Text Beenish S Khan,
Photographs Kaeshir B Photography
I am Kashmiri. When someone asks me where I am from and I tell them Kashmir, typically what follows is “Ah Pakistan or India” to which I of course reply “no Kashmir!” The sad reality is that there have been instances when people have said to me that they do not even know where Kashmir is on the map, let alone know about the long sixty-six years of on-going struggle against the occupation. Kashmir has been divided into three pieces and caged under a brutal occupation since 1947. It seems that everyone (namely China, India and Pakistan) wants Kashmir but no one wants Kashmiris!
I was born in Kashmir and moved to the UK at a young age. Most of my family still reside in Kashmir the part that is under Pakistani control; therefore, I have always had this connection to my homeland and would visit my family there every year when I was younger. That becomes somewhat difficult as you grow older with commitments, nonetheless, I still go when I can but it’s no easy journey!
Last time I went was during the summer in 2013. We had to go from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi then to Muscat; and from Muscat to Islamabad and from there we drive across to Kashmir. All together I would say this journey took us around 24 hours to complete. But once you see those mountains stretch across for miles on end before your eyes that journey seems well worth it.
It may be a clichéd thing to say, but I truly feel each time I go back to Kashmir I find I learn something new. The more you learn about something the more you look at it from a different perspective. For me 2012 and 2013 were years that I had dedicated to research Kashmir dispute in-depth. Thus, this time when I went back my eyes almost searched instinctively for those certain things I had reflected on in my research. I was surprised to find this time round the very obvious presence of the Pakistani army. On my earlier trips to Kashmir, in all honesty, I did not notice them to be so spread out in various locations. In my previous trips I had observed them to be stationed close to the line of control, but this time whilst traveling through Kashmir I saw the Pakistani army in Kotli, Mandole, Tata Paani and of course Poonch. My mother’s side of the family are from Poonch, and that’s where there is always constant shelling as it is situated along the Line of Control or the LOC. Line of control is
the so called ceasefire line between Pakistan and India, but ask any Kashmiri who lives there and they will tell you how it is not so much a ceasefire line, more like a line of division that separates Kashmir and is complete havoc for those Kashmiris who live near it.
People often say that the situation in the part of Kashmir under Pakistani control is much better than in the part occupied by India. I would agree to some degree, however, occupation is not just militaristic. Pakistan may not be occupying Kashmir militarily, but occupation has many horrors that go beyond military coercion. The social, economic deprivation is very apparent and it makes me question how much more of this deprivation we Kashmiris will take until we reach boiling point?! The space for political dissent on Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir is something that is very much silenced. You hear awful stories of young men being tortured and killed for their political activities for hoping for a free, undivided Kashmir, and not just in Indian occupied Kashmir but this is happening in the parts that are under Pakistani control. Such instances make you wonder about the future of Kashmir and you think of it looking rather bleak. But there is that hope that keeps you optimistic and pushing for what you believe in, for your rights.
As we all know history is important, not just what is written in text books. As an individual to know your history is something that carries a great significance for oneself. Some Kashmiris I have met know zilch about Kashmir but are well acquainted with the history of Pakistan, and they seriously most likely will not know where Pakistani territory ends on a map and Kashmir begins, it is all the same to them. Self-identity and heritage helps one learn about their ancestors and where they came from, unfortunately some of my fellow Kashmiris are very much confused on this front. People often forget that Pakistan has existed since 1947 and Kashmir has existed from before – some thousand years, culture and heritage do not just die away like that.
The way things unfolded in 1947 and the division of Kashmir was very catastrophic for Kashmiris, further leading to the complications of preserving one’s identity and heritage. Intertwined in politics is our identity that is often hijacked by those countries which surround and occupy us, and when I say I am Kashmiri then this has political connotations attached. Some people automatically assume they have this right to demean Kashmiri identity due to the idea of Kashmir not being an independent country – how people so conveniently forget that once we were! Furthermore, that one must have allegiance to Pakistan or India (China mentioned not so much) as a sort of extension to our identity. No not quite, we stop at Kashmir, and rightly so, it is our homeland and we have the right to feel however we want towards it, there is not a need for a third person to dictate the notions of identity we should hold onto. This does not have anything to do with supremacy but more so with preserving our life-stories, culture and history for future generations to understand and appreciate where they come from.
Kashmir is my motherland, and I am a part of the struggle for independence that is going on there. I cannot separate myself from this as the ties always remain strong. Kashmir is divided against the will of the people, and as Kashmiris we yearn to be once again united with our brothers and sisters from those parts separated from us. The lack of awareness on the occupation in Kashmir is saddening, we want to raise worldwide awareness and give Kashmir the long overdue right to be recognised as a land where great injustices have and are taking place. This may be something that will take time but many of us are working together to grab the attention of the world to recognise our right to Azaadi – freedom. There is so much to say but I will leave it to some of these photos to speak more on my behalf. I hope this photo essay gives a glimpse into my world as a Kashmiri living in the West and keeping the hope for Azaadi going on until we achieve it.
Just WOW! I was completely blown away by the sunsets in Kashmir. The sight of the sun setting behind those majestic mountains was breath-taking.
Beloved Poonch – my mother’s birth-place.I love how the mountains do not come to an end, and just keep on going on for miles on end.
A place for worship, a beautiful Mosque in Kotli.
A child playing after some rainfall. I really love it when you capture a still of a beautiful moment like this. Best years of life!
I saw this grasshopper relaxing on the end of a khatt at home, didn’t even flinch when I took this photo!
If you’re a thrill seeker then you would most definitely love the daring roads of Kashmir. When I was travelling by car I found them to be both exciting and daunting at the same time, as they twisted around those hefty mountains. I took this photo from a high mountain peak near Kotli city.
So this is Percy, our family/guard dog in Kashmir. Those who know me will know that I chose his name! He is the most adorable and lovable dog you will ever meet, I do miss him very much!
Beenish S Khan hails from Kashmir; a land known for its heavenly beauty and the brutal reality of occupation. She has studied Counselling at Masters level at the University of Edinburgh and is currently involved with the Kashmir Solidarity Movement, Scotland’s first Kashmir student society. Kaeshir B Photography is photography work by Beenish. To see more please visit www.facebook.com/kaeshirb.photography