Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s statement on the occasion of the Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5 stating that Pakistan cannot afford to go to war over Kashmir sounded comforting. But the moral, political and diplomatic support that he referred to manifested in various forms across Pakistan. In Islamabad, the Pakistan National Council for Arts, in collaboration with the Ministry of National Heritage and Integration, Ministry of Kashmir Affairs, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir Council, organised an art exhibition displaying paintings on the theme of human rights violations in the Valley. A cultural event involving children from educational institutions also highlighted the same theme, while also showcasing the arts, crafts and rich culture of Kashmir. In Lahore, at a function organised by the Muhammaden Anglo-Oriental College, its principal claimed that Kashmir was an integral part of Pakistan. While the Kashmir Committee reiterated its support to the Kashmiri cause sans terrorism, an editorial in The Nation commented critically on the role of the Kashmir Committee in Pakistan and the fallacy of attempts at normalising relations with India “at the cost of silence on the struggle of our brothers and sisters in Indian Occupied Kashmir.”1 The Minister of Information and Broadcasting wrote in glowing terms of the Pakistan People’s Party’s unstinting support to the Kashmiri movement for self-determination. Functions in Mirpur and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa were accompanied by prayers for the Kashmiri cause, since it also happened to be the holy day of Eid Milad-un Nabi.
On the very same day, two news items appeared in a leading newspaper from the Kashmir Valley. The first was about a team from Kashmir University that participated in the All-India debate competition organised by a university in Maharashtra, and bagged the third position from among 64 teams. Another news item related to Adil Mohiuddin Wani, who having won several medals as part of the state’s canoeing team has brought laurels to the Valley. The report lauded the achievements of the young sports star who had represented India in the 14th Asian Canoe Sprint Championship held in Iran in October 2011.
These are not isolated instances. Over the last few years, there is a whole range of such instances where the common Kashmiri has become a part of the Indian landscape. Shah Faisal made it to the top of the highly competitive all-India Union Public Service Commission examination in 2010; Naseem Shafaie, whose poetry has captured the pain of Kashmiris, was conferred India’s highest literary award, the Sahitya Academy award for 2011; more recently Mir Sohail Qadri won the first prize for his paintings for the Airports Authority of India calender for 2012; Ali Mohammad Bhagat who has been associated with the Muslim theatre group Kashmir Bhagat Theatre was nominated along with 50 eminent artistes of the country for the Tagore Ratna Award for his contribution to the folk tradition of Bande Paether; Mushtaq Bala’s film on the ancient architecture of Kashmir was selected for viewing at the Mumbai International Film Festival; and actor Aamir Khan visited the Valley to shoot for the “Incredible India” campaign to promote tourism.
These instances are compelling pointers to something significant. Firstly, they are indicative of the fact that India’s approach to the Kashmir Valley is not merely one of use of force. Those who argue that this change is a recent development must surely recognise that such achievements are not made overnight; rather, the achievements of today are a culmination of several years of a nuanced policy response to the troubles in the Valley. Secondly, and more importantly, they are indicative of the fact that the depiction of the Kashmiri Muslim as a person forever disgruntled and/or a victim is rather simplistic. It does disservice to those who have persevered through the difficult circumstances in the Valley and have made something worthwhile of their lives.
As in Pakistan, there are those in the Valley, and indeed elsewhere in India and the rest of the world, who choose to look at Kashmir through a prism of binaries. Everything about Indian policy or its implementation vis-à-vis Kashmiri Muslims may not be right, but everything is not wrong either. If there are unfortunate instances of harsh treatment of Kashmiri Muslims in other parts of India, there are also several stories of those who have lived in placid parts of the country, like Kerala, to escape the turmoil. As India moves along its trajectory of growth, it is being compelled to give greater attention to those who have thus far remained untouched by the gains made. Greater inclusiveness, economic and cultural, is increasingly becoming the mainstay of political discourse.
So while Pakistan continues to observe the Kashmir Solidarity Day, it is in keeping with this spirit that, India celebrates Kashmir. And the award clearly goes to the Kashmiri who has made this possible.