While everybody seems to have finally woken up and is basking in self-congratulatory moods, here is a portion of a letter I wrote to ALL major think tanks and South Asia experts in Washington on February 16. It is almost two months later that people took adequate notice anywhere.
Today’s mail is about my still hoping that we can meet sometime soon and continue our talks about growing extremism in India and the need to have a much larger and honest discussion with experts about that and not just Pakistan. As I always say, the devil is in the detail, and often some small but horrifying events can tell so much more than a mere compilation of statistics. Tragedy is individual, and as a German I always felt that trying to grasp the enormity of of millions of victims is not easy because it defies imagination. Hearing about the fate of a particular victim can sometimes be much more illustrative of true evil. I often use the fake encounter at Machil in all its gruesomeness to drive home that point. Now let the poor Nomad girl that was raped and murdered in Jammu be another poster girl for pure horror. The below is an article about the rape and murder and a demonstration that took place in Jammu yesterday in support of the killer!!! Jammu is slowly but surely being taken over by the RSS and Muslims are increasingly terrified about their display of strength, especially in Muslim areas. You have to see pictures of their marches with swords and in full Nazi/ Hitler Youth attire to believe it. Much of this activity is welcomed by rabidly communal retired and some active military officers, some of them living in Jammu and active in the BJP. You and others above may remember that I raised Jammu during our roundtable discussion about Kashmir. I wanted to talk about the increasing vulnerability of Muslims in Jammu, but you guys wanted me to confine my comments to the Valley. What is happening in Jammu is very important, and it is extremely biased for people to mostly talk about “radicalisation” in Kashmir without pointing out the fanaticism that is growing by leaps and bounds in Jammu. This is especially so since I strongly feel that the “radicalisation” in Kashmir is mostly political while in Jammu it is purely religiously communal and anti- Muslim. Out of fairness, could you or somebody above please organise some event about this growing menace which is bound to become more lethal as we get closer to the elections in India? It would be fair to talk about the various shades of extremism in the region as you tried to do in your event about “Religious Freedoms in South Asia” which was so very enlightening. Mridu Rai talked about the massacre of Muslims in Jammu. I would not be surprised if one day another one were to happen…..””
LETTER REGARDING JAILED KASHMIRI JOURNALIST AASIF SULTAN – BY CARIN JODHA FISCHER
SEPTEMBER 8, 2018 NO COMMENTS
The Honorable Ed Royse
House Foreign Relations Committee
US House of Representatives
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Subject: Press Freedoms and Arrests of Journalists in Kashmir
Dear Sir, I am writing to you today because I am extremely worried about the safety of journalists in Kashmir. You have already taken a principled stand against the detention of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar. I am therefore hoping that recent developments in Kashmir may also elicit a strong response from you and your committee. One prominent editor from Kashmir was killed earlier this year after having been intimidated for months by various vested interests. Many of us who knew him believe that he may have been murdered for raising awareness about human rights violations in Kashmir and calling for a political solution to the dispute over Kashmir. Since the UN published its damning report about human rights violations in Kashmir, which among many other things accuses India of stifling the press, foreign correspondents can no longer travel to Kashmir without special permission by the Home Ministry in Delhi. The Washington Post bureau chief has been waiting for permission for months and she does not believe it will be forthcoming. Al Jazeera lost its security clearance last week for producing a special on human rights violations in Kashmir. The channel will no longer be aired in India, nor will their reporters receive any future credentials for any reportage in the country.
Locally over the past two months, an already stifling environment for journalists has taken a sharp turn for the worse. While during active phases of popular uprisings/ protests in Kashmir the printing of papers critical of human rights violations and the Indian army is often stopped by the authorities, during the past few months there has been a concerted effort by security agencies to muzzle the voice of all young Kashmiri journalists at all times. Several were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for writing legitimate stories or taking pictures of resistance related leaders or events for their publications. Some were transferred to Delhi and kept in confinement under very trying circumstances. In Srinagar, others were arrested and taken to Cargo (a notorious interrogation centre) and released only after days of intimidation and threats. Counter intelligence policemen have also conducted “seminars” on what is permitted to be written about and what would incur the wrath of the authorities, leading to arrests. Their voices have now been effectively silenced. Their phones have been confiscated and in many cases also their laptops for investigation by cyber counter insurgency teams. In the past and during other phases of the conflict several journalists were killed and some by government sponsored gunmen. While that stopped during years of “relative and enforced calm,” now that support for India has reached perhaps the lowest levels ever, Delhi is doing everything it can so that this reality will not become more public than it already has. Leading up to the 2019 elections in India, the clamp down on the Kashmiri resistance and anybody writing about it is expected to reach new heights. Most recently, Asif Sultan, a young journalist writing for The Kashmir Narrator, has been arrested, and after protests by the entire local media fraternity, false charges against him are now being framed to justify his detention.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the arrest and demanded his immediate release. IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger has said: “The arrest and charge against Asif Sultan for his reporting is deplorable and unacceptable. We demand his immediate release and urge the Indian government to critically address the deteriorating situation for media workers in Kashmir who are increasingly being targeted for doing their job.” Similarly, The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) also issued a statement saying: “Taking Sultan into custody smacks of a bigger agenda of authorities to silence journalists and media in the troubled state.” Kashmiri journalists are doing a commendable job under very difficult conditions.
Having been interrogated myself by authorities in Kashmir while living there, I also know how intimidating an environment it is. Of course, as a foreigner I could not be subjected to physical intimidation the way locals frequently are, but I am well aware of the extent of it. In closing, I would like to point out that India often gets an unfair free ride in the West, having successfully propagated the myth of being the “largest democracy” and thus sharing many of our freedoms. This is not correct, and especially under the current government press freedoms and the right to dissent everywhere are being curbed increasingly every day. This situation is of course particularly grave in Kashmir. Thanks for your attention to this matter.
Carin I. Fischer
What transpires behind curtains in Washington think tanks about Kashmir
By Carin Jodha Fischer on May 20, 2018
So I hit the South Asia seminar circuit again yesterday. As so often when it comes to that part of the world, the event was held at The Woodrow Wilson Center, a hugely influential foreign policy think tank located inside the massive Ronald Reagan Center and staffed with analysts with direct access to the highest echelons of power in Washington.
As usual the event attracted a motley crew of Washington regulars: South Asian scholars and lobbyists, conflict managers, Indian and Pakistani Embassy wallahs, a couple of intelligence sleuths pretending to be embassy staffers or aid workers, some State Department types, a journalist or two, and a few know-it-all NRIs.
Most Pakistani expats and journalists avoid these events like the plague, having successfully distanced themselves from all things Kashmir, and anything that may earn them a “nationalist” label or make them look like a thing of the past. After two years of frequenting events that are directly or remotely related to Kashmir, it appears I am finally considered a voice commanding some authority on the subject. Invitations are now pouring in, and I am finally one of the gang.
SMOKE SIGNALS FROM WASHINGTON
Next to me sat Robin Raphel, an American former diplomat, ambassador, CIA analyst, and expert on Pakistan affairs. Her late husband, Ambassador Arnold Raphel, was killed during his line of duty in Pakistan. He was one of the Americans on the same plane in which Pakistan’s military dictator Gen. Zia Ul Haq was travelling. That plane was sabotaged, and every passenger was killed. Robin is still remembered by many Kashmiris for her exceptional and large hearted mediation efforts during the 90s. Because of her affection for Pakistan and Kashmiris, including the pro-freedom kind, New Delhi always considered her a foe instead of a friend. For me she has always been a real role model.
Yesterday’s event was called “Understanding Secessionist Struggle in South Asia. Secession and Security: Explaining State Strategy against Separatists.” Dr. Ahsan Butt, a young Pakistani professor and recently tenured at George Mason University, presented his new book on the topic, which argues that it is states, rather than separatists, that determine how much violence there is in conflicts. Much of his presentation and the ensuing discussion focused on Kashmir since it best fit his model of a “worst case scenario” as far as state repression is concerned.
Most Pakistani expats and journalists avoid these events like the plague, having successfully distanced themselves from all things Kashmir, and anything that may earn them a “nationalist” label or make them look like a thing of the past
I have often said that Economics is the “science of the obvious,” and yesterday I felt that way about Political Science. There wasn’t much the author explained to the audience that could not have been ascertained from a few editorials in local Kashmiri papers. Placing some facts into boxes and charts for a power point presentation did not make his analysis any more earth shaking. His main argument was that states feeling most insecure about their borders will apply the most repression to stop them from being altered. He also said that states where an outsider supports a secessionist movement will also strike back more forcefully and with more military might than those which are not facing that problem. Does it require a book full of political theory to establish these things?
What was glaringly absent in his analysis were some of the most significant realities when it comes to the conflict in Kashmir: the unique history of the region, the claim by both India and Pakistan over the entire territory, the promise of a plebiscite, and the disputed nature of the LoC, which is hardly accepted as a final border by either India, Pakistan or most Kashmiris. These are the main issues that the dispute has always been about, and I wondered how any of the details could be omitted. Instead, the author kept talking about an ethnic minority trying to break away from the mainland.
What I appreciated was his admission that rarely any conflict anywhere has been as militarised, and that India’s occupation of Kashmir was more akin to fighting a “civil war” than policing a territory or simply maintaining law and order. He did speak of extreme repression which he expects to get worse in the near future, and he also admitted that there was little to no chance that the conflict would be resolved any time soon as all sides had dug in for the duration.
Most disturbing to me was that among a list of recommendations from the closing chapter of his book, there was a suggestion that if the conflict were to escalate and if it came closer to war, the “international community” should offer additional troops to the Indian State, albeit with the caveat that human rights would need to be observed during their deployment. Wow! No mention of shuttle diplomacy, third party mediation or peace keeping troops. And this was coming from a Pakistani scholar. With friends like that who needs enemies, I wondered.
Moving to the Q & A part of the event, it became clear once again that in today’s think tank world there seems to be a never ending supply of Tarek Fatah types to choose from. In the past, I have listened to Kashmiri Muslims dispatched by State agencies to peddle a certain ideology that hardly matches the sentiment shared by the majority of the people.
Or there have been those “young emerging leaders,” obviously seeking permanent and hopefully gainful admission into the think tank world abroad by relentlessly blaming everything on “Islamic Radicalization,” and most recently the “ever growing menace” of ISIS and other such transnational groups.
In the past, I have listened to Kashmiri Muslims dispatched by State agencies to peddle a certain ideology that hardly matches the sentiment shared by the majority of the people.
Yesterday, it was a young Muslim journalist from Hyderabad, a Modi supporter, with some family roots in Kashmir, who in no uncertain terms conveyed to the audience that Indian Muslims did not at all support Kashmiri separatists, and that if a Yaseen Malik lived in Pakistan, he and his cohorts would have been killed by the authorities a long time ago the way secessionists are being slaughtered in Baluchistan. He claimed to have oodles of Kashmiri friends in his home state, all rejecting the so-called freedom movement in toto, craving nothing but full integration, hating the separatists, and just like anybody else appreciating India’s secular ethos and its progress and opportunities.
Moreover, he felt any reports of human rights violations in Kashmir were greatly exaggerated and especially by the local press, and nothing compared in severity to those committed in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan where nobody enjoyed democracy the way only Indians did. And so it went on and on, as it often does when an Indian speaks up, and sadly regardless of his or her cast, colour or religious affiliation.
India is now a “Super Power” and how dare somebody not wanting to be part of it?
When my turn to ask some questions finally came, I think I managed to punch quite a few holes in the author’s interpretation of things, and his obvious failure to collect more detailed information on the ground.
I also spoke about recent events in Jammu, and also how Leh and Kargil should not be stuck into the same box as far as aspirations and identities were concerned. As so often, it had been pointed out both by the author and some in the audience that the problems were primarily Valley specific, while all other areas were perfectly content being with India.
Perhaps what elicited the biggest reaction, though, was my claim that many Kashmiri Muslims, and especially the young and educated, had switched from being pro-Independence to being pro-Pakistan over the past several years. Everybody knew already that more and more youth were picking up arms again as a result of India’s increasingly brutal approach while dealing with dissent. But the growing pro-Pakistan sentiment is a spin not many are prepared to hear, let alone accept. It would require a new kind of “gaming,” I suppose.
But most important for me personally, this time as I introduced myself to the audience, I did it for the first time as someone formally advocating for the Right to Self Determination of the Kashmiri people.
In the past, I had often said that I lived in Kashmir for almost a decade and worked on rural development, among other things. And it was that new designation that actually made many in the audience flock about me to ask questions after the event was over. It feels good to finally be out of the closet, even if it means that now I may really never be able to go back.
CNN IBN and Kashmir Life
‘Some Love Affairs Never End’
by Carin Fischer
It’s now been almost two years since I had to leave my house in the Zabarwan Mountains of Srinagar and I still miss it and Kashmir every waking moment.
It was not the first one I had rented in Kashmir during all the years I was there, but it became my favourite and not just because of the breath-taking beauty of its natural surroundings.
Carin Jodha Fischer in Rafiabad in 2008 when she launched her eco-friendly programme. Pic: Facebook
The main reason was that the house was in such a remote and quiet location outside of the city that it allowed me to forget the rest of the world almost the instant I passed through the gate. And this I often desperately needed while living in a place that I loved more than I had loved any other but that often wore me out like only the most passionate love affairs can.
I first came to Kashmir as a tourist in the winter of 2006. It started snowing on the day I arrived and never stopped until I left. Kashmir presented its brightest made for tourism image to me during that short visit.
Sometimes I think it was trying to seduce me into coming back and see another Kashmir which I did and then never left. There was something even during the first visit that I just could not shake after leaving. It was not the love at first sight a teenager might experience. It was more like a deep seated desire to fully understand what was buried under the mountains of snow. It was a craving to meet the real Kashmir and to find out if I could love it as much as Kashmiris so desperately did.
So I came and began working on rural tourism in the remotest of villages because that is what I knew how to do, and it is what Kashmir seemed to want of me at a time when tourism was slowly making a comeback.
I designed a program called “Trekking for Trees” which aimed to turn timber smugglers into trekking guides, and I lived in the upper reaches of North Kashmir’s Rafiabad for a year to develop the program and later did the same at similar places in other districts.
I barely ever made it to Srinagar during that first year except for an occasional meeting. I lived like a villager and I loved it.
Then the land row erupted in 2008, and from one day to the next everything changed.
This of course one gets used to after living in Kashmir for some time, but it never gets easier. Things can change at the drop of a hat. Light becomes darkness, and calm is replaced with madness. But it isn’t the people who are mad; it is the reaction to them that is insane and more violent than anything I could have ever imagined.
It was during that time that I first began to feel an intense sadness and anger, one I had never felt before anywhere and one that never left me for all the years I was there. It was also the time when I realized that one could never love Kashmir without also loving Kashmiris. And that means all of them. And only after understanding that fully, my love affair could truly be consummated.
Carin Jodha Fischer in a Rafiabad village. Pic: Facebook
Just the other day, I read a very touching essay by a friend in which he describes the all-pervasive sadness of growing up in Srinagar. He talks about the beauty of his city, its ancient culture and architectural landmarks, its closeness to nature, and even its spirituality if that is what one seeks. But more than anything he talks about how even as a small boy he never quite felt any real lightness of being because the ghosts of history were always walking right next to him no matter where he went or in which direction.
It became clear to me then that it is this very sadness that after a while one can no longer do without and which becomes the main ingredient of one’s relationship with Kashmir and the people.
I was luckier than most to be able to escape for a little while each day to my house in the mountains whenever I thought I might burst into a thousand pieces.
There were many days when I came home exhausted from feeling sad, happy, angry, and worried and all felt at the same time. But just sitting in my garden and listening to the silence instantly allowed me to stop holding my breath. It was there where I could pretend that all was fine outside the gate before once again facing the onslaught of the other emotions that encapsulate you wherever you go accompanied by the ghosts that never leave your side for a minute. And it is in that house in the Zabarwan Mountains of Srinagar where my heart is buried, and I am sure it will stay there for eternity. Some love affairs never end. And some lovers can never be replaced.
(Carin Jodha Fischer is a German who spent many years in Kashmir attempting interventions on ecological front. This piece first appeared in the website of TV CNN IBN News 18
|Perspective Greater Kashmir 2009|
|No More Fridays in the Old City|
A wounded psyche is a tough thing to tackle, but seeking solace in street violence and by joining fight clubs cannot be part of any constructive group therapy, says Carin Jodha Fischer.
The other day, while my vehicle was cautiously snaking around the far side of Dal Lake, so as not to get drenched in a downpour of rocks near the old city, I was thinking of why my sense of kinship with the stone pelting crowds was fading, and why I was now avoiding an area of Srinagar I had frequented on Fridays so many times over the last year. The last Friday I went to the Jamia Masjid with a journalist friend, I barely escaped being hit by a stray brick aimed at someone – anyone –, and was then tear gassed by paramilitary troops while trying to seek shelter. And both of us were there because we were friends of the people, not foes. Call me a coward or turncoat, but I don’t find it useful to risk my life over uncontrollable expressions of anger that hardly solve the fundamental problems that are prompting the young of this city to find a sense of solidarity in the bombardment of a neighborhood that I consider the soul of Kashmir. Undoubtedly, a wounded psyche is a tough thing to tackle, but seeking solace in street violence and by joining fight clubs cannot be part of any constructive group therapy. Then I thought about some of the sources of my own anger that had in the past created a sense of kinship with the pelting crowds. Truth is that besides the usual curbs on one’s personal freedoms and the associated sense of injustice one inevitably suffers while living here, there are many other potential targets that could easily be included in one’s metaphorical shooting range, if one believed that this counterproductive mode of dissent were to lead anything to its logical conclusion. Admittedly, in the past, I myself had often thought about aiming my personal outrage at those who are continuously and quite successfully taking advantage of a situation that makes Kashmir too cloistered a place for transparent administration and effective enforcement of its own laws. Luckily, my belief that two wrongs don’t make a right always prevailed. After all, any type of violent expression only reinforces the barbed wire that closes off neighborhoods and very effectively prevents the opening of more sympathetic minds.
The main sources of my own frustration, and I am sure of many others here, include many things besides the curbing of personal freedoms: smug bureaucrats who have the power to endlessly delay developmental or any projects, making us squirm while trying to push them along; friends who seem to lack truthfulness and commitment to an idea; acquaintances who appear to be one thing but turn out to be another; politicians who promise economic salvation in low level governmental jobs instead of encouraging people to take their fate into their own hands; the young who seek but cannot find hope in a future that they don’t believe will be determined by themselves; divided local communities who fight each other instead of the various outside forces that are keeping them down; widows and orphans who attract media coverage but little other attention; timber smugglers who loot the forests in connivance with greedy government officials; authorities who lack the will to protect the precious resources of a place that could move towards economic self-sufficiency, instead of environmental disaster, if those resources were managed with greater transparency, sincerity and skill; and last but not least the sometimes seemingly empty pursuit of achieving nationhood in a nation that has yet to be built or else may one day become only a wasteland of the free. In the summer of 2008, I witnessed an energetic mass movement that much inspired me by its total absence of violence. Lakhs of people gathered in unity to demand change without a single rock in their hands. Images of peaceful dissent filled television screens across India and the world. I was not alone in recognizing that by rejecting all non-peaceful means of uprising the contours of a true revolution had shaped, one that had first and foremost begun in the minds of the people and not in the drawing rooms of their leaders. I was also not alone in my disappointment and outrage when this new type of revolution was brutally crushed as though it had never changed its previous form.
Sadly, not even one year later, the familiar images of stone pelting hordes are back on prime time, once again conveniently reinforcing the comforting image of the dangerously delinquent Kashmiri. And when, out of fear of getting injured, sympathetic friends avoid areas where raw anger is acted out and where the selection of targets has also become less discriminating, then one can’t help but wonder if it has not become them versus all of us, instead of them versus those. Undoubtedly, there is much to be angry about, especially in the minds of the young. Nothing fuels hatred as much as a feeling of total powerlessness. But somehow the negative energy we are witnessing now in the old city on Fridays will have to be channeled into activities that catch the world’s attention instead of fear and repulsion. Will the leader who can do that please stand up and come forward so we can return to the old city on Fridays?
THE DAY DEMOCRACY DIED – BY CARIN JODHA FISCHER
Opinion Page Greater Kashmir Summer 2008
Photo credit Mubashir Hassan
As newspapers are reporting today that the Valley has “limped back” to normalcy after ten days of martial law, I would like to register my protest against such premature claims. I may be accused of subjectivity, but truth is that most people I know here are not limping anywhere. Instead, they are trying to strap on the artificial limbs required to crawl after whatever was left of their belief in democracy has been brutally amputated. For those who think that democracy died in Kashmir on August 24th, being allowed to use ATM’s can never be a substitute for the right to free expression or peaceful assembly.For the larger part of ten days, I have tossed and turned all night while pondering the meaning of democracy and if there is still such a thing in today’s world. This had only happened to me once and right after the Patriot Act was enacted by the US Congress, awarding that Government blanket authority to blatantly disregard all civil liberties as we knew them to exist before “the war on terror” was declared. Now, I sometimes feel it may be less confusing to live under a military dictatorship because the rules of non-permissible conduct would be more clearly defined.Having been born to a family who suffered much under the Nazi regime for their dissenting opinions, and then being nurtured on a solid diet of Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s ideals of social change through civil disobedience, I am predisposed, as most members of my generation are, to lend my support to peaceful mass movements, if they are aimed at the resolution of grave issues impacting on a society’s continued well-being. Yet, being a witness to current events in Kashmir has all but destroyed my faith in both ability and willingness of our so-called liberal democratic institutions to deal with popular and peaceful uprisings in a constructive and non-violent manner. Moreover, I can’t help but think that the ways and means applied to crush this particular movement are now reserved for certain minority communities here and the world over. Sadly, in the backdrop of thousands of innocent civilians being killed by Western troops throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, which democratic country in the world has the moral authority to speak up about atrocities committed elsewhere? The rules of democratic conduct have obviously changed permanently.I have always believed that for a society to be a democratic one, it must fully acknowledge the necessity of dissent – any dissent — as long as it does not involve premeditated violence. If it cannot tolerate that need, and uses brute force to quell it, it is neither a viable nor a mature democracy and must be viewed as something completely different. Should a leadership fail to respect the desires of the people anywhere in a democratic set-up, it is the right and responsibility of citizens to act and speak out against that which they do not agree with. Given the severe curtailment on the ability of the Kashmiri people to speak out, and the lukewarm response the infringement of that right has received from elsewhere for obvious reasons, I can hardly be faulted for feeling that the essence of democracy does no longer exist here or anywhere. Just as it had stopped existing for me in the US when the Patriot Act came into force, and when millions of us across the world were ignored by our democratically elected leaders while voicing our opposition to the invasion of Iraq and the retaliatory targeting of innocent Muslims for the actions of a few.
James Madison, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, wrote two centuries ago that, “It is of great importance in a democracy not only to guard society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will become insecure.” Similarly, in his essay On Liberty, the English philosopher John Stuart Mill warns of a “second danger to liberty, which democracies are prone to, namely, the Tyranny of the Majority. Loosely interpreted, he meant that if you can control the majority in a representative democracy (and get them to vote for, and elect, your candidates) then you can control everyone (because your candidates, once “democratically elected”, will pass whatever laws are needed for this, as was done by Hitler’s agents in Nazi Germany and the American Congress in the wake of 9/11.) In the present context, one only needs to compare the preferential treatment of armed and often violent rioters in Jammu to the punitive actions being taken against peacefully protesting Kashmiris, to see how the writings of both men assume new relevance today.Travelling outside of Srinagar yesterday to check on the flow of essential commodities to an area of the state where I have been working on rural development for a year, I witnessed no signs of any past or present democratic principles. I saw people rounded up on sidewalks to reveal names of others having participated in peaceful demonstrations so that they can be detained in the middle of the night; I visited the family of a peaceful protester, killed during the Muzaffarabad March, whose death has robbed his relatives of the only breadwinner they had; I saw fruits rotting along country roads and their handlers not being able to reach orchards to load them on trucks that were prevented from coming; I saw many of the villagers I so care about near starvation because they could not break through the giant barricades erected around their entire district as part of a collective punishment for speaking out; and all the way home to Srinagar, while seeing new and even higher barricades being erected, I wondered not only how I could help them all, but what might happen to me if I wrote about what I saw and felt.So, when I see reports of life in the Valley limping back to normalcy, I don’t understand how anybody could believe such frivolous assertions. In my view, most Kashmiris first and foremost want their lawful right to free expression and peaceful assembly to be restored, even if they may use their ATM cards while waiting for that eventuality. And thus far there is little to no evidence on the ground that it may happen any time soon. The democracy that died on August 24th will require much greater efforts to be resuscitated. If it isn’t, any limping that has been observed will most certainly turn into permanent paralysis. And there is little point pushing voters to polling booths in wheelchairs.
Something I had published in GK in 2008. It still holds true….
The Darkness of Becoming a Kashmiri
By Carin Jodha Fischer
Just a few evenings ago, I was sitting at the banks of Dal Lake with a very close Kashmiri friend, realizing just how much living in Kashmir had already colored my sense of the world. I marveled at the ability of a deceptively sparkling lake to so skillfully disguise all signs of deterioration in the darkness of the night. Darkness often hides unbearable truths that cannot be so easily hidden in light. I then said to my friend how glossy depictions of abundant sun shine and cloudless blue skies over the Valley would never accurately reflect the haunting sadness of Kashmir, and how I felt the dark colors of winter, with its various hues of earth tones and shades of twilight, more fittingly portrayed its melancholy mood. I thought of images of young men in dark ankle-grazing pherins rushing along bare country roads towards sources of warmth and identity, of wooden tongas making way for endless convoys of unadorned army trucks, of officiously determined black ambassadors leading their charge on slush covered roads, of men clad in dark green fatigues and bulky one-size-fits-all bullet proof vests impairing any gestures of human grace, of faces covered with black scarves bearing no emotion besides fear and total lack of trust, of flocks of black birds scattered across pale-gray wintry skies while fleeing intermittent squalls of snow and sometimes less natural bursts. And then I thought how the palette of Kashmir’s wintry season is not only a much more realistic portrayal of its often unbearably dark state of being, but how much its absence of permanent bright light had already darkened my own emotional canvass with a compassion and sadness that I would never be able to erase.
Yesterday, I was sitting near the river under the darkest of curfews, listening to the wailing voices of funeral singers and distant gun shots, mourning the deaths of men I have never known and will never be able to befriend, and longing to sit at the lake again in the darkness of night where truth can be so easily hidden from someone’s view. The sky was laden with dark clouds, and rain was falling on the graveyards of the old city where the dead were being buried. Yesterday, it seemed the sky over Kashmir would never clear again, and light and sunshine had now permanently vanished from my portrait of the Valley. It was a picture of a place that people who have always lived here have accepted as reality painting, but that I have yet to become emotionally equipped to hang on my wall.
I thought of the people I have met, the respect I have for those who have been struggling against darkness for so long, the families who have been reduced to tears, and the complete powerlessness one feels in the face of unstoppable human tragedy. I wanted to reach out and say to people to please still believe in the faint illusion of justice, fairness and the triumph of the human spirit. I wanted to assure them that people did not die in vain. I wanted someone to tell me that the sadness and anger I felt would fade, making it possible to see bright light again in a place that so often seems to plunge into permanent darkness. But most of all, I wanted to tell people that I had now become a Kashmiri, regardless of how unbearable it may be at times, and that their reality had very much become mine, even if I might never be able to fully comprehend the full range of its dark colors and hues.
Today rain clouds and curfews have lifted for three hours, but the darkness refuses to vanish. Where does one find bright light before truth once again fades into the darkness of night? Only a Kashmiri would know.
(Carin Jodha Fischer works on community based rural development initiatives in Kashmir.)
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.)