I read in the papers that Parvez Rasool’s inclusion in the Indian cricket team has cheered your home state. Isn’t this somewhat hypocritical that you want India to recognize your local talent and yet want to break away from it?
Well it is a funny question. I hope you remember that there was a Kashmiri boy, Qazi Tauqeer, flashing on almost every news channel and newspaper in 2005 as he had won a reality show on singing. In 2011, there was another young man who topped the Indian Administrative Services test and he was on the front pages of newspapers. I mentioned these two because that time too many people from Kashmir were celebrating their achievements and in India they were seen as the representatives of Kashmir’s youth doing great in the particular fields. Now you are saying it is hypocritical that Rasool’s inclusion in the Indian cricket team is recognised and on the other side people want to break away from India. There are always two faces of a coin, so you cannot ignore nineteen-year-old Atir Yusuf picking up arms to fight Indian forces. He too represents youth of Kashmir in the decades old resistance. Of course there are talented youth like Rasool and others in different fields who have or will achieve heights but then there is this basic issue, Kashmir dispute, for which people are resisting everyday as stone throwers, militants, artists, writers, activists and many more. So I don’t think it is fair to generalise the sentiments and aspirations of people by looking at the reaction towards a sportsman’s career. Because we are talking about a cricketer, let me give you an example from cricket – India’s biggest domestic league is Ranji Trophy named after Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji which was started by the British in India way back in 1934. If India doesn’t have a problem to name such a major tournament after a player who was part of British India cricket, why do you expect a problem with Rasool.
Your book on Kashmir doesn’t falter on objectivity as there are voices from the Kahmiri pandit community as well. What is your personal take on the issue?
I am glad you noticed that the book doesn’t discriminate against Kashmiri pandits. I think the migration of Kashmiri pandits from their home in Kashmir is tragic. It’s painful for anyone to lose his/her home. I would like to see pandits returning to their homes. I don’t think there is anybody in Kashmir who objects to this. You can also see how people of Kashmir and the resistance leaders respond when this issue is debated. Even the popular leader, SA Geelani, who is known as a hawk in India, has again and again said that the pandits are welcome to return.
Your own introduction to the book reads like a call to arms on the issue of Azad Kashmir. Do you think violent struggle will help?
Kashmir dispute started in 1947 and since then it is under occupation. People have been demanding right to self-determination which was promised to them. From 1947 to late 80s there was political resistance; people contested elections too but reportedly they were rigged. Isn’t it surprising that a person who was a candidate in the 1987 elections is now the chief of United Jihad Council, which is an umbrella group of militant organisations. There are other such examples too. Now it has been 25 years of the ongoing armed movement. From 2008, the world saw a new face of resistance in Kashmir. There were millions on roads demanding freedom. Despite all this India has not listened to what people want. In such context and the present repressive situation, it is foolish to predict as to what can solve the dispute. In a conflict, when people are under occupation they have to use every way to resist, whether it is stone throwing or militancy. I don’t support any kind of violence but you also have to look as to what leads a person to turn to gun. Whatever is happening in Kashmir is in one way self-defence as the state terrorism is at its peak.
You also mention that Pak-occupied Kashmir (what you call Azad Kashmir) has problems of its own, but they are not as grave as the ones in this part. Do you have data to back that statement? There have been reports that ‘Azad’ Kashmir has humongous problems. Also, Muslims who migrated to Pakistan after Partition face discrimination there. Is Pakistan a better deal really?
This question has two parts, let me answer the first one. Every region has problems of governance, democracy, development and economy. You don’t see four civilians shot dead by army in that side of Kashmir. If you go to page 177 of the book, Mazhar Iqbal from Rawalakot is explaining what the problems in Pakistan Administered Kashmir are and how are they different from Indian controlled Kashmir. Now coming to the second part of the question, I am not saying whether Pakistan is a better deal or not. It is only when the state will be given the right to self-determination that it will be found what people think is a better deal for them. All I want is that the people get a chance to choose for themselves.
You write about MC Kash and the underground music movement. Is there any attempt to take your music to other parts of India?
It has been very hard for young people like MC Kash to make songs of resistance. Most of these artistes have been based in Kashmir but there are several other artistes from the valley based outside singing songs or composing artworks about resistance. They don’t aim for Bollywood as they know they won’t get space for such music.
Many people in the establishment believe that stone throwers were misled and it was a deliberate attempt by Pakistan to destablise the area. Your take.
Yes, it has been always said that stone throwers were misled and it was not spontaneous but that is not the fact. In the book, the stone thrower writes, ‘People say that stone throwers are paid. That is bullshit. Rather we cover all expenses. If anyone gets injured, we collect money and get him treated.’ He explains how conscious stone throwers are politically and how it used to be spontaneous. I have talked to hundreds of stone throwers and I always find it is the conflict and the pain inflicted upon them that makes them to throw stones. It is a part of resistance. Propaganda is not a surprise when it comes to Kashmir.
There is a whole host of new writing in English on Kashmir. Did the success of Basharat Peer’s book kick start it or was it there before him as well.
Of course Curfewed Night was a turning point in the English literature of Kashmir but there have been people in the past too. We can’t talk about Kashmir’s writing without a poet like Agha Shahid Ali. Basharat broke that shell for youth of Kashmir where they started believing that it is possible to tell our stories at the global level. Basharat is a friend; personally I am very impressed by his career and the hard work he has put to reach where he is today. For me it has been the life of veteran journalist, Muzamil Jaleel, who has taught me journalism and writing skills since I met him years ago. I joined his writing workshop which he would run at his home in Kashmir and it was in that room where I was introduced to the best books and writings. We need more such people who can guide story-tellers and there will be more literature. Literature preserves history for future generations which is a must for any place.
I found the stone thrower’s story rather interesting. How he got disillusioned about the anti-India movement when his own leaders deserted him after he became blind. Is there a problem there?
Of politicians from both sides exploiting the situation and the youth of Kashmir bearing the brunt?There are dozens of resistance leaders who claim to be representatives of the people. In a place like Kashmir, it is difficult to find the honesty of a leader. But you cannot blame the whole leadership for a particular occasion. Though I do feel to a major extent that people or particularly youth are sandwiched between several ideologies but that doesn’t say that it raises a question like ‘What do you mean by Azadi?’ which is asked most of the time. In Kashmir, the general sentiment is quite visible and it doesn’t even need a leader to say.