In valley, he started digging for “the truth”, reading books and talking to people. Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night, he said, transformed the way he looked at Kashmir.
“Initially, a Kashmiri researcher informed me about the ground reality, which was contrary to what the mainstream media was showing. Then I became friends with more and more Kashmiris. And it helped me to understand the Kashmir conflict better,” said Chalukyan who hails from Chennai.
When informed about massacres of civilians, mass rape of women in Kunan-Poshpora, Shopian alleged double murder, Chalukyan remained skeptical and verified facts before forming an opinion.
“Unless one digs deeper about Kashmir conflict, truth will remain hidden. As I got to know about these incidents, my interest about this place grew stronger,” said Chalukyan.
“I read about how our army has violated human rights. I could not control my emotions when I read about mass rape, the rape of a bride in south Kashmir. I was broken into pieces. I cried on learning about the sufferings of the people, especially Kashmiri women,” he said.
Chalukyan recounts his first impressions on landing in what he calls a “jailed paradise”.
“I was very annoyed when I landed at the airport. As I stepped out from the flight I saw troopers at the runway holding assault rifles. This was a strange thing for me because I have never seen it anywhere else,” he said.
“Outside, the scene was no different. I saw a soldier after every 20 feet. I felt pity for Kashmiris. The people should have their civil liberties.”
During his two week trip, Chalukyan visited martyrs graveyards and shrines. He also visited Trehgam, the native village of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) founder Maqbool Bhat, and met pro-freedom leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mohammad Yasin Malik besides the human rights activists.
His desire to meet Mohammad Afzal Guru’s widow Tabbasum and son Ghalib, however, remained unfulfilled.
“I went to Tregham to see the place where Kashmir’s freedom struggle was born. I was amazed by the courage and determination of Maqbool Bhat’s mother. Even after losing three sons, with one more disappeared, she has no regrets. In fact, she is optimistic that the dawn of freedom will rise. I haven’t seen such a brave woman,” said Chalukyan, who works in a Bengaluru based e-commerce company as a graphic designer.
For siding with the “truth”, Chalukyan has started paying the price. His ties with his friends and a few family members are strained currently.
“Many relationships got severed due to my position on Kashmir. A close friend accused me of being anti-national and supporting militancy. He was spreading false things about me among our friend circle,” said Chalukyan
“I do not regret losing friends in the course. I will go with the truth. And whoever is against the truth, even if it is my father, I am against him. It is not personal but ideological.”
Back home, Chalukyan plans to paint Kashmir conflict on canvas and showcase it in galleries in India and abroad in a way that doesn’t sadden the viewers.
“It is a challenging task but I want to put a positive vibe around the paintings. At the same time the message that there is a suffering in the state has to go out strongly,” he said.
“If I was a writer, I will definitely write about Kashmir. And if I am gifted artistically, why should not I paint Kashmir conflict? I will take story to people and try to open their hearts. I cannot change the world but if I can change perception of just few people, it will be my achievement,” he adds.
Chalukyan plans to visit Kashmir again and meet as many families, who have suffered in the ongoing conflict. He also intends to meet the families of over 120 boys who were killed by the government forces during the 2010 mass uprising.
“My visit to Kashmir has been a learning experience. The people here are kind and hospitable. The respect men give to women is admirable,” he said.