The car stopped on the side of the road. The army man had waived driver for the same.
“What is in the bag?” asked the man in the khaki uniform.
“Clothes,” I replied.
“And in that one?” The muzzle of his gun pointing towards the other bag.
“Books”. I said a little frightened.
“Open it”, he dictated.
As much as I wanted to show this man a strong fist, I didn’t. I felt like the kid who didn’t want to do the things but was forced too. I unzipped the bag and showed this ungentlemanly security personnel the book in my bag.
He now turned to the bag lying in the front seat of the vehicle and started looking for God-knows-what in that bag. I am so sure that he had hoped to find this mysterious thing in my bag too but was disappointed. And I could certainly see the disappointment on his face when he ordered the driver of the sumo to start the vehicle and move on. His focus shifted onto the next vehicle.
In any other part of the world, I would have felt like harrassed. It would have been as a violation of my basic rights. I would certainly have been angry, like a lot angry. But since I live on the place called “Paradise on Earth” I felt much more. I felt lucky. Lucky to be alive. Lucky that I hadn’t been labelled and tagged like many others. After all this is the price that I gotta pay for living in the paradise.
The life of so many victims stands testimony of the tags and labels. Fake encounters, and there are so many of these, are the telltale sign of what the fate could contain in it for us. I remembered Chittisingh Pora where 36 of Sikh people were brutally murdered. I remembered Pathribal which was scripted as if to revenge the Sikh killings. Everybody knows that both of these episodes were carried out by the same, the militia that makes Kashmir most militarized place on the earth.
We are terrorists or the sympathisers of the same. Pumped by the ideology and financials of Pakistan, they say, we pick the gun over pen; bullet over ballot. While they are busy blame-gaming the whole scenario, they forget that we did pick pen over gun and ballot over bullet. The valley of Kashmir also harboured intellectuals and bureaucrats. There used to be idealogists and administrators and still are. But they are forced to choose guns over its counterparts. The educated youth can’t be so uneducated to pick arms and risk their lives on the behest of petty financial gains. They go out into the battleground with zeal and zest knowing that they are gonna kill or die for their motherland, the freedom of which means more than their lives. They owe it to their home and that is what they are doing. The Burhans and Manans of the valley very well know what they lose and what they gain when it comes to the preferences they make.
I was born in nineties and like all the kids I got accustomed to the tales of death, torture and interrogation right from my childhood. I still remember the times when an elderly person from our village used to announce on the Masjid loudspeaker: “Asalamu Alaikum. Mai appeal karta hun gaywun ke sabhi mard hazrat hospital ke aangan mai jama hojaye. Crackdown shuroo hogaya hai…..”
“Greetings. I appeal every male person of the village to assemble in the courtyard of the hospital. The crackdown has started…..”
I remember playing sheen ladai with my cousin when army men would barge into our home and search out the whole house. I remember helping out my mother assemble all the things again and cursing the security personnel and wishing for a magic wand to undo all the injustices that I knew at that point of time. I remember the first gun shot I heard. I remember it because this is what all of our childhoods were like.
The times of this millenium aren’t that different. I still familiarise with words like hartal, curfew, CASO, etc. The days still paint the same picture of death and destruction while the nights try to make things serene and deceitful. The announcements are no longer made but the play still unfolds similarly. Kidnappings, interrogations, disappearances and killings. People are maimed, women raped and children blinded. For every Kunan Poshpora there, there is Aaliya & Neelofar case here. Every Gowkadal martyr is succeeded by Insha & Hiba in this century. 2010, 2014, 2016. These aren’t just years but the witnesses of what has been done with Kashmir. The signs of the oppression and the resistance that defines our existence.
I understand the fury and rage of a school going child who hurls a stone on the army jeep. He knows he is gonna get a bullet in return but this is what defines him. The resistance and the resilience. Being upright when he knows his neck may be cutoff. He does it. Because for him this is life. The voice of the caged bird may not tremble the hunter but it sure makes the bird feel alive. Otherwise what is it but the skelton of flesh and bones that has let off its freedom and free will. We see the blood of the kids, who hadn’t gone to fetch milk and chocolates, spilled on the road every day. We are mere numbers to them. Numbers like 15 killings a day, 150 killings a year or 150,000 killings in the past 3 decades. Numbers that don’t tremble the traitor who dwells behind the barbed fences and wired ceilings. Who keeps a blind eye to the situations that results in so many widows and orphans. He sure does fear the worst and that he can’t escape from. After all, there is a shelf life to oppression.
So next time you feel like your basic rights are being violated and your sense of freedom infringed, be rest assured it is normal here. Instead thank the Lord that you still are able to see and breathe properly. This is the way life works in the paradise of earth. Welcome to Kashmir.
P.S: Do you like what I write. May be you would like to buy me a coffee.