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Soldiers in Srinigar - November 2008

But throwing shoes will only bruise me.  Well that’s just to paraphrase Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir who fell victim to this current trend during a flag raising ceremony in Srinigar to celebrate India’s Independence Day.  It seems shoe throwing has taken the place of stone throwing and although the shoe didn’t come close to its intended target, the man who set it in motion has become an instant hero.  This random act of shoe violence was recently made popular by the infamous attack on the former US president in 2008.  Shortly thereafter, a slew of similar incidents followed:

February 2009 – Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan & Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier

April 2009 – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh & Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram

October 2009 – Dominique Strauss-Kahn

June 2010 – US consulate in Auckland by anti-Israeli protestors

August 2010 – President Asif Zadari & Omar Abdullah

Srinigar - November 2008

But on a more serious note, it’s still the same matter of Kashmir wanting freedom from India and Pakistan as explained by our guide Shafi on my not so recent trip there in November 2008.  At the time, India was holding their national elections and Srinigar looked like it was under siege with roadblocks, soldiers, curfews and blackouts at night.

Two years on, the situation is still the same.  The five decade long conflict over this prized land started in 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence from the British.  Shortly after independence, the Maharaja of the predominantly Muslim Kashmir decided to join India and the agreement which ceded Jammu and Kashmir to India was signed by the Maharaja and Lord Mountbatten of Burma.  Pakistan refused to recognize this and so the conflict ensues to this day.

On the road from Srinigar to Phalgam - November 2008

This truly is a beautiful stretch of land, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.  Apart from the random sightings of soldiers and trucks, the road from Srinigar to Phalgam was a scenic one.  We passed fields of lilac saffron flowers with views of the bluish grey mountains in the background.  All this time, Shafi was telling us of the plight of his people, that he didn’t feel Kashmir should be part of India and I could somehow see why he said that.  During my time there, it didn’t feel like I was in India anymore.  Everything was different.  The air was crisper and cooler and the city was smaller and quieter.  The signs in Hindi were replaced by Urdu, mosques took the place of temples and shrines, cows were no longer part of the traffic and the attire of men had been transformed into kurtas.  It was a whole new world and I remember feeling awkward paying in Rupees because I had totally forgotten that I was still in India.  Shafi expressed his desire to have land which they could call their own.  He was of the thought that Kashmir should be independent both from India and Pakistan.

Market in Srinigar - November 2008

Unfortunately, as with most issues concerning land, when this conflict will end is probably as likely as the tug of war between Israel and Palestine and the equitable land redistribution of South Africa.  Of the many things being lost here are not only shoes but also a people’s right to land and freedom.

Our guide Shafi...

(I had to put him in here. Once after a full day of sight-seeing, he seemed rather tired and had probably had enough of us asking questions. So when he offered us some snacks in the car to which we asked “What is it?” he just simply replied “Some-ting”, turned around and proceeded to look out the window, thus ending our conversation.  I do miss his grimace!)

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