I can feel
Empty walls of my burnt house
Fallen Chinar in my dead backyard.
I can feel
that still Dal Lake
that frightened KASHMIRI Hindu.
In his own free country...
he is living like a refugee
he is looking for his own.
He is dreaming
when would he get the freedom to see his own house
when would he get the freedom to play in his own yard
Afew weeks ago, I was invited for a poetry reading session at Harvard University. When the organisers called me to let me know that the theme for this year's poetry reading session was 'Freedom,' the very first words out of my mouth were "Kaisee Azaadi? (What Freedom?)." That question instantly became the title for my poem.
We have been celebrating our freedom for the last 55 years. I guess we celebrate it because technically some 55 years back we did get our freedom from the colonial British Empire. But what exactly does that mean? Have we ever taken a step back and seriously thought about our freedom? Are we as citizens of India doing everything we ought to do to maintain and secure the freedom that our forefathers fought hard to get? Are we as citizens of India doing everything we need to do to make sure that our future generations don't have to fight another war of independence?
According to the Webster's dictionary, 'Freedom' means:
The condition of being free of restraints.
The capacity to exercise choice; free will.
Are we free of restraints? Do we have the capacity to exercise choice and free will?
Maybe it is just me.
Maybe it is just me who cannot ignore 400,000+ Kashmiri Hindus living as refugees in their own free country. Maybe it is just me who cannot erase the pictures of the lifeless faces of thousands of older Kashmiri Hindus who lost all that they had in their old age, and are now on the roads.
Maybe it is just me.
But is it? Is it really just me? What about all of you Indians out there?
John F Kennedy, former president of United States, once said: 'The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.'
Now that is a tall order. Not to surrender and/or submit.
We as a country surrendered and submitted for ages until we got our freedom from the British. We surrendered to Mahmud Ghazni. We surrendered to Mohammad Ghori. We surrendered to the Mughals. We surrendered to the divide and rule British. We surrendered to the British Partition plan and let our country be broken into two pieces. We surrendered to the wishes of a few who, for their own personal interests, did not want to see a united India after freedom. But after all those surrenders and struggles we finally did get our freedom. And we thought once we are free, there will be no more surrenders. How right or wrong (depending upon who you ask) were we?
Have we been able to secure our freedom?
Sadly and unfortunately, no.
We have continued to surrender even after we got our well-deserved freedom. We have surrendered the rights of the majority to appease the minorities. We surrendered to the wishes of a few and agreed to Article 370 of the Constitution. We call ourselves a one billion people-strong nation and yet we surrendered to half-a-dozen terrorists and let Maulana Masood Azhar, Omar Ahmed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar free to save lives of 153 civilians. How many more civilians and security forces personnel have been killed since that shameful night of December 31, 1999? That night will go down as the weakest point in the history of India.
No, wait a minute, the weakest point is Defense Minister George Fernandes' recent statement saying that 'terrorist incidents will not be allowed to derail the peace initiative.' How proud do you feel when your own foreign minister accords son-in-law-like treatment to terrorists because we as a nation cannot stand up for our own rights and security? How proud did you feel that night seeing Jaswant Singh hand over three of the world's top Islamic terrorists to the Taliban? And at what price? How proud are those family members of those 153 passengers who protested during the last days of 1999 and argued for the terrorists' release? Can they look into the eyes of all those people whose family members have been killed since the early hours of 2000? Can they?
We, the citizens of India, have to wake up and do whatever it takes to secure our freedom and not let our politicians run amok. Can you sincerely trust our so-called leaders who have no spine to fight the war on terror?
Recently our poetic prime minister once again extended his hand of friendship to our enemy neighbouring country Pakistan. Now some say that was a brilliant tactic. Since when did surrender to jihad become a brilliant tactic?
Making a statement about his latest peace overtures to Pakistan in Parliament, Vajpayee said: 'Now whatever happens will be decisive and this will be my third and final effort at improving bilateral ties with Islamabad. Even for me, it is a decisive and conclusive step.'
Last year, on May 22, 2002, addressing soldiers during his visit to Kashmir, the same poetic prime minister said: 'Our goal should be victory because now the time has come for a decisive fight and in this war, we will win. We have to fight our own war, we are ready for it, we are prepared for it.'
Now which Vajpayee should we trust? The one from May 2003 or the one from May 2002. I have no clue. Hearing the word 'decisive' from Mr Vajpayee's lips has become a joke now. It has totally lost its meaning.
Recently in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, when asked about his statement only a year ago that he felt that the time had come for a 'decisive battle' for Kashmir and today he was speaking to 'arch enemy' Pakistan, Vajpayee said: 'Then and today we had the same objective. We must settle the Kashmir conflict. Naturally we preferred doing this with peaceful means.'
Doing this with peaceful means? Peaceful means with whom? With someone who is engaged in the brutal killings of innocent Indians day in and day out? Isn't there something wrong with that picture? If he had to do this with peaceful means, why did he have to wait such a long period? Why let so many Indian jawans get killed in the first place?
Do you want to entrust the security and well-being of your motherland in these hands? Do you?
We call ourselves 'Free Citizens of Free India' and yet don't use our power to vote out politicians who are dismantling the national security they were sworn to uphold.
Once again, John F Kennedy once said: 'The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.'
Yes, it is a disgrace if Indian voters don't use the power vested in them by the Constitution of India to decide who they want at the helm of the affairs. We as, citizens of India, need to set very high standards for our politicians. We cannot afford people like our current crop of politicians to run our country. Very soon it might be too late to recover lost ground. How come we can't have many more Arun Shouries and Jagmohans in the circles of power that can shape the future of our country for the better? How come we don't vote many more Arun Shouries and Jagmohans to power?
I request all of you to look deep into your own conscience and see what your own threshold is. At what point would you say 'Enough is enough'? How long would you be ready to fake it and take it the way our politicians and so-called leaders give it to us? How long? Have you ever thought about it?
We have to stand up for our own freedom, make sacrifices to secure our hard-fought freedom and clean up the rot from our current political system. It is in our hands. If we don't do what we ought to do, we will have no grounds to complain later and say 'Kaisee Azaadi?'
Lalit Koul is the Editor of the web-based monthly journal Kashmir Herald (www.kashmirherald.com). He is also on the editorial board of the US-based media group Kashmir News Network (www.ikashmir.org).