14 July, Kashmir, Driving in chaos
My friend and her cousin asked if I could drive the car and they would take me to some beautiful sights in Kashmir. Before I detail the experience I wish to discuss the 13th July (yesterday) which was an anniversary of an uprising against the Maharaja in 1931. This date is significant as there was an uprising against the Dogra rule (Indian Maharaja) and protests against the prosecution of the architect Abdul Qadeer Khan Ghazi (this is sourced from the Greater Kashmir newspaper).
Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of this uprising where 21 Kashmir were killed by Dogra soldiers. This was the first time there had been an uprising against autocratic rule of the Maharaja (this was a princely state). In addition there had been a strike for 19 days. The uprising was catalysed by Abdul Qadeer Khan who raised his voice against oppression. He gave a speech at a public meeting convened by Youngmen Muslim Association on Jun 21, 1931. This was attended by Muslim leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (later to become PM, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir). Interestingly just when the meeting was about to end a Pathan stood up and apparently the room was silent. He talked of respect for the Quran and the fact the government does not care for its subjects. He argued for standing up and fighting against autocratic forces. Turns out this man was a disciple of Maulana Jamal-udin Afghani a famous philosopher (poet) of the 20th century. Qadeer was arrested for his speech and was the first political trial of this nature. Essentially the issues come down to suppression of public dissent and the roots are in styles of leadership that are autocratic. I have become aware that democracy is not deeply understood and that having a voting system is seen as democracy rather than the principle of freedom of speech. The latter is seen as a challenge to power and it appears this is not dealt with in forums or public discussions but through violence.
I see the response to 21 deaths of boys which ironically is the same number over a 3 week period. I see similarities to this date and history seems to continually repeat itself. The lessons have not been learned and the responses are the same. Yet the pathway through this would be for the Indians to examine their methods of crowd control and their political process which I am told is corrupt and seeking influence in Kashmir. Politics around the world is a problem as it is the politics of power over rather than power within. Peace is about power within where you take personal responsibility for your actions. Apparently the Judicial fraternity came out to protest on the 14th July about a lawyer (President of the Bar Association) who was arrested because he decried that not one soldier had received any disciplinary action or punishment. This highlights that violence can be undertaken with impunity if you are representing the government you are enforin law and order but if you are on the streets pelting stones that is seen as trouble making. I don’t condone any violence but the imbalance of power is clearly evident. Moreover, Gandhi keeps coming to my mind. I keep seeing him standing firm against the British against the odds, he was one of India’s heroes yet they cannot see they have become the very oppressor they suffered so much to remove. No one enjoys suppression and humiliation.
I guess any nation can become one, yet all have the seeds of tyranny as we like to do things our way and we want what we want without obstructions. The key of democracy is sharing power. Yet the reality is for those who enjoy control through power, this word is a façade masking the true state of affairs. True democracy respects and reflects the rights of all the people, especially the opposition. I think it is a concept still not well understood around the world. Fear still is used to control populations but I see this as the old paradigm and it will disappear and be replaced by a love based consciousness in the future. Changes are definitely coming.
Now to my day out driving. This was a little daunting as I have witnessed how they drive here in Kashmir (and actually across Asia). They toot and drive quite quickly, they overtake with fierceness. Initially I was a bit worried I may have an accident as my obeying road rules may create hesitation. Surprisingly I was very calm and was able to mirror their driving a bit, I also had some challenges with the gears as the synchro was pretty tight. So occasionally I lost 2nd gear but just found 1st and went from there. People quickly squeeze in life between curfews as you see by trucks on the road, but many were still staying away as there is much fear here. My friend cautioned me about the city saying it can seem calm but things can erupt very quickly. She remembers being with a friend in the city, apparently a hand grenade was thrown and it rolled on the ground next to her. She heard a bang elsewhere and jumped into a shop and it blew up and her friend was injured. She was very lucky. So it is understandable why the people feel tense. It must be such an uncertain life and if someone is late home, are they killed? would be in the minds of their family. This is the hell they speak of.
We drove along the Boulevard along the lake and then started to drive up a beautiful hill (bit like Queensland) and as we drove up the botanical gardens were on the left, we kept going past another garden nestled on the hill. I got excited when we passed the people blowing bubbles, always I am a clown always looking for opportunities to bring happiness. Anyway we got to the check point. The soldiers check the boot and I am smiling, as I do. I drove up to the barrier they let us through and I just smiled and waved at the soldiers. As I am an outsider and so used to loving everyone it is hard for me to look serious and I don’t feel any fear or threat. Peace is in the smile. We keep going up to a Sufi Temple. I notice two soldiers at the top of the stairs to go in. They look pretty serious, I am aware of how boring it must be for them to be guarding places. However, the Governor’s residence is within eye shot of where we are and I am told that it is part of his security cordon. From the vantage place of this holy Sufi shrine you can see the mountains of Kashmir, they are so close you can touch them. They are the grandeur and the majesty of nature towering over the minnows of human beings trapped in drama and dilemma of daily life. I look to nature and feel the peace as unchanging, I watch the eagles silently soar overhead uplifted on thermals, seeking prey with the sharpest of eyes. I look down toward the city and see the lake in between little islands peppered on the lake. I see the traffic traveling along the Boulevard. On the Mountains is a peace headquarters for the military, apparently it is the best view in Kashmir and a place of recreation for the soldiers, so that is how they find peace. Another mountain houses a temple and you can see the city of Srinigar in the distance where all the troubles and confusion are occurring. Up in the mountains I just see the glory of nature and feel the breeze caressing my face as I listen to the voice of my friend expanding my knowledge of the history in this place. I am not so good at remembering all the facts but her memory is razor sharp and she is an incredible historian of her own culture and historical understanding of around the world. She confesses to me she loves history and she is very informative. I am fortunate to have such a friend.
We drive back down the mountain and drive towards the city and I find my first experience of bedlam with cars going in all directions around the small roundabouts. Sometimes cars just stop and people get in and out, it is all made up on the spot. You see the soldiers as you drive along. I headed to a wealthy area and drove through past the large houses with radars fitted to pick up bombs and security. We drive on through and loop back to the Boulevard where we go to another large garden. It is 10 rupees to go in. So we pay and go in and walk along the gardens, all roses, flowers of all types and fountains in the elongated water ways that make up the centre of the garden. Apparently a tribute to the wife of a Mogul emperor. The large Chennai trees pepper the water way and you can see expanses of green lawns and at the very top is a water fall and a temple like structure constructed by the Mogul’s. Cihangir was the emperor who had this built and my friend comments on the incredible construction abilities of the Turks or Moguls. I was able to fill up my water bottle with pure water from the mountains which was great. As we sat down on the grass a guy came up threw us two pink flowers and asked for money. I felt saddened for the question given the subtle manipulation, and my friend looked at him and said no. He works in the garden as a gardener. That snapped me out of my oasis for a moment. I find I am quite resolved not to give out money, I will give in my way through clowning unless I feel particularly moved to give money. I am unable to assist the larger economic/social malaise as the needs are endless and it is impossible to help everyone, I will just follow my heart and have to be ok with saying ‘no’.
I am looked at constantly by the people and I asked my friend why? She said some people don’t see western women very much. A lady with her friend, husband and child from Jammu were smiling at me across the water and edged their way closer to me and made eye contact saying hello, we chatted about where we come from and asked for a photo. Another group of Indians asked for a photo and then later when they passed a nice Indian girl gave me a yellow rose. I find I get asked for photo’s a lot. Fortunately as a clown I am used to this but not without a clown suite, so it is quite novel to feel so famous just because of skin colour and they seem to find me attractive.
We walked further and put our feet in the water and sat for quite a while in the shade, our feet felt nice and cool with huge trees and mountains for a backdrop, it was lovely to be sitting there enjoying nature and a little respite from our time under curfew at home. We then traveled back home and had dinner.
I was very pleased with my drive around Kashmir it was quite a privilege. Everyone looked at me and said ‘hello’, not common to see a western woman around here particularly driving during these conditions. No tourists much around. So I just smile at this situation.
The next day spent the whole day inside, then I asked to go for a walk. I met some nomadic folk called bakrwaln who live in clans. They live in a shack and where they can get shelter (under awnings of the house nearby) or constructed dwelling. I was told that they can live in minus 20 and looking at the tin/material/wooden structure of the temporary dwelling it is hard to imagine how they keep warm. In Russia it was minus 15 and I remember thinking about the cold from a hotel room, this is outdoor camping. They are originally from the mountains but they found the water was running out. They are goat herders and they make their blankets out of goat hair. They are very skilled and experienced at survival. I really took that in as I spoke to these simple gypsy like people. My friend and I met them and they were so kind to us. They said they have to come to the Kashmir valley as they are Muslims, they have problems with the Hindu’s, fear of difference could be the issue. They explained it is very hard to survive with curfew as they cannot get labouring work. They are known for having many children and I noticed one of the men was very handsome. I am amazed at how they survive. I asked them about their faith, they said they completely belief in Allah and that is what gets them food. They were very gentle people but they said the conflict between the Indian military has to be solved once and for all, the uncertainty is a real problem, they said of the government, they must make a decision.
I felt it a real privilege to meet them, in many ways so free and able to live in harsh conditions. Their family bonds are very strong and if they are attacked it can be devastating, particularly rape of their women I was told. I felt it must be a very hard life, yet they appeared to be full of love, I really saw it in one woman’s face particularly. Wow. I won’t forget her true beauty.
With that we went back home, hoping to take some photo’s the next day, but alas the curfew was again imposed and I decided I must leave during ‘the deal’ until 2pm on Saturday. This means curfew lifts until 2pm. I was very keen to leave.
My friend and I sleep in the same room like sisters and she expressed how bad she felt at my leaving. She said she will really miss me. She said she loves so deeply. I was touched by that, feeling exhausted I tried to get some sleep. We had to be up at 6am and I h