Kashmir no more a land of gun-toting men

gun-toting men in kashmir? Not anymore

One could have ignored it otherwise, but in this case the apparently simple ‘quote-of-the-day’ appears to be symbolic as the village is in Kashmir.
The shabby wooden structure in the remote village, 70 km from Srinagar, may not look like a school at all. But the stream of students reading, giggling and jumping in and out of the classroom through a broken window (as doors are non-existent) gives it the identity of a building.

As Mohammad Iqbal, the teacher responsible for bringing out students from distant village households, says, “Kashmiris need education. Give them knowledge and they can conquer the world.”
His students, which include both boys and head-scarve-wearing girls sitting side by side, agree with their teacher.

Ask them what they want to do in life and pat comes the reply, “doctors”. And when the girls, who hide their faces with their books, are coaxed to respond, the boys say in a chorus, “all of them want to become madams in school.”
As we pass through the village roads on the way to Sonamarg, our heart fills up with the sight of children going to school. Fathers carrying their tiny tots, sisters pulling their reluctant kid brothers and their satchels, bevies of girls wearing white salwar-kameezes and headscarves and holding books in hand — these are common sights on a normal working day even in the remotest village.

Says Tariq Ahmad Wani, a cab driver from a village in Anantnag, once considered a hotbed of militancy, “True, the common Kashmiri people supported the militants in the beginning.”

“But more than anyone else we suffered the most because of the violence. The militants would come at night and demand food. If you refuse, they will beat you up. Next morning armymen will come and beat us up again for giving food to the militants. Tell us where do we go!” he says.

For a while Tariq along with his parents and four siblings would flee their village in the wee hours of the day, take shelter in another village with relatives and then return at night.

“But our relatives are also poor and how can they provide food to so many of us for days? So we used to pack some rice in the morning and take shelter in their house and in the process our education suffered, we could not plough our fields properly and virtually starved for days,” he says.

Hope on future
Tariq had to take up the job of a driver with a local tour operator at a monthly salary of Rs 2,000 as he could not complete his education. “But now I will make sure that my brothers and sisters do not suffer and they can complete their education,” he says.
Noor Mohammad, a local guide in Verinag, has a similar story but he claims that those days are over. “Kashmir mein ab goliyaan nehi chalti (there are no more gunfights in Kashmir). Please tell people to come here as violence has not only given us a bad name, it has snuffed out our ‘chulah’ (cooking stove).”

While narrating the history of how Mughal Emperor Jahangir was mesmerised by the beauty of the Jhelum in Verinag, Noor Mohammad, just like other tour guides, tried to name Hindi films which were shot in that location. He could only name a few and then apologetically said, “sorry, I have forgotten the other names, I am out of practice.”
“Why do you always think of Kashmir as a land of gun-totting men and mourning women?” asks forest inspector Abid Rasool. One really does not have an answer.
True, the heavy military presence even in the lanes and by-lanes gives an eerie feeling to outsiders. But that melts away as soon as one comes in touch with the local Kashmiri, who is simple, honest and hospitable.

Right from the auto driver to the shikara (local boat) men to the STD booth owner, everybody will greet you as a “mehman” (honoured guest) with a warm smile and even offer you the typical Kashmiri Kahwa tea.

It is really heartening to see that even in these days of globalisation and recession there are people, who do not put price tags on every thing under the sun.
The small apple orchard owner in a village in Anantnag not only insisted that we should have as many apples as we want, he also made sure that we visit the nearby Martanda Temple, built on the pattern of the famous Sun Temple in Konarak, Orissa.
And when we offered him a modest amount for his apples, which he was supposed to sell to a fruit merchant in Delhi, he refused. “Please do not pay me. If you are happy, then please take a picture of my goat. He is very dear to me,” he said.
Kashmir can no longer be all about, as Abdul Rasool said, “gun-totting men and mourning women”. It is a land of beautiful people beckoning us to take part and rejoice in their new dawn.

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