Sample text for In the valley of mist : Kashmir : one family in a changing world / by Justine Hardy.


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Introduction

Mohammad Dar is many men: patriarch, husband, son, houseboat owner, carpet seller, aid worker, and conservationist. But he would not pick any of those terms to define himself. He talks of being a Muslim, and then a Kashmiri.

He was born on a wooden boat moored on a lake between a lotus garden and a white marble mosque that houses a hair of the Prophet.

He was a water-boy, skimming the lakes of Kashmir with his three younger brothers, Imran, Ibrahim, and Yusuf, hunched at the front of small boats with paddles carved in the shape of the leaves in the lotus garden, wooden hearts. In winter they walked on water, scudding between boats frozen in hard beneath the high peaks that mark the limits of their valley home.

And while the boys explored their world their sisters stayed at home, because that was how it went. But they grew up thinking of themselves as Kashmiris, above all else.

And then their world changed.

Mohammad, the adult, husband, father, and carpet seller, was sitting on the tree of life when I met him in Delhi, his bare feet stretched out across the silk of the carpet, the hair beneath his embroidered skullcap shaved close to the back of his neck, his hennaed beard as full as his hair was short.

It was still burning in Delhi though it was softer autumn in his valley. He talked of the tree line around his lake turning to earth, fire, and blood. He ran one hand over the tree-of-life carpet as he spoke.

"You must come back soon, Inshallah. No matter how short a time you are away from Kashmir, it is always too long," he said.

When Mohammad and his brothers speak it is with constant invocations to Allah. They punctuate their sentences with them: Inshallah (God willing, if it is God's will), Bismillah (in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate), Al-hamdulilah (all praise belongs to God). For flow of dialogue I have mostly left these invocations out, yet I have endeavored to capture conversations as they were spoken wherever possible. As Mohammad said to me, when I asked him and his family for permission to tell their stories, "If you want people to know...tell them the truth. It is strong enough."

I first met Mohammad and his brothers in 1997, a time when the situation in their valley had forced many Kashmiris to become itinerant salesmen, refugees, migrant workers, or emigrants. I have known Kashmir for most of my life, and Mohammad, his brothers, and the broad spread of their family, for the past twelve years of that time. As daily life contracted in the face of conflict the Dars have become home to me, solid ground beside the lake where they were born.

Their home is a Himalayan state of soaring physical beauty divided between two nations, India and Pakistan. The desire to have Kashmir in its entirety colors almost every aspect of the tension between these two countries. Because Kashmir has been lusted after by just about all those who have found themselves amidst its water and poetry, the people of the Kashmir Valley have long craved independence.

In full the state is called Jammu and Kashmir, and a broad stroke taken across its spread presents three very distinct regions on the Indian side of the Line of Control, the cease-fire line of 1949 that dates from the end of Pakistan and India's first military clash over the state, fought hard on the heels of Indian Independence and the formation of the two nations of East and West Pakistan in 1947. To the north the High Himalayas cleave into the Kashmir Valley, a majority Muslim region. South of Srinagar is Jammu, the summer capital, and Hindu by majority. To the northeast is Ladakh, a high-altitude place of bare mountains stripped of vegetation, and home to a people following Tibetan Buddhism, both religiously and culturally. But this is a sweeping stroke for the sake of simplification so as to focus on the first of the three regions, the Kashmir Valley.

In the winter of 1989 tension between the Kashmiri people and the central government in Delhi finally erupted into the first stage of a generation of full-blown conflict. What began as a local uprising for "Azadi" -- freedom and autonomy for Kashmir -- was rapidly hijacked by "foreign" fighters. The majority of these "god warriors" had been battle-hewn during the Soviet-Afghan war, and they fought into Kashmir with the blessing and support of Pakistani intelligence.

The war that had honed these fighters lasted from 1979 to 1989, and it bred a new generation of jihadis, warriors of Islam, fighting against the godless condition of communism, forging new frontiers for Islam in the aftermath of the revolution of 1979 in Iran. This mujahideen army was backed covertly and overtly, armed and trained by nations as ideologically divorced as China and Iran, the United States and Egypt.

When the Soviet Union pulled out in 1989 the mujahideen concentrated their attention on "the suppression and oppression of the peoples of Islam." They turned toward the state of Jammu and Kashmir, or more precisely to the northern part of the state that India controlled, and that was bordered by China and Pakistan -- the Kashmir Valley, the beauty.

This divided region has become a flashpoint surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors. Here, instability now carries the threat of affecting the whole world. Fearfulness sits in the landscape, and in the faces of the people.

I have watched the changes across a generation as militarily backed democracy and politically armed Islam have mauled each other. It was here that I first witnessed the concept sound-bites that are now played across the headlines, throughout the Middle East and Afghanistan: fundamentalist Islam, jihad, Sharia law, enforced hijab, martyrdom, Nizam-e-Mustafa (the rule of Allah, Islamic law).

This story does not come from behind the barbed wire of government and military compounds. These are not the views and ideas of politicians, analysts, the powerful and manipulative. This story comes from the streets, and from daily life. It is the story of a family, and those around them, trying to find a way of existing through the long dark night of a twenty-year conflict.

Copyright © 2009 by Justine Hardy


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Dar, Mohammad.
Dar, Mohammad -- Family.
Muslims -- India -- Jammu and Kashmir -- Biography.
Jammu and Kashmir (India) -- Biography.
Social change -- India -- Jammu and Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir (India) -- Social conditions.
Ethnic conflict -- India -- Jammu and Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir (India) -- Ethnic relations.
Jammu and Kashmir (India) -- Politics and government.
Hardy, Justine.