Why, you ask, would I say Kashmir is happy? I’ll tell you why: Kashmir is happy because the test of whether or not people are happy is that they continue to exist and function. Well, I wouldn’t say that, of course. But Manu Joseph does. He asks:
Is it obscene to search for happiness in Kashmir, is it obscene for a writer from the south of India to wander around Kashmir interviewing people who will tell him that they want to get on with their lives despite the presence of the Indian Army?
It is an elementary finding of psychology that people get used to their lives. If I asked you now whether you would rather have a limb chopped off or win a million bucks in the lottery, you’d have no hesitation making, or any doubt about, your choice; but ask an amputee and a millionaire whether they are happy with their lives and you are likely to hear answers that aren’t that different. This isn’t that difficult to understand.
But let’s assume Manu Joseph isn’t into his pop-psychology. How about history, then?
India was a colony for two centuries under, one might add, the same country that also engendered the mess that has today become Kashmir. By the end, India had its own government with elected Indian representatives and a functional system of jurisprudence. We also had a Reserve Bank, the Railways, the Postal system and so forth. Manu Joseph would probably have commented that us Indians were a happy lot. Happy happy happy. Yes, there were those who were all charged up about not wanting to be somebody else’s colony, but the ordinary man or woman on the street was happy with their life. Sure, they rose up in agitation once in a while, but hey, they went about their lives most of the time.
A few days ago, some boys had tampered with an electrical transformer and they were picked up by the police. The stone-pelting was in protest against the arrest.
We don’t turn back, we head towards the venue of the apparent protest. There are about thirty boys standing on the road, doing nothing but laughing. They were the stone-pelters. The fun was over, for the moment.
How’s that for due diligence? Manu Joseph has, without so much as blinking, reduced the massive protests the valley has seen over the years to a bunch of miscreants ‘doing nothing but laughing’. His stories of why Kashmiris are happy are just as – I don’t know what the right word is – misguided; far-fetched; blinkered; overly-optimistic, perhaps, is a kinder way of putting it.
His judgement of Kashmiris and what they think of India and Pakistan is just bizarre. He claims, in an off-hand way, to know that Kashmiris dislike Pakistan, that they like India but still can’t get over the whole independence thing, and know in their hearts that a sovereign state is just not feasible. He even has a source. A journalist, no less.
That there are differing opinions about Kashmir even among the people of Kashmir isn’t surprising. Kashmir has a long and complicated history, and any solution to the Kashmir problem will have to involve soul-searching by everybody concerned.
The one point Manu Joseph makes that may be worth the wasted ink is that Kashmiris want development regardless of when, or whether, the political issue of Kashmir gets resolved. These are stories of the human spirit that is willing to live – and live well – despite being put in a miserable place, and deserve proper telling.
To call this ‘peace’ is misleading.They make a desolation, and call it peace, says Agha Shahid Ali. (But he’s one of those Kashmiris who has gone away to a western country with its burgers and Armani clothes, so why listen to him?)
To call this ‘happy’ is to trivialise the yearning for Azadi either as miscreants doing their mischief or as misguided idealism which really should know better. Given this, I shudder to ask what Manu Joseph might consider simmering discontent.