Betwixt the polar opposite borders of Kashmir and Jammu, a place bemoans its degeneration. A fabian fall has made this land a prison from within and without. Within, because the people are both the prisoners and the guards of occupation, and without, because the external forces have leeched on the sins of the natives. The mountains, which in an era gone by, sang about the might and bravery of our hearts, are now a testament of our cowardice, oblivion, and wretchedness. They speak of a place which has lost its value, not just in the book of ‘others’, but also in the hearts of its own sons.
Poonch, the cradle of 1947 freedom struggle, now lies in a state of nothingness. Nobody claims it, neither liberators nor occupiers, natives nor travelers. Its struggle has many shades, all resembling a dead leaf.
So the question arises, how can the fortunes of a land turn so drastically? A place known to produce soldiers and warriors has turned into a community that is scared, angry and tired. The answers are many, so are the grievances and anguishes, of which, many are genuine.
The first reason is the lack of embrace, recognition, and identity. Poonch had a historical and cultural affiliation with the now called AJK, Northern Punjab of Pakistan and Valley, but it is an administrative unit of Jammu. So, after 1947, it should have been natural for Kashmir to embrace Poonch. Sadly Kashmir failed in this aspect. The reason I put the onus of embracing on Kashmir is that, it was the bigger community, with better resources and most importantly, all the leadership was either in the valley or in AJK. The policies were made there & the attention of both India and Pakistan was given to its people. Also, local leaders have significant importance on the minds of the natives. So Abdullahs, even in their virgin Indianness, still worked for people and created a sense of hope, but nothing of this sort was there in this corner, our hopelessness is near eternal. The result was that Poonchis started shifting towards Jammu, the migration took place in the garb of jobs, opportunities, etc. Therein, began the dilemma of wanting to associate with one area and having to associate with the other. In such scenarios, certain things get diluted, others compromised.
It may not be wrong to say that Kashmiris and Jamwals rarely agree on anything, but on Poonch, they are tacitly on the same page – For both of them, Poonch has always been the ‘Other’. The former looks through the prism of condescendence while the latter, with contempt. One accuses us of not doing much for the cause while the other, for doing a trifle too much. This process of dissimilation has been counterproductive for all and sundry.
The second problem with Poonch is an inherent one and can be labeled as a byproduct of colonialism. It is the lack of inheritance of culture and history.
“Baap ka ilm na bete ko agar azbar ho
phir pisar qābil-e-mīrās-e-pidar kyūñkar ho”
These lines from ‘Jawab e Shikwa’ succinctly describe our predicament. Our fathers dutifully gave us the lands, wealth, properties, etc but the bequest of ideas and history was left midway. The result was that whatever Indian school boards and books told us, we made it as a mirror, not knowing that the reflection is not of our face, but of a mask of a ruthless master. The makers of Azad Kashmir Force are now under the whimsical guard of the Indian Army and one can even find, without much difficulty, certain Poonchis (Muslims) who genuinely believe in the idea of India, in the Tricolour, in its secularism (BJP has reversed the trend). There is another side effect of it. This amnesty of history has culminated into an inherent inferiority complex that is unique in its objectivity. We have become neither Pakistanis nor Indians nor Poonchis, just modern nomads. Here is what happens, We remain in Poonch until we are able to financially sustain ourselves in a foreign territory (primarily Jammu). As soon as we reach that level, we forget about our duties to our land like a thief forgets his belongings while running away from cops. Unlike Kashmiris, who always yearn for their woods, to us, there is no such longing. Unlike Kashmiris, who mourn their martyrs, keep their history closer than their breaths, we have gone into a state of historical amnesia. The families who were blessed enough to produce martyrs were humiliated by the army and we made sure that they were left on their own. It must never be forgotten that no matter how spiritual or divine a struggle is, it always has some materialistic connotation to it. A land cannot produce martyrs, if the martyrs are not socially incentivized. The community commitment is lacking in Poonch. A land of individuals working for their own betterment cannot achieve the higher status of a community. It must be pondered upon.
Thirdly, Poonch has a very diverse population, with people belonging to different creeds and every creed has a separate association with the states of India, Pakistan and everything else. This creates a major obstacle, which is not the case with either Kashmir or Jammu, who have chosen their allies quite wisely, according to their requirements. If a referendum ever happens, Poonch will probably land in Mars, since no earthly entity can satisfy all of its population. Gujjars, Bakerwals, Paharhis, Kashmiris, Hindus, Sikhs, all have different opinions for the movement of independence. Some hold it close to their breasts, while others have thrown it away. India, as expected, exploits the ethnic lines for its cause. The sons who fought against all the odds are now nowhere to be found and we are just left with smokes and mirrors. Everything, from politics to jobs, is looked through the prism of caste and community, the real mission has been thrown in the gallows.
Fourthly, if one looks at the civilizational aspect of Poonch, it is abominable. The hospitals are such that if a healthy person walks in, he will come out with a chronic disease. There is not a single ventilator in the entire district. The roads have more potholes than the number of people walking on it. The horns of army caravans silence even the cries of wilderness, let alone the civilians. Since it is at the border, one can find more men in uniform than in pants or pajamas. To be honest, any person surrounded by a ruthless army on one side and killer mountains on the other will most probably surrender. The enemy and the topography, which seem unsurmountable for now, and a diverse population that plays in the hands of the masters only adds to the slave mindedness. It seems, as if, after giving everything, we are left high and dry, with neither civilization nor culture. The reason to mention this is that the next point, which discusses the causes of fissures between Poonch and Kashmir has an indirect relation with it. I am not referring to much of Jammu, because everybody is aware of the ideological inclination of Jamwals. They are more Indians than Indians could ever be. Hence, any association with them is purely a compromise or a necessity, nothing else (except non-Muslims, for them Jammu is a refuge and provides a sense of security, as anything can happen in this state).
Envy amongst natives is an inherent part of colonialism. It is both a cause and a product of it and we are no exception. The biggest anguish amongst the masses of here is that Kashmiris have taken everything. According to them, they have an excellent habit of asking for Freedom and development, jobs and martyrdom in the same breath. So in the end, nothing comes to Poonch. The agriculture here is predominantly subsistent, there is no infrastructure, development, industry and above all, not even funds. Nobody denies the inhuman treatment of Kashmiris by the butchering hands of the army and police. The killings, the burnings of homes, the tortures will put even Halaku Khan to shame, but what echoes along with it is that, Poonch has been taken very nonchalantly, by everyone, hence it got all the sticks, but never any carrot. The claims are that the people of the valley keep all the funds for themselves, which I must admit, is quite fair. After that, whatever comes for the dust of this land is consumed by the stooges of the establishment. It may sound ingenuine but it is the reality and the aversion is due to this notion. I again admonish, Common minds always look at the things at ground level and can be impressed through it only. It will be wrong to say that these gaps can’t be fulfilled. The love, admiration, and affection for the struggle of Kashmiris is everywhere, but certain amenable differences do exist.
As I mentioned earlier, no political entity makes an effort to establish trust with us. Even the great Syed Ali Shah Geelani doesn’t have something substantial when it comes to our people. The martyrdoms of Poonch were rarely noticed, let alone revered. I will quote an example. A distant relative of mine became a rebel. Indian Army (Paratroopers) killed 19 members of his family, including 11 children and 5 females, one of whom was pregnant. When her body was retrieved, the arm of the unborn baby was hanging from her abdomen. It created a lot of hue and cry at that time, Farooq Abdullah came, was booed, certain news was made and everything was forgotten. It was one of those rare incidents where the elite force of India was directly involved, in an open village, but rarely does one hear about it. There are many other incidents that are in the abyss. In fact, stories of abduction of girls remain just in oral narration, no records on the ground. This explicit element of exclusivity and egoism in Kashmir is detrimental to both these lands. Poonch is also a culprit since certain men of Pir Panchal have also systematically attacked Kashmiris when they were deployed by India as SPOs in Kashmir, a sin that can never be forgiven. The people living on either side of Pir Panchal must now opt for reconciliation. The sooner we read the writing on the wall, the better. Kashmiris must understand that every wrath of India on Kashmir, was used in Poonch at one stage or the other. Poonch must learn about community commitments and the unending spirit of Kashmir. From an area described as ‘docile’ to a place whose will for freedom will outlive every entity, Kashmir has much to offer to us.
So all these equations of dilemmas can be summed up like this: Should we support the struggle of independence wholeheartedly, even though Kashmir has always belittled our efforts and us (The slangs of Gujjar, Bihari are quite common)? Should one go with Jamwals (highly unlikely) who killed around 2 lakh of our Muslim brothers in a few weeks of 1947 and will gladly do the same again? Should we seek open support of Pakistan or look up to India? Should we stay neutral? Should religion be given more importance or ethnicities? Should we demand of funds or freedom, or both? There are no fixed goals. Years of inaction, ethnic differences and occupation have made minds numb, so everybody looks at the short term goals.
The solutions of these issues are, inter alia, intra and inter-unity of spirit and materiality and rebuilding of sense of purpose, which sadly, seems far away. People to People contact must be established, for the lack of it is the biggest reason behind these differences. Kashmiris are well versed about every alley of New Delhi but if asked about Poonch, 90% of them reply “That place near Reasi or Rajouri”, well they are quite close since Reasi and Poonch are 200 km apart. Similarly, Poonchis only visit Kashmir for its infamous heavenliness, the dying Dal, the shrines and the gardens. It would be naive to imagine a country get independence in such plight. I again wonder, what these mountains must be thinking? Two communities, which are at a physical displacement of a few miles, are years away in terms of distance of hopes and aspirations. The day this distance is reduced to naught, all the dilemmas and pains, the occupiers and collaborators, will start counting their days.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the editor of the Kashmir Discourse.
Author is a civil engineer from Pir Panjal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org