This ‘Temporary’ Game is So Old Now
On a bright sunny day last June, the rays of the sun filtered through my window and filled my room as I waited for the strike to be called off. The usually busy roads were deserted and shops were closed. With four of my friends I decided to go for a picnic to the lush green woods of Trehgam, a small, verdant picturesque village in north Kashmir.
We set off around 10.30 in the morning and it took us 45 minutes to reach our favorite spot. We were drenched in sweat but the pleasant breeze, the countryside silence, the elegance of pine trees and the greenery gave us joy.
But the average Kashmiri’s idea of paradise is not a miniature replica of the one promised to obedient believers in the Holy Scripture. Our version of paradise is a lush place, scenic and beautiful but daubed with red.
While the paradise of the Semitic tradition identifies red with saffron, wine and rubies, in my land the red of saffron has been betrayed by the red of a saffronising regime.
Soon the sheets were spread and we started up a barbeque. The day was proving kind and each one of us was happy because we were catching up after more than a year. Some 1,200 metres from us stood a Border Security Force camp, one that has existed longer than our age.
Most Kashmiris grow up in this shade of everyday militarisation. I remember how the local people would take their cattle into the woods while crossing this camp, and would be stopped by the men on duty—to prove their identities in their own land.
This is a daily humiliation known to most Kashmiris. It is one that we have internalised.
Back in our picnic, a few hours passed, and we could hear the sound of bullets coming from the firing range inside the BSF camp. We didn’t panic. The sound was normal for us. It is the same sound which has silenced so many souls and given so many people sleepless nights.
This sound of militarisation never fails to remind me of the Quranic verse Zajratuv waahidah, the sound that breaks up to the apocalypse. This apocalypse has doomed us for at least 72 years now.
It is tragic in a sense. Bullets and bombs are supposed to scare ordinary people, but we have been witnessing them for three decades now. It has become normalised to an extent where you don’t even react.
The thought of even breathing in such an environment of horror would leave any non-resident of the state terrified, but we seem to have unwillingly and consciously made peace with this colonisation of fear.
This entire narrative of fear is so drastic and deceitful it leaves every individual of the erstwhile princely state perpetually numb.
The truth is that no one wishes to grow up in such an atmosphere, but what option do oppressed people have, other than to suffer at the hands of the oppressor?
Yet the reality is that India’s militarisation of Kashmir is so complete and so pervasive that we have become impervious to it.
Our right of protest has been snatched, and with each passing day we are being pushed further into sequestration.
The intensification of this state-sponsored militarisation, and the accompanying brutality, outweighs the whole ostensible “protection” melodrama we get to hear about quite often these days.
As we were coming down from the woods around 4 pm, we noticed three new bunkers that had been constructed in a small playground where we used to play cricket a year ago. The growing structures in the form of these bunkers invaded our childhood memories. Memories woven over the years are suddenly infringed upon.
When we enquired about the new construction, the soldier on duty said “This is temporary.”
We are not naïve. This temporary game is old. When Indian troops flew into Kashmir between October 26 and 30, 1947—that was also supposed to be momentary help, but it turned into a regime which has recently turned 72 years old.
The man on duty was from Bihar and one doesn’t want to question an honest family man’s commitment to duty, but in a way, he too furthers the subjugation of so many Kashmiri families.
There are many more like him.
History is testament to the fact that the single most important entity for any state to survive is defence. The state functions smoothly as long as its army stays passive and loyal.
As Leon Trotsky said, “There is no doubt that the fate of every revolution at a certain point is decided by a break in the disposition of the army.”
In the context of Kashmir even to imagine such a “break” is fantastical and very far fetched, as the effort is to foster a militia with its own idea of toxic nationalism.
Hence the victimisation of an entire people at the hands of organised hatemongering and communal disharmony.
For Kashmiris the psychological impact of this subjugation is equally harsh. History, as they say, echoes in the present. The slightest comparison with India’s colonial past will demonstrate that the Raj was not as brutal, because it wasn’t a manifestation of psychological warfare internalised through the instrument of fear, but rather through the invasion of India’s cultural space.
What is happening in Kashmir leaves an ugly scar on people’s minds, which shows in everyday life. The uncertainty and everyday fear of the awnings of militarisation make you feel stifled. It affects your life in every possible way and leaves you damaged.
How are people able to smile even in this constant danger against their life—or is it like they don’t even know any other way of surviving?
How long will this last?
How many more decades?
How many more summers?
How many more lifetimes?
The depth of our misery is so intense that it has come to touch every single aspect of our lives—any verbal representation of which is an already failed attempt.
This is not a deficiency of human language. It is rather an attempt to demonstrate that feelings are best explained in silence. Silence, which is otherwise a blessing, has been forced on us by the forces of this hard struggle.
This silence turns symbol by the cries of grieving mothers and the cold sighs of mourning fathers.
One such tale of silence silenced the father of Tufail Mattoo, the face of the 2010 uprising. That bloody summer ended up taking the lives of 112 people, many of them teenagers.
It lasted for months.
I was home and supposed to be preparing for my 10th board exams. Everything around me was burning and many boys my age were succumbing to bullets. Teargas shells, pava shells and bullets raining all over. The shelling and the smoke left me and my family choking for hours.
At a certain point, it became normal.
Imagine the impact of this daily torture on the children and the elderly.
When I shared this incident with my friends in Delhi, most of them were grossly intimidated. I guess any normal person would react that way but unfortunately these are our ‘ordinary’ days dotting our lives from one calendar year to the other.
Nobody knows how many lives it will take to right the historical wrong.
Nobody knows how much blood it will take to satiate the thirsty graveyards.
We returned from the picnic happy, but deep down a melancholy lurked in each one of us. As Faiz says:
kab nazar mein ayegi bedaag sabze ki bahaar
khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barsaaton ke baad
When will the spring of an unstained green enter sight
How many monsoons will wash away blood spots . . .
Malik Aabid studies Human Rights Duties and Education at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.
Cover Photo: After the revocation of Article 370, the state flag has been removed from the Civil Secretariat Srinagar. Photo by The Citizen’s BASIT ZARGAR