Disputed territories

India, a visual image — the tantalising hanging gardens of the north east, the little crab claw of the Gujarati west, the south diving deep into the ocean and the Kashmiri queen seated on her throne embracing the Himalaya. In this imagery lies our sense of ownership, right, belonging and faith. Every map gives us this form, the Constitution of India defines it, and it is today ingrained in our political psyche. The ‘our’ encompasses the idea of the nation and any challenge to this from the outside is belligerent and if from within, is considered sedition. Among all these creative visuals and poetic expressions of what is primarily political, Kashmir stands out as severely divided and disputed.

In an atlas downloaded from the net by an Indian girl, Kashmir is shaded with linear strokes, some light and short, some dark and continuous. The shading lines are seen better by her on a closer look and therefore do not disrupt the poetics of the image. A little to our northwest a young boy living in Karachi looks at his land in the atlas and political poetics are at play once again. The lines across Kashmir are similar, alternating light and dark ones. His sense of ‘his’ land too is growing within him and by the time he is an adult, he ‘knows’ what belongs to him. History lessons in each country give diametrically opposite narratives leading to two stories for the same land. Is there therefore a ‘real truth’ and does it even matter?

Most of us in India or Pakistan are not constitutional experts, nor were we privy to the many forms of political trickery that have got us where we are today. All we hear is what politicians claim and the media accentuates. Politicians continue to reiterate the story that fans each country’s jingoistic nature. To Indians, Jawaharlal Nehru, the instrument of accession, Sheikh Abdullah, the Indo-Pak wars, Tashkent, Shimla, Siachen, cross-border terrorism and Kargil are some of the commonly sounded words that entrench our right. To the Pakistani, the Rights of the Kashmiri, the United Nations, plebiscite, ‘self-determination’ and the wars form the political tapestry. Behind all the sound and fury, claims and counter claims for the last nearly seven decades, two nations have been battling overtly and covertly to claim land ownership. Every war, terrorist act, negotiation and show of power has been about establishing that simple idea. Never part of the primary issue is the truth about shared people, heritage, culture, languages and religion. These do not disintegrate at the ‘line of control.’ The continuum lives on, only with the regret that the connections have been singed.

This is where we have to ask ourselves whether nationalism and the sense of ‘my nation’ leave us empty. The ‘my nation’ idea affects the way we see Kashmir? When and how does a sense of nationhood turn into a sense of property? It cannot be allowed to degenerate into a property dispute that divides people. For people who live in that old undivided Kashmir, not involved in this identity and ownership battle, the nationalisms of India and Pakistan are of very little consequence.

Look at the terms Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) that we use and Indian-occupied Kashmir that Pakistan uses. Occupied? Both states call the other occupiers. Then there is such a thing as ‘a line of control’ — that same dotted line! A serious engagement with these ‘titles’ given to pieces of land only reveals linguistic violence. Violence on people has to cease whether it is caused by people from across the lines, within the lines or even if it is by the people who protect those lines. But will it ever when the issue is seen as a dispute over landed property?

Let us imagine, just for a moment that both countries set aside ‘ownership of Kashmir.’ Then all of a sudden fascinating ideas and possibilities that have to do with the people of all parts, shaded, un-shaded, dotted and un-dotted, of Kashmir — including those displaced — appear on the horizon. But without placing the ownership syndrome aside, discussing people, culture and even trade loses meaning because they will continue to be seen as an incidental part of the property dispute. ‘Making the borders irrelevant’ has been talked about in the Kashmir context but that is not possible unless we move away from our obsessions with geo-political proprietorships. I end here abruptly because the rest is left to your imagination, one, which I hope, will not be burdened by you being Indian or Pakistani.

Originally written for The Hindu

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