If one takes 1931 as the real starting year of the freedom movement in Kashmir then the struggle has been going on now for almost 83 years ! This movement has seen many ups and downs, twists and turns. A few generations have passed since the start of the movement. However, the ultimate goal still appears distant. There have been many upheavals, some very bloody during the course of this movement. The decade of nineties was probably the bloodiest in the entire struggle when over a hundred thousand people were killed. Thousands disappeared without a trace and are still unaccounted for. Dozens of mass graves of unknown people are scattered all over the valley. In spite of all the turns and twists, the sentiment of “Azadi” continues to be very strong among one and all. “Azadi” may not seem to be round the corner but it continues to be the cherished dream of every freedom loving Kashmiri. There is a deceptive perception that Kashmiris have reconciled to the status quo. The reality is totally different from the appearance. As a British author has said, a Kashmiri never opens his heart to an outsider and no one can truly know what is really in his heart! One has also to concede that a Kashmiri is a very intelligent person. Centuries of oppressive rule have taught him many ways of survival in the most difficult conditions. His newest strategy is to keep the sentiment alive and at the same time continue to survive against all odds.
Kashmiris have often been given the label of the “Lotus Eaters” in a derogatory sense for their apathy and very stoical behaviour. However, history of the freedom movement makes them the “Lotus Eaters” of a different kind. They behave like a sleeping giant who wakes up from time to time to claim his basic rights and then goes back to deep sleep! Even if Kashmiris behave as periodic lotus eaters yet no one can deny the fact that they are great survivors. Any other nation in their place would have vanished after centuries of extreme oppression. However, their main misfortune has been their leadership. They have been sold and resold by their own so called leaders. It has always been the deprived class which has been exploited by these so called leaders. The upper classes from all sides have been the beneficiaries. The situation has been compounded at present by the leaders, who are themselves confused about the goals they ask their followers to pursue! Some of them professing to follow the so called mainstream promise the people improvement in governance and living conditions but end by leaving them on the road side in the worst conditions than they were earlier. Some others promise total emancipation where they will live with dignity and self-respect but fail to define exactly in what type of a political status that would be possible and how to attain that. Confused leaders with confused goals!
The Kashmiri elite have one point programme of making money and getting material possessions. They do cherish the sentiment of “Azadi” but at the same time want good living. In last two decadesmore than a couple of lakh new houses have been built all over the valley. The city of Srinagar has expanded more than 30 kilometres across. Paddy lands have been wantonly converted into orchards or utilised for constructing houses and shops. Some of the new houses must have cost crores of rupees to build especially with all imported fittings, furnishing and so on. All this has been dead investment especially with over half a million unemployed youth. Every year Kashmir imports over rupees 500 crores worth cars of all makes! This money could have been utilised in productive investment in agriculture, horticulture, floriculture and animal husbandry providing many employment opportunities. All this freely available money has turned us into morons shunning manual labour for which we have imported almost a million outsiders. We have workers both skilled and unskilled from Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Assam, and Punjab. There are also some from Orissa and some other states. These people apart from working as domestic help work in paddy fields, on construction sites and so on. They work as carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and even as bakers and sweet/pudding sellers at different shrines.
In winter some of these outsiders especially Biharis work in harissa shops! Even Kashmir’s traditional cooks Wazas are employing Biharis as additional hands. The way the leaders are now fighting for freedom on part time basis, a day is not far off when we may outsource this movement also! In fact, there has been loud talk sometime back about Taliban coming to Kashmir after American exit from Afghanistan. Kashmiris have always been secretly harbouring a wish that someone else preferably from outside may get them emancipated! They had been banking upon for a long time on Pakistan to do the needful but now they have given up this hope because that state itself is in doldrums. There is so much bleeding going on within their own country that they have forgotten the jugular vein! Some have even been wishing USA to bail out Kashmir. The latest projected saviours may be the Taliban. People wish that after the American withdrawal, the Taliban should come to the rescue of Kashmiris. This wish may have been strengthened after the total Hindu takeover of India during the recent elections. However, the people do not realise the destruction that may entail if Taliban really decide to come here. There will be nothing left to emancipate! Afghans unlike Kashmiris are full time freedom fighters. Both the Americans and the Russians can practically certify this fact! So, if Kashmiris want “Azadi”, they have to first make up their mind and convert their wish into an urge! One does not need to be a violent militant to be a freedom fighter. If one develops the urge, the chains fall off on their own!