Ami Vitale (USA): Kashmir
Inge Morath Award Winner, 2002
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, nestled between India and Pakistan has been called “a paradise on earth” ever since the 16th century when Mughal emperors discovered its pristine beauty and made it their summer capital. Indians took their annual pilgrimages to escape the heat of the oppressive, dusty plains and British colonizers found their way around a law that prohibited outsiders from owning land by building floating houseboats on the idyllic lakes. Today Kashmir is more famous for being the axis of relations between India and Pakistan, a “nuclear flashpoint” that could spark an unthinkable war in South Asia.
The conflict has eroded much that once defined Kashmir. Hindus and Muslims once shared neighborhoods, schools, and close friendships, but nearly all the Hindus fled Indian-governed Kashmir after being threatened by Muslim militants, and are now scattered across India. Sufism, which exerted a gentle influence on Kashmiri Islam for more than a dozen generations, has been gradually pushed aside by the fanatical Sunni Islam practiced by militants from Pakistan. For centuries, Kashmir’s Mughal gardens and wooden houseboats offered diversions to weary rulers. But leisure has vanished from Kashmir. No one visits, and fear has tainted the lives of those who make their homes amid its apple and apricot orchards, in its meadows and in the creases of its mountains. … read more