I Know What They Did Last Summer
Kashmir: Homeland and dispute. Even though people talk of it as paradise, it is everything else than a paradise for a resident.
Kashmir. This one word inspires so many thoughts, brings forth so many things, images, that I’m not sure where to start.
For an Indian, it’s the crown and an integral part of the country. For a Pakistani, it’s a jugular vein. The world considers it a disputed territory with the UN map having it blackened so as to not associate it with any of the claimant countries.
But what’s Kashmir to a Kashmiri? To a native?
Kashmir. A valley. A place where the landscape is never devoid of a mountain, a tree, or a water body. A place where any fatigue can vanish and rejuvenate a person beyond measure. A place that instantly calms you down.
Kashmir. A place that has mostly been occupied by foreign or majority rulers. Sometimes sold too, instead of paying cash, as the British did. Somehow it has always been traded and betrayed, always keeping the subjects poor and probably resilient. Resilient because we don’t die; we don’t vanish off the map. Somehow we continue to exist; the identity of a Kashmiri continues to exist.
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Betrayal and atrocity have always been a companion of Kashmir all through the history. Betrayal by the most promising and the most trusted people, by the leaders and by anyone who held even a little power in regards to the fate of Kashmir. We kept fighting nevertheless, with or without the leaders. With our blood. Always with blood.
Kashmir: Homeland and dispute. Even though people talk of it as paradise, it is everything else than a paradise for a resident. After all which paradise has around six hundred thousand troops with live ammunition, pellets, pepper and teargas waiting at every five steps? What kind of a paradise is that? The irony of this situation.
All of this existed so before the 5th of August, 2019. With all of these eyesores and ironies around, the wheel was moving, even if slow. After that everything came into question.
A few days prior to the dreadful date, there were all kinds of rumours.
“There is going to be a curfew”
“Phones would be shut off”
“The state would be divided”
“Article 370 would be revoked”
All kinds of rumours were doing the rounds. But the fears started coming true when the Amarnath yatra was cut short and the yatris along with all other tourists were asked to vacate the valley at the earliest. This threw the local population into hysteria. People were either at the grocery stores, making sure they had enough supplies to survive anything that comes to us or at petrol pumps.
It was still unclear at that time as to what might happen. After all, why give in to all these rumours. It might just be something to debase the population and have no roots in reality. But then, we have been in a conflict zone all our lives and it never hurts to be prepared.
Some said the politicians were trying to become relevant ahead of the elections, hence all this façade. Given the fact that they did address the press and claimed that they would resist any ill-conceived plans of the centre, it did seem plausible.
Everything was chaos. The city mayor was stopped from entering his house. The ex-CM was stopped from leaving hers. My classes were cancelled. In the colleges where classes were not cancelled, students reported the excessive presence of the army inside the campus. What the hell was going on?
There were statements from the governor as to everything being normal. As per his statement, there was nothing to fear and all rumours were being spread just to bring about hysteria in people and had absolutely no relevance with truth whatsoever. That he knew of no such intentions of the central government as to bifurcate the state or abrogate the article. The district commissioner of Srinagar put forth similar statements.
I kept wondering how come the government had not suspended internet yet? There were so many rumours going on, and on every previous occasion, they made sure there was no internet to spread the speculations. So what was different now?
And there it was. On the evening of 4th August, our internet services were suspended. Somewhere around 2 in the morning, the phone services went off too. That was not the shock. The shock was that even landlines were not working. Usually, landlines and broadband were spared the axe, but not this time. What in the world did the centre have in mind? What were they playing at?
So 5th August started with everyone turning on their news channels. The cable TV was not working!
We turned to national TV, the government-run, and there it was. The government was bringing a bill into parliament so that they could do away with articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian constitution, along with that they were bifurcating the state into two and making them union territories. That’s it.
In that instant, we knew we were doomed. This might as well be the end of Kashmiri identity. As the bill was brought into the Rajya Sabha, we hoped that the opposition, which is present in the majority there, would not support the bill and save us the agony. But in the end, even the opposition is composed of Indian politicians rather than Kashmir sympathizers and there we are in for a surprise again: the bill was passed in both houses!
Was this fair? Just? When the state was under Presidential rule and neither the legislative body nor the people were consulted for their opinion. Was it actually the right thing to do? Well, anything is fair in love and war, right? So maybe in some people’s minds, this is acceptable. This merger. Or as I would prefer to call it, slander!
It was two weeks later that I moved out of my house. It had been a continuous curfew with no means of communication with anyone at all. I tried letters but the post office was closed, so no luck even there. What could one do?
It was the end of the third week of clampdown when I travelled a little further than just my area premises. I went to the city centre. All the way, there was heavy deployment of the army and the local police. After arresting thousands, what was the government expecting that they deployed so many army people on the streets?
The city was unusually empty. All one could see were symbols of siege. Barbed wire blocking the roads and some journalists outside the press enclave. Sitting on the pavement, some of them had their cameras and their face read like, “What do we do?”
Everything else was amiss. Never could I imagine walking on Amira Kadal without bumping into someone or without someone pushing me to move faster. I have never before been able to see it for that matter, it is always crowded with people and vehicles alike. And here it was, all alone, deserted and shut off by barbed wire. The place where you could normally not even hear yourself resounded with chirping birds and a slight breeze.
I do not know whether I was delighted or devastated to find a city like that. Revealing itself for the eye to admire and relish, yet possessing the power to make them depressed and miserable all at the same time. Some power this city has.
The sad part was that even the GPO was closed. What was a Kashmiri supposed to do if he had to communicate with someone? How was one supposed to do that? Go to a police station and talk for a duration of 2 minutes maximum? Really? What would one say? Add to that the fact that there is police all around you! Intimidation, and so subtle too.
There was a guy killed for opening his shop and another shot at for attempting to open his. Some elements tried to keep the city shut, for as long as possible, using any means of intimidation necessary.
International media had reports of protests, stone-pelting and deaths, and yet none of us had any means to verify anything, know anything for ourselves. We relied on outside sources to tell us what was happening near us; with us. And as time progressed, went by, media found newer issues to report and somewhere in midst of everything we were forgotten.
Was this how the Indian people think of us as brethren? By maiming us, shutting out our voices and not giving any heed to our opinions? Or our pain alike? If this had happened in any other state of India, would the people not protest? Was all of this not essentially against the constitutional rights of India? Of an Indian citizen? Why didn’t the civil society think of us? Why didn’t they help us? Why didn’t they raise their voices and ask the government to respect our human rights?
Or, did they not think of us as humans and rather as a piece of land that they had to conquer so as to feel better about themselves? So that they could tap more water and mineral resources from the rich Himalayas and produce cheap, clean electricity for the rest of the country? Was this merely a place where they could retire to?
Sometime later, I again ventured out, just so my head feels less suffocated by being restricted to my house. The first thing that happened was an army guy teasing me. As if the Kashmiri men were not enough to make us uncomfortable that the army had to lend them a hand.
The day did seem peaceful. There had been no stone pelting incidents in the neighbourhood off late. In our vicinity at least.
As I walked along, I found a lot more vehicles on the road, a little more stalls by the roadside than what was there a month earlier. Even some shops seemed partially open.
I reached the GPO to send the much-intended letter; and found hordes of people waiting there. Some of them carrying dozens of envelopes to post. To some relative, some associate in another university, some office. Any other day would have seen the post office empty baring a few people. On normal days, it took me 5 minutes to get over with my business there. Today I waited for around half an hour to get to the counter. The post office had quite some business to tend to, now that we were back in the 90’s era.
As I walked back and looked at all these stalls, I wondered what happened to the cheekiness of the city.
A lot of people thought a shutdown would draw attention and hence the world might intervene. Media might report our cause and might as such cause some pressure on New Delhi to do us right.
It was a pitiful situation where we shut ourselves up in hopes that the world, the neighbour would look into our misery and tries to help us out.
I wonder why people have such hopes. The world has remained tightlipped over Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar. Why would they speak out for us? What purpose does it serve them to help us?
Does the world care?
(This Perspective appeared in the October 2020 print issue of the Mountain Ink.)
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Hirra Sultan is a Srinagar-based writer. Her works have appeared in many regional publications including The Indus Post, The Counsellor Magazine, Kashmir Observer, among others.