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No freedom in a heart without will

This story took me months to write. Because it involves very mixed feelings. About India, about Cashmere, about freedom, about religion, about the environment, about cultural heritage, about free will and courage.
It all started when we had the chance to visit Srinagar in Cashmere, on our way from Ladakh, which is one of the most beautiful and kind regions I was given to explore.

I came to Cashmere with hopes of finding a warmer version of Ladakh, the kind of “paradise on earth” that all the Indians had depicted me. The “real India” they said. They had told me about the lakes, the blue skies, the kindness, the food, the environment… so I was expecting it to be some sort of perfection. But as soft as the idea of Cashmere textile may sound to your mind, the region, in my opinion, is mostly cold, restrained, frustrated, unwelcoming, polluted, and trashed.


I felt so sad there, that I had a look at the definition of freedom again to explain what I felt while traveling in Cashmere.
- Freedom is linked to our free will : It is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint
- Freedom is linked to religion, politics, habits : It is the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government
- Freedom is linked to your physical condition: It is the state of not being imprisoned, enslaved, handicapped

There are situations of clear breach of freedom in this world. Real ones. Even in the 21st century. North Korea. Eritrea. Paraplegia. And many more.
And there are the people who get imprisoned, for the right or wrong reasons, the people who live in despotic regions, the people who are restrained by handicap, or those who live under strict religion rules.

But a lot of people in this world have a relative freedom and yet, they have no much free will. Or maybe just no will... And that is exactly what Srinagar, Cashmere, inspired me.

Being French, I should understand revolution, strike, fighting for rights, liberty, equality, fraternity… but even back home, there is much freedom that is not being used because people tend to let go of their free will.

France is very possibly a freer country than India, or many countries in this world in that respect. However, people in France still feel oppressed, they feel abused, constrained. And as they do, their own free will tend to fade away. I don't think it's a sign of giving up at all, but rather a sign of focusing so much on outside restrictions, that people seem to forget about the immensity of their own personal freedom as a human being.
To some extent, this lack of free will might be among the reasons why I left my country to travel and settle down somewhere with more will to accomplish great things.

See, I believe we were all born with a different level of freedom, but all with a same free will. I do not believe in fatalism or determinism in this world.

As an example, I hear many French people who wish to make more money, or quit their job to travel, or split up, or get slimmer, or learn a new language, but they don’t. And they are not blaming it on themselves, no, they blame it on the fact that they are not free enough to do it. Not enough free time, not enough free space, not enough funds, too many barriers, no one to support or understand…

I see the same thing happening in the environmental debate. Most of us would like our governments to take more actions against GHG, against pesticides, nuclear expansion, but how many of us are ready to give up on their meat menu, or fly less, or use bike instead of drive inside the cities, or reduce their plastic waste, or have less or no children? How many of us can say they not only feel concerned, but act responsibly ?
At the end of the day, I see our own free will sometimes disappear under the number of restrictions, obligations or weaknesses, we draw on the way between us and our dreams, between us and our comfort...


Is being free always comfortable though? I don't feel capable to answer that fully, but my first feeling is that a free will isn't always easy to assume, and isn't always easy to impose.

As lucky as I was to be born French, I got to choose my studies in a public university, and I chose to study rather than party. I got to buy a one-way ticket to China when I was 23, and I decided to take the first job I found, even though it was pretty lame, in order just to be independent.
When I was willing to give another dimension to my career, I went back home and looked for another job. After 8 years of it, I decided to travel around the world for an unknown number of months, even if the majority of the people around me do not understand this decision, or see it as a lazy move. And here am I now.
I decided not to believe in god. I decided not to be a teacher. I decided to spend my savings into traveling rather than into a property.
I decided to not have children rather than respect the "normal" path of a woman.
I feel like there wasn’t a time when I thought something was absolutely impossible. Or, say, sometimes I felt unable to do something, but never restrained from actually trying it.

When it comes to freedom though, as I said, of course Kashmiris probably have less than the French, and even more so among women. When there is a military presence at each doorstep, strict religious rules, and barbwire around every public and private building, it is hard to simply feel free.

However, this is no North Korea. People in Cashmere can eat what they want, they can believe in the religion they want, they can get jobs, they can work hard or not, they are allowed to move from a province to another, to travel, they can own properties, businesses, they have access to medical care, etc. On paper, it doesn't seem that bad.

They are though, by history, very close to Pakistan. And some may even feel closer to Pakistan than they feel to India. They believe in the same god as Pakistan does, they eat closer to a Pakistani food, they wear the same type of clothes as in Pakistan… And yet, they are Indian. And they don’t always like it, it's understandable. So they fight. So they are angry. So they are frustrated. So they focus on this very condition. They feel bullied.

But tell me. When you don’t feel good within an environment, don’t you all the more want to try to feel good in your own life? Don't you want to escape the very situation, by becoming a better person, regardless of what’s around you, and try to get educated and skilled, build projects, clean your house and its surroundings, be nice to your neighbors ? Well that’s exactly what, in my opinion, lacked to Srinagar.

People use their free will to strike, throw stones at each other, revolution their Indian condition, but they are so focused on what the government impose on them, that they are not counting on all the free will that lies within them. They blame the government for corruption, and they’re probably right. They blame the Indian army for not letting them do what they want, and they’re probably right, etc. But what do they do for themselves? Didn't God say something like: Help yourself, and I will help you?

What I saw in Cashmere is different from what I saw in most of the other places of the world.

I saw people talking about the beauty of their land, and yet throwing plastics and all sorts of stuff into the lake. But they do have better options.
I saw staff so lazy that they don't care about their clients. They do have the choice.
I saw wrecks of cars, bikes everywhere in the streets and sinking boathouses on the lake of Srinagar. There do exist other options.
I saw men looking at me in a disgusted way, maybe because I wasn’t entirely covered (?). They do decide to judge.
I saw a majority of people just sitting and bumming around, waiting for something to happen. These people have a cell phone and a connection, so they do have access to better choices.
However, I didn’t see ANY woman working in a restaurant, a hotel or a shop… and then I wondered, are they actually being given this choice ? When you think about the recent debate on women presence in Hindu temples or even in Mosques, you wonder...

In life, there’s what you get, and there’s what you do with it though.
Cashmere is spread on an amazing land, with lakes, high mountains, water resources, beautiful landscape, an outstanding cultural heritage. And now it is wasting it. It got all the same resources as Nepal or Switzerland... And yet, the region and its people got stuck in time and frustration, and now they all live on the ashes of what it used be : heaven on earth.

So while I was visiting Cashmere recently, I saw the kind of wasted potential humans are capable of. And I tried to capture it as I could, in order to publish it.
Barbwire around religious buildings or homes, armed men in every corner, sinking boathouses, garbage everywhere, people bumming around, fighting each other, polluted grey skies… this is what I saw, and this is what you will see in the below pictures.

Cashmere got me shocked and saddened. I first thought of it like a place under a real deprivation of freedom, but as I keep exploring the world, I believe that it is their own choice to not use their free will for the best.

There is enough freedom for men and women to accomplish great things there, if they only wanted to. But in free will, there is will. And nowadays, if you're not actually starving or dying from your polluted environment, then it seems easier to trash your surroundings and hang out all day with your friends than fight for your own health and wealth.

So on my side, as I travel, I will keep reminding people I meet that free will is the most precious thing they will ever own. Because there will never be freedom, in a heart that has no will.

All this being said now, I am left asking myself : Could I be wrong? Could this be the chicken and egg question ? Can there be a will, if there is no freedom of being who you truly are ? Could the story be different if Kashmiris were allowed to exist as they wish ?

My pagan prayer shall be for Cashmere to go beyond political and religious desires and "make their land great again", because with a true will for it, I must say, it could well be.

Freedom, generally, is having an ability to act or change without constraint. [...].
In philosophy and religion, it is associated with having free will and being without undue or unjust constraints, or enslavement, and is an idea closely related to the concept of liberty. A person has the freedom to do things that will not, in theory or in practice, be prevented by other forces […]

" There is no freedom

where there is no will "