‘I wrote on Kashmir’s conflict to get it out of me’

Basharat Peer is a well-known writer from Kashmir. In an interview with with Swati Mathur of Times of India, Peer discussed a growing trend of writing on Kashmir’s conflict, differences he’s observed between Muslims from Kashmir and elsewhere, the current situation in the Valley — and a desire for freedom from both India and Pakistan:  

Most Kashmiri writing today concentrates only on the conflict from the 1980s — why just that?  

You cannot blame the people of Kashmir for writing about the conflict. When i moved to Delhi as a journalist, i visited bookstores that had scores of texts on conflict-ridden nations around the globe. However, there was nothing on Kashmir — it made me realise something had to be written. So much had happened which people didn’t know about. It was also a way to get it out of me and move on, a nice way of saying goodbye to a part of your life, a part of growing up. My book was the first work of non-fiction that talks about the Kashmiri conflict. There’ve been others. It is a corpus of work that will grow over time.  

What about the antique tradition of poetry in Kashmir — will that be forgotten?  

Certainly not — having said that, there is a huge corpus that has still not been translated and remains inaccessible to people, including many in the Valley.  

You’re now studying mainstream Indian Muslims and those from Kashmir. Is there a significant difference?  

My first exposure to the difference was when i went to Aligarh Muslim University as a student. There was a deep sense of distrust Muslims in that part of the country harboured towards us from the Valley. Our political histories, idioms, languages were different. Kashmiris have continued to demand freedom from Indian rule — on the other hand, mainstream Indian Muslims have chosen to be with India. They look at Kashmiri Muslims as outsiders because having chosen to stay, they want a fair share in the Indian Union.  

What about the position of Kashmiri Pandits who had to leave during the conflict?  

I can imagine it has been incredibly hard for the people who’ve been uprooted from their homes. Some Kashmiri Pandits have returned to the Valley but there is a large number that hasn’t. To live in refugee camps and be rendered jobless cannot have been easy. I wonder whether normality can be restored — it would be wonderful if they could come back but i don’t know whether it is possible anymore.  

You yourself have moved to America — has it been easier for you to write about censorship being away?  

Yes — but only in part. There’s always that thought that your family is back there and anything i say or do affects them directly. For those who have chosen to live and write from the Valley, the freedom of expression is curtailed. Having said that, the situation has improved significantly today. There are fewer paramilitary personnel and greater freedoms. But remnants of the conflict remain — everyone still carries their identity cards, even if they don’t have to be produced so often.  

Does a demand for freedom persist?  

Yes. This is a people disenchanted with the governments of both India and Pakistan. There was a phase when children would cross the Line of Control into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for military training — all that has stopped. But the current political dispensation has done little to help the local people. Pakistan has also failed to help. Locally, people still want freedom — from both countries. Courtesy TOI

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