Gurpreet Singh: A new novel on Kashmir is a must-read to understand what it really means to live with lockdowns

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      In a COVID-19 environment, where most of us are experiencing social distancing in addition self-isolation and near or total lockdowns, a new book can help readers comprehend the situation the disputed region of Kashmir.

      Written by Nitasha Kaul, a London-based academic and novelist, Future Tense tells the story of ordinary Kashmiris who continue to suffer state violence in the Indian-occupied part of this region. It is a moving saga of shattered dreams and revenge for the daily humiliation of Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Indian forces.

      The novel comes in the wake of Kashmir being placed under lockdown last August. That's when the Indian government unilaterally scrapped special rights given to the state under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, arresting local leaders on the pretext of maintaining public safety.  

      The right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP government claims that this was necessary to stop terrorism in the only Muslim-dominated state of India. Since then, Kashmir has been turned into an open-air jail, communication channels including the Internet have been shut, and leaders fighting for freedom and autonomy having been detained. These include political figures and activists who've been advocating for peaceful resolution to the problems in Kashmir, where people have been struggling for the right to self-determination.

      Kaul, an associate professor of politics at the University of Westminster, courageously testified in October at a U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, where she strongly defended the rights of the Kashmiri people.  

      Despite being Hindu herself, through her writings she has consistently raised her voice on behalf of Muslims in Kashmir who are being persecuted by Indian forces.

      However, Future Tense takes a critical look at the struggle for the right to self-determination and delves into many complexities of the issue, such as the marginalization of Kashmiri Hindus, class differences, social and cultural divisions within the Muslim community, religious, orthodoxy, and the abuse of women.  

      Kaul beautifully connects all these dots together in a story that brings two characters from different backgrounds into conversation. Shireen is a Kashmiri Hindu woman, whose family had to migrate mainly because of the threat to their community by the militants; Fayaz is a Kashmiri Muslim man whose father was a former rebel.

      Despite so much bloodshed and political violence and with no bright future in sight, the novel gives hope through characters as resilient as real Kashmiri people, who've been living under barbaric conditions imposed by the Indian establishment. Most are resolved in their determination to be free.

      Future Tense might help the privileged in relating their temporary inconvenience caused by coronavirus with the everyday experience of Kashmiri people, whose cries have largely been ignored by the outside world.

      The novel also depicts the conditioning of mainstream Indians who remain indifferent or insensitive to the aspirations of Kashmiri people and the reasoning behind their feelings of alienation.