Reports say the Airport Advisory Committee has, on Monday, passed a resolution to name the Srinagar Airport as Sheikh-ul-Alam Airport, after Shiekh Nur-u-din, often called the patron saint of Kashmir. That this body, which apparently acts as a link between the state authorities, the Indian air force (basically in charge of the Srinagar airport) and the Airports Authority of India, has ‘advisory’ appended to its title is as indicative of the state of affairs as the grand ‘International’ attached to Srinagar airport. Why on earth, assuming renaming the airport will not change its air force-run nature, should the state government be ‘asking’ (or recommending) that the airport be even just renamed? Perhaps because the airport reflects some Kashmiri realities.
It is clear, even at first glance, given the levels of military presence at this airbase, that Kashmir is an abnormal place. That could well serve the purpose of reminding even the accidental visitor that this is the most militarised place on earth and talk of civilian control and normalcy is absurd. Indian troops landed in Kashmir in 1947 at this base, and have been in control since, as over the rest of the land. The frequent disruptions and closures of civilian commercial operations here are, thus, only a reminder of basic military control over Kashmir. There are therefore often no reasons given when the Indian Air Force, which controls the area, shuts down flights. Neither are we told why on earth advanced landing and take-off systems, which can allow aircraft to operate even in foggy or bad weather conditions – as any modern, busy airport should have – are not installed here. The military maharajas lording it over this benighted land brook no questions, basically.
This ‘airport’ this becomes a symbol of all sorts of aggression over Kashmiris: physical occupation of real estate, the mockery of the ‘international’ status of an airport, the harsh security measures used, and even cultural aggression – given that the Sheikh-ul-Alam nomenclature is all but discarded, and instead we have statues of Indian army men installed at the premises, as well as the non-usage of Kashmiri signs and the use of Hindi – even in announcements. Everywhere in the world, cultural imperialism is resisted. South India, with far greater links to North India than Kashmir, is a good example. Here, of course, the lack of agency for even pro-India parties, as well as rank cultural imperialism, is but another reminder of the broad spectrum of military-led domination.