I was born and raised in Srinagar — a city forming the central stage in the socio-political dynamics of Kashmir. But I don’t believe in preferential treatment for one people over the other. No people, nation, or ethnicity is inherently better than the rest. We’re all equally ignorant, stupid.
Kashmir being my native land where I spent my formative years makes me Kashmiri through and through. The Vale cradled, nurtured and taught me so much in life.
The lanes of Downtown, the buzz of Lal Chowk, the chaos of Amira Kadal, the serenity of the Lake Dal, the backdrop of the Himalayas, the omnipresence of barbed wires, the anxiety from jackboots, the voice of the Muezzin, the Wanwun of women, the colors of autumn, the gloom of winter, the shock of the bygone past, the uncertainty in the unfolding future… So on, and so forth.
All this and more forms the backdrop of my lived experiences. The profoundly beautiful and deeply unsettling landscape of my memory.
Amid all this—I, like all other Kashmiris, am left alone to make sense of things, to rationalize reality. We’re all born not knowing. And, I believe we all die, not knowing as well. Age makes us none the wiser.
So, I grew up learning faith. Taking interest in the why and how of things. And also grew up learning science, art, poetry and music. Early on, it was easier to compartmentalize things and not see the inherent contradictions that our cultural experience entails. Learned in science, the ethos to question everything. And learned in theology, to submit and believe.
The cognitive dissonance was self-consuming.
Learned in fervent sermons how everyone who’s not a believer is doomed. And the very next hour went out and relished and consumed the symphonies of Beethoven, poetry of Neruda, movies of Nolan and the lectures of Feynman.
The othering of people was complete and absolute. However, then one moves on to university outside the Valley and meets people with other beliefs, other ethos, and viola, the ill-founded axioms come crashing down — because unlike mathematics, they were neither complete nor consistent.
Some sample questions that need to be shoved under the rug: The occupation of Kashmir is wrong and evil.
It’s wrong because we believe in the right of self-determination. Not a right ascertained in scripture, but one emanating from liberal democratic values. We, as Kashmiris, have been wronged.
The majoritarian ethics of the occupying nation is not what we’re willing to accept. But then that would mean not to cave in to our own majoritarian instincts. All Kashmiri religious minorities should neither feel bullied nor discriminated against. Ahmadis, Hindus, Atheists, Zeus worshippers, Absurdists. All. The criteria of moral judgment should be universal. Based on real issues of just and unjust. Not on our own cocooned perceptions.
What about those co-opting religion and killing expression? How is that justified?
While we don’t have the right to assemble and are pellet gunned and shot down by bullets, some of us in Kashmir have their own fancied restrictions – their ideas on what is allowed and not allowed.
We need to realize that either there is freedom for all, or there is none whatsoever. Why the online lynching and ostracizing of people who don’t share similar normative beliefs of the majority? Why is the pariah making industry of Kashmir still alive?
These are just the snippets of my thought process. People who’ve got everything figured out in life and live in the tranquility of certainties are lucky. I’m not sure whether they’re right, but surely they’re ignorantly happy.
And when someone legitimately and yet modestly questions their worldview, they get riled up. We really need introspection. Let’s focus on real problems.
I, as a Muslim, think God will be much more pleased with me, if I am in any small way able to make this world a less miserable place. Where people of different opinions and faiths shake hands. Where people get more upset because children are dying in Syria and women are facing discrimination. Not because someone drew a cartoon somewhere.
Let our faith not be so fragile that we take offense on each and everything. Let our God be all kind and all powerful, and not an insecure deity who cannot handle reason and logic.
We need to mobilize as humans on the shared ethics of love, respect, equality and peace. All the like-minded people who want to make this world a bit less miserable. Be they living in Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Kashmir, USA, Congo, Peru, Mongolia, Sweden or Saudi Arabia.
Be they Muslims (like I), Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Jews, Taoists, or whatever. There’s work to do. Real work.
And I take the positive energy from my faith and do my insignificant bit to contribute to the real work. I fail but I try. And that’s the spirit of my Prophet (ﷺ) that I understood and learned.
I try not to get bogged in ritual. I cannot understand many a people from my hometown. How do they think they’re doing God’s work by wearing their faith on their sleeves, while let’s say Arundhati Roy—an atheist speaking in the face of danger against authority—will go to hell?
I believe, when I die, I’ll be questioned about my privileges and what I did with them, not how I phrased a sentence about God, or why I read Dante’s Inferno. Let’s get our priorities right, people.
We cannot eat our cake and have it, too. We cant cry foul that there’s discrimination against us as a community—which undoubtedly there is—and harbor similar repressive opinions in a different holier-than-thou garb.
Burooj Ghani is a PhD candidate at the University of Göttingen. He is currently based in Hamburg, Germany.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of the Free Press Kashmir.