While at office one day, on the outskirts of Delhi, I suddenly heard a shriek from one of my colleagues: “It’s done!” he said, and everyone crowded around his phone which was blasting the news: a news anchor was talking about the ‘bravado’ of the home minister and prime minister.
I got a call from home right away, and my mother told me about the abrogation of Article 370, about our state being reduced to a union territory, and other related details. I tried to process everything, read a few news articles to differentiate the facts from WhatsApp and TV news ‘facts’.
Amid all the celebrations at my office, a colleague offered me sweets and I took one. Someone asked me to join them; another asked me if I was happy with the historic decision. I heard someone murmur: “he is from Kashmir”.
Yet, I couldn’t shake off a certain sense of loss; a sense of loss every Jammuite feels.
A Feeling Called ‘Jammu’
It was déjà vu: I had felt this way for years living away from home, as my father got transferred to various places. The feeling of being unrecognised as a Jammuite. Meanwhile, another colleague corrected her: “No, he is from Jammu,” and threw a question at me: “On the news they are saying Jammu people are happy. Aren’t they supposed to be nationalists?”. “Sure” I said. He the asked: “Then you should be happy with what the government has done.”
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of siege — a sense that those in the seats of power had no concern for our voices and our feelings.
I am supposed to be happy, they said. Yet, I couldn't shake off a certain sense of loss; a sense of loss every Jammuite feels. Growing up in Jammu, the feeling of it being a place like no other, our very own land, used to be inherent — and it was a feeling I had spotted among all Jammu natives. It was probably because of the calm Jammu brought to us, the residents, with resentment and violence-torn Kashmir on one side, and the rest of India which failed to recognise us beyond our political identity, on the other side.
Jammu felt like ours — a place where our culture, our people were recognised, and we didn't have to explain who we were. So when the news broke and all those who were ignorant about our land, culture, and people began celebrating — I couldn’t help but feel a sense of imposition by my own country folks — a sense that those in seats of power in Delhi had no concern for our voices, our leaders, and our feelings. A sense of loss followed: a loss of being transformed from a ‘special’ state to one half of a union territory.
Peddling Patriotism & ‘Vikaas’
The ironical part was that we, as Jammuites, weren't even allowed to ponder over this: we were supposed to celebrate in order to prove our loyalty, our nationalism to the State. As soon as I spoke out in office and said that no state could be happy if it was suddenly stripped off statehood, my colleagues from Haryana, Rajasthan and other places started explaining to me why my state was in a ‘deplorable condition’. The ‘saviors’, who couldn't even spot the difference between Jammu and Kashmir, thought they had the right to dictate the condition of my state to me, just because they had been to Vaishno Devi twice. They tried convincing me that now my state would be like the ‘rest of the Indian states’ — better, brimming with ‘Vikaas’ or’ development’.
I couldn’t convince them otherwise.
Whenever I told someone that I was from Jammu, the most common response would be: “Oh, so you’re a Kashmiri”.
My home, Jammu, used to be so pristine and well-equipped — we could go out for a walk on an empty road and it would be beautiful and not scary, women were safe in Jammu, we had no major riots despite a diverse population, we had good schools, restaurants, roads, malls — and amidst all this, we also had trees, mountains, greenery. We could open our windows during the monsoons without the stench of garbage dumps entering. We still do that.
The rains back home have retained their fragrance, even as the ‘brimming-with-vikaas’ states consume the last of their rivers, trees, parks and lakes. In fact, under most health and gender indices, Jammu is among the best in the country. There are problems that we do face, with respect to our GDP and jobs, but the cost that the central government has asked us for their promise of vikaas seems unfair.
To deal with this identity crisis, to feel like they belong somewhere, a faction of Jammuites have found refuge in the idea of ‘blind nationalism’.
‘I’m From Jammu.’ — ‘Oh, You Must Be Kashmiri?’
Another question that kept bothering me was, whether it was the resentment of Jammu towards Kashmir that had empowered the government to shut the entire state down and pass it off as “calm” to the rest of India. The resentment which is an outcome of the rest of India being unaware about us — about the difference between Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmiris and Dogras — both geographically and culturally. Having been born and brought up in Jammu, I was hardly aware of the identity crisis I would face outside the state until my family moved out.
Whenever I told someone that I was from Jammu, the most common response would be: “Oh, so you’re a Kashmiri”. Which also brought with it the burden of Kashmiri politics and their demand for secession. As a kid I found it arduous to explain the difference, so I eventually started hiding my identity. The same burden, I feel, is also responsible for the recent change in the political nature of the Dogra or Jammu folks.
With Jammu now turning from a ‘special’ state to one half of a union territory, I fear that we will lose our stories, our values, our history.
To deal with this identity crisis, to feel like they belong somewhere, a faction of Jammuites have found refuge in the idea of ‘blind nationalism’. A disconnect from our own culture is also responsible for this. But being from the state and so close to the conflict, also gives us a certain consciousness about the history which has been diluted. Jammu and Kashmir are bound by history, by their geography, by their culture, by their roots. This political bifurcation seems like an attempt to leave us rootless, and who are we without our roots, without our culture? Our politics might be different, but we, Jammuites and Kashmiris, feel the same sense of loss about our state, our statehood — the sense of being powerless.
A Fear of Losing Our Stories, Our Folklore, Our History
As I deal with the changes that our state is undergoing, I am reminded of a Jammu folklore that my grandfather used to tell me. This folklore is the embodiment of everything Jammu means to us. It speaks for the unity and diversity of our land. The folk tale is about a king who was crossing the land and going to the Pir Panjal mountains, when, at the banks of the river Chenab, he saw a tiger and a lamb quenching their thirst and drinking water from the river, together. Astonished at this sight, he proclaimed: “this is a miraculous land, where even a tiger and a lamb drink water together. This land stands for unity; this is where our empire will be”. The name of the King was Jambulochan, and it is after his name that the land of Jammu was named.
With Jammu now turning from a ‘special’ state to one half of a union territory, I fear that we will lose these stories, our values, our history. I fear the idea of never seeing my home the same way again. And as a Jammuite, I retain my right to feel so.
(Aseem Sundan is a poet and a photographer from Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir, based in Delhi. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)