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I first came to Kashmir in the early spring of 2007 at the end of a motorcycle trip across India. I simply fell in love with the region, the people, the light and the atmosphere of this remote place of the world. But as much as I love it, that much I dislike the political situation of the valley.
Squeezed in between the two atomic powers and arch-enemies India and Pakistan, the people of Kashmir are the ones who suffer from the conflict. Their wives and sisters get raped and murdered, and sons and husbands disappear, or they simply get shot, during one of the countless demonstrations against the Indian military presence in the region. Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world, with over one million soldiers facing each other at the line of control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan. Srinagar, the capital of Indian administered Kashmir, is therefore also called the “City of Bunkers” as you can hardly walk any street without facing heavily fortified bunkers of police, military and paramilitary troops.
Most of the young men deployed in Kashmir come from poor and rural areas of India, and many are from Bihar in the mid-east of India. In Kashmir they are alienated: they don‘t speak the Kashmiri or Urdu, they belong to a different culture and religion and they aren’t allowed to leave their camps for security reasons. Under these circumstances, it‘s easy for political and religious persons to feed the distrust and hate between the people of Kashmir and the ones who should be there to protect them.
At times I was invited into private homes, where family members would mourn over the death of a beloved one. Seeing what the death of just one person does to a family, the death of more than 60.000 persons during the Kashmir-conflict is simply beyond my comprehension. Psychologically the whole valley is traumatized, and I hope that through my photography people are able not only to see Kashmir as I see it, but also to feel it, just as I do.
But despite all this, Kashmir, known as the “Paradise on earth”, is still one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Andy Spyra, born 1984 in Hagen, Germany, is a freelance photographer currently based in Germany. He worked for one year as a freelance photographer with a local newspaper in his hometown Hagen before he started to study photography at the Fachhochschule Hannover. In the beginning of 2009, he quit his studies due to both personal and photographic reasons. Since then he has worked as a freelance photographer, focusing on long term in-depth projects of social and political issues worldwide.