Col Sunil Brijkrishan is an Army Veteran, having served in the Indian Army for more than two decades. Kashmiri by birth and Indian at heart, Col Brijkrishan talks to The Tilak Chronicle about Kashmir and the heartache, revoking Article 370, the promise of India, and the beauty of Kashmiriyat.

You were born in Kashmir and were posted there during your Army years. Could you share with us some of your memories of Kashmir as a child and as a soldier?

To be honest, the only thing that happened when I say I was ‘born’ in Srinagar, Kashmir, was that I was only ‘born’ there – ironically I did not ‘live’ there during my formative years and that was only because Dad being an aeronautical engineer with the Govt. of India, was always on a transferrable job. We were largely based in Bengaluru. My memories of Srinagar, Kashmir are as a child, when the family (my parents, sister, and I) visited my relatives – both, maternal and paternal – during summer vacations. They can only be termed as ‘blissful memories’.

Kashmir was (and still is), sublime, salubrious, Jannat, to use the Urdu word.

We loved the atmosphere, the ‘vaadi’, the weather, the fruits and the people – yes, the people! They were warm, friendly, kind and welcoming, but… they always used to ask, “Aap India se aaye ho? Wahaan ka kya haal hai?” This always shocked me and my sister – not so much my parents, as they had grown up there, unlike us. To say that we kids were not annoyed on hearing this, would be a gross understatement. It sounded strange to us, because we always knew that Kashmir was India’s crown, nay, a jewel. So, how could the locals call us Indians and themselves as Kashmiris?

Now we all know why.

While things were absolutely fine in the Kashmir of the pre-1989 period, the total radicalisation was there for all to see, post December 1989. 

Years later, when I was part of one of the formations of the valiant Indian Armed forces posted in the state, my experience as an army officer was more of sadness than anything else. This was not the Kashmir I had spent many a childhood holiday in. It was a totally different Kashmir. As a soldier and that too a Kashmiri, I felt the pinch even more. The ‘good’ people of yore were no longer the same where their attitude and loyalty was concerned. The radicle indoctrination from across the border as also from the separatist groups was there for all to see. A man in uniform was viewed suspiciously – not the pleasantest of feelings.

I had relatives in the state – migrants now, as they had fled with whatever they could lay their hands on – struggling for their mere existence in Jammu, a part of the same supposed disputed part of J&K. My mother’s younger sister’s husband had been gunned down in 1989, and what was his fault? The militants had mistaken him for ‘somebody else’; they announced this on their mosque’s loudspeakers the next day. But more than that, because my uncle was a Kashmiri Pandit.

This was the Kashmir, which was ‘mine’.

Of course, as a man in uniform, my role was different from varied aspects that are expected from a soldier. However, one of the most poignant tasks given to me was receiving the mortal remains of our brave martyred soldiers and emplaning them onwards to their ‘destinations’ – homes – in body bags. 

Could anything be more traumatic?

Article 370 was revoked by the Parliament earlier this week. How do you view this as someone with Kashmiri roots?

The history of Article 370 is replete with confused thoughts and ideas and I will not dwell on all of that. There is enough in print which tells one what it was all about and why. My bone of contention about the controversial Article 370 is its ‘continuation’ for the past 70 years when it was actually introduced only as a short-term temporary measure, looking at the ‘disputed’ status of the state, till its final accession to India.

The ‘special status’ accorded to my state, according to me, has done more harm than good to the people and the state in general. The feeling of always being alienated and wrongly ‘privileged’ has made the youth of the state what they are today, confused, lost, radicalized and ‘detached’ from reality.

The various separatist groups – Hurriyat, in particular – and their open calls for ‘Azaadi’ (whatever that means) did more harm to the polity of Kashmir than can be fathomed. No investment was ever possible in the Valley, there were no reputed educational institutions, no places for entertainment, no ‘romance’, if I may be allowed to say so. What will happen to any state where all these basics are a big ‘no’? Where will the youth ‘unwind’? The guns and stones have been their only forms of ‘entertainment’.

Revocation of Article 370 is a very welcome move, long, long overdue, and it is only a matter of time before normalcy of a better kind will be seen in the Valley all over again. It will also open Kashmir to the rest of India: investments will flow in, people from other parts of India will have access to the Valley and things will get better, not in a hurry for sure, but over a period of time.

I am not just happy, delighted is a more apt word.

How do you view the revocation as an Army Veteran?

Revocation of this Article is a positive measure. It gives the jawan more ‘teeth’. He will no longer look on helplessly, armed with his personal weapon, when goons pelt him with stones, manhandle him, hit him with sticks. They dare not do that now.

There have been accusations of human rights violations against the Indian forces in Kashmir. Now that Article 370 is revoked, do you think there will be an increase in these accusations? If yes, how would the Indian Army respond to them?

There is an old English saying, “one swallow does not a summer make”. The acts of human resource violations fit into this adage. The accusations of human resource violations are more hyped than anything closest to the truth. Where you have a large body of troops, deployed in areas which are far from being ‘conducive’, under trying conditions, and where the fear of the next bullet making them a target lurks 24×7, there are bound to be cases where frustration gets the better of sensibility. There are bound to be a few cases where soldiers, to protect themselves as well as their comrades, would have taken law into their hands and the media, as always, jumped in to say there are excesses. That’s not true and as a soldier, I will always vouch for my men. The Indian soldier is God fearing, kind and not prone to violence, even when provoked beyond the levels of tolerance.

The allegations of excessive human resource violations are far-fetched and farthest from the truth. There is no question of such human resource violations increasing. I can see my troops smiling and extending their friendly hand to all those civilians who only a little while ago, hurled a rock – not a stone – at a decent, well meaning, yet hapless, jawan who, despite the threat to his life and also being armed, did not fire at his would-be assailant.

How can common Indians contribute to the integration of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with rest of India?

For the common Indian, my advice is to look at the reality of what has happened in a positive manner. As it is, over 90% of Indians are rejoicing the revocation of the infamous Article. The common Indian will now need to look at J&K and Ladakh from the perspective of an opportunity to ‘integrate’ the complete state fully and firmly with the Union of India. The common Indian will now need to look at the common Kashmiri more openly and not with suspicion. That is something which will take a while to happen but happen it surely will. We need to also remember that ‘Rome was not built in a day’.

As a management consultant and corporate trainer, how do you see the corporate world contributing to the growth of industry and service sectors in Kashmir? 

Corporates have to and WILL play a very important role in contributing to the growth of industry and the service sectors in J&K. I can visualise what will happen when J&K will have industries abounding. Locals will find work, the standard of living will improve, educational institutions of repute will open, and more and more locals will have access to a world so different from the gun culture and terror that they have been used to, all these years.

What does ‘Kashmiriyat’ and being Kashmiri mean to you? How would you want the common Indian to interpret / understand it?

Kashmiriyat to me is the social consciousness and cultural values of the Kashmiri people. The term Kashmiriyat signifies the ‘secularism’ of Kashmir. The region was an important centre for Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, the region derives its name from the Kashmiri Pandit ancestor, Rishi Kashyapa and it was the abode of celestial beings. Islam was introduced much later, in the medieval centuries.

Kashmiriyat is an expression of solidarity, resilience and patriotism, regardless of religious differences. It embodies an ethos of harmony, and a determination of survival of the people and their cultural heritage. To many Kashmiris like me, Kashmiriyat is all about religious social harmony and brotherhood. 

The culture and ethos of Kashmiriyat were unfortunately eroded at the onset of the Kashmir conflict, when the region was claimed by both, Pakistan and India, and its territory was further divided during the first Indo-Pak conflict of 1947. 

Sadly, the onset of militancy in Kashmir from 1989 led to the exodus of almost all the Hindus from Kashmir and violent attacks against the remaining communities of Hindus and Sikhs, further eroding the fabric of Kashmiriyat.

I would like the common Indian to look at Kashmiriyat in exactly the way it was meant to be. As an optimistic soldier, I am sanguine that we are in for better days. The hiccups will continue. Man, after all, is a social animal whose ‘animal instincts’ many a time prevail. This is where and now is when the sensibility factor needs to rule the roost.

Col Sunil Brijkrishan

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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