Vishwa Samvad Kendra, Karnataka
Recently I visited Kashmir Valley and got the opportunity to spend time and interact with Kashmiris staying in a remote village called Larnoo as well as few days in Srinagar city. It gave me a good insight into the Kashmir imbroglio and challenges that we as Indians have in front of us as a Nation which has its roots in plurality, diversity, democracy and mutual acceptance. My previous visit to Kashmir valley was in 2010, when the Separatist movement was at its peak with large scale violence, stone pelting, and firing happening almost every day in different parts of the Valley. This time there was relative peace all over, though few days ago, 8 Army men were killed in an ambush by terrorists near Srinagar.
One of the main purpose of the visit was to attend my friend Sandeep Bhat’s wedding in Anantnag. It was a great occasion meeting my friend after so many years. Sandeep Bhats family like hundreds of other Kashmiri Hindu families were forced to leave Kashmir Valley in 1989-1990, when separatists selectively targeted Kashmiri Hindus and created an atmosphere in which they had no option other than to leave the valley. But still there are few Hindu families in Kashmir Valley who did not leave during that time. And Sandeeps wedding happening in Kashmir is a welcome sign and an indication that there is a strong urge in hundreds of Kashmiri Hindu families who are right now settled in Jammu and Delhi to return back to their homes in Kashmir Valley. I was glad to attend the wedding and meet all his family members.
At around 5:30 in the evening, Mohammed Faizal, a School teacher, came to receive me in Anantnag. We both boarded a Sumo (the most used vehicle for public transport in Kashmir Valley) to Larnoo. Larnoo is a small village which is a one and half hour drive from Anantnag. The journey was very scenic and soothing with mountains, valleys, rivers, and streams on the way. I then started thinking about the turbulence that Kashmir has been going through the past few decades. But I felt that all these beautiful mountains and rivers were in peace with itself, unaffected by any external disturbance created by human interference. We reached Larnoo at around 7:30 and from there we had to go further up in the mountains to reach Lessoo. We reached the residence of Faizal at around 8 in the night. After having some refreshing Kashmiri tea (majority of Kashmiris drink salty tea) and snacks, I sat informally with all the family members of Faizal. There were 14 members who were staying in the house and were very glad to have me as their guest and every one of them made sure that I was feeling comfortable. After an hour or so we had our dinner. Like majority of south India and states such as Orissa, Bengal, and Assam, rice is the staple food in Kashmir. Chicken, Mutton, Paneer, Rajma are the major constituents of Kashmiri Cuisine. After dinner I spent some time with Faizal and discussed about the present situation in Kashmir and went to bed since we both were tired after the journey.
When we reached the top of the mountain, we had our tea which we had carried in a flask. There was no need to carry water bottles since there were several streams flowing through the mountain. Faizal told me that the name Anantnag has its origin from ’spring’. “Nag” in Kashmiri means ’spring’ and so Anantnag is “Endless Springs”. After spending some time in the mountains during the day in the evening we went to the banks of the river Brangi. It was serene, calm and peaceful. Faizals friend Zahoor also joined us and while walking we met 8-10 villagers who invited us for tea when they realized that I am Faizals guest. Kashmiri is the local language and not everyone speaks Hindi. Kashmiri is written in Arabic script, though I was told that there is an effort going on to re-embrace the original Kashmiri script. I also realized that many Kashmiri Muslims are also proud of their Hindu ancestry and personalities such as King Lalitaditya and Avantiverman, who ruled Kashmir, and historians such as Kalhana the author of “Rajatarangini” written in the 12th Century which gives a historical chronicle of Kashmir. Though I could see strong strains of Islamic fundamentalism in the youth, a sense of openness and eagerness for more exposure also existed. For instance, Faizal did not have any problem in me doing Surya Namaskar and Yogasan beside him while he did Namaaz;he also learnt few aasanas and pranayam from me later. In the villages, I found majority of women wearing traditional Kashmiri dress without burqa. We returned home in the night, after having dinner and an hour long chit-chat with other members of the family, and I went to bed.
The next morning Faisal and I visited Martand, a place near Anantnag where an ancient sun temple is situated. We reached Anantnag town at around 10 in the morning and took a bus to Mattan (the ancient name is Martand) and reached the Martand temple at around 11. The ancient Sun temple of Martand was built by King Lalitaditya in 500 AD. This temple was destroyed by the Islamic invader Sikander Butshikan and it is said that it took one whole year for him to destroy this temple completely. There is also a Gurudwara adjacent to the mandir and it is believed that Guru Nanak Dev had visited that site when he was returning from Tibet. Since that particular day was the birthday of Guru Hargobind, 6th Guru of Sikhs, there was a procession where hundreds of Sikhs were present. There is a spring nearby where water flows continuously to the pond in front of the Mandir, in the middle of which is a Shiv ling. After having darshan and spending some time in Mattan, we went to Nagdandi, another small town near Anantnag where there is an Ashram run by Vivekananda Kendra. I had visited this Ashram three years ago and I wanted to meet the Swamiji over there as he is not keeping well health wise. After meeting Swamiji, we had our lunch over there and spent some time in the Ashram. Several Kashmiri Hindu families have very strong ties with this Ashram, and during festivals and special occasions, hundreds of people come and stay over here. Swamiji of this Ashram has also developed good relationships with all the Muslim families of the Village. During my previous visit it was Nag Panchami day and there was Hawan, Pooja which was also attended by hundreds of Muslims of the locality. In this Ashram, there is a small temple dedicated to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at the foot of wooded hills and Samadhi of Swami Ashokananda (A Yogi who lived in this area 40 years ago) is also within the precincts of the Ashram.
We returned to Larnoo by 4 in the evening that day, and rest of the day I tried to capture the beauty of the village, mountains, and rivers in my camera. Also while talking to local Kashmiri youth and elders about the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus, it became clear to me that they sincerely believe the Separatist propaganda that the then Governor Jagmohan who asked Kashmiri Hindus to stay away from the Kashmir Valley, so that he can wipe out Kashmiri Muslims without any difficulty. We all now know that there was no element of truth in that statement. But when I asked them whether they would like to see Kashmiri Hindus back in Kashmir, they all replied in affirmative.
The next day morning was my flight from Srinagar. The previous day night, I was contemplating on my experience that I had in Kashmir, and I felt that one possible solution to this problem is people through people interaction and relationship. If Kashmiris get more and more exposure with the rest of India, like having education in other cities and meeting people of different backgrounds, this can widen their horizons and remove the negative notions and biases that they have about the rest of India and Indians. At the same time, people of rest of India also have a big role to play such as finding ways to build relationships with families in Kashmir and spending time interacting and living together, instead of just visiting as tourists. Unfortunately mainstream political parties are not doing this and in addition to that they are adding fuel to the fire. Similarly our Armed forces have a role to play, and they are doing an exemplary job by maintaining peace and countering terrorism in the Valley. But this person-to-person interaction, I feel, can address the issue of separatism, alienation as well as strengthen the nationalist forces in the Kashmir valley which will help in the complete integration of whole of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India.
Here I remember the quote of Ronald Reagan ”I’ve always believed that a lot of troubles in the world would disappear if we were talking to each other instead of about each other .” Many NGOs like Sewa Bharati, Ekal Viyalaya, Ramkrishna Mission, Vivekananda Kendra are doing an excellent work in Jammu and Kashmir by carrying out service activities and running schools serving the people of the State and it became very clear from my experience that Majority of people in Majority areas of Jammu and Kashmir are strongly with India, and the question is about that part of Jammu and Kashmir which is under the illegal occupation of Pakistan ( Gilgit, Baltistan, Muzzafarabad) and China ( Aksai Chin ). Also it is a fact that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir became an integral part of India, when Raja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession on October 26th, 1947 and India as a nation has the strength to defeat the nefarious designs of Pakistan and Separatist forces.