What I Didn’t Know About Kashmir

My journey as a new journalist in Kashmir and the stories that unraveled to unsettle me

AS I watch the view from my window these days, I imagine myself a girl caught in curbs in the mountains which Kashmiris call their home. Her daily struggle leaves me dazed, as I perceive myself a prisoner in my own home now. I think of these iron grills in my window as some prison partition, coming in the way of my liberty.

Lockdown hasn't done anything good to the majority but to me, it has done wonders. I got an opportunity to work with a leading Kashmiri news organization. In my opinion, people shouldn’t take up Journalism as a profession to earn a humongous amount of money. They should take up this dutiful profession to feed their soul/ Zameer and to make sure they are giving back to society something valuable. Though, I admit, this is not true of everyone. While taking this pathway, many of us get diverted and corrupted too. I guess that's what power does, if not used properly.

I am not experienced enough in the industry yet. After graduating with a journalism degree, the idea of working in Kashmir or what they call doing, 'real journalism' dawned upon me.

I must admit, I did not know much about the place beyond what was fed to me through dominant narratives about this place. All I cared about was Kashmir — the deadly beauty that was always in the news. I guess this is how most non-kashmiris view Kashmir; a disturbed beautiful place in news.

However, soon my knowledge expanded and so did my empathy towards this place. The dawns are different for both of us, the night is not as quiet as we think, and the beauty of the valley has turned poisonous because of political turmoil. The ecstasy has a cost of eulogy now. Children have lost their childhood, schools/colleges have no functioning hours, and livelihood has a price in the valley.

The time after the abrogation of Article 370 was one that was communicated to Indians with lies. We had seen a quiet, peaceful and functioning Kashmir. But when I started working here, I found it torn, disturbed, and struggling for life.

As I said before, I don't have much experience in this field yet. However, one story that has deeply unsettled me is the one where I tried to explore the state of mental health in the valley. This story was an eye-opener; for me more than anybody else.

While filing the story, I came across a Kashmiri sentence, Dil Chu Aamut Phatnas which means, “My heart is tearing apart in suffocation”. Nothing else has ever managed to pierce through my heart as unforgivingly as this phrase.

In the presence of lockdowns and communication blackouts, Kashmiris socialize through what is known here as, ‘Daraev kin Darbar’. To combat isolation, loneliness, political and emotional turmoil, people talk through windows to maintain sanity.

I do not know if my work will ever bring their stories out or make any impact. However, the more I feel for the place, the more I’m determined to do so.

The narrative that non-Kashmiris are fed and the reality of Kashmir are entirely different. In the presence of so many false narratives, one must as I did, try reading more books related to Kashmir, look at archived news items and watch documentaries about the place.

For me, the journey of learning and unlearning has already begun — especially through fulfilling conversations with my editor who has been very helpful and humane in my journey of exploring Kashmir.

While I hear birds chirping near my window in Mumbai. I sip my hot chai and see these long buildings standing dead. Alarming ambulances rumbling on abandoned roads further surge the sense of siege. I may never know Kashmir as Kashmiris. My sympathy will never match the magnitude of their alienation but it can surely develop in me a sense that may allow me to be honest — in expression and understanding.

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Jyotsna Bharti

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