Kashmiri: a refugee in my own nation, a stranger in my own land

By Meha Pant
One of many protests in Srinagar, the largest city in Jammu and Kashmir.

One of many protests in Srinagar, the largest city in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even though the demographic division of the populace had been 95 percent of Muslims to five percent of that of Hindus, peace and Kashmiriyat had prevailed in the valley since generations. The Kashmiri Muslims or Hindus had rarely suffered from the damaged  pangs which had linked the Indian and the Pakistani nation from each other until and unless the division of India took place followed by the attacks on the periphery of Kashmir. The religion was embedded in the Kashmiri tradition and local patriotism was all about the love for the valley. Kashmir had always been about Kashmiriyat, not Islam or Hinduism. Every new creed that stepped into the valley was seen with distinction and what remained was its enrichment in accordance to the Kashmir traditions. According to Stein, the celebrated translator of Rajtarangi, “Kashmir can claim the distinction of being the only region of India which possesses uninterrupted series of written records of its history” clearly stating the high pedestal the love for the valley was kept through generations. Religion and taking sides was something which only got highlighted with the invasions from the Pakistani side and the resulting increase in the presence of armed forces in the valley.

The pacifist and non-violent peaceful attitude of the populace had always been about the culture, even the distinction of the governance was on the basis of Kashmiri or non-Kashmiri rulers rather than that of Hindu and Muslims like the rest of India. The dawn of the Mughal hold in the valley was an alarm of the lost independence for the region furthered by the successive governments in Delhi after independence on the pretext of maintaining the secular credentials of the valley in the disturbed times.

Both the Marxist and the liberal variants of thinkers and executors had once dreamt of a tide which would wash away the divisions based on religion, ethnicity and nation-identities by the waves of modernisation and rationality. Rather the dawn of modernity was accompanied  with bloodshed and violence in many nations and displacement of populations in other. The bloodshed which prevailed in the medieval times by kings and nations was followed by the same, but now through well established diplomacy and war against the forces they themselves had created. .

As the volatility of the international environment continues with around 26 million refugees all over the world, dwelling into the fear of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat amongst the people is something which desires attention which has been much sort after by both the nation and the world. The contradictions and inconsistencies are solely based on a tussle between Pakistan’s religious nationalism which considers Kashmir its vital part, India’s living up to the image of secular nationalism even though the actions way differ from the words and the fight of Kashmiri’s to protect the very essence of Kashmiriyat. Yet the state repression cannot be legitimized on the basis of secularism and democratic functioning, something which the Kashmiri’s have lost track of with time. The gross violations of human rights in the valley along with a dysfunctional judiciary system has lead to dissatisfaction amongst the Kashmiris. As a result of which they have walked down the streets to voice their opinion for self-determination which is their right yet to be adhered to. But what is new is the stone-pelting by the authorities, injuring many while killing few and increasing the aggression amongst the already turbulent people.

The battered populace is forced to support the militants as their faith in the Indian democracy is shaken as a result of the suppressive measures taken by the Indian army in the name of prevailing peace and harmony for the Kashmiris from Pakistan, a state accused of harboring and sponsoring terrorism by the Indian government.

A million metaphors find alcove in this situation of free floating meaning (mythology, Kashmir as a primeval lake) and so does the battle between truth and lies. Small truth engulfed by bigger lies sailing between the bureaucracies of New Delhi, Islamabad and the world takes away the essence of the dispute while the mass becomes the victim. Gobbled down lies and hidden truths have caused the populace to seek respite in a place away from home on the pretext of a better tomorrow if not for them but for their children and the generations to come. Denied of their basic rights in an environment surrounded by violence and human rights violations the Kashmiris seem to be left with no choice either stay or leave the very land they so praise. Guns, bunkers, curfews, searches, barbed wires, unmarked mass graves, torture and detention centers have become the children’s toys and life of a normal Kashmiri. Bringing this into the paradox the Kashmir problem continues to intensify the Kashmiris to leave their native homes in search of a better future to the Indian mainland, a choice which does not suffice their longing for respect. Something which has done nothing but break the culture, economy and most important the unity and Kashmiriyat of the state.

The land beyond their own 

Isolated, differentiated and broken they stand shaken by every move taken by the Indian army or the militants, praying for their family in Kashmir. This is very much the story of around twenty thousand displaced Kashmiris in Delhi. The refugees in their own nation, they stand shaken over losing the land they so loved and adored for the politics of a few and the suffering of the many. With around 30,000 and 100,000 orphaned these years of insurgency the post traumatic stress sores high in the minds of the populace.

Except the land they call their own there remains nothing for a Kashmiri refugee to hold on to when in Delhi. The economy of the region remains standstill with no hope for rehabilitation or relief many are left to leave everything for a better future or even a search for meeting their basic needs. The recent incident of setting government schools in Kashmir on fire by terrorists has again devoured the hopes of the children in the valley for a better future.

Many curse their birth as a Kashmiri due to the various denials and abuses they face in the wake of the rising nationalism or rather Hindu nationalism, which straightaway shuns a Kashmiri Muslim of treachery and a Kashmiri pandit of taking away the jobs of the mainland with privilege. None understand what they have gone through in their lives to come out of a once prosperous land which was known for its beauty and culture.

The conspicuous absence of liberties and rights in their state draws them towards a life away from Kashmir only to discover the constant tensed environment they have to stay in order to make a life for themselves. The terrorist threats and the rise of involvement of Kashmiri youth in militancy has lead to the attitude towards them to be harsher. A Muslim Kashmiri was quoted as saying “the floods destroyed our lands and houses there, leaving us no choice but to leave out land, yet we live in fear in Delhi. Any incident in Kashmir or an anti-Hindu comment will land us more into trouble than a Hindu commenting on the same. The only reason is of being a Kashmiri.”

While well searched at every stop from Kashmir, the people residing in Delhi are well kept track off with constant questioning and checks by the Delhi police. The only reason being stated is the security of the rest and a series of checks and balances for curbing any terror threats. The scenario has tightened up with the attack on the parliament and the increase in militancy in borders and attacks on Pathankot. Until and unless rich enough to afford a high class livelihood, a normal Kashmiri resident needs to be on a constant vigilance of his actions, words and company to avoid getting into trouble with the mass or the authority. The merchants who run a business of shawls and carpets quote the change in behavior of people every time any terrorist incident happens in Kashmir, cursing them of being the root cause of disturbance in India and the death of their people. While the business too suffers, every incident reports to around 20 percent decline in their trade with sales going down. The recent strife between India and Pakistan with the ‘‘surgical strike’’ has once again raised the question of the loyalty of the Kashmir Muslims, where the wave of nationalism again strikes back at their business and the safety of their family.

The displaced Kashmiri Hindu on the other hand constantly complain of the pain of isolation and displacement which in itself was not by choice but compulsion. Blaming the militancy in the region they seem to blame the Muslims, desiring them to go to Pakistan if they are so into supporting their illicit activities in the nation.

The situation is hard to handle and understand as it is said that the pain can only be understood by the one on whom the wrath is bestowed. One was forced out by compulsion of safety while another faces a threat to security in one’s own land.  Though the Indian government itself caught in the tussle between the fight against terrorism for Kashmir and maintaining the welfare of the Kashmiri populace, has taken several measures and initiated policies benefitting the populace. Yet the war between the right and the wrong has spread its claws of destruction both social and economical realm, leaving none to gain a peaceful all round development which is a basic human right.

The question of Kashmiri refugees in Delhi is something which is an emotional aspect if nationalism is taken out of the scenario to understand the emotional aspect of a human being. Yet until the Kashmiriyat is alive so is the essence of Kashmir in the hearts of every Kashmiri in Delhi and beyond.


About the author:

Meha Pant is a Doctoral Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University . She has recently submitted her Phd  on the Topic “Transnational Border Security Threats and State Capacity in Central Asia: A Case Study of Tajikistan”. While her Mphil dissertation highlighted the “ Pakistan –Central Asia relations 1991-2001”. With an understanding on international politics and security dimensions of the Central Asian-South Asian forum Meha Pant has participated in a number of conferences and workshops while with a few publications ranging from that of Human trafficking in Nepal,  A Region of Association and Turbulence: Highlighting the relationship Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, and UN Involvement in Afghanistan :Post-Taliban Reconstruction


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Human Nations and any of its campaigns and projects.

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