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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.

Help

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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