Please Don’t Ask Me ‘How is the Situation’ in Kashmir
Your hearts have been turned into stones
For how many hours did your phone last go silent due to network issues? How long were you unable to use 4G internet? For how many days could you not hear the voice of your mother or father or sister or brother or grandparents on the phone?
It has been 65 days that I last saw my mother’s face. 65 nights since I saw the signs of grief on my sister’s. 1,560 hours since I saw my dad’s worried face, wondering about me being alone in Delhi on 5 August.
But why should you care?
The first call I made with my mother was after 14 days. I was lucky because there are Kashmiri sons and daughters who have yet to make their first calls.
But the second call took another 20 days. And I am still waiting to make the first video call.
Here the government makes fools of the whole world by saying it has restored landlines in the Valley. These landlines are either used in government offices or by elites as a symbol of their capital. Ordinary people rely on cheap mobile phones. But why should you care?
The last time mom called, I asked her who the latest dead people were in the village. This question has become a necessary compulsion because parents have stopped revealing these things to their children outside Kashmir, fearing it will bring more anxiety among us.
The question lingered in my mind after reading a Facebook update by a friend. His sister had passed away and he came to know after 4 days. This is the new ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir. But why should you care?
My mom discussed about the marriage she was supposed to attend, of Ghulam Nabi Hijam’s daughter.
Hijam was a childhood friend of my father’s. In the last couple of years, he developed kidney trouble and was on regular dialysis. Exactly 2 days before the marriage Hijam passed away, leaving his daughter with fresh mehndi on her hands.
The exact cause of his death is not known, but people in Kashmir have been affected severely by the shortage of medicines. Why should you care?
Life for Suhail is no less murky. He is also one of those lakhs of aspirants who were inspired by Shah Faesal to crack the civil services. But he is not as lucky as you are in your libraries in Mumbai or in Delhi’s Old Rajendra Nagar.
For the last 65 days, he doesn’t know what current affairs means. His friends who were applying for different courses across India don’t know if the applications have been advertised, when the deadline is or whether they can still apply. But why should you care?
In this war of information and disinformation, the most difficult question to answer has been: ‘How is the situation in Kashmir.’ It is difficult to answer for two reasons.
One, the majority of my non-Kashmiri friends have not read standard books about Kashmir’s history, nor followed ground-level updates about the issue. Their source for the Kashmir debate revolves mostly around selected TV news programs and articles in newspapers once in a while.
Two, the cyber warfare of fake news has not spared any institution, be it elections in the US or the Indian government’s ‘normalcy’ picture propaganda in Kashmir.
The home minister of India Amit Shah said restrictions in Kashmir lie only in people’s minds, and the foreign minister of India S.Jaishankar said conditions in Kashmir would give new fruits to the Valley. The honourable Supreme Court said it was too busy dealing with the Ayodha land dispute (of course, land is more important than humans).
Indian ambassadors are busy curating answers in the United Nations, to hide human rights abuses under the ‘internal matter’ veil. The UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International seem to have developed sore throats now, after yelling at full pitch so many times about human rights abuses in Kashmir with no one listening.
But why should you care? Why should anyone listen at all?
Those in Kashmir who are inside their homes which have been turned into jails are not your kin or kith.
Those 13,000 youth including hundreds of kids arrested by the police are not your brothers or sons.
That woman forbidden by an armyman last month to take an auto to the hospital to deliver her baby, and told to get there on foot instead, is not your mother.
Those 52 women whom the army allegedly raped in Kunan-Poshpora are not your relatives. So why should you care?
This is the first time I am staying in Mumbai, after spending four precious years in Delhi. I interacted with hundreds of young people in both cities. And 99% fall in the above category: uninformed and disinformed about Kashmir.
Sometimes I wonder how these educated people can be so foolish. I have tried my best to dispel their ignorance about the issue but admit I haven’t succeeded much. Now I have reached a saturation stage, where I feel like slapping anyone who asks me about the ‘Kashmir situation’.
Zahid Hussain, a 24-year-old from Srinagar, has become the only link between Bangladesh and Kashmir. The reason lies in the communication ban in Kashmir over the last 65 days.
Taskeen who studies in Bangladesh wasn’t able to call her parents in Kashmir for two months, but lately she contacted Zahid over WhatsApp who in turn used my phone to call her landline at home.
Both phones were kept on my bed with speakers on, and unwillingly both of us overheard the conversation. The talk revolved around her fee which she must submit by October end, but the banks are closed in Kashmir so how will she get it. But why should you care?
I don’t know from which soil God has made you people. The Prophetsaid a person has three levels of faith in him: one, if he sees a wrong he stops it by hand; second, if not by hand then he stops it by words at least; third, failing to do that, at least keep it in heart that a wrong is being done.
But your hearts have turned into stones which make you deaf and dumb to the cries that 20-month-old Hiba made when her innocent face was showered with pellets, as she was a ‘threat to national security’.
But why should you care?
Irfan Rashid is a Kashmiri journalist, born and brought up in Kashmir. He has previously worked with the Hindustan Times.
Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR