REPORTER BACK IN VALLEY ON STATE’S ACCESSION ANNIVERSARY
by AAMIR PEERZADA
BBC Hindi journalist
I COME from a family in the Kashmir Valley, which suffered a double loss. My father was killed by militants and my uncle was “disappeared” by the Indian army.
All our stories are complex. Nothing is what it seems on the surface. For the BBC’s coverage of the 70th anniversary of Kashmir’s accession to India, returning home to report on what happened here all those years ago was exciting and at the same time unsettling, to say the least.
I had to get right the facts that have been contested for seven decades. I also wanted to show that we Kashmiris can report accurately and fairly on their state.
From the outside, it looks like a “straightforward” dispute between India and Pakistan. From the inside, people feel used by both sides. They feel that their voice is never heard.
It is a historical fact that there were pro-India celebrations when Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India.
Pakistani tribesmen had invaded the independent princely state. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the accession agreement with India, and a day later, on October 27, 1947, Delhi sent its army to push the tribal army back.
I unearthed fascinating British Pathe footage from 1947 and 1948 showing Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah holding mass rallies in favour of India. Independent India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru is often by his side. When the Maharaja left, Sheikh Abdullah became Jammu and Kashmir’s first prime minister.
Those are the facts, but then there’s the interpretation. Historian Dr Abdul Ahad said Sheikh Abdullah was “power hungry” and wanted to be the “sultan of Kashmir”. Professor Siddiq Wahid said the circumstances surrounding the accession were “ambiguous” – but there was a “pro-India mobilisation”.
I am faced with this same ambiguity seven decades later while trying to persuade people to talk to the BBC. People who initially seemed open to an interview suddenly turn off their phones and stop responding.
But the two eyewitnesses I speak to about the invasion of Pakistani tribesmen, which was followed by the accession, are more open.
A wiry mountain man described the Pakistani tribesmen as “looters”. Mohammad Sultan Thaker, 85, was working at Jammu and Kashmir’s only power station when the tribesmen attacked. He ran into the forest and only returned days later, when the Indian Army arrived.
The Pakistani tribesmen blew up one of the turbines as they retreated. Writer Ferozuddin Beigh lives just 40 kilometres away by road from the Line of Control. He was also a teenager in 1947. He says the Pakistani tribesmen looked and acted like bandits.
“They had one trouser leg pulled up and the other one rolled down,” he says. “They just pounced on anything new and took it.”
Seventy years on, both men recognise that India has developed the state. But the heavy Indian military presence saddens them.
As I speak to Mohammad Sultan Thaker in the grounds of the abandoned Mohura power house, an Indian army convoy drives by. There is a soldier standing upright in the driver’s cabin in each truck keeping a watchful eye on the road and the people.
This area saw some of the worst violence in the 1990s between armed separatists and the Indian state. In 2010 Kashmiri youth took to streets with stones in their hands, angry with the presence of the Indian Army, which they think is there not to protect but to suppress them.
Things are calmer now, but there is still an undercurrent. A business student, Faizam Islam, says it is possible for India to win back Kashmiris even though its forces treated him like a “terrorist” while he was growing up. “It [India] has to reach out more to the people of Kashmir and show a good faith is needed,” he says.
Everybody I speak to wants a long-lasting peace. People here want India and Pakistan to talk to each other – but they don’t want them to decide Kashmir’s fate among themselves. They want to be at the table too.
A senior Indian government official tells me how he hopes to develop tourism in the area.
Kashmiris have big dreams. But how can they be fulfilled?