For many, the demilitarisation of Kashmir means freedom
Meha Dixit Srinagar
Beneath the freezing winter haze, the city limps back to 'normalcy' after four months of bandhs (shut-downs) and endless tragedies. Over 100 youngsters shot dead. It's tense. Locals say hundreds of houseboats are vacant and 60,000 hotel employees are laid off. Injustice and sorrow stalks the terrain. The infinite woes of Kashmiris can make you dizzy.
When it comes to Kashmir, it is alright to talk about azadi (independence) in terms of sovereignty and the right to self-determination. However, for ordinary Kashmiris - shikarawalas, autowalas, shopkeepers, hotel employees, students, children, youth and elderly, rich and poor- - it's not enough to talk about azadi just in terms of self-determination. One needs to broaden this concept. It is imperative to speak of azadi in terms of human security - freedom from intense fear, insecurity, unemployment, violence, daily humiliations and degradations, alienations, brutality and tragedies, and so on.
"Kashmir should be demilitarised and it would be 90 per cent safe," says Sajad Ibraham. "Who and what do we want azadi from? Fom the Indian State? From unemployment, insecurity?" For him, this means freedom from fear, insecurity, and yes, its root cause - relentless atrocities of 'security' forces. "If Kashmir is demilitarised, then I don't want azadi from India. That itself is azadi."
Bashirji from Kupwara does not understand the political situation but the only thing he says is, "Humko fauj se azadi chahiye" (We want freedom from the army). In 2007, his brother-in-law disappeared; he never returned. Over the years Kashmir has witnessed large number of disappearances and often security forces are responsible for this. Kashmiris are living in one of the most heavily militarised zones in the world. Apparently, for every four individuals in the valley, there is one security person.
Noor Mohammad, a shikarawala, argues that the army should move towards the border out of the cities and districts. He wants azadi from zulm (freedom from brutality and injustice). Mohammad asserts that if the Indian government is not hostile and its policies are favourable for Kashmiris, then there would be no problem. "Since 1947, we never wanted to be with Pakistan. The media is pushing us away from India." Not just Noor Mohammad and Altaf Bakhtoor, for many shikarawalas, azadi is synonymous with aman and chain (peace and peace of mind). Some argue that separatists or politicians "will not feed us in case of shut-downs".
This is not to say that Kashmiris in the valley do not want azadi from the Indian State per se. A number of people from Srinagar - the old city, Lal Chowk, Residency Road, Dal Gate, Rajbagh - passionately argued for freedom. Imran wants "azadi from Hindustan": "Even if the army goes we still want azadi." Says Aadil, a student, "Kashmir should be declared an international dispute; bandh is the only weapon we have." Mohammad Murtaza agrees. "It's because of insecurity and unemployment." Mahida, a student, says: "Our right to freedom is being denied. Strikes are a reaction to atrocities by security forces." Besides, she, like many others, feels that interlocutors for Kashmir is a futile exercise.
This reporter met locals in Anantnag, Baramulla, Shopian and Kupwara, and a similar division seemed dominant. Some are confused about the concept of azadi, some are reluctant to talk. But there is unanimity on one thing: the demilitarisation of Kashmir.