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Kashmir | Photographer: Andy Spyra

Kashmir | Photographer: Andy Spyra | BLACK AND WHITE | Scoop.it

Emerging photographer Andy Spyra (1984, Germany) is currently focusing on two personal, long-term projects in the Kashmir Valley, the location of the longest unresolved conflict in the history of the United Nations. Today, over 700,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitary forces are stationed in the region. This makes Kashmir the most highly militarised zone in the world.

Kashmir is not poor: unlike the rest of India it is rich in natural resources and most of its population has (by Indian standards) a good standard of living. But rising militancy, which began in the early 1990s, changed the valley’s fate and turned it into the so-called ‘Valley of Tears’. Before the partition of British India into the now archenemies India and Pakistan, Muslim Kashmir was an independent kingdom with its own culture and language. Nowadays, the people living in the region still feel more Kashmiri than they do Indian: they don’t want to belong to India, which is geographically, ethnologically and culturally so far removed from their own roots.

The Kashmir conflict has already lead to four wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and  resulted in the death of over 60,000 people, with a further 10,000 still missing. Although there have been marked improvements in bilateral relations between India and Pakistan in the past, the situation in Kashmir remains fragile and tense.

 

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Kashmir | Photojournalist: Andy Spyra

Kashmir | Photojournalist: Andy Spyra | BLACK AND WHITE | Scoop.it

I first came to Kashmir in the early spring of 2007 at the end of a motorcycle trip across India and I fell in love with the people, the light, and the atmosphere of this remote place. But as much as I love it, the political situation of the valley continues to bring disorder and conflict. 

Currently there are two conflicts in Kashmir, and each is tightly woven into the other: The more known conflict is the international, atomically loaded border dispute between India and its archenemy, Pakistan, regarding the affiliation of Kashmir between the two states. The other, less known one, is the inner-Kashmiri conflict on the Indian side of the border (which is two- thirds of the complete territory), where the people struggle for independence from India.  I have spent the last two years documenting this conflict, most recently in the summer of 2009 when I spent two months on the Indian side.

I attended meetings of parents who have had children disappear without leaving a note or ever coming back. I was invited into homes where family members mourned the rape and murder of two young girls by paramilitary forces.  I photographed a family whose sons were shot during one of the countless demonstrations.  These experiences didn‘t differ from my last two trips to Kashmir - the political and social climate remained the same as it was when I left the region half a year prior. The slogans were also the same during the countless demonstrations against the Indian army, the symbol of the occupation of what the Kashmiris call their soil: “Ham ka chate? Azadi!"- "What do we want? Freedom!" 

Looking over the sixty-year history of this conflict, it seems highly unlikely that the people of Kashmir will gain independence in the foreseeable future and that the world will see an independent Kashmir again. This strategic region is too important for either nation to ever let it go.- Andy Spyra

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