A ceasefire in a never-before romance

When the unrest in Kashmir was at its peak in 2016, and it seemed to many that Azadi is a few miles away, I received a call from a friend asking me - hypothetically, if things were going to be taken to a logical conclusion, would I move to the other side of the border and give up my passport? An answer was promptly posted: I shall keep my Indian passport and then maybe seek a visa to come home!

By GUEST AT GRAPHIC--Shehryar Khanum
  • Published 27.05.18
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Holy pause: A man prays at the Sheikh Abdul Qadir Geelani shrine in Srinagar during Ramzan
PIC: AFP Photo/Tauseef Mustafa  

When the unrest in Kashmir was at its peak in 2016, and it seemed to many that Azadi is a few miles away, I received a call from a friend asking me - hypothetically, if things were going to be taken to a logical conclusion, would I move to the other side of the border and give up my passport? An answer was promptly posted: I shall keep my Indian passport and then maybe seek a visa to come home!

I am no chest-thumping, loud Indian nationalist but I do believe in the idea of India, in the idea that Hindus and Muslims are meant to co-exist in this country and the space for Kashmiris, Kashmiri Muslims in particular, is as much available in this polity as for any other citizen. And it is this belief that places people like me in the not so popular category of "pro-India Kashmiris".

This divide between pro-India and anti-India Kashmiris has only become sharper over the last few years. This is primarily due to two reasons - one, that India is, by and large, now seen as a Hindu country with shrinking spaces for minorities, and secondly, due to the failure of the Indian government to contain violence in Kashmir over the last two years. While slogans like " Kashmiriyat" and "Insaniyat" have become fashionable speech tools for political dignitaries on the stage, these have not translated into anything substantial beyond the dias. And we, the pro-India population, have lost face and possibly the ground to argue that Kashmir and its future are safe and sound with India. Our conversations on the glory of India can now be held only behind closed doors.

And then, after a limp approach to the increasing tension and violence in the Valley, out of the blue the Government of India announces a "Ramzan Ceasefire". As a Kashmiri, it does not make me ecstatic but I would be lying if I said that I did not quietly breathe a sigh of relief. On the face of it, this step translated into the fact, or at least the hope, that we would not be counting the dead in the month of Ramzan - be it the local boys or the security forces, and rather would be focusing on abstinence and seeking forgiveness from our Lord, which is the true mandate of Ramzan for Muslims. But on a more deeper analysis of what the ceasefire really meant, you would need to don the hat of a Kashmiri Muslim and the answers would flow through as follows: In a deeply polarised India, ironically enough, someone at the top still understands what Ramzan means to us Muslims and, secondly, Kashmiris are not the abandoned orphans of this country. And it is this two-pronged response that will help us - read the pro-India citizens - in holding on to our sentiment for a while longer and tell the younger kids on the streets, the wailing mothers, the restless youth, that there is an outreach, a possible friendship, a healing balm for their wounds that have been hurting for a while now.

However, it would be a bit naive to expect that post the ceasefire, Kashmir will resume normalcy and we will function like any other state in the country. We have seen the caveats and riders in the ceasefire order and hope that there will be no provocation to the security forces from the other side. But keeping the optimism alive, this is a huge step for an otherwise indifferent regime and, if followed through with sincerity and commitment, this could be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's and India's chance at reclaiming a lost cause. The youth in Kashmir are not "militant" inherently. They are also victims of the apathy of the system - this is a truth that nobody is willing to admit. They need what a tall leader of the state had envisioned and called the "healing touch".

That was the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. This ceasefire is only the tip of the iceberg, a small beginning to possibilities. It must be followed by actual policy efforts at inclusiveness. Don't be quick to judge a Kashmiri, do not damn him just because he does not fit into the mainstream narrative. Try and understand what he is really seeking and, more importantly, why he is seeking so. Save the anti-India Kashmiri as he is at the end of the day a product of the once envisaged romance between a Muslim majority state with a Hindu majority nation - a romance that has never happened before in the history of Islamic civilisation. And it must happen now before this romance irretrievably breaks down.

As for the miniscule population of the flag bearers of India in Kashmir, they will either die a slow death or cross over to the dark side if the ceasefire is terminated unceremoniously on the completion of Ramzan.

Khanum is a Srinagar-based lawyer and activist