I returned from a trip to Jammu & Kashmir state a few days ago. Although my trip was not successful because the police stopped us from entering into Kashmir valley due to the bad weather and violence there but I was not regret as I got to talk with the locals and Indian Army about the biggest social issue of India: Kashmir and tension between Hindus and Muslims. I wanted to go to Amarnath temple which is one of the holiest places on planet for Hindus. I had been to Kashmir before about ten years ago and that time was the beginning of good times in Kashmir valley.
When I was Srinagar ten years ago, I did not see any violence and people seemed so happy. I had talked with locals that time also and they seemed so welcoming and were happy that tourists had started to come to the valley again and terrorism was getting defeated. The income of Kashmir valley is completely dependent on tourism but whenever there is any tension between India and Pakistan, the tourism collapses completely in Kashmir. We arrived Jammu by train and hired a taxi for Pahalgam which is the base camp for pilgrims going to Amarnath.
We left the hotel around 10 o’clock and were so excited for the trip but police stopped us saying that the weather was bad in Kashmir valley that nobody was allowed to move further. My taxi driver said that sometimes police just stop people for nothing and suggested to us that talk with them. We asked J&K police and they told us to wait and contact them later. I saw an Army check-post near where we were stopped and saw a few pilgrims going inside their office and thought that I should also talk with them.
We went to the army office and explained our situation to them. We were told by our driver to tell that we did not want to go to Amarnath but that we wanted to go to Katra, another pilgrimage about 40 kms from Jammu. We told the army guy that we wanted to go to Katra but the police were stopping us from going there and he said that he would have helped us if we had any connection with the army means any of my relative or someone whom I knew working in the army. I have relatives working for the Indian Army but I did not want to delay the process by calling them and asking them to talk with this army officer so I told him that I did not know anyone working for the army.
The army officer told us that in this case he could not help us. He asked me where I was from and fortunately he was also from a city near Varanasi and after knowing this he became more friendly to me. I asked him if there was any way to go and he told me that it is neither his nor Indian Army style to suggest or accept a bribe but if we really wanted to know how J&K police work then we should offer the police a bribe of Rs. 500 and then the police would let us move. He said that he knew that police do such things but he would not go to the the police and talk for us because the army hates J&K police because they do such things.
I was surprised to hear that such thing was going on in J&K also but I was happy that now at least we had a way to reach our destination.We went to a police and offered him for bribe and he agreed to let us go by taking Rs. 300 per taxi. Unfortunately when we were giving him the money, one other police officer saw us and got really violent and this officer who had agreed to take bribe also changed and got angry on us. Finally we were in the line again. I was just walking here and there and saw one army guy standing alone and thought just to talk with him about his job.
I went to him and we started talking and he told me something that really shocked me. He said that J&K state is not in India anymore, even he did not know where it was. He said that army is there to protect people and that’s all. He told me that we should also just go to the pilgrimage and enjoy our journey. He was seriously angry at J&K police. He said that if the army leaves the state only for one day then the J&K police will sell the whole state and people living outside of J&K state will not be able to enter J&K by the very next day.
He said that J&K police are completely corrupt and they are one of the biggest reasons of terrorism in the state. I had also heard similar things several times before and after seeing that they agreed to let us go only by taking Rs. 300, I believed that army guy. We were asked to go back to Jammu after waiting for ten hours. The police told us to come the next day at 4 am. We went back to the hotel and again came back at 4 am but were stopped again and were asked to get in the line. While we were in the line, I saw a young guy who looked local to me so I thought to talk with him.
I asked him where was he from and he told me from a village near Anantnag which made me excited because I often read and hear about terrorist activities around Anantnag area. I asked him if he was a student and he said that he could go to the school because of the poor condition of his family and had been selling hot water to the pilgrims going to Amarnath. After talking for a while with him I asked him something which surprised him and he felt uncomfortable answering my question. I asked him if he had ever seen any terrorist and after hearing my question, I could easily see by his facial expression that he was uncomfortable.
First he told me that he had never ever seen any terrorist but I knew that he was hiding something so I kept talking to him and told him that I was a general tourist and was just curious about the situation and finally he told me something that really blasted my mind. He said that terrorists often come to his village and stay with the locals. Locals do not want to host them but they can not do anything either. If they inform army about it then they will be killed someday for sure so it is their compulsion to host terrorists and help them in achieving their goals.
He said that when terrorists stay at his place, they sleep with his sister and he can not do anything to stop them. He started to cry saying this and I was also really sad and shocked to hear this true story. How is this possible? He told me another story of his very good friend who once hosted a group of 3 terrorists in his house. The same day army did routine checking and showed up at his house. They knocked on the door, came in and asked for ID of all the family members. Everyone had an ID but these three new guests did not have any ID because they were terrorists.
He told me that one army guy was inside the house doing his business and rest of the army people were outside the home. As the army guy asked for the ID card of one of these terrorists, the other ones started to fire on the army guy and killed him and started to fire on other the army officers standing outside the house. The army also responded and blew up the whole house. All three terrorists along with the family members were killed which became a huge issue and people came on the road and started protesting against the army. I don’t know what could have been the right decision, either to blow up the house or wait and see who was terrorist and who was not.
Once I asked my driver about what Kashmiri people want and I was surprised to hear his answer that Kashmiri people want neither India nor Pakistan and instead they want to be an independent state. I do not know how this thinking came because if they become an independent state then they will have to start from beginning which means poverty and so many other problems for a really long time. I think it is a much more practical choice for Kashmiri people to be with India rather than being an independent state or go with Pakistan because we have more money, we are developing faster than Pakistan and there is more security and opportunities in India.
When I asked my driver about tension between Hindus and Muslims and terrorism in Kashmir Valley, he did not want to agree with this fact that there is any terrorism or tension between Hindus and Muslims at all in Kashmir Valley. He said that the Indian Army and politicians are responsible for all the problems in Kashmir Valley. He said that the Indian Army kills innocent people of Kashmir for nothing which obviously I didn’t believe but he was seriously angry with our army and politicians. I also hate politicians but I don’t believe that the army kills innocent people.
My driver blamed America for all the problems and tension in this whole world. He said that Barack Obama, George Bush and other American politicians should be brought on the road and should be killed by beating with shoes because they want to rule the world and make people fight. I couldn’t talk with many locals but whomever I talked with was very angry with Indian Army, Indian politicians and America. I do not understand where this America stands between our problems. I think it is terrorist organizations, politicians and crazy religious groups that make us fight and create tensions, not America.
I could not make it to Amarnath but my two other friends went to Amarnath only a few days before I left Varanasi and they were able to reach the temple as the weather was nice when they arrived. They also told me shocking stories. My one friend Sonu told me that once they were stuck in a traffic jam near Sringar city and were just standing on the road when they saw three young kids, hardly 10-12 years old, passing by. Sonu called them because he just wanted to talk with them. Sonu asked them what they were doing on the highway and these young kids said something that shocked Sonu and his other friends traveling with him.
Instead of replying they asked Sonu what he was doing there. Their wordings were “Why do you come here? Do you come here to pray to the ice (Shivalingam in Amarnath temple is naturally formed of ice)? It’s not any God, it’s ice only which melts by heat and you should not come here to Kashmir as it is my land, not yours, you fucking Indians”. Sonu got angry and scared both at the same time. I wonder how much poison was there in that kid’s blood. Kashmir is the biggest issue and the biggest reason of tension between Hindus and Muslims in India and I always thought that Muslims wanted to stay with India but such things make me think about the issue again.
Sonu said that locals of Kashmir valley were throwing stones on vehicles of pilgrims going to Amarnath and that his taxi was also attacked. He saw over 200 cars with broken window glasses. People were throwing stones on the vehicles and were asking pilgrims and tourists to go back from Kashmir which sounds really scary. I would not like to go to such place where people welcome me by throwing stones on my vehicle. It is a really bad situation for innocent people of Kashmir because it is they themselves whose lives are most affected.
I don’t know what will be the future like of Kashmir Valley but one thing is very sure that if such condition continues in the future also, people of Kashmir will face serious problems and it will take them a really long time to make the situation better again. After hearing all these true stories and spending four days in J&K state, I really felt sad and questioned myself if I was really somewhere which was part of India. How can an Indian citizen call me an Indian visiting their land? I don’t know what happened that made people think that they are not Indian; but if this is the case, then what we are fighting for?
Are we fighting for a piece of land or we are fighting for the rights of people of Kashmir? So many questions and actually I don’t even know if I have any rights to question about the issues of Kashmir because it seems like the people of Kashmir want something else but I am an Indian and I feel like questioning each and every thing going on in India and my personal feeling is that Kashmir is part of India. I hope some day terrorism will be defeated and people of Kashmir will find wealth and a green life but for the time being my friends and I have decided that we will not go to Kashmir Valley again until this terrorism problem is solved and people welcome the pilgrims and tourists again with the idea of Atithi Devo Bhav. अतिथि देवो भव. Peace.