Image for representational purpose only. Courtesy: France 24
The people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are up in arms against the decision to revoke the region’s special status. There are also fears that the issue could turn communal. There is a sense of gloom about what might happen to the relationship between the majority Muslims of Kashmir and the local Pandits.
From the Shivpora locality of Srinagar, home to longtime friends Ravi Kumar (a Kashmiri Pandit) and Akram (a Kashmiri Muslim), comes a ray of hope. The friends say that revoking special status would not matter to the equations shared by the communities they belong to. They rule out chances of any kind of communal clash between the two communities.
Comparing Kashmir with Delhi
“Whatever New Delhi wants to do and whenever New Delhi wants to do it; that is done and always without asking anyone,” Akram says. He feels the local Kashmiris cannot stop the central government but that does not change how the people of Kashmir think or live, or what they believe. “Kashmir has always been an epitome of brotherhood,” Akram says. “In the past, we have seen many try to sow the seeds of hatred but Kashmiriyat has always stood the test of time. I am sure we shall pass this test too,” he says.
Akram and Ravi have been friends since the 1990s. They believe that revoking Kashmir’s special status will have good as well as bad effects “Surely some accountability will come to the state. However, it is also a kind of degradation for common Kashmiris like us,” says Ravi. “It is like demoting an employee from a school principal’s position to an ordinary teacher.”
The two friends compare the Union Territory of Delhi with the newly-declared (but yet to be formalised) Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. “Kashmir will be polluted and the crime rate will increase—just like it is in New Delhi,” Ravi says.
Neither of them have much, if any, faith in the Prime Minister’s claim that the change in status of J&K is not permanent. “We don’t believe it,” says Akram. “New Delhi says that Jammu is happy with the decision, but I am telling you, I have friends from the Jammu region, both Hindu and Muslim, and both are unhappy with it,” he says.
A never-ending friendship
Ravi and Akram belong to South Kashmir’s Shopian and Tral districts respectively. While Ravi has studied up to his Masters in Education from the University of Kashmir, Akram completed his Bachelors in Ayurvedic and Medical Sciences from the University of Jammu.
When Ravi’s family returned to the Valley from Jammu, where they had gone following the disturbances of the 1990s, he began assisting Akram at his clinic. He took up this job instead of the one he had trained for—to be a teacher—because of the lack of job opportunities. Ravi says that it was possible for him and his family to return to the Kashmir Valley only during the “peaceful” period that ran from 2003 to 2004. That was when Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, the former chief minister, had assumed power in J&K.
Ravi cites his friendship and closeness with Akram as an instance of communalism not taking root in the Valley. “Hinduism and Islam never teach hatred. Both are not religions but a way of life,” says Ravi.
Akram who is seated opposite Ravi in a dark room in his house in Shivpora quickly chips in. “To kill on basis of religion is criminal,” he says.
“I am an ayurvedic doctor. Ayurveda comes from Atharva Veda, a branch of Hinduism. I have read and know Hinduism very well because of my studies. I tell you, Hinduism never teaches hatred or communalism,” says Akram.
A way forward
Both friends share the opinion that since the 2008 row over Amaranth land, things started to turn upside down for people in Valley. “Since the Amaranth land controversy in 2008, things started going from bad to worse here,” says Ravi.
Nevertheless, both say that the way forward is for both communities to live peacefully, as they have for centuries past.
On 25 August, Kashmiri brotherhood was on display amidst all the volatility in South Kashmir. A Kashmiri Pandit had died in village in the area and the entire Muslim locality he had lived in stepped out to cremate the deceased. Local Muslims had reached his home before his relatives arrived.
This persistent sense of kinship and solidarity, many locals feel, is what the present political dispensation is out to destroy and snatch from the people of Kashmir. It is common for people to cite instances from other states, where communalisation has been put into service in order to divide people. Jammu and Kashmir is now a Union Territory but it is also a place whose social ethos many have tried and failed to disturb.
Thousands of Pandits still live in Kashmir with their Muslim brethren, without ever imagining an ‘Israeli-type’ of settlement for themselves. They feel safe and secure living with Muslims rather than live in the segregated settlements that are now perhaps being imagined as their future.
(Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.)
Danish Bin Nabi is a journalist based in Srinagar, Kashmir.