I love my freedom. Therefore, I hate to deny others, their freedom. India needs to wake up from its forced state of denial on Kashmir and listen to the deafening voices from the valley. There was a time when I thought, like most others in India, that Kashmiris don’t have a reason to complain – unlike British India, Kashmir is not a colony; it is an integral state in India; Pak-backed terrorists are waging a reign of religious terror on the secular India. All of it could still be true; all of it could be wrong. The only people who know the truth, now, are the Kashmiris.
Matters of language, religion and nationality belong to the realms of the heart. Logic, rarely, has a role to play. I, who think of myself to be a fiercely patriotic Indian, still cannot accept Hindi to be my ‘national’ language. My North-Indian friends, and many Tamils too, could never understand my reluctance to embrace an ‘Indian’ language. This, I believe, does not make me any less Indian than anybody else. But, hypothetically fearing, if I am to choose between my language and my country, I do not know for sure which way I will go; to confess the truth, my bleeding heart, if, in the absence of any scope for reconciliation, might tilt towards my language.
With this personal background, I am fully able to empathize with what a Kashmiri might be going through. I have been to Srinagar, a few years back, on a luxury trip. The sight of armed Indian soldiers dotting every hundredth meter of the deserted highways did not give me any sense of normalcy in the region. The very few interactions I had with the locals, did not betray any sense of belongingness to the Indian nation.
Today, the only arguments that I hear in India, are that we spent billions of rupees on developing Kashmir. Thousands of our soldiers have laid their lifes to ‘protect’ Kashmir. Kashmiris, on paper, have more freedom in India than even other Indians. The question of freedom, unfortunately, is beyond, and never bound by, any of these.
As long, as the Kashmiris were fighting with weapons, it was easy for us to write them off as terrorists. Not any more. They have also started to realize the power of non-violence. Thousands of people engaging in peaceful protests can do wonders to influence the collective conscience of a country. I am not sure how long the peaceful protests will last but a sustained non-violent movement in Kashmir will heavily dent India’s sense of pride over giving birth to Gandhi and Satyagraha.
It is time, India listens to the Kashmiris. Let us give them the right to determine their future. They have the freedom to choose. And, we should shatter the fetters that shackle our freedom to listen. Maybe, when confronted with the chance to exercise their choice, the Kashmiris might take a favourable view of the advantages of being part of India.
If they decide to part ways, so be it. To a billion pairs of eyes, it may be a wrong and an irrational choice. How does it matter, though? Right or wrong, it is their choice.