I haven’t been home for the last eight months. But last week, I began to prepare for a trip to Kulgam in Kashmir after my family called me with some good news: an uncle was going to get married at the end of the month. The wedding had been planned so that it wouldn’t interfere with my MPhil studies in Kolkata.
On Sunday, I went to out shopping for gifts for the family. I bought my uncle some clothes and got my sister a small silver wristwatch. I was exhausted by the time I got home and wasn’t able to call my sister about the watch I’d bought her. I tried to phone the family first thing on Monday morning, but wasn’t able to get through. It was only after I read the news that I realised that all communications to the Valley had been suspended.
It didn’t take long to realise why this inhuman measure had been effected. By mid-morning, Home Minister Amit Shah stood up in Parliament to announce that India had retracted the special status it had promised Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, a promise that was the basis for the territory’s decision to join India after its Independence from the British.
As the day progressed, stories began to trickle in about how the communication blackout and the restriction on movements had disrupted lives and destroyed dreams. One friend, for instance, had been scheduled to attend an interview on August 8 to join a programme at Hyderabad Central University. He had booked a flight out of Srinagar on August 7, but as tension began to grip the Valley last week, his parents told him to take a train out from Jammu. When he got there, though, he found that there was midnight curfew and no tickets. He was devastated at the prospect of his academic career evaporating overnight, for no fault of his own.
Amidst the anxieties of my Kashmiri friends, I realised that many people around me were cheering India’s decision to rob us of our identity. Several fellow students at my hostel seemed to believe this was a personal victory for them. When I asked why they were celebrating, one replied, “Now we can buy land in Kashmir.” It clarified India’s position to me in a flash. Whether Kashmiris live or die, it doesn’t matter to these people. It is our land that matters.
History is being rewritten again and, once more, we Kashmiris were being deprived of the right to decide our own future. In 1846, the British sold us to Maharaja Gulab Singh for just 75 lakh Nanak Shahi rupees under the Treaty of Amritsar. Again in 1947, we were acceded to India by the Dogra rulers without our consent. At the time, however, we were promised that we would be given right to choose our own destiny. That promise was never fulfilled. On Monday again, our future was decided by imprisoning our leadership and caging common people in their homes.
I am not sure when I will be able to give my sister the watch I bought for her. I am lost in despair and praying for my people.
Tanveer Ahmad Khan is a MPhil Scholar at the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata.