"Azaadi", I heard this during a discussion on Kashmir, held in the capital city. Infact, for a few hours, it was all that I heard of. People were talking about it, arguing for it and more importantly, "demanding" it. I was present in the audience, keenly listening to the "arguments", taking them in, not because I have a special attachment to Kashmir but as a human being who is and should be ever-concerned about humanity.
The discussion was unusual, interesting and yet a bit uneventful. But it was definitely an experience, giving me a lot to ponder upon, think about and to make me curious. To begin with, it was not really a debate, discussion, a sharing of ideas, it was just an expression of solidarity to "Azaadi" but with whom and for whom? that remained a question. Based on my interpretation from the words of the speakers and the train of thought in the discussion, they were speaking about azaadi or freedom from the country. This pertains to the history of the valley, as was argued. Personally, I respect the views. Infact, I don't consider myself eligible enough to decide the fate of a community. I believe that people of the community should decide their own fate. However, this demand or interpretation of azaadi puzzled me. While this puzzled me because on one hand they would talk about this definition of "Azaadi" or to stop the "decolonization of India" and on the other, they would reassure that they are not "separatists", there were also several other issues, unanswered and even ridiculed.
Though, I have tried to involve myself in demands for rights to Kashmiri people, I never try to pass any judgment. I do not believe in rigidity and engage in debates to not only know other perspectives but also other possible and more practical solutions. Abiding by this habit, I posed a question, a "basic" and dangerously direct (as I realised later) question, "What does Azaadi mean to you". With this, I also added, "I have travelled to Kashmir and Manipur and have seen armymen sitting on roofs and in fields, I also oppose this heavy militarization, I also oppose and have also filed cases at human rights commission for Kashmiri people, I also demand for the rights of Kashmir...I have many friends in Kashmir, I also randomly talked with people there and they all seemed to be genuine , honest and simple and favoring them in their demands is a matter of pride for me. But there is something different that I have to put forth. On being asked about their problem, they complained about unemployment, about militarisation, lack of development, lack of basic amenities etc. This is azaadi for them, don't you think?
But to my great surprise and horror, it was deeply "misinterpreted". "What question is this? I never reply to such questions. We are fighting since 20 years and you ask "us" what we want? Obviously, the speaker did not know my views. Though I did apologise as I do understand his situation, but I was completely taken aback for many reasons. First was this immediate and forgive me to say, but immature reaction. Such a reaction, I feel, is the other extreme end of the continuum and extreme reactions do not help. Atleast, it does not help those who are always stuck in between and who are generally the real sufferers. An extreme reaction is never considered, understood and accepted. But the question is...is this view or azaadi really the definition of every Kashmiri? As I had mentioned.. many Kashmiris whom I spoke to had different definitions to offer. Also, another major problem with this interpretation and rigidity is this constructed homogeneity. The voices in Kashmir are not homogenous. There are conflicts within. Kashmir has Pro-Islamabad, Pro-New Delhi and independent politicians. There are also diverse solutions for the fate of Kashmir, offered by the people of the valley themsevles.
There are many problems in Kashmir, apart from this political mess-up. Problems pertaining to the existing social and economic inequalities. I also wonder if it is easier for some people to talk about "azaadi" or freedom from India than those fighting for economic and social equality. I wonder if it is easy for some people to try and undo the past rather than strive for a better present and future. Generations are being mobilised by some affluent and "safe" sections for that desired "azaadi" but without a proper sketch or plan but is there any guarantee that even in the promised land, there will be no discrimination, no more sectarian violence and peace will prevail? Is this attempt full of violence and blood really the tunnel to success, to equality, to azaadi? Azaadi..for whom? Who defines this term? Are there different definitions of Azaadi? This was what I kept thinking about.
For me and many others, who hold our supreme identity as that of a human being, really have no opinion to offer on whether Kashmir should be with India or not. What we really care is only about the peaceful and happy Kashmir. Whatever is just and fair, Kashmir must get. Whatever is acceptable to all and in benefit of Kashmir in view of its future, must be received by it. The reality must be discussed, with people and leaders, with students and forces, with everyone and at every level, even government of India must start and must give green signal to know what a common Kashmiri want. Leaders must get down from their thrones and red carpets and must experience the rough terrain and tough life of common people of valley. We all must respect and desire for a peaceful future, happiness, prosperity and development of Kashmir and its people in all the way. We must respect and achieve "Azaadi" but before that, it must be defined. By whom? by the people.
Ravi Nitesh is founder of Mission Bharatiyam. www.missionbharatiyam.org
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