10 July, Kashmir, Curfew and 2 Free Days
It is now Saturday (10th July) and I arrived on Tuesday last week. I had one day out when the curfew was lifted. Today is another day when it has been lifted and I can’t wait to get outside. My friend wants to go out at 11am but I am keen to go earlier, however, I just get on the computer and be patient. All is as it is meant to be. At 11.30 we go out and my friend organizes for us to get a lift on the motorbike to the bank. All three of us are on the bike, no helmets or protective clothing. My friend feels embarrassed as she is sitting with legs astride the bike, mostly women are on the bike riding side saddle. I used to ride motorbikes so for me it is no problem sitting astride, actually I wouldn’t mind having a ride. But they are such mad riders/drivers, people just toot as they come round corners, sometimes driving on the other side of the road, many squeeze past tooting to get you to move over, it is quite amusing to watch. If I wanted to ride in accordance with the rules at 60km they would toot me to move, I found that a bit stressful but funny as well.
Anyway we walk through the market place and I buy some shoes for 350 rupees. They are good quality. I walk through the market and the people are looking at me, some think my friend is a house boat person taking advantage of me, they don’t realise we are friends as in this part of the world it is very unusual for a local Kashmir woman to be traveling abroad. My friend is a journalist and has attended many international forums. She is very knowledgeable and an extremely honest person. So we walk past little convenience shops, bread shops, meat (butchers) and other local small product shops. There are no clothes shops as you have to buy material and have a tailor make it for around 200 rupees, which is very cheap (roughly 30:1 exchange) so $3 for every 100 rupees I am working out. We walk to the bank and I sit down on the curb as my friend queues. A lot of people are getting money out and many have stayed at home I am told. Too afraid to come out. There have been protests over the week and the situation is tense. I sit there and see the military at the gate of the university. I look at the barbed wire in front of me as a barrier. I find a man comes up to me and asks me where I am from. I tell him about Australia turns out he was in the Government and was responsible for tourism. He told me he met people from all over the world. Two soldiers come and stand next to me. I can see the shot gun next to me. I am looking curiously at them as I am not used to military in civilian areas. I am watching them banging their sticks on their legs. Earlier I saw a crowd running out from the market chased by police, so intimidating the public appears a strategy. To me it is surprising if the objective is to de-escalate violence.
My friend gets money and we walk to the Shrine. We have our bag checked on entering and my friend shows me the women’s section. I have to wear a veil over my hair as I am close to the Shrine. I go to the toilets and have bought tissue on the way. No toilet paper in these ere parts. However, I believe environmentally we use to much paper. Apparently they wash themselves and the thought of a tap not being available in a toilet appears unhygienic in this part of the world. They also wear shoes in bathrooms. Hygiene is really uppermost. Perhaps in the west we are not so hygienic. Yet I said to my friend we don’t get sick so I suppose that is evidence it is fine. I digress. Anyway, we walk to the boats and my friend finds out if we can go across to the four Chinar trees on a little island in the middle of the lake. We climb on board and the boat owner uses a paddle to paddle us across. I have a little go and then thought I might just lie here and really soak this in. It was so peaceful. My friend talks to the man and finds out that the tourist industry is decimated, turns out that the industry is worth approximately 6,000 rupees per day x 500,000 this works out to be 3 billion rupees and then my economic mind goes to the cost of military intervention I wondered at the cost per day per solider, there are 800,000 soldiers here, I would guess at 200 rupees per day estimate $160 million rupee per day. So let’s guestimate that the government taxes 30% in the rupee of $3 billion in tourist revenue is $900 million in lost revenue plus my estimated $160 million comes to around 1 billion in lost revenue PER DAY. Many live from day to day selling simple goods. My calculations do not estimate the loss of income earning capacity during curfew and those who starve as they have no food or die from health problems. These roll into the overall costs for not solving the problem. This does not include the cost for moving the whole bureaucracy to Jammu for 6 months every year. That is another enormous cost. I am not sure who pays for that I am assuming the Indian government. The economy is hard hit and this is a lose lose situation, the justification is hard to understand on any level. Socially the price cannot be calculated because loss of freedom, poverty, lack of food, negativity, fear, intimidation, grief as psychological impacts, reduced education and so on is a huge cost to the people of Kashmir. I doubt the Indian government grasps the enormity of the problem, my friend reiterates the hardest hit are the young people. Perhaps not so surprisingly they are the ones venting anger and being targeted.
We sit down in the centre of the lake on the island looking at the mountain range. It is peaceful with birds and crows around. The boat owner waits quietly for us to return. We do a meditation and I feel to bring light to Kashmir. I ask my friend to join me. I feel the power of the mountains and their peaceful presence. I think of the age of the mountains and the civilizations that have come and gone in the shadow of the mountains. Nature is always consistent to its own truth, always sustainable and always giving to the whole. These are the lessons we are here to learn. There is much more to our existence then just the day to day and the power and control systems around the world will fade and be replaced by a new civilization aware of its oneness and joined by loving gratitude for life. We will evolve, at this point it seems impossible in the minds of most people as things appear to be collapsing but always it is darkest before the dawn.
We head back on the boat and I see the Shrine growing like a beacon. My friend describes it in her illuminated poem as a great pearl, which indeed it is, Beyond the harsh exterior of the people is a centre with much value and spirituality for these people is where they retreat to gain a sense of power and peace.
We walk along the road past the Shrine and again I see more soldiers. We buy a fruit drink which is welcome on this warm day. My friend points out traditional kashmiri dress. We walk along and only a few cars are evident. She takes me to another area of boats and we take another boat to a garden on the other side of the Shrine. She speaks to the boat owner and he tells her he is hopeless. He is angry with both sides. He feels the economy is collapsing. The months of July and August are Tourist months as the snow season comes for 7 months. So they can make a lot of money in this time. I try to tell him of the aboriginal situation in Australia where the Europeans tried to firstly place them on missions, then genocide their people by integration with whites, try to get them involved in education and work. They were also exterminated in Tasmania. When I researched this subject and overviewed the many legislative acts with names like Native Protection Act etc. They were not about protection but control and restriction of human rights. My research into this revealed clearly you cannot remove a native people from their land. You cannot destroy them. That was good news from my perspective but yet today people are still being oppressed by other regimes. I said to him it will work out in the end. How long it takes depends on both the Kashmiris and the Indians, ultimately they have to solve the problem. Fighting won’t do it but it may create a willingness and fatigue.
We walk up a grassy lawn to sit under trees and overview another water way. I also saw the engraved house boats. It is a beautiful day (every day is better than Queensland if you can get out and enjoy it). We see people speaking under trees, always a lot of guys around, not many women. However, I feel quite ok as a woman. I like the people and don’t feel intimated by them. We walk through the gardens and sit and chat again. Then slowly we make our way back as curfew is back on at 5pm and we can’t be late.
So we take the boat back across the river, I dip my toes in the fresh glacial water and look at the algae quite pretty not slimy more green plant like blooms. Anyway we walk back and stop at a shop for another drink. I have a very illuminating conversation with a kashmiri guy about Gandhi, turns out he knows about nonviolence and I speak of it as a mirror to the British oppression of Indians. He doesn’t think the people have the consciousness for nonviolence. Although from my perspective I think leadership is the key the Indian people didn’t have the consciousness and it appears still are not practicing it. There was a common sense of hopelessness and concern for the economy and their livelihoods, very understandable.
We hurry to get a rickshaw taxi and the driver takes us back to my friend’s place, 4.45 we are 15 minutes short of curfew.
I hear of more protests on tv and wonder what will happen. I prepare myself for a few more days indoors.