He who opens a school door, closes a prison: Victor Hugo
Events in the Kashmir Valley are running contrary to Hugo’s credo. School buildings are being burnt down, government employees being prevented from going to work and the houses of ministers, state legislators and those claiming to be people’s representatives are being torched.
In the 21st century, at a time when young people across the nation are nurturing dreams of India becoming an economic superpower, why is this state, known as the nation’s crown, going in reverse gear? Don’t its citizens know that guns can only cause harm?
Kashmiris have known this fact for years.
Let me tell you a first-person story. Work (I was then at a TV news channel) had taken me to Srinagar when my correspondent there suggested that I visit Gulmarg. You’ll get to see so much snow that you’ll forget everything else, he said.
Once teeming with tourists, this picturesque region, unfortunately, was deserted when I went there. We took the cable car to the summit. What a breathtaking view! Snow-capped peaks, tall trees and the whistling sound of the wind. At that time, apart from the employees who ran the mountain gondola, there was just one person at Kongdoori Peak. The man looked dishevelled and frail.
After some time, he came to us on his own and asked: “Will you have parathas?” Parathas, here in the snow? I asked. Concealing a stove in his phiran, the man appeared to be really disadvantaged. I said yes in order to help him earn a few rupees. I also wanted to chat with him to understand the condition of people living in rural Kashmir. What he told me made the bland parathas even less appetizing. Like other people in his village, he, too, had been resigned to living in penury. Then he took the payment for the parathas and began walking away from us.
Suddenly, he turned around and shouted in Kashmiri. I asked my correspondent, who had accompanied me to Gulmarg, about what the man was saying. ‘We want roti, not azaadi!’ came the answer. I wasn’t really surprised by this but was saddened by the fact that the television correspondent stood there like a mute spectator and didn’t even think about taking out his camera from his bag. In my view, this was an eye-opener of a story.
I sternly asked him to take his camera out. He took it out reluctantly but it was too late. By then the gondola workers had ‘instructed’ the parathawala in their local tongue. I asked the correspondent to do a piece-to-camera and repeat what the parathawala had shouted earlier. On the way back, my colleague admonished me, saying that I would return to Delhi the next day, but he was the one who had to stay in Kashmir.
I realized that despite spending crores of rupees, we have failed to express the actual agony of the Kashmiri people to the country and the world. Those bureaucrats, politicians, journalists and agencies that should be doing this are either silent or forced to dole out half-truths.
Jammu and Kashmir is tired of living out half-truths since Independence. More than the armed forces, the people they consider their own have given them a raw deal.
In the last few months, around 30 schools have been set afire in the Valley. This is a tried and tested tactic of separatists. This is a tactic adopted again and again in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Between 2007 and 2009, the Taliban torched more than 200 schools there. A Unicef report reveals that this ordeal isn’t just limited to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Owing to the barbarian deeds of the Boko Haram, one million Nigerian kids could not go to school.
Separatists want to foist illiteracy, poverty and callousness on people so that the flames of dissatisfaction can be stoked conveniently.
The signals from Kashmir are clear. The separatists are preventing children from going to school so that they can use them for their own designs. School-going children nurture dreams of a rosy future: they don’t throw stones at the Army.
Here’s an example: At the beginning of the week, the eyes of three girls were hit by gun pellets. Clearly, the soldiers of the armed forces did not target them indoors, in their homes. Innocent children easily turn aggressive owing to meagre incentives, pressures or false promises. And when children get hurt, the evil impression is sent out that the government in Delhi is inflicting torture on the residents of the state.
It is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Nobody is better suited to provide this alternative than the democratically elected government of Jammu and Kashmir. Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is making an attempt to do this but the circumstances are not in her control. She will have to change her strategy, since the path to peace in the Valley passes through its schools. In the 21st century, Kashmir doesn’t need the wayward sons of Sikandar Butshikan (the sixth sultan of the Shah Miri dynasty of Kashmir), but educated young people.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin