‘I am Mr. A…, and I am from Kashmir.” This assertion from a Kashmiri participant could have perhaps gone unnoticed, but when another Kashmiri guy introduced himself in similar fashion – “I am Mr. B…, and I am from Kashmir,” one could see it raising the brow of the Indian contingent. And then the third – “I am Mr C… and I am also a Kashmiri.” This was as if the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. The tension together with the anger and frustration was palpable on the faces of the participants from mainland India who had converged at a networking conference of a UN mandated university UPEACE at a Dead Sea resort in Jordan during the height of 2010 summer unrest here in Kashmir.
“How can you say so? Why didn’t you say that you are Indians? … all of you carry Indian passports? Look I am from Banaras but I said I am an Indian, and so did all others who are from different parts of India but introduced themselves as Indians…,” a senior professor from Banaras Hindu University went on and on as he fumed with rage.
“Respected professor,” retorted a Kashmiri participant very politely: “Why do you take upon yourself extra burden of ensuring that Kashmiri people identify themselves as Indians?”
“Now what’s that?” asked the angry professor.
“You are a learned professor and you must know that Kashmir is older than India – its history, its geographical territory and everything that is Kashmiri was there when India was yet to be conceived and put together as what it is today. We didn’t object to your choice about your own description, whether you describe yourself as someone from UP or specifically from Banaras or an Indian or something else; it is your choice and we respect it. And we will also appreciate if you respect our choices…” Mr. C… from Kashmir said.
“But…” before the ‘Indian’ professor could say more, the Kashmiri guy continued: “Even though all of us came here on Indian passports and are being counted as Indians, but if we still prefer wearing our Kashmiri identity, I think ‘India’ should not be objected to it. After all a country that claims to be the largest democracy in the world must know and appreciate that democratic ideal springs from the ideas of liberty, equality, and freedom – from subscribing to multiple loyalties in matters of religion, economics, and politics rather than to a total loyalty to the state.”
“But …” again the professor tried to say something while nodding in affirmation to what was being bombarded at him from ‘not-so-friendly neighbourhood’, but the gushing outpour of the Kashmiri counterpart proved too overwhelming.
“In fact it is India’s inability to acknowledge and appreciate this distinctiveness of Kashmir and Kashmiri and its grand strategy to dilute this uniqueness and individuality that is the cause of tension between the two.”
Finally the professor conceded that the questions of identity should be left to personal choices and state too should respect such choices of the people. But despite this, the tension between the Indian contingent and bunch of Kashmiris refused to go away.
With the situation back home in Kashmir getting uglier with teenagers falling prey to the state’s psychotic killing machine (remember I am talking about the 2010 summer unrest), entire world seemed insane and falling apart. In such a situation, statist notions about anything and everything were meaningless at the best and insulting at its worst.
“Respected Professor,” continued Mr. C… ‘the Kashmiri’: “Identity is not a singular construct but rather a plural entity, for there is no single identity that a person has. We all have multiple identities that are determined by varied factors and markers including our place of birth and residence, language, religion, economic and social status, political affiliations and beliefs …
“Remember, identities are like concentric layers of an onion. Those who fiddle with the onion are bound to get tears not only in their but in others’ eyes too. Choice is with all of us….”