Thoughts of Kashmir: Tension, then contentment, then worries over the now-prevailing ethos in the beloved land

My father took this picture (atop this article) of my mother and me on my recent trip to Srinagar, in Kashmir.

Although I was exhausted after a 15 hour flight to New Delhi, and then an hour and a half flight to Srinagar, the sight of my parents renewed my spirits.

On that trip, every airport at which I had a layover seemed like the set for a apocalyptic movie.

Passengers had looks of paranoia on their faces. Everyone was in a mad rush to reach her/ his destination.

Seating areas at airport cafes and restaurants were closed.Passengers were wiping down seats before sitting on them. The world was shutting down.

Getting my travel documents and health certificates in the nick of time required trips to governmental offices in Dallas and Houston. But the adrenaline rush gave me an extra boost of energy.

Through all the chaos and insanity, all I was focused on was seeing my parents. And I was buoyed by my father’s look of contentment when he saw me. The reason I am able to look ahead today is because the time I got with my father gave me enormous peace.

He counted on me to make it home, and, by God’s infinite grace, I did. 
He had lived his life making peace with the past and looking forward to the future. He had made it clear to his oncologist that he wouldn’t go for any radiation while I was there, because he didn’t want to lose even a minute with me.

Every conversation I had with him in those few hours was transformative, because he showed me, by example, to be grateful for life’s many gifts, even when death stares us in the face.
He was and remains a very fortunate man. Every chance my mother gets, she wants us to know how much peace and happiness Abba always gave her.

From such lovely memories, both long-past and recent, it may seem jarring to turn to the tragic recent events in my beloved Kashmir. 

I have underlined in one of my books and in other places that because of the pervasive and rampant militarization, religious fundamentalism, and political corruption, it is a challenge to lead a dignified existence in Jammu & Kashmir. 

The ethos of Kashmir has steadily over the decades, but especially in recent times, been violated by the curious fused outburst both secular nationalism and religious nationalism .

Any movement that claims to be political requires an internal critique to evolve and grow. Critique of violence as a given in public life — not just of the oppressor but also of the oppressed as came from within the land after Abdul Gani Lone’s denunciation of the role played by “foreign militants” in Kashmir in the 1990s.

Some years ago — at a seminar on “the role of the intellectual in the resistance” – Professor Abdul Gani Bhat and the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq reinforced that internal critique by challenging the ruling order within their organizational alliance of religio-political parties. They also pointed out that 
Abdul Gani Lone had to pay a high price for his role as a dissident who challenged the corrupt and non-indigenous ethos seeping into the separatist organization with which he was affiliated. 
Kashmiri commentators (as well as those of other places) should understand that it isn’t just mainstream politics that has a controlling structure. People affiliated with what we deem “mainstream” organizations can be critical of controlling/ dominant discourses. It would be better for all if there was more healthy dissent. The trouble is, each loud voice for a more humane system puts himself or herself at risk in times such as these.

Some humility for critics would be wise. Remember: Not every member/ worker of a mainstream organization is elitist. Not every mainstream politician lives in a fortress. Any organization, whether mainstream or separatist, requires internal critiques to maintain idynamism.

Kashmiri society recognizes the terror caused by predatory discourses that swoop down on the vulnerable. And “the vulnerable” might include some with whom you disagree.

While it is necessary to call for a climate of accountability, it should be done from within a heterogeneous cultural and religious space, taking Jammu and Ladakh on board as well. Perhaps these words for my beloved Kashmir have some meaning for other contemporary political contexts. 

Note: Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is a writer and a professor who now lives in Oklahoma, where she became an American citizen in March and voted for the first time on June 30. Like generations of immigrants to America in generations past. She remains concerned and prayerful about events in the land of her birth, which she writes about frequently.