Friday, 29 July 2016

Where Do We Go Now?


I am finding it hard to return to my blog every time with news this sad, this unbearable. So, I must get it off my chest.


A five year old kid has been blinded by India's CRPF in Kashmir "for abusing them". Now hold your arguments and let this sink in.

A five year old kid. Most 5 year olds I know are not able to speak properly. Language is still foreign at that age.

Blinded.

Blinded by inserting something sharp into his eye. Something like needles, steel pellets, or a bicycle spoke. Let that gore sink in.

You will not find too many lovers of India this side in the darkness.

I am sure some Indian media-wallah or walli will soon get you the righteous CRPF perspective on how justified this attack is.

At the risk of repeating myself I must say that India is a violent country that has no moral standing on Kashmir.

This depressing epiphany of Kashmir only ebbs and flows. I was talking to a friend and couldn't place it in the mind. What did these kids die for? The 50 killed in 2016 and the hundreds killed in 2010. This batch in our school of death. In the grand scheme of things, where do these kids - born at the wrong place, at the wrong time - fit? The enemy is still here, the weapons are the same, the excuses too. Where do we go from here?

Sometimes, I am reminded of a death in a village - somewhere in south or north of Kashmir and I cannot remember the name of the dead. He is just, I dare say, a shadow in my memory. I never knew him (or her) personally, and  was grieved by his death for some time and for a little longer by the  tragedy of Kashmir. But, I don't have to live with his death - Kashmir has to. And as a Kashmiri, he is now a painful stake in that part of my conscience. He is an entity who didn,t exist for me till he ceased to exist, and now we, as Kashmiris, must live in this dolour and add more fuel to the collective fire of our anger. I don't maintain a diary other than a few blogs here of the deaths in Kashmir, but knowing of the fine young men who died in the state's vendetta is an introduction I would rather not have. I don't even put a face to this recollection of death. I can't.

Kashmir brings out the best and worst in people. I've been shocked at the vitriol directed at the innocent dead. At the whole of the Kashmiri Muslim population. At me. At Asif, by extension, who just wants to earn money "to be happy" - and live in Kashmir to support his family. In a free Kashmir. But, there are others in India, and this time I am surprised by their numbers, who spoke up for Kashmir. For Kashmiris. For us. This is perhaps the best time for Indians to speak up against the actions of their nation in Kashmir. It is possible to be perfectly patriotic without having to be against that idea of another population's.

Oliver Goldsmith wrote a wonderful essay about loving your own country without hating others. I used to wonder if it is possible in the Indian context. Whether Indians can fathom Kashmir a separate entity without having to send their army to force an "integration"? But social media has shown me that it is possible. Ordinary Indians, not Arundhati Roys, have commented, come out in protests, shown solidarity - either with the idea of Independence or saving human lives in Kashmir. This to me is a start. Of course their number is small and insignificant, but it is the power of the idea that interests me. It is the acceptance of a people's right. It is a step for Indians to sympathize with Kashmir and look outside the twisted tales of their televisions. And listen to the ordinary Kashmiris, like Asif. Most (or many more) I am sure will be willing to move over the history and geography lessons of a standard high school and accept the new realities of Kashmir and its relation with India. A friendly divorce over a forced marriage. How many more Kashmiris to be blinded before Indians open their eyes?

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. - Anne Frank

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

To Save Ourselves

My thoughts are all over the place. And there is no coherence.

The aftermath of killing of Burhan Wani has been met with the usual Indian response to everything in Kashmir. When the government of India hanged Afzal Guru, this was exactly what Omar Abdullah’s government did. When the government banned beef and then RSS mob killed a Kashmiri trucker, same. When the Army killed two boys in Kupwara in April 2016, guess what the government did?

Now its been three days, we are still under curfew. And it is expected to go on for at least two more days. What is a curfew? It is the disquiet which is propagated as peace by India. It is the subjugation which goes silently in the night of oblivion. It is painful breathing in air of pepper gas and smoke – and despair.  India is a violent country that prefers to shut down an entire population with the might of its army to curry a sadistic nationalist pleasure. All over social media, people ‘celebrate’ the death of Kashmiris – not the ones who took up arms against the Indian nation, but the ordinary civilians. Lost faces in a crowd.

What kind of people celebrate the death of people they never met, never knew and whose existence does not impact them at all – for better or worse. But that is the whole Indian sentiment about Kashmir, isn’t it? Its forced appendage to the Indian nation is a matter of pride for some and statesmanship for others; no one is quite clear how its severance will impact them, if it does at all.

Meanwhile, we have curfew immediately following Eid. The markets haven’t opened since Eid, offices, schools, colleges, universities are all shut – and people are counting the dead. Every few hours there is a boy dead or blinded. Every time this happens there is some sort of announcement from the Indian establishment to use “restraint” and “nonlethal weapons/measures”. This jingoism was adopted in 2010 and has continued since – leading to pellet injuries which cause blindness and death. Most of the people, who are shot, are shot at above the waist. Failure looms large, but the establishment has been ignoring it.

The Indian media and journalists were quick to jump onto the news of Burhan being killed calling him anything from “a terrorist” to “pig”, some even calling for mass murder of all the people who attended his funeral. Clearly, we are on the other side of the Pir Panjal. There is no India here. In this valley, Kashmir is held hostage not just to herself but to the undefined conscience of a nation she seeks freedom from. After years of misrepresentation, we cannot rely on others to tell our stories. We cannot be spectators to our own stories. Nor wait for a significantly large number of people to die, before the world takes note.

Everything about Kashmir is problematic in India. If Kashmiris speak up for Kashmir, they are asked to leave and go to Pakistan (or anywhere else). This is symptomatic again of the Indian understanding – the people can leave; the land they can take. Again, reflected in their discomfort with Article 370 which grants special status of Kashmir, and is in most cases like this one is irrelevant. There is a callous disregard of Kashmiri lives. 120 killed in 2010, 30 so far in 2016. And that does not even include the people who have been killed in incidents during the six years. There is hardly a number – no one is certain.

When we talk of death on such regular basis it is easy to forget that they were people, like you, the reader and like me, the blogger. They had aspirations just like us – and most probably did not want to be shot dead. They too had families and lives going on. And this morbid talk is not made easy by the jargon used in the media. When the government spokespersons choose to address the media – and surprisingly when the police head spoke to the media – they all lament “loss of lives”, “incidents”. No one in the establishment says that police/CRPF killed the unarmed protestors. This narration is slowly morphed into the even gentler “30 33 people died in the protests” – holding the perpetrators blameless, not even mentioning the killers, reducing the guilt.

Of course, the media has other tricks too. Like the victim blaming – they were shot because they were protesting, and the whole discussion in the public psyche dissolves into whether the protest was warranted or not. Why were they doing it? Who made them do it? They want to disturb peace? Why hold such a large funeral? This was best displayed in April when Nayeem and Iqbal were killed by the CRPF: there was an immediate attempt to discredit Nayeem by calling him names (a stone pelter, mobster etc.) Again, veering off from the crime of the armed forces of shooting unarmed civilians. This time too, the focus is hardly the attacks on hospitals and unarmed civilians – but how to quell the ugly situation that has come to be in Kashmir. Face saving. Of course, people like to question the basis of protests too – why are they angry or sad over the death of Burhan in the first place – they just do not want to listen to the answers. The answers don’t sit well with the Indian nationalism – they don’t want to hear that Burhan is hailed as hero in Kashmir or that even though they may not follow in his footsteps they won’t diminish his bravado and image. The background story why Burhan became a militant in the first place is not an uncommon story in Kashmir.

Quoting from Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s article for Kafila: Kashmir Burns, Again (https://kafila.org/2016/07/11/kashmir-burns-again/)

“In October 2010, Burhan Wani, then sixteen years old, was on a motorcycle, with his brother Khalid Wani, and a friend. They were out on a bike ride, through Tral, the area that they had grown up in, as teenage boys do, anywhere. They were stopped at a Special Operations Group Picket of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and ordered to get cigarettes for the troopers. Khalid went and got the cigarettes, Burhan and the friend waited. After the transaction, for no apparent reason, the troopers pounced on the boys, beat them up severely, damaged the bike, which had been Khalid’s pride and joy. Khalid lost consciousness. But perhaps it was Burhan who suffered the greatest injury, and that injury, an invisible one, was what any self respecting young person with a sense of dignity might feel when beaten for no reason other than the fact that he is there to be beaten.
It is possible that Burhan the teenager died that day when his brother’s motorcycle was stopped so casually, so callously. It is possible that Burhan the ‘militant’, who grew to be ‘militant commander’ was born that very same day.

Within a few weeks Burhan disappeared into the mists of the forests of South Kashmir. He emanated, over the years, in the form of videos shared over social media, playing cricket, listening to songs through his headphones by a campfire, posing, like a slightly silly macho young man with guns that he should never have had to feel the need for, that were thrust on him by the fact that ‘men with guns’ is the most important face of itself that the Indian state shows to Kashmiris. The militancy that is generated is the mirror of the occupation’s protocols. Armed men beget armed men. Commander Burhan Wani was produced and destroyed by the Indian state, which made it impossible for a young, intelligent, charismatic man like Burhan to salvage his dignity by any means other than that of being an armed combatant.”

The spurge in street protests against India have made this conflict a very individual thing. With continuous blockades in many areas of the city, curfews and crackdowns in villages, every person in one way or the other is a direct victim. There is no escape. The increase in protests, as much as India would like to blame Pakistan for it, is a sign that  too many deaths in the neighbourhoods have emboldened the people rather than deter them – sharpening the hatred like a tack. And the discourse in India does not help. It’s not like India does not want to seen as doing things. After rushing more troops to Kashmir, for some odd reason the Indian Home Ministry called a meeting of mullahs in Delhi to discuss the Kashmir unrest, and the Indian PM chaired a meeting of which the Kashmiri CM was not a part. It does a lot, just not the right things.

Days like today are rare. There was no news of fresh casualties, no news of clashes. In the interim and unrelenting curfew, people have come forth to help others establishing langars and volunteering in hospitals. These are not the things the Indian media would like to talk about. But we must. The biggest residue in a curfew is the despair it leaves behind in the debris of the failing society. What next? Everyone seems to ask. There are no answers. We will open our shops and schools till untimely death come knocking again or India decides to poke the fire. Till curfew is announced again, and the public beaten and battered locked inside homes. There is no giving up. That’s why we must talk more about the small battles won. To keep the hope alive. To save ourselves.