18-19 July, Kashmir to Delhi, 24 hour trip by road
My friend advised me not to fly and suggested that I take a bus to Jammu (7.30-4pm) in a 4 wheel drive they call Sumo’s. She said from there catch a air conditioned/sleeping bus to Delhi.
Her brother took us through the city. He wanted me to see the city as under curfew I was unable to have a look. I was amazed at how big it was and really thought about what it must be liked for the CBD folk who under curfew cannot even look through their window. A women was hit by a bullet standing near the window, it was reported as a stray bullet but under these conditions it could have been a warning. I found the curfew deeply troubling as people are shut up in doors. The mental health issues are huge in this place. The people under strict curfew cannot even get food, so how do they survive? My friend has said it has been worse a 50 day curfew, blows my mind, I found the first 3-4 days really challenging. I kept positive but over 63 years I don’t know how they cope, they must be very strong people.
Anyway, I look at the soldiers, for me, that is the experience. I wonder at so many soldiers deployed, I’ve never seen anything like it. I have lived in a democracy all my life and never experienced a military presence, in this context, it is deeply intimidating and clearly suppression. I think of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the various rights protocols and the international community, the UN simply observe but they are not taking action. I just find it hard to understand how this can happen. I think to Gareth Evans and his attempt to instill under international law ‘the responsibility to protect’. Through his former post as head of International Crisis Group, he read all the country reports on human rights abuses. It is truly hard to conceive of such brutality against innocent civilians. There appears to me no real case to have a military presence. Apparently in the 1990’s there was an armed uprising against the militarization of Kashmir, but they laid down their weapons, apparently they also were oppressive to civilians. So the community are in an untenable situation, between a rock and a hard place. We in Australia have no understanding (unless you experience it) of what it feels like to have freedom removed and to be watched constantly by armed men. Anything can blow up. Then the citizens come out and protest (unarmed) that is incredibly courageous. The worry is the young people throwing stones, that is very much modeled on Palestinians but there frustrations are great. The same argument could apply there, amazing that Israel tried to suppress an entire people who had lived for more than 19 centuries on that land. The arguments that justify brutality have to be well crafted and unquestioned, that is what makes it work.
Anyway back to our drive, it is early morning a reprieve until 2pm. I see to my sadness children dressed for school trying to get their studies done. This is so disruptive to education which is the future. I think of children under curfew and the real problems with that. I often wonder how would Indians feel if they experienced this as well, yet in their collective memory they had much history of repression from Muslims, Turks and the British to name a few. My friend was nervous about the trip and said it was the most dangerous. We went past the city mosque and where the real problems are shown on footage on TV. We discuss the issues and centrally this is a struggle for independence. The conflict has gone for 62 years since 1947, unsolved. We discussed children and that is all they know is soldiers, violence, depression of family and continual feelings of hopelessness. As a teacher of anti-bullying this is the bullying of a larger state over a smaller one and is definitely inherent in the presence of the soldiers and how they wack the ground with long sticks. Hardly the long stick of Gandhi’s march to the sea of Dandi. Gandhi talked about the oppression of the larger states. His words still ring true today.
She showed me the constant presence of bunkers. I just keep seeing soldiers on each corner, just amazing to me. We arrived at my destination to pick up the Sumo’s 4 wheel drive, with that, I told her I love her, shook her brother’s hand and got into the sumo. I tried to see her once I settled into my new environment, but she was gone.
On leaving Srinigar city with relief I travel to the other side of the city and am continually surprised at how big this city is. How do you control so many people? You put soldiers on every corner. I even laughed to myself as I saw them next to trees, my humour saw the trees as a potential threat. They are just integrated into the society, how do people relax? I saw shopping malls closed, the economic cost is huge, on both sides. I traveled through towns and country side and saw farmers tilling the earth and yes, again soldiers in pairs not far. I thought how can you get a feeling of not being controlled, the answer is ‘you can’t’. That is the point. We (in a 4W drive with 7 people) stopped at a town for a break at 10am. I saw endless cricket bats and Ricky Ponting is constantly mentioned, a real star it seems. I am not a cricket fan, but the Australians have done pretty well. I think they beat Pakistan, that will please the Indians. I saw a lot of garbage, just down a mountain with crows. Like a garbage dump. Anyway I decided to grabbed a tea and Roti and this man came and tried to sell me a vest. I said no and looked him direct in the eye, he decides he wants to talk and sits with me. He quickly discovers I am unmarried at 45, I said in my country women decide and I don’t want to get married. I am happy as I am. He found it so hard to comprehend how I was not married, an attractive woman. He talked about male/female attraction and children. I said I had no children. He then ventured to whether I would help him, marry him and take him to Australia. A definitive no. But we had a good conversation and it went pretty deep. He was quite fascinated and I liked his directness and willingness to explore the topic. I noticed others listening. I shook his hand and with that, left with the group.
The road to Jammu was 300 km of winding road, it takes 7 ½ hours where I thought of Canberra/Sydney (250km) 2.5 hours. So the time is spent in winding roads. We drove on through the mountains, truly beautiful. Lots of trucks and military trucks, I kept thinking of the Kyber pass and how busy this narrow mountain road is. They had concrete barriers but some points had no barriers and you wouldn’t want to come off the side of the road. Sometimes you see monkeys with their babies on the concrete blocks or crossing the road, they are smart not to venture onto the road. The mountain river systems changed, some were wild and rushing powerfully and others were dried rock beds with huge boulders. A long the way are small communities with little shops built out of stones and perhaps they get a sense of peace, although again, the military soldiers are there also. The mountains are huge, my first real look at the genuine article. As we got closer to Jammu I noticed the mountains were slate rock, it looked for spectacular but quite a different landscape closer to Jammu.
Jammu is quite bustling but I am told much smaller than Srinigar. They call the area Jamma and Kashmir. I thought the locals were Kashmiris but turns out they are Dogra Hindu’s. That is why they are not undergoing curfew I guess. The dogra were who the Kashmiris fought when they were feeling oppressed in the 1930’s and it was they with agreement of a sheik that invited the Indian’s in. The atmosphere is much lighter and all the shops open. I just imagined what Srinigar city may have been like had it not experienced a crackdown. I saw the loss of quality of life through the experience in Jammu.
I became friendly with the 3 guys in the sumo 4 wheel drive. On in particular, Barkat was a really nice Kashmiri guy. Very kind eyes and friendly with everyone. He took me for walks and decided to look after me. I was grateful as a western woman I stand out and it is good to have male company, keeps the other males away. Although I am constantly stared and smiled at. I am considered very attractive I am told and they want to sit near me. I told my new friend about my clowning and peace work. He works in a hospital like a pharmacist but his work was somewhat different. His two friends were lab attendants. He said like minded people always meet. We talked about love and how important it is to open the heart, we also shared a belief in humour. He was the clown of his area so naturally he and I got on really well. He believed in having friendship with women whereas other traditional muslim guys wouldn’t be having a conversation with me, he appeared to me very progressive. He also had an 11 year relationship, so we had much in common. I liked him from the moment we met. Definite connection.
We were told the bus would leave at 8pm so we went and looked at the markets. I am always on the look out for clown stuff. Saw a few soldiers around, beggars who looked like Rishi’s (wise people). I was told they were drinkers. Lots of shops.
We were taken to a bus station by this guy as the bus didn’t turn up. Welcome to Indian time. We sat there, I felt very patient. It was 9pm and there was nothing happening. We paid 550 rupees for a sleeper bus but apparently it broke down. My friends were all looking really cranky by about 10.30pm. I could understand it, we had a long day. I felt very peaceful and meditated allowing whatever to come. My friend Barkat bought me water and an icecream. He did little things for me, I really felt watched over. It was very comforting as every man walking into this place, made full eye contact. I don’t actually mind I just read my book and felt at peace. We went to one bus and that didn’t happen, then another, then sat down, got up went to another and finally we got our stuff on. What I liked about Barkat was that he made sure our bags were on the right bus. He took responsibility and he was quite angered when the man who took our booking upped the price to 800 rupees. He got visibly really angry, paid the money and we got on board.
It was an old bus, mostly men but you could lie down to some extent on it. I think in retrospect the Sumo would be better but am not sure if they go to Delhi. Anyway it took another hour whilst the officials of the bus company rooted out some people who hadn’t paid. I just smiled. My friend was very tired. He sat with me as I knew he would. He was like an angel to me. It was hard to get comfortable. But in the end we ended up snuggling and he told me it was the first time he had cuddled a woman in this way. I felt quite honoured. He was so gentle and kind, I really felt him a beautiful person. He held my hand in quite a sweet innocent way. He said he would deeply miss me. I so know eastern men they are much deeper than western men. He reminded me a bit of my ex Kabir, the same sense of honour and pride and interestingly, coming from a militarized zone. He felt the despair of Kashmir and I shared with him how strange it is for Kashmiris to be allowed to leave Kashmir so easily, no checking (it is Indian administered, so in their eyes part of India). I also asked him how Indian’s treat Kashmiris, he said they see them as terrorists. Good ‘ol George Bush came to mind and his war on terror. Terror is the only war I see, and clearly where there is terror there is no peace. I knew it must be hard for him to get around. As Indian’s know he is Kashmiri and the dislike is there. I felt sorry to know that. So prisoner in his own land and outsider in India.
We got to Delhi and he again made sure I had a phone to ring my contact here. Turns out couldn’t get the number so rang another one. He was there so I have a place tonight. He asked me to ring him so he knows I am ok. I really was touched by his kindness. My experience of men (some), particularly back in Australia had been the opposite, it was so nice to meet a genuine man who understood what honour is in reality. I felt deeply at peace with him.
Jumped on a auto-rickshaw went to my friends place, no sleep for 2 days. My friend wasn’t here but I was let in, given a coffee, had some food, had a sleep and am now blogging. I am tired but deeply happy to be here. I am back at the place of the people into universal peace. So perhaps I am home again.
Internet is down, so maybe I just go to the airport and fly to Mumbai then onto Gandhi. Everytime I look at his picture, I feel the tears, this is indeed a spiritual journey, I would dearly love to see Gandhi revived in this country. I dearly love Indians and can equally see the beauty of kashmiris, where is the sanity in this incredible insanity called occupation and industrialization, they both go hand in hand. I suspect the occupation is about hydro-electric and the abundant water. Surely cooperation agreements can happen, unless the aim is to drive kashmiris from the valley. Having stayed there and witnessed their strength, that is an unlikely outcome. I don’t think any nation has been successful in wiping out another. So it will just cost the people and make others lives untenable. Interesting strategy.
Now I am planning for the next step Mumbai and Gandhi. I so feel I am going home…