Friday, February 02, 2018

School Feature in India Today

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Someone asked me a question. Kashmir.

Was asked to answer a few questions for a conflict studies research paper recently. Started off slowly with my school and education in the state, and led into 'the Kashmir issue' and why education was so important esp. here. The final question set me off because it was the same 'why won't Kashmiris just integrate?' based thing.

What do you think are feasible solutions/policies for Kashmiris to feel safe, integrated and not victimised? Education being one of them.(Please include your suggestions for the govt and possibly your reading of the ground requirements that have been long overlooked.)

I'm sorry, I think the entire problem lies in the line of thinking that this question has come from. 'Integration'. You must understand that this idea of forced integration of Kashmiris is in fact one of the biggest problems there is. And it is pushed and repeated at every opportunity, and it does nothing to make Kashmiris want to belong. This has been voiced often enough in popular protests and written about and discussed in online spaces and TV media by Kashmiris before. The resistance to integration just gets stronger every time it is insisted on by the Indian State.

Let us just step back and look at young Kashmir today. This is a Kashmir that grew up in nineties and we must remember what they grew up with. I didn't even grow up here and I resent what I saw in two months a year when I visited Kashmir for the holidays. My generation of cousins has lived through terrible times, first hand.
Every time someone says Kashmir and its violence, what violence are we talking about here, we need to understand that as well. I doubt you will find too many cases of kids remembering 'terrorists' [we call them militants, and I'd say every Kashmiri family has had a militant from amongst it] ruining their growing years or interfering in their daily lives and entering their homes in a manner that affected them. But you will find innumerable stories of resentment and anger among children growing up in the '90s in Kashmir where they have either been personally at the receiving end of the Army/BSF/CRPF's interrogations, crackdowns etc or have seen the Armed forces entering their homes, beating up their family members [men, women, old, young] in front of them, breaking furniture, turning the house upside down, tearing their - the children's- certificates, books and so on and so forth. Being frisked every few metres in your own neighbourhood. Being called out for crackdowns, adhering to curfews, being on the receiving end of insults and mockery on a daily basis.

I have maintained in the past and continue to say this: The biggest sore point for an average Kashmiri is the overwhelming presence of armed forces everywhere in their daily lives. The Army and various uniforms in the state are the face of India to a Kashmiri. And to be frank, it is not a pleasant face at all.
The resistance in Kashmiri is very strong even today, and giving it a Pakistani bent or Islamo-terrorist bent is just irritating to the regular Kashmiri. Both cards are played often enough, many kids are swayed by anything anti-India; if that turns them to Pakistan or radical Islam, well, yes, there will be cases like that as well.
Not because these young Kashmiris know India as Indians and regular people [I do for instance, having lived outside J&K most of my life] but because for them India is its uniforms, its forces, its many atrocities that have unfolded in the past two decades. And zero accountability. Continual nationalistic barrage from MSM and politicians and chest-thumping patriots in India, complete disregard for Kashmiri voices through its local media and press and writers and intellectuals.

In the face of all of this to ask 'what do Kashmiris need to feel safe, integrated and not victimised' - well, that's three different questions.

1. Safe: I'd say Kashmiris feel perfectly safe in their lives at present, what is there to feel unsafe about? Is anyone seriously under the misapprehension that Kashmiris are fearful for their lives because armed militants are roaming the mountains and valleys and cities and towns, thirsting for blood and violence and jihad? Everyone knows this is not the case.
Yes, when there are protests against serious miscarriages of justice or human right violations and you have common people going out on the streets and armed security forces have a go at them - that is serious cause for concern. When you have AFSPA in place and no accountability. We must remember which is the only side in Kashmir which is armed right now, and it is not the people of Kashmir.

2.Integrated: Don't want it. Want normal Kashmiri lives.

3. Victimised: Could it be that when Kashmiris start seeing some justice - overdue for all the many violations of rights and tragedies that have befallen them in the recent past - at the hands of successive governments and especially the armed forces, could it be they stop feeling victimised then?

All of the above has already been said enough times in the past by Kashmiris far more articulate, knowledgeable and more relevant than myself, but I thought I'd put it out there again.
posted from Bloggeroid

Monday, February 04, 2013

Photo Story - Getting to My Village

As it appeared

My Mint travel piece, on reaching the village, has disappeared off the internets.

Here's the full unedited version.

I have a favourite spot outside our cottage here in the village. It's in the front garden just off the patio, overlooking the mountains on the other side of the Chenab River [we're on 'this' side]. It helps that this spot is always in the sun and intense research on my part has revealed that it has the fastest 2G mobile internet connectivity anywhere near the house. So I spend a lot of time here squinting over my phone, checking emails, tweets and reading up on the web. All the while gradually turning into a prune because that's what the mountain sun does to you.

Cast aside notions of fair, rosy-cheeked Kashmiris with full red lips. In my neck of the woods we are pahari [mountain] folk, and we are a wrinkled, hardy people with tanned leather for skin and crows' feet around smiling eyes.

Daadi Puphi - My father's aunt

'Our' side of the Chenab. This is about halfway up to my village.

Let me take you to my village, Breswana, as typical a hamlet in the invisible pahari belt of Jammu and Kashmir as you can hope for. I say 'invisible' because very few people outside the state have an idea of the terrain, culture and lifestyle we have here. The pahari region in Jammu and Kashmir is different from the Kashmir Valley, which is what most people's idea of Kashmir is. No shikaras, open green meadows or santoor as running background music. We're all about mountains, rocks, subsistence farming, livestock and hardiness. Our way of life in the mountains is very different from that in the Valley proper. We speak the same language, i.e. Kashmiri, but our accent and local slang differs.

My life today is very different to what I imagined it would be as a child growing up in Dubai in the eighties. Back then it was all about 'study well, get a good job, make money, kick back and enjoy'. I stuck to the formula for many years, with college and then a well-paying, very fun job in Bangalore. In late 2008 everything changed; I decided I wanted to be with my family and help out back at home and I upped and left the city suddenly. What I do now is run the Haji Public School with my family – it's a school we set up in our ancestral village in the mountains of Doda in Jammu and Kashmir. This is Breswana, at an altitude of approximately 7,100 feet overlooking the Chenab River, with no motorable roads going all the way up even today, and really, a most wonderful corner of the world. My great grandfather established the village in the early 1900's; today, almost every resident of Breswana is family – by blood or marriage. In every sense of the word, it is home.

The school and that

My work has me shuttling between Jammu ['the big city'] and the school in Breswana throughout the year. It's a whole day's travel, with mixed measures of driving, walking and horse-riding. Jammu is my town house, and I head there every time I need to catch up on paperwork, have official meetings, purchase supplies or access proper internet. This is at least once a month, if not more often. And it is a beautiful, if exhausting journey. I haven't tired of it yet and it's been five years of scampering uphill and down, and driving on the national highway in all seasons.  
There are three legs of the journey from city to village: 1. Jammu to Doda – 183 km by road, 2. Doda to last motorable stop – again by road, and 3. Horseback/Trek to Breswana up the mountain- horse trails, rocks, ravines and forest. [Also a water mill.]

Water mill or "gratt'" in Kashmir

The drive from Jammu to Doda takes about five hours provided there are no traffic hassles. Doda to the final motorable stop is another hour or so. If, like me, you happen to get car sick on loopy mountain roads, the best thing to do would be to try and get some shut eye and not look out too much. Very tough, considering. It is a most scenic mountainous drive along the NH-1B and with a dramatic U-turn at Batote (an important transit town en route), we are into Doda District. Somewhere after Batote you'll spot the River Chenab for the first time, going the other way; it will accompany you on the left of the highway for the remaining portion of the journey.

Bakarwaals on the move
On the highway you will see Gujjars and Bakarwaals moving north in the summer taking their animals to higher reaches for a season of grazing. Before the winter you can see them heading down with their livestock in the thousands. Traffic moves very slowly during these seasonal migrations in J&K.

On the Jammu-Doda stretch, our family has gravitated towards certain establishments for their good food and quick service: Manhas Dhaba at Samroli, Prem Sweets at Kud, a chai-stall at a pine-covered corner of Patni-Top [a very popular hill station about 3 hours out of Jammu], and, most importantly, Sharma Vaishno Dhaba at Bagar [pronounced like the rude word] for its flawless victory with rajma daal-chawal and desi ghee

My favourite stretch of the journey to the village is the last bit. On horseback. Nothing compares to riding a good mountain horse on tough mountain trails. Our family has always had horses, both local stock as well as Zanskaris [these are really matchless]. Everything about horses brings out the romantic in me. They're such gorgeous animals, and it's quite incredible to be able to do our mountains like they do. 
Zanskar se, Mr Balla
With horses and me, it's a case of true love, and I have my father to thank for showing us the ropes well as kids and making us comfortable with them. I know of people screwing up their noses when assailed with horse smells but for me it immediately takes me to Breswana, to my trips up home.

Footbridge at Premnagar

So. The final leg of the journey is when we wave goodbye to the car/jeep at a small roadside hill town called Premnagar. [The town is so named only after a gentleman called Premchand and not, as one hoped, a tragic local love story.] There's a wooden footbridge at Premnagar we cross over the River Chenab that takes us to 'the other side'. Where the horses wait. If you look up at this point, you can spot Breswana on the neck of the mountain towering above the town. Here onwards, all luggage goes up on carriage animals or on the backs of men/women. It's a 7km route on very steep, rocky uphills for about three to four hours. We stop a few times to rest the horses along the way. Again, we have our preferred spots for resting – shade, wind and water being the deciding factors.

Starting uphill, on average 3+ hours
Riding Up
Over the years, this final ride up home has become a real pleasure for me. This is where one gets to see the real pahari J&K, still relatively untouched by the outside world. We pass through villages, see the people go about their daily lives and work through different seasons. Things carry on as they used to, farmers still follow traditional farming methods and all the villages look more or less as they always have as far back as I can remember. Everyone knows everything about everyone else in the mountains and much current information is traded between travellers going up and down. 

I usually ride into Breswana with the sunset and a nice, hot cup of noonchai [Kashmiri salt tea] and homemade bread welcomes me. Along with a fireplace [optional] and all the familiar sights and smells of home.

It's always a physically demanding trip, this Jammu to Breswana business. Achy back, sore seat and tired legs. But a day later, sitting in the favourite spot in front of my cottage, waiting for a web-page to load on the mobile phone, with school kids chattering in the distance and the sun warming my back, I find I really cannot complain. At all. [Just get me some internet up here.]

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Barbecue Night...

...Has been had.
Naan roti, chicken tandoori, tatziki, mint chutney, pasta Arabiatta, lemonade, girlfriends, full moon night, two dogs.
Amazing good.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's Been A While

No internet. No blogging. That is all.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Moslems Are Coming.

Very kicked to be on 'The Moslems Are Coming' blog tour, and in keeping with Optimum Blog Etiquette, I'm belting out a short, one-glance summary of my thoughts on Azad Essa's new book.
'Indian soldiers repeatedly mistook my good looks for that of a local Kashmiri.' Haha.

Angry Essa. Such an angry young man. The whole collection of essays in The Moslems reads in a vein of hello-there-irreverent-cynical-almost-rage. As a young Muslim woman, completely wrapped in the cocoon of ideal, romanticised, perfect Islam, and whining about how, 'No, no, this is not what Islam really is,' this read has been a refreshing smack in the jowls.

Sure there's a lot I disagree with [tone mostly: "My God, how can he say that?!!"], but really, one needed to step out of the easily-outraged mold one has been cast into. Enough of placing everything on a pedestal; let's talk smack at a lot of things, throw it open to criticism and mockery, as it were.

Once I got that into my system, it was smooth reading.

The Moslems is a collection of several of Azad's previously published and unpublished works, off his blog and umm, other places [yes, I've researched this really well], and is the Indian edition of his previously published Zuma's Bastards. It covers Azad's experiences with racism, Islamophobia, classism, hypocrisy and other relatively current affairs across the globe [the World Cup in SA, the Arab Spring. As a South African of Indian ethnicity, it was very interesting for me to read his take on Indians in South Africa and the social dynamics within that community, SA Indian Muslims and the diaspora there.
All the chapters in the book are not Moslems-Are-Coming!-related, don't worry. That's just a clever trick to get you to buy the book in the first place. [Aside: Love the cover.]
There's substantial bits on Africa-specific issues, its politics, its untold or severely under-reported horror, and about South Africa in particular, which I was previously clueless about. But, without getting too heavy to read/understand, Azad takes you on a lite-skim ride of his opinions on all these topics. I was lost amidst all the unfamilar names and places, but no so lost that I had to stop reading. [It was also slightly embarrassing that I had no clue about a very significant part of the world. NO CLUE.] 

What I enjoyed especially were Azad's scathing satire pieces, 'Shape without drape: Muslim fashion du jour' [on the burqa ban in France] and 'The brown woman's burden' [on the social dynamics among Indian men and women and the hypocritical racism towards black Africans over and above everything else]. Written in a deadpan tone of reportage, a lot of people actually think Azad's being serious whereas of course, if you have an iota of common sense, you can see what he's doing. [Refer: 'satire'.]

The first section of the book jumps right into the Islamophobia theme, and I found myself cringing, nodding my head and sighing along to various passages. In the burqa-ban satire piece, Azad's dislike of the burqa is made clear. Then again, that's not the point. Like he says: 'I don't like the burqa. Europe doesn't like the burqa. But so what?'
I liked the close to the section as well:
'In spite of being Muslim, and therefore naturally biased in any non-Muslim's eyes, I should be entitled to scream Islamophobia from the rooftops when I encounter it, and I should be able to talk about it in an open forum without sounding like an evil, brainwashed caricature from a bad movie throwing a jihadist tantrum.' 
Saheeh, bro. Just so.

And now we jump to my favourite section of the book, that pertaining to Kashmir. Remember, Azad is NOT Kashmiri. He is Indian by ethnicity, but really he's just South African. 
'I have no allegiance with a teenager made permanently blind from birdshot in Baramullah any more than I have with the ordinary office worker who gets blown up by a bunch of rabid jihadists while commuting in a packed train in Bombay. Likewise, I don't care for an illiterate father left humiliated in front of his sons as he awaits help to fill up an immigration form on a border crossing with any less intensity than for a half-widow in Anantnag, who must go on living in limbo, unsure if her husband would come back dead or alive, if ever.'

'India, Pakistan or Azadi?' is really the crux of the Kashmir 'issue' is it not? ~ No, it isn't because in Kashmir there will never be straightforward answers and I can give you three different replies to the same question on three different days. Well, sort of.
So, anyway. Azad has, as opposed to a lot of non-Kashmiris writing loud, very certain pieces about Kashmir, actually visited the place and written about some of his first-hand experiences there, and the opinions he has built therefrom. Now, any fella broadcasting the relatively unpalatable truths about Kashmir, so well-brushed-under the Indian mainstream media's rendering of the Kashmir narrative, is a friend of mine. I pat Azad on the back. I thank him. As a Kashmiri, this section of the book reads like the obvious truth all of us living here know, but for some strange, infuriating reason, no one in the outside world cares too much.

Azad writes about the questions of Kashmiri identity, how it was growing up there during the 'bad years', state high-handedness, well-documented reports of gross human rights violations, enforced disappearances, legal impunity, and the new generation of Kashmiris that are slowly gearing up to use new media as a tool to open the world's eyes to what Kashmir is all about. He touches upon the Bollywood Kashmir depiction, which all of us [Kashmiris] roll our eyes at. The chapter on cricket bats and Kashmiri willows is interesting, especially seeing as how politics plays a part there as well. Am pretty certain the chapter on Kashmiri Pandits will not go down well with most Indian readers. Okay, the WHOLE section will not go down well in that corner. 
[Aside: As a true blue Kashmiri, I was lapping up all experiences from his essays on the Arab Spring, and applying to the situation in Kashmir. * REVOLUTION! PEOPLE POWER!* Because we do shit like that. Everything can be made Kashmir-specific.]

I really enjoyed The Moslems Are Coming as a pacy read covering a range of topics that interested me, and that I could relate to: Islam[ophobia], racism, hypocrisy, power politics, Kashmir, India, Palestine-Israel, Bollywood, cricket, the World Cup.
Azad's angry, rambling, acerbic style takes getting used to [which, when done by Page 4, makes the rest of the reading easier.] Once I had pinpointed the tone of the book, it was on to enjoying the pieces for their individual merit.
This is not a feel-good book, for rainy afternoons, a quilt and coffee and marshmallows for accompaniment. It makes you uncomfortable, it addresses issues you've all probably thought about more than once, and it certainly makes no bones about highlighting certain things and people and situations as they are. 'Warts and all' is what you'll get. 
I took into account Azad's hyperbole and OTT-isms because there's some of that as well. And at times my hands would rush to my blushing cheeks, thinking: "Mein Gott. He uses the f-word! He said 'whore'. And 'penis'. And 'other things! AAAIIEEE!" [Okay, not really. I don't blush while reading.] 

PS: This post was really not as short as it was meant to be.
PPS: Azad, when are you signing my book?

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Hum ko ma'aloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin
Dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib khayaal achha hai.