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The troubled paradise

SURESH KOHLI gets Humra Quraishi's impressions on Kashmir in the wake of her new book brought out by Penguin.



Humra Quraishi.

FEMALE RIDICULE be damned. One never took her more seriously than a perfectly desirable woman. Her byline peeping out of various newspapers hardly ever demanded more than a cursory glance. But that perception changed almost overnight with a single stroke. The publication of her investigative, impressionistic book about the beautiful valley (Kashmir: The Untold Story, Penguin Rs 250), a heaven made into a hell in the last decade and a half, a place one has visited with the loved ones, and others besides on several occasions. A place one has loved to capture on celluloid. In tranquillity as well as in turmoil.

Humra Quraishi has sought to tell "the deeper tragedy of a whole society being depleted in spirit" that is, unfortunately, still not properly understood. Although she claims an invisible umbilical relationship with the valley - having seen black and white pictures of her parents there in marital bliss - it actually seems to have started with an unromantic visit in 1990, as a sort of reporter. Most assessments and interpretation of events relate to her 2002 visit. This fact, or a reference to this visit has been repeated on almost every alternate page which compels one to believe that very little editorial inputs have gone into the publication. This is in addition to the use of `Kashmir' itself.

The fluent narrative abounds in contradictions. Having listed all the gory details and telling stories of fear and whatnot, Quraishi notes: "Travelling in the valley, I have walked unescorted on the roads of Srinagar... and never felt unsafe. The only time I did was in 2002... " by which time militancy and militants had tired out, and generally become obsolete. She blames the central Government and the army excesses for much resentment amongst the commoners. And in the same breath concludes, "There is a growing class divide, more discernible among the Muslims than in any other community." Which other community is now really left in the valley? She goes on, in almost the same breath: "There is another, tragic aspect of the divide between the haves and have-nots in today's Kashmir that is a direct result of militancy. It is the contrast between the renegades and the innocent citizens. The renegades have no qualms about terrorizing, even killing their co-religionists. In the name of a cause... "

"The changes with the most far-reaching consequences... are happening not among the minorities but within the majority Muslim community," the community that really set the guns rolling and betrayed the centuries old faith that bound everyone together in the name of `Kashmiryat' by supporting not the minorities but the militants in the hope of an invisible freedom. One fatal mistake that Quraishi, like a lot of other Kashmir hawks, makes is in trying to see and assess the unfortunate reality from a regional or sectoral point of view.One did not know Humra Quraishi could write so well. Her interviews and interactions with both the commoners and the high-profiled show an insight that she otherwise does not seem to possess. Despite inadequacies and flaws, she has worked hard and researched vigorously. "Over 70,000 Kashmiris have lost their lives... in the last 14 years... .More than 6000 young men remain untraceable after they were picked up for interrogation... Three lakh educated people are currently unemployed... 1.7 lakh educated youth registered with the state employment department... there were only 11,200 business establishments - a 32 per cent drop from 1989... .people are getting used to be living without the Pandits who, being traditionally better educated, comprised the majority of professionals... .These positions are now being filled by Muslims... The Wular Lake... has shrunk from its original size of 279 sq. km. to only 65 sq. km."

Humra Quraishi is in her element and creative best when indulging in nostalgia.

SURESH KOHLI

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