On the hidden nascent conflict in Padum, darkening the skies of an otherwise idyllic-looking valley in the middle of wild Zanskar, Ladakh, India.
Buddhist and Muslims cohabit in Padum since centuries. Yet, the recent conversion of a few Buddhist families to Islam gave birth to a vicious conflict; started as an economical blocus, it is now affecting how children are brought up, encouraged to define themselves as opposed to the other, a potential enemy.
[INSERT TRUTH HERE]
In the middle of this
little paradise of a valley, which only the most adventurous can reach, young
Stanzin, Dolkar and Tundup [DO NOT] play with young Zakir, Karim and Sehnaz.
Contrasting with usual
practice, recently the Gompa has
started to resonate, loud and clear, on repeat mode, the Buddhist mantra Om Mane Padme Hum [TO COVER THE VOICE OF
THE MUEZZIN CALLING FOR PRAYERS].
In the market, Bhuddist families [NO LONGER] trade and buy
goods from Muslim shopkeepers and vice versa.
Readers of the Coran swapped their ancestors woollen gonchas to now adorn cotton kurtas, in spite of the windy and chilly
summer evenings. Their beards are growing longer; and when they have sunglasses
on, it becomes difficult to identify these men of similar kurta and beards from
one another, while seeing them from far before crossing their path. A response
to global warming? An evolution of fashion? [RATHER A CONCIOUS DESIRE TO CLAIM
ONE’S APPARTENANCE TO A CERTAIN RELIGIOUS GROUP, COMPROMISING THE LADAKHI
Houses also changed and now hide their flat roofs under
slanted armour covered in tin sheets. From a distance, the town is one blinding
glowing spot, for the roofs dare to reflect the harsh sun of Zanskar summer. Is
this meant to protect from the snow? The flat roofs had been a great protection
since time immemorial, even keeping few feet of snow as insulation. Is it a
coincidence that these slanted roofs top are refuge to those who pray to Allah?
[OR IS IT ANOTHER WAY TO DISTINGUISH ONSELF FROM ANOTHER COMMUNITY, MIMICKING
THE HOUSES OF NEIGHBOURING FELLOW MUSLIMS IN THE GREEN VALLEYS OF KASHMIR?]
The same winds blow and carries dust from one
end of the valley to the other, the same sun shines and turns the fields into
gold, and amidst the peaks older than time, men and woman go about their lives,
insignificant in comparison [CHOOSING TO BUILD INVISIBLE BOUNDARIES BETWEEN