Greater Kashmir Posted : Aug 20 2008 12:00PM | Updated: Mar 13 2015 6:10PM
And it’s more than a tempest in a teacup, writes Carin Jodha Fischer.
History sometimes draws parallels from the strangest of places. As I am sitting here still trying to digest the magnitude of lakhs of people peacefully gathering near the Srinagar Tourist Reception Centre to once again demand their right to freedom and self-determination, I can’t help but think of the similarity of circumstances having led to the Boston Tea Party and later the infamous “shot that changed the world.” Peacenik that I am, I hesitate to tap into the spirit of the American revolutionary war, having left that country convinced that its post-9/11 actions effectively rendered useless most democratic principles its founding fathers had embraced. Yet, today I can’t help but reflect on other significant outpours of the will of the people and the momentous effect they had on their nations’ course of history. I so hope that the world will finally take more informed notice of a massive and peaceful movement for change that cannot and should not be quelled in its present form.
The current set of circumstances that has finally re-injected revolutionary fervor into the people of Kashmir shares uncanny similarities with the brewing discontent over injustices suffered in colonial America, eventually causing it to break away from a Britain that was trying to become too Great. Consider this: Boston tea traders objected to unreasonable tax policies imposed on the import of tea, leading to a symbolic “economic blockade” of tea-carrying ships entering Boston harbor, the only trade route into that part of the country at the time; prior to revolting against Britain’s discriminatory trade policies vis-à-vis its colony, much popular discontent had begun to ferment over insensitivities of British governors dispatched to America and their discriminatory land speculations; people had also increasingly risen up against unfair treatment by British troops dished out to the residents of the colony while trying to establish a more separate identity. It was hardly a tempest in a teacup, when something initially shrugged off as temporary unrest led to a declaration of independence that eventually reshaped how other countries were being governed. You must admit that there is a certain commonality of events, even if we are looking at apples here instead of tea, and even if yet another declaration of independence by the Kashmiri people may not have the same resounding effect on the rest of the world. But as revolutionary history teaches us, deeply felt sentiments, reflecting the will of an entire nation of people, should never be discounted as temporary or insignificant, nor should they be automatically labeled as frightening.
Having lived in Kashmir for less than a year, I can only look at its often-brutal post partition history through the filter of revisionist historians’ perspectives. Admittedly, because I was never here earlier, I may not be able to fully grasp the scope of destruction wrought by earlier and very different expressions of revolt. However, as a newcomer, I am blissfully free of any preconceived notions about the latest chapter of the struggle and the people who are on the forefront of trying to make it succeed. Because of my still relatively fresh perspective of the “true” nature of the “Kashmiri beast,” and having a habit of voicing my opinions very openly, I have been accused of many things since the most recent turmoil began: of romanticizing Islam and insurgency, of being biased in favor of people who are not showing me their true colors and subversive leanings, of not understanding anything and especially Pakistan, of not having the necessary experience with all things Kashmir to render accurate judgments of a brewing storm, the potential danger of which I would never be able to fathom. I don’t want to bother to comment on all that has been said to me because there is little point in trying to reshape strong and perhaps even educated opinions that were formed as a result of events I so clearly missed.
However, I do know what I see on the streets of Kashmir today and I don’t find it frightening or in need of being crushed with a heavy hammer. I see hordes of young people having grown up under the most trying of circumstances, carrying green banners with peace signs while demanding rightful changes that won’t damage their self-respect any further; I talk to the same young people while they are handing out refreshments instead of hand grenades on the road to the memorial ground of the leader they had accepted as one of their own; I observe thousands of people of all ages who have been heeding their other leaders’ calls to conduct themselves peacefully instead of provocatively during protest rallies aimed at solutions to age-old problems; I see demands for accommodation instead of new declarations of war; I see, with a fresh mind, the same thousands of people who gathered at the TRC today to express their views without a gun in their hand, and without having to duck the bullets that I have been told will one day undoubtedly pierce my chest if I continue to keep their company; and I hope that others will eventually see what I see and also view it as equally revolutionary: a peaceful, if angrily determined, grassroots movement that has united people from all walks of life and is led by leaders not advocating violence of any sort. It may be an unfamiliar sight, but I would like to assure the world that under the current Kashmir scenario there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
Unfortunately, what I don’t see is any in-depth analysis by either national or international media of the revolutionary change in the way Kashmir’s freedom movement is being carried forward these days. I don’t see the necessary revisions in their vocabulary to portray it accurately enough so the world will take notice of a renewed and stronger than ever determination having crystallized in the minds of the people that for once does not include the resorting to more violent means. As recent as last week, The Washington Post, in reporting the most recent uprising in Kashmir, suggested that it had been infiltrated by elements of Al-Qaeda! This post 9/11 mind-set of those who are supposedly observing the situation on the ground from afar is very much part of the problem and will hardly make it possible to devise any workable solutions.
To borrow a phrase from Bill Clinton, coined during a campaign speech in the early nineties, that “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” after seeing that most everybody was wrong in their assessment of the state of the nation, I now want to say to national and international media persons, as well as to those who have accused me of understanding nothing about Kashmir, that “It’s the Revolution, Stupid!” And unlike during the revolutionary war of America that was triggered by the Boston Tea Party, the Kashmiri revolution could lead to much needed change without another “bullet that changed the world” being fired. However, it would first have to be recognized for what it is by all concerned and then approached with a completely different vocabulary.
(Carin Jodha Fischer works on community based rural development initiatives in Kashmir. She is also a Consultant to the State Tourism Department.)