How to be a tourist in Kashmir?

I have been to Kashmir twice in the past two years. Both times as an ignorant tourist unaware of the nuances of Kashmiri history and politics, but the second time less so having read Basharat Peer’s moving memoirs Curfewed Nights. So while I did the whole touristy routine of waxing eloquent on the beauty of Kashmir and visiting Gulmarg, Pehelgam, Chandanvadi or Sonmarg I was always constantly aware of the presence of places like Papa 1 and Papa 2, torture cells used during the insurgency or the cemetery of the nameless and numerous young Kashmiris, hidden behind the handicrafts showrooms and cheap restaurants offering vegetarian foods to the vegetarian tourist from the mainland.
Peer was inspired to write these memoirs when he was overcome “with a sense of shame” on not finding one book on Kashmir’s struggle during the nineties in English in a New Delhi bookshop. I was filled with a similar shame when I heard some of the most insensitive remarks made by the tourists et al. The ignorance and the nonchalance of the tourist is appalling and the insensitivity they display towards the struggle and deaths of countless Kashmiris by the paramilitary forces radicalised by the pro-Pakistan or pro-freedom leanings in Kashmir is almost inhuman and goes against everything that Hindus/Indians pride themselves in: empathy. Their dominance rationalised and legitimised by the central government and its marginalisation both political and social leads them to acquire an arrogance in their superiority being similar to the Turtons in Passage to India. I write Hindu as synonymous to India because in the popular imagination Muslim and Kashmiri are both synonymous with Pakistan. A non secular essentialisation of identities exists even in contemporary politics exemplified by the pro-Hindu rhetoric of the Bhartiya Janta Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Here a few things I heard:
1). You know these people, they are very insensitive and unemotional. They are trained like that from childhood. Did you see how Kasab killed all those good people?
2). These people are such frauds always looting the country and the tourist too. They should remember they get their meals because of the tourists. Without tourism, Kashmir is nothing.
3). Kashmir is paradise on Earth, Akbar said it but look how self-destructive they are. They have completely destroyed Kashmir and made it a human hell.
4). All this non-vegetarian diet makes them so hardy and fanatical. They don’t think twice about taking a life.
5). Uff, I don’t care what happens in the valley. Blast as many bombs as you want once I am out of here.
6). You know they are all one and united. They have such a strong sense of community and religion. So orthodox. Even the educated ones do not support India.
These bigoted remarks are constantly made in parlance along with the praises of how beautiful the paradise on earth is etc etc. I will not put up pictures from Kashmir for I do not wish to trivialise and reduce Kashmir to natural beauty. And I believe that a naive empathy is better than insensitive bigotry. So while I am not be well versed with the nuances of the struggle, I hope I will have empathy enough to know the Other.


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