“Azadi” is the most common slogan in Kashmir. Earlier one used to hear about plebiscite, referendum, UN resolutions about the right of self-determination, and so on. People were not clear about the way they wanted to go. Merger with Pakistan or total independence. There were two conflicting schools of thought. Accession was considered something forced against the popular will by the dominating leader of forties. In fact, people used to say in Kashmiri, one would give body and soul for India but the heart was with Pakistan! However, over a period of time, the peoples’ perception of Pakistan as the land of the pure and the Islamic Republic changed drastically. Even though Kashmiris still have sympathy for Pakistan, yet majority would not like to merge with it. They would prefer, “Azadi” or total freedom.
However, the main problem is that no one has so far defined “Azadi” in concrete and specific terms. What would total freedom entail? An independent sovereign state of Kashmiri speaking people? An independent sovereign state of Jammu & Kashmir? A division of the state with two parts merging completely into the two neighbouring countries? If one dispassionately examines the alternatives and the present situation in the entire state it would appear that the main problem is within the Kashmiri speaking valley and its periphery. The two and a half districts of Jammu and the Ladakhis except Kargil area would prefer to stay with India. In fact, the way things are being handled by Delhi in Leh district and Jammu makes one think that these places are being already fully merged into India!
Pakistan Administered Kashmir including the former Northern Areas may prefer to stay with Pakistan with more autonomy or provincial status as given to other provinces. This leaves the Kashmiri speaking valley and its periphery. It may have been ideal for this area to be declared an independent state of Kashmir as it existed centuries back. For such an entity people always raise the question of viability. Well, there is no problem for this entity to stand on its own economically. However, the million dollar question is can it exist politically without any agreement between its three neighbouring super giants of China, India and Pakistan to guarantee its independent status? Could it really become the Switzerland of Asia and survive like the Swiss who could do so through two world wars? There is only one possibility of such a thing happening. The three neighbours especially the two immediate ones get tired and spent out by the continuous conflict hampering their own growth! They may one fine morning decide to get rid of the troublesome Kashmiris!
Well, whatever be the final disposition, the most important thing right now is whether the people have an urge to reach that goal? That seems to be absent right now. The most one can say is that people aspire for emancipation but do not have the urge for it. They are in a way balancing the major concern with other day to day concerns. The urge for total emancipation can only develop if in the first place the people have the right kind of character to give rise to it. Webster defines character as, “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual” and “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation”. It is often said by many that Kashmiris have no character. That is not true. In fact, Kashmiris have a number of attributes which characterise a person or a nation. However, in the moral sense one can say that Kashmiris do not have the strength of the character to distinguish between the right and the wrong and then stand by what is right regardless of the consequences. They compromise easily.
Most of the foreign authors who have lived in Kashmir and observed the local people have commented on the character of Kashmiris. Quite a few have said that Kashmiris are cunning and dishonest. However, some authors including Sir Walter Lawrence have said that if any other race had gone through generations of external oppression like what Kashmiris have gone through, they may have been more cunning and dishonest than Kashmiris! According to him, two generations of a just and strong rule will change the character of Kashmiris. Well, they have been waiting for such a rule since the time of Lawrence and have yet to get that!
No doubt the oppressors always try to promote and strengthen the worst traits of character in the colonised people to keep their hold on them but it depends upon the inherent good in the people which can overcome such machinations. One cannot wait for the just and strong rule to improve the character. It has to be changed right now by bringing out the good qualities of honesty and truth. This can be done by the leaders giving practical examples in their daily life. Unfortunately, the leaders of the people themselves need to first inculcate these qualities. They have not been able to even sit on one table because of their bloated egos. How can the people change and improve their basic character when they see the leaders supposed to lead them to emancipation not even meeting each other to give a single common programme and one road map? All of them seem to be confused and disoriented.
Thus before aspiring for freedom, we have to free our character from all the ills and weaknesses. Unless a nation has a character without a blemish as regards its existence as a group of dignified and self-respecting people, it cannot survive and will always be overwhelmed and oppressed by outsiders. There is a saying that, “God never changes the destiny of a nation which does not have the urge to change it by itself”. That urge comes out of the character of a nation. “Azadi” will not give us the character but the uncompromising character will get us the “Azadi”!