Everyday Resistance: An Overview of 2016 Uprising in Kashmir
By Mehraj Bhat
Sameer, a 15-year-old boy, and a lone bread earner in his family, was hit by pellets in both eyes and is admitted in ward 9 of the Ophthalmology department of SMHS hospital, Srinagar. The picture was clicked while he was having his lunch, failing to get hold of a glass of water and ending up messing his bed. Imagining Sameer being a backbone of his family and now even failing to hold a glass of water brought everyone around him to tears. Feeling the sudden silence and numbness, Sameer said something excruciatingly moving, “Shall I not feel contempt in my heart that I only lost my eyes in resisting the brutality of a ruthless occupier? Aren’t those martyrs more fortunate than me who offered their lives in resisting this occupation?” Such conversations help one understand the courage of the Kashmiri people to stand and struggle against the mighty fascist empire, called India.
Lying next to Sameer’s bed were two kids, Adil and Farooq, who were hit by pellet in their eyes. They asked me, “Brother, we all will be summoned and asked on the Day of Judgment about our responsibilities towards our people, and we don’t want to be ashamed of ourselves on that day, so we willingly and consciously decided to fight against this occupation in whatever means possible.” Out of my own selfishness and, maybe considering the future of these two kids, I suggested them not to participate in the processions in future. But their reply shook me from inside: “Bhai abhi ek aankh baaki hai” (Brother our one eye is still intact).
Like other struggles for liberation, Kashmir continues to resist the eight decade-long illegitimate occupation. A farce democracy and its brutal policy of exclusion exterminate all sorts of dissent, and resistance. The killing of Burhan Wani, the 21-year-old rebel leader, and what followed it, demonstrates yet again that the idea of resistance against the Indian rule in Kashmir is very much alive. Thus the Indian state’s rhetoric of Kashmir being their atoot ang falls flat on the ground. The only reply they are aware of and are acquainted with is the language of repression. While the uprising entered its 73rd day, the Indian state left hundreds of Kashmiri people severely wounded, with many having lost their eyesight to pellet injuries, with another 12,000 also sustaining other injures.
Kashmiris have all along been betrayed by Sheikh Abdullah and the successive regimes of mainstream political parties, which continue to maneuver their deceptive politics for the sake of maintaining power, even if this exercise costs the blood of hundreds and thousands of Kashmiri people. The emergence of PDP in the late 1990s and their recent unholy alliance with the BJP, that helped them come to power in 2015, is one such manifestation of this exercise of power.
A Shared Struggle: Doctors as a Symbol of Resistance
Often an informal conversation with doctors about the magnitude of injuries and the possibilities of recovery of these injured patients turned into tales of collective suffering. Dr. Wajeed (Registrar, Department of Medicine at SMHS) told a couple of friends including a journalist, “I’m too weak to go on the road and throw stones. I just don’t have the courage to face the army – that’s the raw truth. But inside me, I have the same feeling as the protestors.” Raising his voice, he further adds, “That sense of injustice, that rage against an uncaring state…I feel it too deeply. It is like white matter in the brain.”
“As doctors, we usually feel neutral, we treat the wound, not the person,” says Yaqoub, sitting on a bench outside the medical college. “But when I see this extent of discrimination and heartless violence, I want to shun the neutrality and take sides.” A young Kashmiri himself, Yaqoub grew up in the nineties listening to the same “tales of loss and betrayal” as the youth protesting today, and seeing traumatic scenes of violence enacted against his friends and family. “For some reason, I became a doctor and banked on optimism.” Doctor Raashid (Consultant Surgeon in Ophthalmology Department, SMHS Hospital) told me, “Doctors have to take consent from a patient or his family before performing surgery. But in this situation “doctors have been receiving patients, who are near-unconscious, blinded or younger than 18 years. So we ended up having to get quick signatures from the kids themselves, while wheeling them into surgery.”
The Politics of Fear
The state, with its diverse web of security apparatus in place is well knit with tools to sabotage, crush and muzzle the voices of dissent. One among such tools is the presence of security agencies (CID/IB/Police) on ground. These underground ghosts are present among the stone pelters, in pro-freedom rallies, and even in the hospitals updating the list of “dissenters” to take necessary action against them. In the ongoing uprising, the files of injured patients are invisible from their beds. Instead of that, they are given numbers because of the possible security threat. While talking to a senior surgeon, who wanted to hide his identity due to the possible threat to his life/career, he told me, “We decided to restrict the files to ourselves because the security agencies come and take the names and address of these patients from the files and start harassing and minting money from them after they are discharged from the hospitals.” One of the attendants, a father in his 60s, nursing his 20-year-old bullet injured son in ward 16 told me: “I am getting regular calls from the SHO (in-charge of the police station) of my area inquiring about the date of discharge of my son from the hospital.” The father added, “They fired him in his abdomen and after we tried to bring him to hospital, they took him out from the ambulance and started hitting his wound with guns, which damaged his intestines.” The presence of security agencies in hospitals is psychologically so depressing that a lot of patients don’t even visit hospitals for their treatment.
Between Hope and Despair?
Working as a volunteer for more than two months in the hospital, I witnessed the brutality in its nude form, but also hope in the eyes of every new injured brought to the hospital. A huge rush of people thronged the hospitals, asking if they could donate blood for the injured, chanting slogans: “Hum Kya Chahte Azadi, Burhan Tere Khoon se Inqilaab Ayega, Aasie jaan detna-ghar baar detna, masoom detna, teli kyaze yeeni teli kyaaze yeene” (Didn’t we give our lives? Didn’t we leave our dreams? Didn’t we offer our young kids? Then why will it [aazadi] not come?).
It was chaos and mayhem in the hospital and fear on the roads; phone services were suspended and internet blocked. It was no less than a war declared on the people of Kashmir. What I experienced was that most of the injured, almost 95% of them, were targeted above their waists. The majority of them had pellets in their eyes. More than 500 young people lost sight in their one eye, and more than thirty had bilateral injuries (both eye pellet injuries). The ophthalmology unit at SMHS, which according to doctors used to be a ghost ward, is now the busiest ward in the hospital. In the evenings, especially after dinner, you would hear young kids listening and watching aazadi songs, particularly the recently sung on Burhan, the martyr. It would take you to another world of hope and despair but nevertheless, it was hope that was visible and dominant in the eyes and words of these injured patients.
I remember the scene inside Ward 9 of SMHS hospital in Srinagar, which turned emotional when Shiraz Ahmad Ahangar, 26, spoke to his mother in Murran (Pulwama, South Kashmir), “I am hit by pellets. But you don’t worry, I am alright.” Then, unable to hold his emotions for long, he let out a loud cry and said, “I wish it was a bullet. It hurts…it hurts badly, mother.”
Everybody around him, small crowd of friends, well-wishers, local journalists and photographers, other pellet victims, began crying. A friend, who was sitting at the corner of his bed, quickly snatched the phone from his hand and assured his wailing mother, “He is alright, just a bit frightened.” But everybody around could see that Ahanger was not frightened but in pain; he has more than hundred pellets in his body. Then to everybody’s surprise, Ahanger, who had half of his face covered with fresh bandage, circling over his pellet hit right eye, stood up on his bed and took off his trouser, then his shirt. “See how they treat us,” he shouted. “See what a Kashmiri gets from India.”
But, when the mood in the Wards gets too tense, a joke or a funny story is thrown up to divert the attention. “All these days, they have been like brothers in arms; they crack jokes, share their life stories and occasionally try to cheer up each other, when the going gets tough,” said Nadeem Ahmad, an attendant.
The words of Arif seem to have done the trick this time. Many of these injured youth come out of the ward for a walk, while others prepare to “inspect” the wards. A youth from the main town of Pulwama, blinded in both eyes due to the pellet injuries, is helped out of the Ward by another youth from Tral, who has lost vision in one of his eyes.
Putting arms around each other’s shoulders, the two youth come out in the corridor to take a walk. They are interrupted by a middle-aged woman, presumably a relative of the Tral youth. “You aren’t in a position to help him,” she tells the Tral boy. “We will manage it,” the youth responds as they disappear into the corridor. On the opposite side of the corridor, a teenager Zakir from Hader, Kulgam, is talking to Fayaz Ahmad from Anantnag (Islamabad).
Both of them have lost vision in their right eye. Though discharged in the morning, the duo couldn’t make it to their homes owing to the non-availability of the transport amid strict curfew across the Valley. “It is also risky to move during day time as police and CRPF look for injured persons and beat them,” said Fayaz, a truck driver.
At the entrance of the Ward, on the left side, attendants have gathered around the bed of Feroz Ahmad, a youth from Sopore, who has pellet injuries in both eyes, with minimal chances of him recovering the vision. “I want to talk to my mother; she must be worried…I haven’t talked to her all these days,” Ahmad tells his friend. But, moments later, he stops his friend from making the phone call to his mother.
“They don’t know about my position. Mouj (mother) will be worried for the whole night…I will talk to them in the morning,” Fayaz said as tears continuously rolled down his eyes. The scene is filled with emotions again. Fayaz recites verses from the Holy Quran, asking his friends to pray for his recovery. There is pin-drop silence in the Ward!
Gowhar, 21-year-old, a 6 feet tall boy, was supposed to get married next month. He was also preparing for next year’s heavyweight bodybuilding championship, not knowing he will be hit by pellets in both the eyes, leaving his dreams shattered to what was to be the beginning of a new life in September 2016. While we were consoling him about the loss of his eyes, a man with a glowing white beard and a young girl standing beside him said to us: “I gave my daughter to this boy when he was in fine health, and it would be very unethical and immoral if I take a backseat when tragedy has befallen my would be son-in-law.” His daughter (Gowhar’s would be wife) said, “I will marry him on the same date we were supposed to get married, whether he regains his eyesight or not”.
The fear of losing vision has left a severe impact on their mental health. Most of the time, these youth and minors, who have been left blind, huddle around to talk about the “tougher days ahead”, the “dark future” and the “life of a blind”.
The magnitude of our tragedy is so grave that even on the day of Eid, 13 September 2016, we had 40 injured referred to the SMHS hospital, among whom 3 were martyred, 6 were blinded, and a 14-year-old boy, Aadil, was hit by bullets in his private parts. And while we were shifting Aadil from the ambulance to the operation theatre, as blood was oozed out of his body, he said to us, “Don’t be afraid of the consequences and don’t drop your tears on this finite soul – our dream is much bigger than my existence.” And he started shouting slogans – “Burhan tere Khoon se Inqilaab Ayeega” – till he felt unconscious in the operation theatre.
As a volunteer, and a first-hand witness, what one experiences after every passing day is the arrogance of the Indian state and the unfettered collective resilience of Kashmiri people. The patients feel neither sorry, nor shying away from their “conscious engagement” with the Indian state, which showers bullets and pellets on kids who ask the state to give them their basic right of deciding their future. In this uprising, the unanimous unequivocal answer you hear from the parents of these injured kids is: “We dedicate the limbs, the eyes of our kids to this particular uprising and we feel proud for sacrificing our sons and daughters for upholding the honor and dignity of our sacred goal – AZADI.”
I end my hospital diary with a quote from a recently written piece, Stone Manifesto, by Najeeb Mubarki, for the Outlook that offers a window into the psychological make up of the new generation:
This is a generation that has clarity on where its self-respect and dignity lies. One that’s unafraid of the bogeys and horrors you have visited upon Kashmiris to control and suppress them. This is a generation that knows precisely what the symbols of occupation are, who its representatives are, even locally. A generation that, while being systematically killed and maimed, knows perfectly well that (as will happen) when protestor fatigues sets in, the police state will file FIRs and PSAs against their maimed bodies. That a hundred hounds of demonization and de-legitimization will again be let loose on them. Yet, they will be in the streets again with that stone in their hand next time. It is just what they think. For them, you are then the Indian equivalent of the rabid, deranged Israeli settler dancing as phosphorous bombs melt the skin of Gaza’s children. The Israelis, at least, are clear in their hatred. You occupy and pretend it’s democracy.
Mehraj Bhat is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir. He is also an official reviewer of and contributor to different academic journals and magazines, including Muslim World Book Review.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.