Heaven on Earth by Bilal Hussain – Kashmir

The place that poets refer to in their verses as “heaven on earth” exists in the fairy tales, and in reality is not far from the Middle East. This real life fantasy is the beautiful valley of Kashmir, which is surrounded by snow clad mountains, lush green woods, and innumerable springs. Like many places globally, beasts didn’t spare this place. The previously independent state was divided by newly formed nations, India and Pakistan, in 1947 when they became independent, causing Kashmir to lose its freedom. The state of Kashmir was divided mainly into two regions, one part is held by India and another by Pakistan. With this background, a kid who is born and brought up in this place, divided by a conflict that has lasted for more than half of a century now, the politics of conflict, hatred, and the division of people are all taught and deeply integrated in every kid’s genes; I am among one of those kids. I have witnessed killings, kidnappings, mass destructions, and poverty throughout my life, which became a routine and normal life for me and all Kashmiris. Most of the Kashmiris hate their occupiers the same way as anyone whose possessions are taken away by someone would, however, common people who struggle in their lives to make a decent living have no time to hate anyone. I realized this in September 2014, when the massive floods hit Kashmir, taking everyone by surprise and forcing almost the entire population to run for shelter. During the flood I witnessed how the local people behaved, voluntarily helped and rescuing the outsiders, who were mainly from India, and who were otherwise hated by the locals during normal times. Like any natural calamity, the flood knew no boundaries and filled most of the shelters in Kashmir, forcing inhabitants, both local and non-local, to look for safe places. Most of the labor force in Kashmir comes from mainland India; when flood water filled their rented accommodations, it was locals who helped them and saved their lives. Also, I observed locals in huge numbers risking their lives to save the lives of tens of thousands of non-local laborers, without even caring about their identities; all that mattered at that time was saving human lives. It was humanity at its best, no one cared about any divisions like occupier, religion, or ethnicity. People shared food and lived in the same safe shelters for over two weeks, and in those days we all were humans without any divisions. I wish it continued into normal times, where we could treat someone as a human being without any further tags that would divide us, and see people without looking through a binary prism.  
This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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