‘Kashmir, warmest place on earth,’ says the new tourism video of Kashmir tourism department.
The video captures the beauty of the valley, the lush green mountains, the rivers in their nascent stages, Rabab playing in background, Shikaras, two Indian tourists and an old Kashmiri man acting as server to them.
Nothing in the video is about warmth, except the lone Kashmiri who left his home to buy sugar but ended up being the tour guide. The video is showing how warm Kashmiris are that they will leave their work and ‘help’ out a ‘friend’ they just met on the street.
What is striking in the advertisement is the expectation of servitude of the Kashmiri. The way this video is being shared on the social media platforms and Kashmiris themselves sharing it and asking Indians to go up to there and see for themselves the hospitality of Kashmiris, is heartwarming to the least and disturbing at its very best.
Some ‘liberal’ Indians who have ‘experienced’ Kashmir are seconding the warmth aspect of the place and urging others to go experience the same.
‘All Kashmiris are not bad’ (read: ‘All Kashmiris are not terrorists’) is the sentiment coming forward time and again from some Indians in regard to the video. They treat tourists with so much warmth and respect. They open their arms and their homes and their kitchen to everyone.
Do they have to? Is their warmth recognised only when they serve you? Is their worth recognised only when it benefits you?
My dear countrymen, Kashmir is beyond the tourism video. And when you think about Kashmir only as a place to pleasure your eyes or your culinary senses, then you are taking the essence out of the place. Thinking about Kashmir without thinking about the conflict or the misery is so colonial. A friend rightly commented on Kashmir being the ‘brown man’s Africa’.
Kashmir is an exotic vacation for you. Kashmiri women and men are exotic creatures with exquisite beauty that you want to see (and exploit, as Bollywood has taught us) once in your lifetime just like Indian women are the curvy brown girls from the land of Kamasutra for the foreigners.
You are dangerously close to become the same foreign tourists that your ‘enlightened’ senses dislike for practising cultural appropriation and seeing only the beauty and spirituality of India without seeing the reality.
My Kashmiri friends, do you really have to portray your warmth all the time? Why do you have to prove yourself better than Indians? What do you owe them?
It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to turn your face around and walk away. The burden to prove ‘you’ is not on you. You don’t always have to open your heart and home for Indians. The only thing India opened for you is its war chest.
O’ Kashmir, you don’t have to be the warmest place on earth! Those who truly love you and believe in you will love the cold, battered, pelleted and bloodied face.
Photos used in the piece are screen grabs from the promotional video of the Tourism Department.
Utsa Sarmin is a research scholar from Cambridge University, United Kingdom. She has completed her M.Phil in development studies.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.