A question from Kashmir: What is freedom and how does one attain it?


Ifrah Mushtaque Khan

As I narrate this article to my brother over a phone who lives outside Kashmir where internet is luxuriously available, the very implications of the problem are apparent. I can't email the article directly to Round Table India, because the internet is down. A couple of months ago, even this phone call would not have been a possibility.

Amidst all these, I have been pondering on many questions.

brahmin swallowing kashmir

Primarily, what is freedom and how does one attain it? This remains the most debatable question especially in a disputed territory like Kashmir where the government is playing an à la carte approach - one is given the rights that suit the government, and all the other rights, essential or not, are denied. Since 5th of August 2019, Kashmir has been reeling under darkness in terms of technology, as all connectivity was barred – including landline, mobile phones, and the internet services. This was done in coordination with the centre's decision to abrogate J&K's special status (Article 370).

It is said that if you remain silent when one is oppressed, you are on the side of the oppressor. I wonder how the privileged members of the world stood like silent statues when our business, work, education and lives altogether came to a grinding halt. When due to communication blockade one couldn't tell a son living overseas that his father has died, one couldn't send their children the money for fees, when people couldn't greet each other on Eid, when a daughter earning in a different state of the country did not even know if her father has medicines available in the times of crisis.

How amazingly has Agha Shahid Ali portrayed the pain of Kashmiris decades ago in The Country Without a Post Office – depicting the dark ages Kashmir returned to in 1990 due to political turmoil, when no letter was delivered for seven months. And now, three decades later, the issues remain the same, the pain remains the same, and the situation remains the same. The development of the nation is ongoing while Kashmir is still being suppressed the same way it was during the 90's.

In the sixth month of complete internet shutdown, I pondered over the power of internet and the imposed embargo. Perhaps the imposition was just an exhibition of power - an act of snatching the independence, the freedom of thought and speech. My contemplation made me realize what basic things could cripple a person due to unavailability. One realizes the value of Google when it is one click away for others, but not for them, especially during the crucial days of their exams. In Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam's book India 2020, the brilliant scientist envisioned India as a developed nation, and a knowledge superpower. But when the time came, I was left having to find meanings of words by looking them up, letter by letter, in a dictionary book, sifting through the pages.Going to the bank was the trend we re-adopted in the era of e-banking. Mundane technology had become a luxury we couldn't afford. We didn't know what was happening with the outside world, what was trending in the past six months is a mystery to us.

It's difficult to not think in gloomy metaphors in times like these. Because all I can see is that we live in a world of wolves who would prey on their clan members if given a chance, and the media belongs to the worst of the pack. I wonder if history has been written in the same fake, concocted and constructed way as the media does it these days, then we really need to deconstruct and then reconstruct it. Despite having the immense power to reform a country, all media does these days is show the events as desired by the politicians to suit their vested interests. Only a few have the guts to stand up to question, to go to the depth of the situation and analyze the truth, but unfortunately those who succeed in doing so would be labelled as anti-nationals.

To step into the shoes of those victimised and oppressed, one begins to realize how humanity has lost its values and how the world is in shambles. To talk about human rights in a place like Kashmir where people are tortured in the name of national policy is like feeding a goat the best food but then imprisoning the goat in presence of a free lion. No matter how much you feed the goat with great quality food, the goat is still going to die. One doesn't know the importance of freedom until it is snatched away from them. The whole country applauds the leader for mistreating the one "infamous or notorious" clan, praising him for his chivalry and heroism for being barbaric towards that much highlighted "infamous" clan until they realize the next scapegoat is them.

In this state of affairs, one stands back and learns to re-asses and inquire about every framework of thinking that has been accepted and shoved down everyone's throats. In this scenario, I appeal to all Kashmiris in and outside Kashmir to believe in the power of dignity, quest for truth, and the untiring hope that goodness will triumph over evil and the work that we need to do in order to make it true.



 Ifrah Mushtaque Khan is a student of humanities who lives and studies in Kashmir.

Illustration by Nidhin Shobhana.

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