The Other Kashmir
My account of Kashmir is not conflict oriented but irony driven. I realised I was most drawn by photographs coming out of the valley. Vivid photographs of daily life from Kashmir drew me further into exploring this very strange and mystical land of unfathomable beauty. Over thirty years ago, the Kashmir that my grandparents visited was a prosperous, tourism centric ‘paradise on earth’. Today, Kashmir isa semi-devastated, trapped state, its people subjugated to militancy, separatism, authoritative military might, and terrorism. I read a lot, saw more work coming out of the valley, contacted and communicated with local photographers, journalists and writers who could help me when I finally arrived. My immediate impression when I finally went in 2008 was that what I read is not what I saw or experienced.
What I experienced hands-on was the ground realities of a land that was being torn asunder by politics—it is home to a people who are intrinsically peace loving, innately happy and earning for a life of dignity. Kashmiris today have become onlookers in their own homes, hoping for the governments of India and Pakistan not to treat them as pawns in their games of intrigue, proudly professing to call this magnificent stretch of land an ‘integral’ part of ones country without really providing its people with the elementary rights of choice and freedom of speech.
Kashmiri people have witnessed a drastic change in Kashmir’s famed landscape, from paradise, Kashmir has transformed into a huge military playground, with hundreds of Indian military bunkers springing up in almost every village and town. I went back as a tourist in 2012 with my parents who had never been to Kashmir. We spent ten days as typical ‘house boat tourists’. I saw a different Kashmir, another Kashmir this time around as a tourist, more self-assured, but a disappointingly arrogant one who presumed his rights over ‘outsiders’, Kashmiris seemed miffed with the lack of knowledge tourists and outsiders come into the valley with, not knowing what the locals had gone through in the decades of fury and fire, they want ‘Indians’ to know, to understand, to feel their anguish, feel as one, feel harmonious. They continue living in fear, but the other Kashmir is a stronger one, a surer one, a hopeful one, a more determined one, a reforming one, a happier one, a Kashmir that yearns for normalcy.
All images from the series The Other Kashmir, Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara, Lolab, Uri, Gulmarg, 2008-2012