It is New Delhi’s Turn to Answer Our Questions and Our Fears
We will always be looking over our shoulder . . .
After six days’ constant hovering over our heads, every minute every day all night, the sound of jets has finally died down.
The past few days have been a time of fear and mass hysteria. In the space of a night we swung from shopping sprees, to stockpiling whatever we thought we’d need in case war broke out – between the two very powerful nuclear countries – to panicking, assuring and reassuring ourselves that such a drastic step would not be taken.
The uncertainty of what the future holds, of what will be the next form of suffering for us to endure, was overwhelming to say the least.
In any other country or with some other community, this PSYWAR the government seemed to be inflicting upon us, would have seemed a brutal and unnecessary step.
India’s air strikes on Pakistan on the morning of February 26 confirmed our suspicions. And while the Indian media, politicians, celebrities celebrated the strikes, we mentally prepared ourselves for a possible Indo-Pak war, with a deep fear of what it would mean for us if and when Pakistan decided to retaliate.
Keeping in view the number of jets constantly hovering in the Srinagar skies, it looked as though India was not only prepared for such a war, but had to a great extent, and for whatever reasons, deliberately bought it to our doorsteps.
It followed, the expected retaliation by Pakistan, and for two days airstrikes continued from both sides. After almost 60 hours in custody Wing Commander Abhinandan, the Indian pilot captured by the Pakistan Army, was returned and everyone thought that Indo-Pak war might just have been averted – which was true but for the fact that intense shelling started at the LoC.
As both countries slept peacefully after watching Abhinandan’s return to India, we were once again mourning and burying our dead. They included a 9 month old baby, her 5 year old brother, and their mother.
Indo-Pak airstrikes may have stopped for now, waiting to be triggered again when the leaders decide it is time for another escalation, but Kashmir continues to burn.
What continues to haunt me is the lack of empathy from Indians at large, for the barbaric human rights violations we face day in day out.
The arrest of an IAF pilot by the Pakistani Army attracted nationwide concern, and a seemingly new and profound appreciation of the international conventions against any sort of human rights violation. But when a Kashmiri civilian was beaten and used as a human shield by an army major who paraded him tied to the bonnet of his vehicle, the torturer and his action were exonerated, celebrated, even awarded a medal by the Army Chief.
And most of the time I am met with absolute disbelief that the Indian Army regularly commits such grave atrocities against civilians.
Most of the time people justify these actions under the viewpoint that it amounts to ‘collateral damage’, or that we are ‘terrorist sympathisers’.
Looking back on how Kashmiris were treated after the Pulwama attack, I feel we have done enough explaining about our ideologies, our experiences and alliances.
I cannot help but think that it is New Delhi’s turn to answer to our questions and fears.
How can the deaths of 40 soldiers in a suicide blast enrage you while the murders, detentions, disappearances, mass graves and mass blinding of Kashmiri civilians silence you?
How is it that a rape in the country’s capital attracts candlelight marches and a loud outcry for justice, while the same in Kashmir is met with deafening silence, and the denial of justice?
Hypocrisy of this kind makes you think: maybe Kashmir is not so integral a part of India as India claims.
For India it might a question of a piece of land. But for us it is our traumatic identity, with an uncertain future and a violent past. For us it is a question of whether we will wake up tomorrow, and whether the next person to be arrested without trial will be someone we know.
In a valley where 12 year olds are arrested and 9 year olds are killed, it means our right to live and our right to the freedom of speech and expression.
At this point we don’t even have a safe haven. Our parents send us outside the state for our safety and our studies. But with the recent attacks on Kashmiris all over the country, we don’t know when such attacks will be triggered again.
And even if everything remains calm, such is the trauma we have endured, that we will always be looking over our shoulder.
(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR from the site in Budgam where an Mi-17 helicopted crashed last week)