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It was the Blood!

By Huzaifa Pandit

We were tempted by the memory
Of those raw red roses
On your blooming lips
As I was hung
From the shriveled bough –
The bough in the meadow
Usurped by autumn
As the light faded
The eyes longed for a glimpse
Of the silvery light
That emerges forth
From your hands –
The lamps that tame
every dark night  (Faiz)

History is often determined by crucial moments, which appear inconsequential to begin with but leave a lasting legacy. Such little historical moments offer succinct commentaries on the trajectories of lived experiences that brought them about in the first place, and the trajectories of lived experience that followed. In the 1990s, I was a little child barely able to register my first memory of a gun toting BSF man leading out a neighbour through our lane at gunpoint. I would be slightly puzzled when army men wearing soiled jackboots would come into our house without taking them off outside. Knowing my grandmother who had a marked aversion to dirty feet that soiled her clean house, I often wondered why she abstained from shouting at these men, who would often leave the whole house in tumult. I was too young. As I progressed through my early years into adolescence, the world of conflict began attaining a more definite shape. I watched with fear and dislike as the CRPF camp outside our house was attacked by Fidayeen[1] militants. I had long cherished the notion that we were free from the threat of thieves since no one could dare to steal into our house under the watchful gaze of the ever awake CRPF men. At my school bus stop I was friendly with the CRPF uncle, who appeared equally fond of me. At school, barring a few ‘black sheep’, we were diehard Indians – the irrevocable proof was that we sided with the Indian Cricket Team whenever it clashed with Pakistan. We smuggled little Chinese transistors into class hurriedly checking on the score between classes. I still remember the acute disappointment that was our fate during those days as India would consistently be outperformed. I passed out from high school cherishing the same notions. It helped that in 2002 the Congress-PDP alliance was formed on the agenda of providing a ‘healing touch’ to beleaguered Kashmir, which succeeded in enforcing some veneer of stability. Roads were widened, two new universities established, and my childhood wish of watching a footbridge over Jhelum at Lal Mandi was finally realized. In addition, the most immediate difference was the formal dismantling of the dreaded Ikhwan[2]. My father could now attend his office regularly and we wouldn’t have to wait anxiously by the door waiting and praying for him to arrive. Those were days without cell phones; so the knowledge that he won’t be abducted by Ikhwan was a great relief. Things went swimmingly well until 2008. Separatist politics were getting irrelevant, indigenous militancy had almost dwindled and there was a general acceptance of mainstream politics. Hartal was an occasional luxury – a dim reminder of some forgotten history.

Then 2008 happened – a little spark that soon morphed into an inferno. The Amarnath land transfer controversy flared at the fag-end of the tenure of the PDP-Congress alliance. In a place where thousands of hectares have been occupied by the armed forces, the transfer of a few hundred acres of forest land should have gone unnoticed. Yet the transfer of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board – a quasi-religious autonomous organisation working under the aegis of the state, caused widespread discontent and anger. It was immediately perceived as an attempt to alter the demography of the Muslim majority Valley and the whole Valley rose in unison against it. Predictably the state employed its tried and tested means of employing brute force against hapless protestors. However, the public pressure proved too great for once and the transfer was rescinded. However, the rescindment didn’t go well with the Jammuites, where Hindutva forces framed it within the narrative of Hinduism being threatened by Islamist forces. As the state stood by as a mute spectator, a highway blockade was enforced by the protestors that gathered under the umbrella of Amarnath Sangarsh Samiti. Trucks en route to Kashmir were burnt and an unfortunate driver even lost his life. The blockade was an effective arm-twisting apparatus, since the Jawahar Tunnel is Kashmir’s only link to the world by land. Ultimately, a settlement was reached with the Samiti and Kashmir was left to reflect on the catastrophic price it paid for a brief victory over summer.

The summers of 2009 and 2010 inherited certain traits from the summer of 2008. State brutality achieved new zenith. Public anger swelled over two rank instances of state-perpetuated violence. In 2009, two young women Neelofar and Asiya were abducted, raped and murdered by security forces. Predictably, no real justice was served as the case was hushed off as a simple case of drowning. 2010 saw the unravelling of Machil Fake encounter case, where three innocent men lured by the promise of good wages were shot dead in cold blood and passed off as foreign militants for the sake of promotions and cash rewards. Naturally, Kashmir rose in protest; the state suppressed them with unparalleled brutality. It started with the death of a young student, who was caught in the melee coming back home from tuitions. The police tear gassed a protest march. The young boy, Tufail Matoo, was struck square on the head and instant death followed. More than a hundred victims fell prey to the state’s bullets as Kashmiris were once again reminded of the calamitous cost of seeking justice.

This blood-fuelled cycle that consumed lives, some as young as a seven-year-old Sameer Rah, shattered all illusions of mine and the likes of me. And so we live in the shadow of those heartbroken years and die a little each day. Faiz says of us:

“Thay buhat baidard lamhey Khatm-e-dard-e-ishq ke
thee buhat baimehar subhaiN meherbaaN raatooN kebaad” 

(Moments that terminated the ache of love
Were paragons of cruelty
The mornings that dawned on kind nights
Betrayed no mercy.)

What has been our history post-2008 and what will be our future? Will we forge a new history that is shorn of the shadow of the previous years? Will the summer of 2016 be an aberration? Will there be no more people blinded or killed after those who fell victim in 2016? Are those dark days of summer, soaked in blood and pepper gas, frozen by chillai-kalan that struck this year with vengeance? I am afraid, the answer can’t be a hopeful ‘yes’. Wise men say the only constant thing in the world is change. The exception to the rule might be Kashmir.

What can change? What will change? The seeds of alienation have bloomed into full-blooded cacti that refuse to be embraced by the shallow arms of nationalism. Ruling by consent is beyond the pale of any mainstream government in Kashmir and now even rule by coercion might prove a task the state had not bargained for. The state will continue to champion the production and refinement of repressive state apparatuses, and occasionally make a feeble attempt at ideological state apparatuses. All such attempts will fall flat on their face as they always do. Misery, gloom, murder, and hubris shall continue to embroider the hems of state, while trauma, pain and loss shall fill our coffers. The young men who have taken to arms after Burhan Wani[3] will continue to fuel the imagination of young men, who will meet a similar fate as Wani. In the aftermath of another such uprising, the forces will be rewarded and given public accolades on occasions like the Indian Republic Day. Occasionally, they too will fall prey to the bullet and meet a sudden violent death, when they get caught off-guard and come under fire of militants. In the meantime, the Valley will witness occasional grenade blasts that will either hit the target or miss it, killing or maiming innocent pedestrians. Faiz’s words echo here:

The trials of love borne –
Injury, death and war indemnity
We only await fresh supplies
Through snaking tunnels of snowed misery
More loss, more death to mourn
More severe trials,
More tears to mourn.[4]

Such are the stories of victims of violence. But what of those who escape uninjured? Life will move on with dreams and aspirations. Schools, colleges, and universities will continue to be filled with students. However, the students will learn little as the education system lies in shambles and as conflict ensures no systems are put in place to encourage liberation and transformation of young minds. Jobs will be advertised, and they will receive a rush of replies; yet none will answer how to fill the blank curfewed hours with colours of joy. Some will qualify for the civil services and the Indian media will go gaga over them flaunting their ‘success’ in our ‘terrorist faces’. We will be offended and wax eloquent about the futility of such binaries. But our voices will be lost in the circus of media and the poor Kashmiri will be pushed to a corner to rue over a mistake never committed in the first place. Elections will be held too and the parties will exchange roles in the opera of governance. They will accuse each other of crimes they committed with relish. Occasionally, they will brawl with each other providing much needed entertainment and at times the melodrama will merit disbelief. We will delight in success stories at freshly minted cafes, and brood over failures in lamenting cartoons and newspaper elegies. Life shall go on! Governments shall come, governments shall go, the summer will come and the winter will go but life will remain stuck in perpetual ‘mortal peril’. Nothing shall change as none will forget, and the wounds will never heal. We shall struggle, strive probably in vain but obliged to resist with force of habit, a deep ache that tempts our hearts with a glimpse of azaadi.

[1] The local term for Suicide militants. Fidayeen derived from the world fida (sacrifice) evokes a sense of supreme selfless love and sacrifice for the sake of it.

[2] Ikhwan (full form ikhwan-ul-muslimeen) was a counter-insurgency organization armed and provided by the state government. It was formed from surrendered militants and given absolute license to kill, extort, and rape. It was particularly active in south Kashmir where its name evokes terror till today.

[3] Burhan Wani was a young militant commander affiliated with the organization, Hizbul Mujahideen. He was shot dead in an encounter on 8 July, 2016 leading to a summer of extreme turmoil and violence in Kashmir.

[4] Translations are my own.

Huzaifa Pandit is pursuing a PhD on Comparative Resistance poetry at the University of Kashmir. He is working to trace an idiom of loss, lyricism, and resistance in the poetry of Pakistani Marxist Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, American-Kashmiri English poet, Agha Shahid Ali and the Palestinian Arabic poet, Mahmoud Darwish.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Manisha Manhas #

    Succinctly put. Great account.

    February 21, 2017

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