The struggle to liberate Kashmir may have become indigenous, but the Kashmiris living in Azad Kashmir want Pakistan to leap over the borders and unite the two parts, considered artificially separated, by forces that could hardly feel the pangs of separation. If the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) bleeds, so do the hearts of the Kashmiris living in AK. One could see in their eyes hope for the day when they would once again reunite with their families. However, Kashmir is not just about families. Kashmir is not just about two states separated by different lines and boundaries. Kashmir is not just about a killing field that the Indian army has turned it into. Kashmir is about dignity and self-respect. Every freedom struggle has had the same ember burning in the hearts of its fighters. Be it South Africa or Palestine. A man with a stone in his hand facing an officer in uniform carrying a gun is a person with wounded dignity who is forced to relinquish his pride that grows from the womb of the motherland. A Kashmiri in the IHK does not raise his gun against his army. He aims a gun against an Indian army officer that the state has deployed to silence the voices of freedom in the most brutal form. Kashmir is a priceless jewel in the crown that gives India a strategic strength being in watch of a neighbourhood comprising China in the north and east, Punjab to the south and Pakistan to the west and northwest. Kashmir to India is about water that flows from its five rivers. It is on the back of these rivers (Pakistan shares with India) that the threat to make Pakistan barren is issued time and again. Until Kashmir is reunited the pains of separation would travel through generations as has already happened. Twenty-eight years down the road, since the 1989 insurgency, many people crossed the line of control to save their lives leaving behind mothers, wives, daughters, and sons. Those who could not cross the line have either died or disappeared or have turned into zombies in a state controlled by fear and intimidation.

Like every darkness has a silver lining, the ominous clouds hanging over Kashmir sigh relief when the Intra-Kashmir buss service crosses the friendship bridge every Monday to either Chakoti at Azad Kashmir or to the Indian Town of Uri. Started in 2005 the bus service is allowed to take those passengers who have relatives living on both sides of the border.

During my visit to Line of Control at Chakoti, the interaction with the passenger confirmed many things and left many questions unanswered. Omer an MBA and a resident of Rawalpindi had returned from Kashmir. It was his second visit to Kashmir, and in none of his stays did he find any unrest. However what appalled him most was the love the Kashmiris have for Pakistanis. “It was unbelievable, once they come to know that the traveller belongs to Pakistan, the Kashmiris would throw exceptional hospitality,” said Omer. However, Nusrat a lecturer at Government Model College, Mir Pur Khas, who had gone to IHK to meet her ailing mother, had a different experience. “We never felt secure living in Srinagar,” Nusrat was married to her maternal cousin who lived in Pakistan. She visits her parents normally after four years. This tour was specially planned because of her mother’s illness. She also told that it took a lot of time to get a visa. “The time span becomes agonising when someone as special as your mother is sick.”

Kashmir and separation are perhaps synonym to one another. Every family in Srinagar, and in the valley has experienced separation. Abduction, killing, disappearance and illegal detention have left its ominous footprint in nearly every home. One could see in Nusrat’s eyes the pain, and the pleasure of being separated from her loved one. Paradoxical it may sound. But that is what the reality is. The presence of six million army officers, and as many police cadre, and with each part of Kashmir on India’s intelligence radar, life is just as much of freedom as is allowed in a state that has been called a city of curfews. Back home Nusrat was at ease, at least, she does not have to bear the pain of being a hostage in her own country.

Santosh Bhartiya, an Indian journalist in an open letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, published in ‘Rising Kashmir,’ wrote that although “the land of Kashmir is with us, the people of Kashmir are not with us.”

The world’s largest democracy has failed in the face of a nation who had been deprived of its dignity only because it has an embedded association with Pakistan. Every government in Kashmir has further shrunk the collective rights of the Kashmiris. Kashmir, in the minds of the bureaucrats and leaders sitting in Delhi, is a state set on the road to insurgency on the back of Pakistani currency or extremist ideology. The reality though is far uglier than realised by the Indian government. Today Kashmir is about crises of human rights. Many Kashmiris have gone blind, and swathes of Kashmir’s suburbs have been turned into graveyards. The demographics of the IHK are being changed artificially by increasing the Hindu population. The cry of discrimination against Kashmiri people is loud and clear, but for the international establishment, terrorism has a select definition. However, definition or no definition, Kashmir’s struggle for freedom may not be tainted, by putting it in the terrorism box. It will rise!

A man with a stone in his hand facing an officer in uniform carrying a gun is a person with wounded dignity who is forced to relinquish his pride that grows from the womb of the motherland.