Recent floods brought out what is best in Kashmiris: compassion, kindness, and empathy. Surprisingly for some Kashmir-watchers, they brought out ‘Kashmiri nationalism’ again, just as events of a different kind had in the recent past. This time, Kashmiris throughout the globe networked to get the relief effort up and running barely a few hours after the floods struck South Kashmir, and before the floods devastated Srinagar. Airlifting of relief items started the next day, relief efforts on the ground had begun much earlier. Hundreds of Kashmiris from within India travelled to Kashmir to join in.
Why was it surprising?
For one, the lackadaisical attitude of the state and the central governments. Most Kashmiris know the facts on the ground, irrespective of what breathless, safety-jacket-wearing journalists would promote: being the most heavily militarized in the world, the region had Army and Paramilitary personnel who would require rescuing, as would hundreds of tourists, who were given priority in the first crucial days. The Indian media would portray the Army rescue effort as selfless and risky, but make no mention of the local youth who conducted virtually the entire rescue mission unaided. The reaction on the ground: even old people, on second floor terraces, shouted slogans of defiance when Indian rescue boats approached them. Later, when the waters receded and media attention shifted elsewhere, the Commanding Officer of the Indian Army’s Northern Command would laud the ‘heroes’ among the youth of Kashmir – very convenient when India was more interested in what the Prime Minister was eating with the Chinese President.
Two, the impact that non-resident Kashmiris would have in the event of a total administrative failure. Immense and unparalleled. Monetary contributions of non-resident Kashmiris will never be actually known, but this much is a fact: it came from the heart. From a famous novelist-journalist to an actor, to a software professional heading a multinational web-based company in Bangalore, to a lawyer, to doctors, to ordinary students, all-in-all it was a demonstration of true ‘Kashmiriyat,’ of a kind not witnessed in the recent past. And it was non-discriminatory, in all respects, and alike for Sikhs, Pandits, and Muslims, as chronicled by the Srinagar press. It also stood out for one other important aspect: the loyalty that Kashmiris outside displayed to their roots. The President had called for Kashmiris, ‘to forget the past, and join in India’s economic growth story.’ Many Kashmiris have joined India’s growth story at various levels: from the entrepreneurial to professional, from creative to hospitality, Kashmiri youth who have studied and worked in India and abroad, have no doubt earned laurels for themselves strictly on the basis of their own merit, and not courtesy of some job dole-outs. It was this section of Kashmiris that was to provide the long-term solution to Kashmir: integrated with India’s job market, these Kashmiris would ‘forget’ Kashmir. They didn’t. And it is this section of Kashmiris that present the prickly thorn to any New Delhi-imposed solution of the Kashmir issue – weren’t these guys supposed to be Indians, to not care about Kashmiris? Non-resident Kashmiris, with no direct participation in daily Kashmir life, able to realise their potential, and rising through the ranks of India’s economy, should have turned out as the perfect foil for the local Kashmiri youth, who were raised in ‘stifling’ conditions, under the ‘prying eyes of the Indian security apparatus,’ whose life revolved around reactionary activities. They did not.
When the floods struck, Kashmir became one: rich and poor, resident or non-resident. It did not matter whether Sadbhavna had reached you or not.
Three, it showed the place of Kashmir in the current scheme of the Indian Government. Distant. The Prime Minister visited Jammu the day Srinagar was hit, and he has not reached out to the inhabitants of the Valley directly ever since his election, while few Ministers have paid any attention to Kashmir since. The media attention was firmly fixated on the actions of the Prime Minister. What he wears appears of more consequence to India than what people in Kashmir eat. His address to the Indian diaspora, which was repeatedly played on TV, conveniently at a time when state elections were held in two of India’s most prosperous states, was used as a campaign tool. The media is awash with success stories: the Mars mission, the Asian Games, the US visit. As if all of India’s problems had been wished away.
Kashmir showed that irrespective of India’s grandiose successes, there remains a strong sentiment of resentment against India, which comes to the fore even in times of the worst disasters, and this feeling is bound to outlast the ‘Grand Show’ the Indian media has put on these days.