Opinion by: Tanvi A.
Edited by: Alexis L.
Visual by: Erica N.
There is increasingly more blood and sacrifice woven into the pashmina* shawls of Kashmir, the land where half of my family originated from — the land whose cultural identity crumbles by the day. But this was not always so.
The day I first stepped foot in Kashmir, I was taken aback by beauty. I witnessed snow glistening from mountaintops, transforming into icy waters. While adapting to the everyday life of a boatman on a shikara**, I embraced the lotuses bobbing up and down around me. I snuggled under the razai*** whilst holding onto a kangri**** feeling the heat emitting from both entities, making me comfortable and warm.
When I left that paradise on earth, I immediately felt homesick. Now, in front of my mature and perceptive eyes, Kashmir’s paradisiacal serenity begins to crack due to a growing ideological divide between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims. This divide is heightened by the growing territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, both of which want to gain control over the land.
Recently, more than 40 soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack in Kashmir, making it one of the deadliest attack in the area in years. This attack was conducted by the Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad which conducted a suicide bombing on a highway outside of Srinagar. This attack, coupled with the historic rivalry between India and Pakistan, heightened the mutual ill-sentiments of not only civilians, but also of each country’s respective governments and leaders. In retaliation to the attack, India launched its “Balakot operation”: an IAF air strike on terrorist camps in Pakistan. This was the first militaristic action taken by India against Pakistan since 1971, a decision described by Indian journalists as a declaration of “India’s nuclear capability” (India Today).
According to Indian media coverage, hundreds of terrorists were killed in these strikes. However, Pakistan “denies the attack did any damage or caused casualties.” This attack has been criticized by many as it breached the internal sovereignty of Pakistan and further catalyzed the deteriorating relationship between both nations. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi condemned it as an act of “grave aggression” (Japan Times).
While these attacks continue to be brought at the forefront of international relations with involvement from India and Pakistan’s respective allies, marginalized communities living within Kashmir continue to suffer; even those who have escaped are constantly haunted by their troubled past. Prudent action by both Indian and Pakistan governments towards resolving this territorial dispute is unequivocally critical as more turmoil and resistance can cause both countries to lose their legitimacy. It is also extremely important to take into account the needs of populations that are marginalized and constantly violated — a need that is urgently felt in today’s world of increased nationalism, where community level sovereignty is hard to preserve.
There is no beauty in the land I visited many years ago. The beauty of the Dal Lake in which I mastered my craft as a shikara boatsman has been tainted by violence. Razais and kangris have ceased to create warmth within the civilians, as everyday they stand witness to unrelenting fire from guns and bombs of the skirmishing armies. The beauty of the state has become intertwined with blood, sacrifice, and fear. All I hope is that peace restores for the people, and the cultural identity of the land where half of my family originated from is revitalized — by friendship, not conflict, between India and Pakistan.
*pashmina shawl – hand-spun wool made from cashmere fibre
**shikara – a houseboat
***razai – a cotton quilt/blanket
****kangri – a small pot filled with lighted charcoal