothers were killed and no one was willing to hear about the injustice that happened to his family. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act protects the army personnel who killed Burhan and his brothers. So the people of Kashmir are fighting for human dignity, freedom of voice and justice. These are fundamental human rights that are enshrined in our democratic constitution.
The response of the Indian state has been of intolerance and denial. According to Greater Kashmir, a daily newspaper from Kashmir, more than 75 innocent Indian Kashmiris have been killed by the Army since the death of Burhan Wani.
I believe that what we need is to take an honest look at ourselves and start a true citizens dialogue. People need to be heard, and politicians for once have to come down to the people, rather than meet behind doors.
We need to petition the Indian Government and the Indian Army to bring more humane ways of managing the mobs. For one, instead of using pellet guns, they can use water cannons and lathis. However, this is just a short-term trust-building measure, as both sides need to be heard and we need a space for listening to the people of Kashmir. We know in our hearts that violence, conflict and hate are not the answer. Last month my friends in the Asia Pacific Youth Conference and I let go of our differences and chose to sit together, eat together and look at our history of conflicts and trauma: Muslims and non-Muslims, Chinese Malaysians and Malaysians, people from Papua and East Timor, Kashmiris and other Indians.
If we can resolve our differences, so can our leaders in our countries. Being from India, I can challenge my Prime Minister to apologize to the people of Kashmir, and create a space for dialogue from both sides. If Kashmir is an integral part of India, and the one and only paradise, let’s not wait. Let’s act now, reach out to our friends in Kashmir, and let’s support them in this time of despair. This is a country of Gandhi, Buddha and Kabir. Ahimsa is a path that has shown us the light in the past and it will again if only we surrender and have faith.
Rishabh Khanna currently works with Initiatives of Change in Sweden on building social cohesion in Stockholm, and supporting peace development projects in Somalia. He has also been involved in the Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy (TIGE) programme since 2009. He has been involved in Kashmir since 2009, particularly on issues of environment and sustainable development. In 2010 he helped to organise a conference on how Kashmir could develop sustainably, which was greatly appreciated by the state and civil society.
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.
Kiran Gandhi, who serves on the International Council of Initiatives of Change International, writes: In relation to Rishabh's article on the subject, I wish to share my Letter to The Editor, which appeared in one of India's very respected and widely read English dailies, The Hindu, on 30 August, 2016. A lot of my Kashmiri friends were very thankful for it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has expressed anguish at the situation and especially at the loss of so many lives. However, we have yet to see any fresh strategy in dealing with the impasse. I pray for honest introspection in India and by Indians, and acceptance of where we have gone wrong. It will be a very long road for building trust with the people of Kashmir. The letter is as follows:
Ending the Kashmir crisis
It is high time that the Indian state and the rest of India stop treating Kashmir as a prized possession that they must not let slip from their hands and which Pakistan is trying to snatch away (“Kashmir and the clash of symbolisms”, Aug.29). Kashmir is not an object. It is a territory with people. Enough injury has been inflicted on the pride of Kashmiris by successive Central governments, political parties and the armed forces. Perhaps an apology is due to the people of the State by all of us as a nation. This may be a gateway to lasting peace.
Kiran P Gandhi, Pune