A protest rally had just begun from the village. It was organised by the committee, formed to supervise future programmes and tackle forthcoming problems in the village. Youths mounted bikes, cars and load carriers with protest songs on their lips. Women were still glued to the windows and waited in anticipation for everyone to return safely. ‘Leftover’ people resigned to their homes to relax and refill their bellies. Some elderly men chatted at a shopfront. An occasional motorcycle plied on the empty road.
Sharp slogans broke the silence. Slogans of Azaadi and India Go Back were heard. Two boys, both minor, appeared from behind one curve of the road. One had a handkerchief worn around his face. Another walked by his side. “Hum kya chahte?“, shouted the former. “Azaadi“, came the reply. The series of slogans went on as they passed through the village square with all eyes fixed at them. They seemed unfazed by the attention. It was just them and Azaadi.
“I will protest in the summer of Kashmir” has become a cliche. This summer too has Azaadi written all over it. Everything seems to utter Azaadi. Every sound rhymes with Azaadi. Maa ki mamtaa. Behno ki ismat. Water flowing steadily in a nearby river. Tyres of vehicles hitting the newly macadamized road hard. Ticking of the clock at night. Chirping of birds every morning. Fan rotating at full speed as if spinning the yarn of freedom. Small children playing games of Azaadi, aping adults and inculcating resistance.
Kashmir is “on the boil” for the umpteenth time ever since India wrested control over the Valley from the Dogras in 1947. A recurring phenomenon, that revisits after irregular periods, the season of Azaadi has once again engulfed Kashmir. Life has come to a halt, in a sense. In other terms, the Kashmiri life is searching again for what it has been longing for the last seven decades or so. The failure of India to win the hearts and minds of the people has resurfaced yet again. The philosophy of ‘drag them by their balls’ has been tested yet again. India has piled up such strong memories that forgetting is a luxury, unaffordable.
To dismiss the fresh spate of killings as a once-in-a-blue-moon incident is the gravest misreading that the Indian State and its policymakers have been preoccupied with for the last decade. In 2008, more than 80 youths succumbed to the state force over the Amarnath land row. In 2010, it swelled upto 120. 2011 had 56 recorded civilian deaths. 2016 has already more than 70 youth dead, around 8000 injured with more than 200 cases of visual impairment. It has been nearly two months into the protests now. And the cycle of protests appears unstoppable. Hence, kisi ek aadmi ke marne se taareekh khatam nahin hoti.
These years of “unrest” cannot be rubbed aside as occasional instances of “alienation” or “unemployment”. These are results of the suppression of the common will of a people who have been tyrannized by a military occupation. These are currents of hurricanes that have built up violent speeds and threaten to bury Indian rule in Kashmir forever. The tide is certainly not in India’s favour especially during such periods of anger and outburst. The silence between these periods is consumed by, and misconstrued as, “peace” enforced under the barrels of guns and in the concertina wires of curfew.
Burhan Wani’s martyrdom was an impetus to the eruption of an inextinguishable sentiment in Kashmir. The sentiment stays dormant for a moment but it only signifies a lull before the storm. This has more to do with Azaadi and less with personality cult. Burhan is not Hailey’s Comet but a revolution. People mourn Burhan because he was the manifestation of the most Azaad person in the valley. He was (comparatively) the closest to the stand he died for. And this proximity with Burhan has ignited the fire this time round. Mourning for a militant cannot stretch for a month. This is the rumination of a wish deeply embedded in the physiology of political Kashmir.
Contrariwise, the Indian State hasn’t changed much from what we saw in 2010. After all what difference does a government-transition make in an occupied land. Congress is not any organisation in Kashmir. BJP is not a party in the valley. We see UPA and NDA as coalitions that share a common agenda — the forcible occupation of Kashmir. Leftists are a recent, welcome addition. Modern states, which are built upon dictated contracts, are sustained by force, military and legal. This force multiplies while extending the boundaries of a state to areas which yearn for secession. The might of the Indian state, is thus on display in the Valley every moment these days.
As I edit this, Kashmir is shut for the 53rd consecutive day — the writing started on the 40th day but with no internet access, completion dragged on further. The state government has failed to evolve methods to tackle a population that idolised Burhan. Within moments of this news on the third day of Eid, mobile networks were scrapped in South Kashmir and later in the whole valley. Heavy deployment of forces was started to thwart possible outrage. The outrage seemed uncontrollable though. Police stations and army camps became primary targets with many of them put to flames. Lakhs thronged Tral for the funeral which included many active militants, if reports are to be believed.
To prevent the world from getting information about its crimes in Kashmir, a perfect media blackout has been ensured. Mobile networks are always the primary victims. Television and radio reports have never portrayed a ‘fairer’ picture. The physicality of Kashmir as a military prison is compounded by the social imprisonment, by preventing communication. There is no contact between localities, villages, towns and regions. There is no news of death being sent across to the world that is busy with ding-dong elections in USA. There are no candle marches or protest rallies happening anywhere. India is not being shamed. India is the US’ nuclear partner, France’s jet partner, Iran’s gas partner and Saudi Arabia’s oil partner. And in politics, vested interests take precedence over everything else, even political and human rights.
More than 70 youth chose to follow Burhan to the grave for reasons incomprehensible for the state. The Indian state considered Burhan to be a thorn in the supposedly prospective “peace” in Kashmir. With his death, they would have anticipated peace to ensue — job done. But ask any passerby. He will testify that times ahead are more troubling for he has inspired an entire generation to desert fear and hug martyrdom. He is being imitated by little children who play with wooden rifles. He is being mourned by every kid. Tera bhai mera bhai — Burhan bhai Burhan bhai reverberates in the streets.
“The best jihad is to speak a word of truth to the oppressor”, reads a Hadith. But words don’t affect India anymore. Laaton ki boot baaton se nahin maante. Thus goes the story. The first day after Burhan was martyred, people stormed army camps, police stations and other signs of occupation in the whole valley. The brutal response of forces caused more than half of the current death toll within the first three or four days of the backlash. A police station was torched in Kulgam district and people decamped with rifles, the exact number unknown. How long can such people be held under subjugation? How on earth can their hearts and minds be occupied?
The armed forces have been employing more subtle tactics of muting the brimming population other than killing, torturing and shelling. Clerics who attend public gatherings are being picked up. In many areas, water and electricity supplies are cut off to culminate a perfect seige on the people. In an instance, they even poisoned the water filtration plant but in vain. They turn off electricity before raiding villages and localities. Darkness brings a sense of fear. Night means nocturnal raids in Kashmir. Dark uniforms and dark weapons in complete darkness turn into a dreaded combination. And Kashmiris have more reasons to be wary of the enemy. There is no time to rest. Aaraam haraam hai.
There seems no predestined, immediate result of this round of shutdowns, especially when this whole game of death — the death of around 70 youths — is termed as Pakistani mudakhlat by India. It fails to acknowledge, as it has historically done, that Kashmiris have an independent existence of their own, as human and political beings. That we have the right to choose a befitting future for ourselves. That our country is not a bob in the pendulum that necessarily has to swing between India and Pakistan and cannot balance itself independently in the middle. India attaching Pakistan’s name to every indigenous uprising in Kashmir rubs salts on the wounds inflicted on us. The movement however goes on, unabated.
It is astonishing how far Kashmiris have grown up as a people who have kept the resistance coming. Yet it is pretty understandable that this generation has learnt the ABCs of resistance in the placental sheaths of mothers, who were witnesses to the torment of 1990s. So, fearlessness is but an inherent trait. Now youths don’t run away from encounter sites but towards them. Now people are not beaten in crackdowns but it requires draconian laws like AFSPA and PSA to pick up youths and torture them in untraceable locations. Now, as mosques announce the arrival of the army, people grab axes, spades, rods, sticks and assemble. The army is chased away.
It is said that death is the jurisdiction of Izraaeel, the angel. The Izraaeel in Kashmir is India. For decades India has been piling up numbers of dead, raped, tortured, disappeared, widowed, jailed Kashmiris. This generation of Kashmiris has come a long way, upholding ancestral tradition, and in no way fears death now. We don’t embrace death because better lives have been denied to us by India. Our youth don’t take up arms because, as some analysts would say, they are disappointed and alienated by the failure of Indian democratic processes in the valley. This all is the natural corollary of an unfulfilled demand of freedom.
In a valley that has been under multiple regimes of occupation since 1586, the stubbornness of India, subsequent attempts to stifle popular consciousness and withhold genuine demands has drawn failure every time. The public will has been evident as ever. The demands have been as vocal as ever. Band-aiding the problem has never worked. Economic packages and political promises, knowingly fake, haven’t improved the situation. Interlocutors have unsuccessfully tried to bargain and buy our souls. Relief operations haven’t worked either. The wound has found no clot till date. Kashmir continues to bleed.
The bleeding will continue until our political aspirations are met according to our wishes. For it to happen, both India and Pakistan will have to shed egoistic inhibitions and reconcile their ruptured baahmi taaluqaat. Even if that doesn’t happen, the struggle will sustain itself. It is, and will get, tougher by the day but stronger along the same proportions. The rallying cry will persist — Hum Kya Chahte?