Freedom

Freedom: The condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, and essentially do whatever you want to, without being controlled, limited or restrained.
Freedom is not just a word; the meaning behind it is much more and varies from person to person. Freedom is the ability to express myself the way I want to. There is no uniform on how my life should be. With freedom I can choose my own moral compass, make my own decisions. Being in a country with freedom means I can choose my own religion. With freedom I can say what I want. Freedom to me means no one rules my life and I choose my own future. Choosing my own moral compass lets me believe what I think is right and what I think is wrong. Freedom gives me the ability to explore my unique potential and broaden my horizons.
There is an innate desire for freedom within each and every one of us. For some of us it manifests grossly as the desire to achieve some temporary goal like a new car or a better job, in others it is more matured and the desire is for unending peace, joy, or love. Those desires and the pursuit of them, even if the desire is merely survival, are what cause the release of dopamine and other compounds that bring us pleasure and a feeling of reward. The compounds cause a reinforcement of acts, which maximize survival. When boundaries or limits are placed upon an individual, he/she must access this reward within a restricted field of possibilities and as a result, rewards are few. In order to fulfill desires, one longs for more possibilities and freedom from restriction allows that.
On a more practical note, if hunter/gatherers had been restricted to only one area, they would not be able to survive long. We had to move about to find food and game. Even more importantly, we had to have freedom of movement to avoid becoming a meal for another living being. When we are trapped or limited, our evolved instincts simply rebel against that. Hence the desire for freedom is deep rooted within the psyche.
The desire to be free is simply part of human nature. But almost everything we know restricts our freedom to some extent may it be the government, colonial rule, friends, society or even our family. Some of us are locked in physical prisons with metal bars and crave to be free of that, but nearly everyone is locked in the mental prison of the mind and absolutely craves, sometimes unknowingly, to be free of it.

Through out history, differences in religious beliefs between rulers and within states were the cause of wars, revolts, and persecution. In the 21st century, where technology is at its peak, religion still remains a central factor in many of the world’s conflicts. Countless innocent lives have been lost because of a fundamental lack of respect for freedom of religion and an intolerance of people with different beliefs.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that protects the conscience of all people. It allows us to think, express and act upon what we deeply believe, but around the world this freedom is rapidly eroding. A heinous example of violation of the freedom of religion was the mass exodus of the Hindus of the Kashmir Valley, a large majority of who were Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to flee the Kashmir valley as a result of terrorism on 20 January 1990.

Increasing anti-Indian forms of protests took place in Kashmir in the 1980s. The Soviet-Afghan jihad, armed struggle of the Sikhs in Punjab against the Indian state and the Islamic Revolution in Iran were becoming sources of inspiration for large numbers of Kashmiri Muslim youth. The first spark of religious intolerance was ignited in 1984 when Ghulam Mohammed Shah who was the Chief Minister of Kashmir at that time, decided to construct a mosque within the premises of an ancient Hindu Temple in Jammu. Many Hindus of Jammu came to roads to oppose this decision of government as it hurt their religious sentiment. After returning to Kashmir, Mohammed Shah further provoked the Kashmiri Muslims by saying “Islam khatrey me hai” (Islam is in danger). As a result, Muslims targeted Kashmiri Pundits. Many Hindus were killed and their properties and temples were destroyed. In 1986 riots plagues the streets of the valley where many houses and temples of Hindus were looted and burnt. Due to the riots, Mohammed Shah was dismissed by the then Governor
In 1988 a separatist group, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) began separatist insurgency for separate Islamic Republic of Kashmir. They targeted Kashmiri Hindus and instilled fear in them, but the Police did not pay heed to the building pandemonium. On January 4, a local newspaper published a press release issued by separatist group Hizbul Mujahedeen asking all Hindus to leave Kashmir immediately, which had been their rightful home since decades. Explosive and inflammatory speeches being broadcast from the public address systems of the mosques influenced the youth and instilled hatred in their hearts for the Hindus. The sense of vulnerability and insecurity was amplified by attacks on prominent Hindu politicians, postings of hit lists with names of specific Hindu individuals and various violent episodes in Srinagar and other places.

The culmination of this pure hatred and religious intolerance took place on the cold, dark night of January 19, 1990 that had stirred into life the worst nightmares of Kashmiri Pandits living in the valley. As the night fell, the community became panic-stricken when the Valley began echoing with the war-cries of Islamists, who had stage-managed the whole event with great care; choosing its timing and the slogans to be used. A host of highly provocative, communal and threatening slogans, interspersed with martial songs, incited the Muslims to come out on the streets. These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits and were presented with three choices – Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the place or perish). Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims poured into the streets of the Valley, shouting ‘death to India’ and death to Kafirs. The Seventh Exodus was surely staring them in the face. By morning, it became apparent to Pandits that Kashmiri Muslims had decided to throw them out from the Valley. Broadcasting vicious Jehadi sermons and revolutionary songs, sprinkled with blood curdling shouts and shrieks, threatening Kashmiri Pandits with dire consequences, became a routine ‘Mantra’ of the Muslims of the Valley, to force them to flee from Kashmir. Around 399 Kashmiri Pandits were brutally killed in cold blood, many women were raped in the chaos and around 1,50,000 of them fled from the lawlessness that rampaged in the valley. Out of the 160,000–170,000 Pandits living in the Kashmir Valley in 1990, only 2,000–3,000 remain there in 2016.

For the first time after independence of India from the British rule, Kashmiri Pandits found themselves abandoned to their fate, stranded in their own homes, encircled by rampaging mobs. The Central Government was caught napping and its agencies in the State, particularly the army did not consider it necessary to intervene in the absence of any orders. No one spoke for Kashmiri Hindus and all the self-proclaimed seculars and human right activists went into a state of hibernation.

‘Hindu Muslim Sikh isai aapas mein hai bhai bhai’ (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians are all brothers) is a popular slogan in India that houses members of almost every religion in the world. Ironically this secular state is plagued with several cases of religious intolerance and the violation of the freedom of religion. The exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits is appalling as several innocents were slaughtered and even more were forced to flee from their homeland just on the basis of their religion.

India has seen several changes ever since that mortifying night in 1990. New governments have come and gone, multiple developments have come forth nationwide, but the Kashmiri Pandits who were chased out of their homes have still not been able to find a way back. The Indian Government has tried to rehabilitate the Pandits and the separatists have also invited the Pandits back to Kashmir. Tahir, the commander of a separatist Islamic group, ensured full protection to the Kashmiri Pandits. In 2009 Oregon Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to recognise 14 September 2007, as Martyrs Day to acknowledge ethnic cleansing and campaigns of terror inflicted on non-Muslim minorities of Jammu and Kashmir to establish an Islamic state. Around 1,800 Kashmiri Pandit youths have returned to the Valley due to government offered incentives but a thousand more are still afraid to return to their homeland that is stained with memories of horror and brutality.

How can you expect a community to return to their homes when there is no concrete guarantee of their safety and security? In last 26 years, they have been haunted by the harrowing memories of pain and being forced to leave everything behind to protect their lives. Kashmir is already under twin threats by Pakistan and China and unless the political gap between the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir is bridged, the atmosphere will not be conducive for the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits. The first step for the reestablishment of the lost community should be the abolition of article 370 of the constitution that gives autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This acts as a major roadblock in any progress as it does not allow those living in India outside Jammu and Kashmir to freely settle in the state and become its citizens. Countless properties of the Pandits were confiscated during the ethnic cleanse and many migrants had to forcibly sell their property for peanuts in the wake of exile, hence redistribution of the land should take place so that the Pandits have a place to stay. Kashmiri Pandits should get reservations as their status as displaced people caused them to suffered heavily in the field of education. Education is the fundamental backbone by which we can build our future and this being stripped along with the tremendous amount the pandits have suffered is hardly fair. After the exodus, many Pandit families could not afford to send their children to well regarded public schools. Furthermore, Pandits faced institutional discrimination by predominantly Muslim state bureaucrats. As a result of the inadequate schools and colleges formed in the refugee camps, it became harder for the children of Pandits to access education. They suffered in higher education as well, as they could not claim admission in PG colleges of Jammu University, while getting admitted in the institutes of Kashmir valley was out of question. Those who were already acquired government jobs before their plight should be given their jobs back in order to restore the faith of the community in the government.

By targeting the religion of a community you tackle their sentiments and ridicule the principles they base their lives upon. Each religion, despites its different gods or idols, books or languages ultimately teaches mankind the same thing; that is to live and let live by respecting the people around us and cooperating with them to allow our society to flourish. The progress our entire race can make by putting our differences aside is unfathomable. What each individual needs to understand is that no matter which God you worship or which prayers you sing, the same blood courses through all our veins and we all crave for the same needs of fresh air, food, land, education as well as a chance to pursue a happy life. Our similarities outnumber our differences by a great magnitude and its up to us to open our eyes, forgetting our ego and work together to build a brighter future for ourselves along with the generations to come.