Kashmir - the Forgotten Occupation
A young girl is sitting in front of me, ironing the white shalwar kameez that is her uniform, ready for school the next day. We have been chatting about the usual stuff - clothes, movies, school... I ask her about the halats and how it affects her - halat meaning the situation. No more needs to be said: she knows I am talking about.
what has repeatedly been termed The Kashmir Issue. "So many girls have been raped in Kashmir and so many of them are known to me," she said. "One girl was interrogated and raped in front of her begging father-in-law." She sees the tears in my eyes, folds the kameez she has just finished ironing and picks up the shalwar. "This is what happens all the time - our lives are built around deaths, rapes, murders. For two days we go to college and then for the next four days it's closed because of a curfew or something going on."
This is not a joke to them, there is no childlike joy in being given a day off school. She feels it is impossible to gain freedom now - "when the gun comes in somewhere, it does not easily disappear. Look how beautiful Kashmir was, now it is hell. It was heaven, now it is hell."
Who is this young girl that is telling me this so calmly - with no trace of naive emotion - with the air of someone who has gone beyond that and has pent up all tears as being useless? This is Feroza - my cousin, dear to me as my own sister.
"You just have to tighten your stomach muscles like this - each time, before they hit you," he says laughingly. "That iron rod will leave a lot more bruises if it comes down on a soft stomach," continues the smiling young man trying to wave away the fear in my eyes and the pain I feel for him, for he is my mum's brother, my uncle, interrogated and tortured by the Indian army.
You don't really want me to go on in this way do you? I don't intend this to be a sob story about how my family and me "back home" in Kashmir have suffered. I could just make it a quick list - a great grandfather burnt alive in his own home, a whole family made homeless by their home being burnt down, a cousin blinded by a bullet while attempting to rescue the forementioned grandfather from that fire, my grandparents along with babies and children in the family, made to sit outside in the snow for hours while the house was searched, windows smashed, personal belongings strewn. The mismatched frosted glass on the front doors is the only indication left of the brutal looting of our home.
My family are not unique in this special treatment by the Indian army, which occupies and has been occupying the valley of Kashmir for the last six decades. There is not a single family in the whole of occupied Kashmir that has not been touched by the terror.
>So does this explain why I become so passionate when people here at university with me don't even realise what is going on? "I'm originally from Kashmir" I say. "Kashmir? Where's that?" Or a slightly, I hesitate to say, better response is: "Kashmir? Like cashmere wool?"
India, who has occupied the Valley of Kashmir by force, still revels in its title of most democratic nation, with no fear of reproach from the world at large. Islamic terrorism is a word so ready at everyone's lips, but what about the extremist Hindu views of the BJP which openly wants to eradicate the Muslims of Kashmir. While America wants to liberate the people of Iraq from an oppressive régime, they ignore the cries of the people of Kashmir, who have been under the oppressive régime of their own government for the last 60 years.
In the democratic city of Delhi, one is free to do as one wants. This is a very difficult idea to describe because all of us living here in Britain take this so much for granted. The flight from Delhi to Srinagar is 45 minutes. Both are cities of a country that calls itself democratic, yet the difference in the mere atmosphere of each is staggering. Once you enter Srinagar airport it is stifling. Immediately the security checks are tripled. On emerging, in all the city and its surrounding towns and villages, one cannot walk more than a few metres without passing the imposing and threatening figure of a military man fully armed. Kashmir has the highest concentration of armed military per square mile in the whole world. Military convoys rumble past the traffic - which has to stop and allow them to pass in much the same way as we have to stop for ambulances or fire engines in the UK -only, in Kashmir there is the risk of being killed in open fire if you do not.
There was never a time when I did not feel watched on the streets. On one of my early visits to the Valley, I witnessed the dead bodies of two young men being taken away. Both covered in pure white sheets, each had one bright red bloodstain. It did not seem real. Where were the cameras I thought? Surely they were shooting for a film. The image - such a cliché in the Bollywood movies, is nothing but haunting in reality. At night I was sometimes kept awake by the firing. "Peye eman trath" curses my aunt in Kashmiri and turns in her sleep.
I take these sights and sounds back to England with me like extra baggage, which although it weighs nothing on the scales at the airport, puts a weight on my shoulders that breaks my heart.
It is truly depressing to see a people not free in their own land. A people brutally imposed upon by others. My grandmother recently came to visit us here in Britain. It was the first time she had ever ventured outside of Kashmir and it seems fitting to end with the words of a woman who had the chance to see human beings living without fear for the first time in her life - only when she left her homeland. "Oh Allah!" she would say out loud, "oh Allah! let that day come when my Kashmir too will attain the freedom you have bestowed on these people".
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Published on 10/29/04