They call it Paradise, I call it Home ©

You Can Only Understand It If You’re Kashmiri Or Have Lived There

In India, Kashmir, People, Politics, Srinagar on 24 February, 2008 at 7:27 pm

There is just one photograph in this blog that has not been credited with the name of the photographer, the photograph captured by Ami Vitale, is this blog’s avatar. This photograph captures the true essence of Kashmir. It is a mixture of contrasts: clear yet hazy; full of hope despite the pale of gloom enveloping it, much like the contrasts of Kashmir; the boatman is paddling to a barely visible distant shore: the shore of freedom, of peace, of dignity, of all that eludes Kashmir, many of these themes are central to the idea of this blog.

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At last!

Photo courtesy and copyright of Ami Vitale

FRONTLINE World’s flashPOINT is showcasing Ami Vitale’s photographs . It is an indispensable and striking journey across the varied faces of Kashmir, of hope and fear, of celebration and pain. It expresses the emotions bottled up within Kashmiris in a manner I have never seen elsewhere.


Towards The Heavens!

This child looks for helps towards another someone, who has probably lost the someone she would look towards.

Seething Anger

Stay Away!

The obvious seething anger towards the system, the government, the occupying force.

Desire To Crush

Knight In Shinning Armour!

Or the face of Occupation.

Ami Vitale has captured the tragedy of Kashmir both at the hidden personal level and the obvious larger scale or the contrasts within the society of Kashmir. In the audio narration, I was stuck by how Ami Vitale has observed the blending of the Pheran (the long robe worn by Kashmiris in Winter) and Kashmiri Poplar Trees (Kashmiris poplars are not akin to the evergreen European Poplars as I have learnt) and showing a not too obvious connection between land and man.

Connected To Land

The stories of women sufferings in Kashmir have been criminally neglected by the people of Kashmir, which has not augured well for anything in Kashmir. The women in Kashmir by suffering in silence gave the strong foundations needed for a movement and possibly this is the story Ami wants to tell through her photographs:

I spent a lot of time with women and inside homes, and I think a lot of the work shows their suffering. I don’t think it was intentional. It was just that I spent the most time with Kashmiri women, and I felt that they needed their voices heard, because they have one of the more difficult positions. They have to quietly endure their suffering.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

Like many other neutral observers to Kashmir, Kashmir has changed her as a human being:

I think it’s obviously changed me as a human being — I look at everything differently.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

And has understood the perils of being a Kashmiri

They’d say, ‘When I leave home in the morning, I have no guarantee of returning alive.’ It’s so real, to understand that kind of fear… I think you can only understand it if you’re Kashmiri or have lived there.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

However, not surprisingly, the comments from Indians in the showcase are no different than what a Kashmiri should expect and anyone trying to showcase Kashmir’s truth is yet another suspect, like all other Kashmiris. Ami Vitale was not in Kashmir to take pretty pictures:

I’m not there to make pretty pictures. It’s really to convey something and hopefully affect at least one other person. Those people have allowed me to be there, and that’s something I respect and honour. You can’t betray them. There are so many moments when I see great pictures, but I won’t take them because it feels wrong.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

Flawed History

While as FRONTLINE/World has done a commendable job of reporting Kashmir through the Showcase of Ami Vitale’s photographs and Anuj Chopra’s Dispatch, it has failed to give a clear view of Kashmir’s history in the Background, which is a flawed and simplistic version of Kashmir’s history, possibly because it has been taken from various web sites and is not a FRONTLINE feature:

By the time of partition in August 1947, Singh had not decided which country to join. In October 1947, in an attempt to take control of the region, armed tribesman from Pakistan’s northwest frontier province invaded Kashmir. The maharaja requested armed assistance from India, and in return, he acceded to India.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

This is a totally simplistic depiction of a critical historical event, a lot more happened preceding the Mahraja’s alleged accession to India and thereafter.

and recommended a referendum to debate Kashmir’s accession to India. Decades later, the referendum has yet to occur, and the status of Kashmir remains in dispute.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

The referendum as suggested by the United Nations is not to debate Kashmir’s accession to India, but a referendum allowing the people of Kashmir to voice their choice between India, Pakistan and Independence (the clause of Independence mysteriously vanished from future Security Council Resolutions, due to the efforts of Pakistani envoy to the United Nations).

By 1989 the clash over Kashmiri identity and independence had slowly morphed into a religious battle, pitting Islam against Hinduism and drawing religious radicals into the fray.

Source: FRONTLINE/World

Another totally wrong notion of the Kashmir Conflict, the roots of Kashmir conflict were never in religion, it was the state oppression, the failure of Sheikh Abdullah, the unceasing mistrust of Delhi for Kashmiris that helped open the cork of the anger that was building within. The 1987 rigged elections proved a turning point. Honesty from Delhi (read Indira Gandhi) was overdue for long and the people could no longer be lured with empty and broken promises. Dignity had been denied to them for long. It was Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (found in the 1970’s in Britain) that led the war against oppression which was not much different than rebellion against the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1931, much before rest of the sub-continent woke to the concept of Freedom. Hizbul Mujahideen’s entry into the Kashmir rebellion was a well thought of move by Pakistan, which was already losing what it had gained in Punjab. Such important series of events requires a much more critical understanding than a simple paragraph.

Kashmir: The Disappeared.

I Am A Muslim And I Have A Beard. Right?

On the way to the hotel, two soldiers stop us.

“He’s a tourist,” one of the soldiers says, glancing at me. No one asks for my credentials and I’m told to step aside.

The other passenger and the driver, both wearing pherans, are aggressively questioned and searched.

While the passenger grows more agitated, Abdul, the driver, exudes a gentle radiance, patiently responding to their interrogation.

“I’m a Muslim, and I have a beard. Right? That makes me a suspect,” he tells me, after we are finally allowed to move on. “I’m used to this harassment.”

Source: Kashmir: The Disappeared

For Ami Vitale’s personal website, click here

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  1. Portraying Kashmiri tehrik as Hindu vs. Muslims is a propoganda relentlessly pushed by both Indian as well as Pakistani government for their own narrow interests. Nothing could be farther from truth. It is like saying that India’s own freedom struggle against the British was a Hindu uprising against Christian rulers!

    It is the only point on which Indian and Pakistani government are in perfect agreement. Both of them want to prove that Kashmir tehrik is a Hindu vs. Muslim war. By this Indian government wants to show to the world that Kashmir is just another sectarian disturbance. A world weary of terrorists using the name of Islam elsewhere is only too willing to accept this explanation. OTOH Pakistan government wants to prove that Kashmir is the unfinished agenda of creating a “Muslim homeland” for Muslims of subcontinent. Therefore it suits them equally well to portray Kashmir as part of the Hindu vs. Muslim conflict in the subcontinent. Pakistan’s efforts to give Hindu vs. Muslim colour to tehrik have done incalculable harm to Kashmir and Kashmiri’s self esteem. It is high time that all Kashmiris understood that neither India nor Pakistan have any business to meddle in the affairs of Kashmir. A Kashmir without Pundits, Sikhs and Dogras who lived here together for centuries is not the Kashmir we want.

    Unfortunately, the voice of the ordinary Kashmiri is lost in the din of propoganda war between India and Pakistan.

  2. First of all I would see where the very said valley is heading, what do people want. What do they know about their future? It’s a name that has killed its fame. No one wants a Kashmiri, but every one want Kashmir. They forgot that Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris, they can’t posses it illegally. In a battle a Kashmiri dies, for Kashmir in the name of Kashmir. Tell me the difference between the hell and paradise…

  3. What worries me is how the world seems to have placed a blind eye to the plight of the Kashmiri people. There are so many conflicts on in the world now (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Tibet etc.) no one seems to care.

    Anyway these pictures very well present the story of Kashmir. Look forward to more posts.

  4. “To sin by silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men.”

    Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    Found these lines on your sidebar.

    Sorry couldn`t find a place to comment there, so I am doing it here.

    Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once said:

    ” If you find something wrong is happening try to stop it with your hands. If not try to stop it with your mouth. If not at least curse it in your heart.This will be characteristic of the lowest degree of IMAAAN”.

    P.S. : The above lines may not be exact reproduction of the what the Prophet (PBUH) said but the idea is pretty much the same.

  5. First of all I would see where the very said valley is heading, what do people want. What do they know about their future? It’s a name that has killed its fame. No one wants a Kashmiri, but every one wants Kashmir. They forgot that Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris, they can’t posses it illegally. In a battle a Kashmiri dies, for Kashmir in the name of Kashmir. Tell me the difference between the hell and paradise…

  6. The Kashmir you live in is the Kashmir you made.

    In Kashmiri we say ” Anyam swai, vawam swai,lajam swai pansai”

    or the English version “As you sow so shall you reap”

    I feel a lot of pity for you for you did not see Kashmir as it was!!

  7. I am a Kashmiri, its my crime…..

    “I am a Muslim” kill me and call it “COLLATERAL DAMAGE” imprison me and call it “SECURITY MEASURES” exile my people and masses and call it “NEW MIDDLE EAST” Rob my resources, Invade my land, Alter my leadership and call it “DEMOCRACY”

    I deserve to be humiliated. I deserve to be harassed. I deserve to be mauled. I deserve to be killed. Just because ” I AM A KASHMIRI”

    I demand my rights, it is my crime. I demand my dignity, it is my crime. I demand life, it is my crime. I am a KASHMIRI, it is my crime. but I am proud of committing this crime.

    I want to live, but a living life. Not a dead man’s life. I can die struggling for freedom rather than giving it up and living.

  8. I think it is time for all Kashmiris to think seriously about the Indian oppression going on since 1950.Its time to get united and fight against Indian oppression and occupation.

  9. You know, I am a Kashmiri too. I was born in Kashmir and spent as much time of my life there as I was allowed by forces beyond my control; I speak the language – I am as much a Kashmiri as everyone in the Kashmir valley. Every morning the Azaan at Hazratbal used to wake me up. The first time I heard that our own neighbours were asking us to leave Kashmir just because we were Pandits, I was appalled! A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Things haven’t changed, if chucking us out wasn’t about religion then what was?? I just don’t agree with this hollow rhetoric about how the wave of terrorism that started in Kashmir wasn’t about religion. I still dream about Kashmir, but well that’s all that it will remain – a dream.

  10. Thanks Heemal! Finally someone is showing the complete colours of the spectrum.

    If people on this forum believe that Kashmir belongs to Kashmiri’s then it equally belong to me and Kashmiri Pandits living in exile since they were driven out of their homeland due to communal agenda by majority Muslims. And no, it was not Jagmohan’s fault!

    Like my forefathers, I was born and raised in Kashmir. First time I stepped outside of the valley was in January of 1990 when Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of the valley. Not even a single Muslim stepped forward to stop the massacre. Half of them were silent witnesses and half of them joined the chorus that supported the wide spread killing of Pandit Kashmiris and rape of their innocent women by the militants aka freedom fighters. Human rights of non-Muslim Kashmiris have been neglected for decades now.

    I’m proud to be Kashmiri, but equally disgusted by the conduct of the Muslim Kashmiris and their endless rant and blame-game. They forget that their militant sons were the first ones to start atrocities in Kashmir and I have witnessed that hate first hand as a kid.

    While it comes easy to blame India or Pakistan for the current situation, Kashmiri Muslims should grow-up and not only learn to do right things, but also show respect for their culture and heritage. Start with saving Dal Lake first and taking accountability of the responsibilities.


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