Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Kashmir, Circa 1999

The life of a Kashmiri in the guns and booms of the difficult militancy years

The last time around when it snowed in this part of the world, we faced a power outage for some twenty odd days. At a stetch. More than six million people, young and old shivered alike in the dead cold. We must indeed be a poor lot, I told myself. Despite having some surreal power projects, every alternate night -- for good part of the Gregorian calendar -- the compatriots of this beautiful land do not get to see the twentieth century marvel called electricity. In the life of an average Kashmiri, this is only normal.

Forlorn faces, failed aspirations, bloodied egos, knave images... this is a Kashmiri for you. Deprived of every thing by a political system that is too shady to be called corrupt. We stand on a crossroad where there is a carbine on the left and cartridge on the right. The future is foggy. This place has ceased to be a paradise.

Damned by indifferent times
that created dastards out of the bravest,
by violence that has painted the woods red,
by grotesque killings
that chill your spine
by deafening booms
which mellow the birds' chirping

Yesterday, in the sweet hours of the morning, still in my bed, I heard a distant announcement. I soon learnt that it is a crackdown (military search operation), an inseparable part of Kashmiri vocabulary now. It is a dreaded cordon & search operation by the army. It means hurry or you'll be bashed. It is winters -- ice and snow. Everyone is flocked like sheep. There is an emotional bitterness about the same, which a non-Kashmiri may find hard to understand. I feel bad for the old & sick. There are no concessions, everyone has to come out and assemble!

You can be picked up for any or no reason at all. Many languish in temporary prisons for no offense. Just on an officer’s whim. Most of the victims however are innocent. The army follows a standard procedure, I am told. I think they do so at the jagged altar of human inconvenience.

Kashmir has lost its sheen. The Kashmiryat one could boast of has long gone. Those lovely edifying words and warm looks have given to the ogling of the evil. The turbulent times have taught people many things. They die thousand times a day and for each day of the year. Souls are bruised. It baffles me to see people being slaughtered. How can one manage to smirk when death beans are pumped in a fellow human's heart? That too in a paradise!

The Indians blame the separatists for this rancor. The separatist leaders accuse India. Journalists are listless. I think an average Kashmiri has a gut feeling that the Indian security agencies are terribly illiterate to handle the situation. The militants are without doubt a provoked lot . Brain-washed, terror-machines. No one tunes in to either the Indian or Pakistani state media. There are only truths garnished with half truths. Eyewitnesses are made to believe something that never really happens.

Each passing day for the past many years I saw numerous people getting injured, scores getting handicapped for a life time. An average twelve people get killed every day. Some score full of mothers weep & weep bitterly after every gun fire , some shy sisters run barefoot after coffins’, some best friends get separated forever, some good people get to carry their neighbors to graveyards everyday. The year is 1999. I am still in my teens and wonder how many more wails will fill our airs?

Everyone seems to crave for the illusive peace. In the heart of the hearts every Kashmiri nourishes a dream, a dream for a better future, for economic viability, a veracious concern that comes from deep within about our forgotten culture and the pleasant time that was. All the people --- children, young and old want peace to return to their lives.

Grandparents tarry for the day when there will be tintinnabulation of the Hindu temples. They believe they can run in the snows, between the glades and gazelles of this beauteous place with their departed pals. They remember the times when Hindu fathers selected the trousseau for Muslim daughters, when Muslims would pray in the mosques for some sick Hindu. They still believe that people are really good at heart.

I wish the boulevards to bloom again, nightingales to sing again, brooks to dance on the cobbles once more. But will the din cease? Will beams of peace ever bask us?

Right now, all this seems a little yonder.

Sameer Shaban
Winter 1999