During a conversation recently, someone burst out bitterly as to why ‘we’ (meaning thereby the people of Kashmir) are always taken for granted. This, not-altogether-uncommon refrain, rankled my mind for the greater part of the day. Indeed, why is it that ‘we’ are always taken for granted? Then, out of the blue, came a thought, and hit me like a bolt of lightning – there is no ‘we’! The much used and abused ‘we’ is a myth. It doesn’t exist! ‘We’ implies a collective, but our culture is all about the individual, the ‘I’. We don’t exist as a collective, a community, let alone a nation. The life mantra of the average Kashmiri seems to be ‘so long as it does not affect me, it doesn’t concern me.’ The problem with this attitude is that it leads to an apathetic society. Not that we never register a ‘collective’ protest. There are times when we take to the streets without even knowing what it is all about. Doesn’t really matter so long as it means a day off from work, with spells of hooliganism thrown in as bonus fun. Intimidate a few hapless locals, break a few windscreens, and we have done our bit towards, say, saving Palestine.
That the ‘we’ doesn’t exist so far as our people are concerned is evidenced amply in our day to day life. Every day, when I travel from my home to work, there is this road which narrows down considerably as it passes between the properties of two rather distinguished locals. Both these venerable gentlemen own large plots of land, but that has not prevented them from squeezing the road to its present dimensions which can barely accommodate a small car. Instead of contributing their bit to the road they have gobbled up a big chunk. This ‘occupation’ of the road is a universal phenomenon. It is not uncommon to see palatial houses even in posh colonies with roads leading to them in bad shape and shrunk into narrow lanes by their owners. The possibility that a wide road with perhaps a few trees along its sides would add to the charm of the mansions does not occur to us. In fact, taking a big slice off the road is even deemed as a form of defiance and self-righteous protest against authorities. So much so that ‘government property,’ or sarkari as it is colloquially known, is fair game for anyone.
We might be extremely meticulous when it comes to keeping our houses clean, not tolerating even a bit of dirt or rubbish inside, only to dump it right outside our gates, give or take a few meters. And why not? The road does not belong to any particular individual, except as much as has been illegally taken over by him. This automatically translates into the fact that the road belongs to nobody. The fact that it belongs to all of us does not even register. That this means that we live in isolated islands of splendour in a sea of filth never seems to bother us.
Not even the trials and tribulations of two decades of strife have been able to change us. Or have changed us, but for the worse. We, who fought a ‘holy war’ to have our own country, could not even get to be a nation. We wonder why the world is not sitting up to take notice of our plight, ignoring that ourselves we don’t take notice of our next door neighbours. Passionate debates would rage in our drawing rooms those heady days when we thought that freedom was just round the corner. But let these passionate debates ‘inspire’ one of your youngsters, and you would immediately swear to break his legs if he so much as thought to venture in that direction. Fighting for ‘freedom’ was alright so long as it was somebody else’s son.
Like a beggar trying to cash in on his mangled limbs, we have always tried to invite the attention of the whole world towards outrages like Kunan Poshpora, but turn our eyes the other way to avoid any ‘involvement.’ We talk about half-widows and orphans and wonder why the world is not taking notice. Is its conscience sleeping, we cry out in anger. Never mind our own – that is long dead.