I had often imagined that my first trip to Kashmir would be one of a tourist with the family, playing in the snow, enjoying a boat ride on the Dal lake or cuddling with family under a warm Kashmiri blanket while we sipped on a soothing cup of Khawah.
In fact we were to travel during the children’s winter vacations in December to Kashmir this year. We literally wanted to experience a White Christmas.
This was before the Indian Parliament decided to Abrogate Article 370 and carve two Union Territories out of the Jammu & Kashmir state and Ladakh.
The decision driven by the vision of the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi was courageous and people centric in nature.
It aimed at a complete integration of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with the people from the rest of India.
On national TV debates on the topic of Kashmir or on my views on social media, I have often stated that if a person from Kashmir can run a business in Goa and own property in Goa, why am I as a Goan and foremost an Indian restricted from running a business or owning a property in Kashmir.
It was this thinking that had Majid Hyderi and me get into a major argument on a TV debate, when he started to whine and play a victim saying, ‘We Kashmiri Muslims have no voice’ and I countered him stating, “That’s the problem with you Kashmiri Muslims, you don’t think you are Indians’.
The truth is that the majority in Kashmir is a Muslim majority and has been so for many years.
The Kashmiri Muslims have achieved this demographic hold after systematic and forced exodus of Hindus, Sikhs and even Christians from the region.
The fact is that most Kashmiris think they are Kashmiris but Pro-India.
So when Majid Hyderi threw a challenge to me saying that it easy for you living in Goa and travelling to studios in Mumbai or Delhi to form a biased opinion on the lives of Kashmiris without actually visiting and seeing our strife and nature of our lives. If you have the courage come to Kashmir and see our life for yourself.
So I took up the challenge. And I packed my bags after a few weeks and landed in Srinagar.
My family was obviously concerned and so were my friends.
Excitement was riddled all over my face and it started soon as I got out of the airport and was picked up in a dirty Maruti Alto.
My team mate in Kashmir – a local from Baramulla and a brilliant colleague – was apologising profusely stating that if he hired a better car, we would be spotted and we could be targeted.
I looked at him, smiled and said, “This is awesome”. This is the joy of real reporting. The tinge of danger.
As soon as we got out of the airport and was about 1 km from my hotel, I witnessed a stone-pelting incident.
I got off my car and tried to shoot the happenings, but I got chased away by the Armed personnel running with an AK-47 towards me. I had to literally jump into the moving car. It was an adrenalin rush.
That day there were reports of stone pelting in different locations around Kashmir. It was the second-day of the European Union Members of Parliament (EU-MP) visit to Kashmir. The mobiles phone communications were restored in the region. Internet was still off.
I reached the hotel. Freshened up and got ready for my meetings that day in Srinagar.
I met with varied people – Professors from the Kashmir University, Representatives of the Sikh Community, Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Representatives of the Christian Community, Representatives of the Youth from the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu community, Senior Officers of the Indian Intelligence Agencies and Senior Officers of the Indian Army.
I also met with some hotel and restaurant owners, shopkeepers, Apple orchard owners and workers, traders in Kashmiri artefacts, handicrafts and textiles, senior engineers working in PWD government department, bureaucrats and students studying at the University in Kashmir.
I also spoke to former militants and current militants some funded through Pakistani agencies.
I chose not to meet politicians because to me the J&K politicians and the politicians in the Indian government over the years have been responsible for the plight of the people of Kashmir.
Also because most politicians were detained and the protocol to follow to meet them would eat into my time. To me it was not worth my time.
I wanted to learn about the real Kashmir not the falsely portrayed Kashmir in media.
So I traveled over the next couple of days across Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Sangrama, Pattan, Rifabad, Budgaum and Kupwara.
I also met people from Shopian in Srinagar, as I was warned not to travel to Shopian.
Most people I spoke to appreciated the conviction and courage of the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi to abrogate Article 370. Some of course were extremely disappointed but these were sympathisers of the ‘Kashmiryat’ cause and some were plain ‘Islamic Radicalists’.
While there was no major condemnation to the act of abrogating Article 370, many are not aware of the plans that the Indian government has for the people of Kashmir and in what manner would the plans unfold.
Most people feared about their land, most people feared about their jobs and most people feared about their businesses.
Their confusion stemmed from the fact that they had no idea in what manner would the Indian government protect their land, their jobs and their business. None so far has been communicated at the ground-level in Kashmir. It has been only at a bureaucratic and aristocratic level.
Their confidence in the political leaders at the state-level and their confidence in the Indian government at the Centre is poor.
Many are thrilled that the Modi-government has shown some spine to arrest the corrupt politicians of J&K.
But in the same breath they also questioned the timing of their arrests – after the abrogation of Article 370. They doubted whether the Indian government had a strong spine to actually ensure that the corrupt politicians be punished in the court of law for their immense crimes of corruption that literally destroyed the social and economic future of Kashmir.
Even the militants that I spoke too commented that if Narendra Modi would have jailed the corrupt politicians of J&K before the abrogation of Article 370, there would have been celebrations on the streets of Kashmir.
Most people hate the Abdullahs and the Muftis. I am talking about the real Kashmiri, who does not live off crumbs of the politicians but on hard work.
Corruption to me is the root cause of the despicable socio-economic condition of Kashmir. This corruption sowed the seeds of depravation of the common youth in Kashmir. No economic activities, no jobs besides government jobs for which you either had to pay or lick boots (metaphorically speaking) and no business industries that could spurn an economic revolution in Kashmir.
The politicians such as the Abdullahs, Muftis and even the Hurriyats wanted to hold sway and control the people.
Most Kashmiris I spoke too always stated this statement very proudly, “I am a Kashmiri but I am Pro-India’.
This statement was an indication of their mindset. They believe in their dominion over the land, jobs and culture. Nothing wrong in that thought. Most Indians have it towards their state and land. I as a Goan, am very passionate about the rights of the Goans in Goa while I share the same passion about the rights of being an Indian.
Over the years of conflict, we as Indians have allowed for a dangerous virus to get into the minds of the people of Kashmir. That virus is Islamic Radicalisation under the guise of Kashmiriyat.
Islamic Kashmir is a reality it is not a myth.
The reasons many youths are being allured to the life of a militant, stone-pelter and over-the-ground workers is the radicalised thoughts in their mind that they working in the interest of Allah and in the interest of the people of Kashmir.
One militant I spoke too, claimed that the J&K police, framed him on false-charges for carrying AK-47 weapons and let him rot in jail for four-years. He managed to get bail. In our conversation, he was expressing his anger to me by yelling at me about how he hates India, wants Kashmir to align with Pakistan because it’s an Islamic nation and that Indian government destroyed Kashmir.
He dreams of a Kashmir free of India supported by Pakistan. I told him that he needed to wake up from his dream and come to realm of being awake, otherwise his dream could turn into a nightmare.
He did not quite like that summation of mine. But deep in the screaming and my patient retort. I knew that he knew that his future lied with India, irrespective of the mumbo-jumbo Islamic rhetoric he barked.
The people of Kashmir think that they are special and different from other Indians.
I don’t blame them. For decades they have been led to believe that their special status was because they were special than the Indians and that they were more than the Indians.
The J&K politicians had grasp over the Indian politicians at the Centre who danced to their tunes quite easily.
In their projected modesty there is a superiority belief that they are more special than the other Indians and if any other Indian infringes on this special status, they will whine and cringe. That’s where their thoughts are different from most Indians who are passionate about their state and passionate about India.
It is a form of a mindset that has led to the success of Islamic Radicalisation in Kashmir.
The Islamic thought-managers from the radical groups funded through Pakistan by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran knows that a youth in Kashmir, needs to be coveted by making him feel inferior and then stroke his superiority complex and vanity to lead him to radicalisation.
Poster boys of the militancy in Kashmir Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa were a product of this shallow mindset that morphs itself into a person who craves for appreciation, attention of the opposite sex and easy money.
Burhan Wani or Zakir Musa were not heroes and should never be heroes, they were cowards.
People who target innocent in their acts of terror and militancy are cowards.
It is my sound advice to most youths in Kashmir who want to join the militants, you want to be a hero and fight the rights of your people, join the police force or the army. The militants you want to ape will not join the armed forces because they will not work for an average salary, risk their lives for common citizens, not be pelted by stone-pelters, not be spat over and not be touted as heroes. But most importantly is because they are sissies.
Kashmir is a strange region. It is here that a youth who might have a run-in with the police or armed force, gets offended, psyched out and joins militancy.
It is a region where a youth who gets dumped by his girlfriend, dejected he becomes a militant.
It is a sign of a mind that is weak and immature.
If we go by the number of run-ins an average Indian citizen has with police officers, bureaucrats or politicians in other parts of India, you would expect most of youth in India to become militants.
In all this crying of the atrocities to Kashmiri Muslims, I wonder if many who have a soft corner for the Kashmiri Muslims under the guise of human rights, every thought about the Kashmiri Pandits who they drove out over night.
Kashmiri Pandits were thrown out of Kashmir one night. Threatened, abused, women and children were to be raped. There were also hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits who were tortured, killed and raped. Have Kashmiri Pandits taken to militancy. They have not because it is not their mindset.
The situation is Kashmir is not as easy as a territorial change or changing it into a Union Territory.
The problem in Kashmir is a problem of an Islamic radicalised polluted mindset. It is a mindset that is against Hindus. It is a mindset that is against India because it has majority of Hindus.
The situation in Kashmir is that of a person putting his foot on a landmine. If he takes his foot off there will be a blast. If he wants to prevent the blast he would need to disable the mine first before he takes off his foot.
For all the crying the Muslim minorities have in other states in India, they treat the minorities in Kashmir – Sikhs and Christians – as outcast in the truest sense. Sikhs and Christians in Kashmir have no rights to government jobs or benefits. Everyone is most interest in the Muslim community but not a mention in Kashmir about the lives of Sikh and Christian community.
The government could use the communities of Sikh and Christians (though not Pro-BJP) to play a balancing act to keep check on Islamic radicalisation. In fact Sikhs and Christians can actually play an important role in any Advisory Council planned to be formed by the Centre.
No article on Kashmir can ever be complete without the mentioned and need to fight for the right of the Kashmiri Pandits.
Kashmiri Pandits are fighting for the rights in their homeland. Successive governments since 1990 have only provided lip-service to the Kashmiri Pandits but no justice yet.
It is time our Kashmir Pandits sisters and brothers get their land and their rights back.
It must state this with caution that the time Internet communications are restored completely. You will have a rise in militancy and terror activities across Jammu & Kashmir. We must be even prepared for a terror attack in a major city in India.
If I had to describe my feelings being in Kashmir, I have to say that ‘I felt sad’, that we have allowed the situation in Kashmir to deteriorate. But I have hope in us as Indians and also in the non-radicalised Kashmiris that the night is always the darkest before the dawn.
There is hope. Kashmir will regain it true identity and place on a global stage. Its true identity is Indian.
That was my message to Majid Hyderi when I met him for breakfast before my flight out of Kashmir. He was the last person I met officially.
‘Kashmir makes me sad. The situation is not normal. We as Indians must work to bring it back to normalcy. It will take time but it will happen, if you are with me.”
His mother blessed me.
And I boarded my flight back to Goa with a strong desire to return back to Kashmir soon and set-up an online portal on Kashmir news out of Kashmir.