Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Omar: you don't hang boots in six months

We have had a lot of rulers in Kashmir – stupid, passionate, dimwits, charlatans and the like. Omar is by far the youngest and the most poignant. I must have come down heavy on him in some of my commentaries but that is mostly to do with a journalist’s prerogative to act as a societal/political watch hound. I have no qualms in saying that despite his many imperfections, the boy has his heart in the right place.

I know he fumbled many times -- in handling the Shopian episode, in getting the separatist leadership arrested and the like. He even exposed his lack of political correctedness on a few occasions when he prejudged things and stepped on gas, issues he could have very well skirted. Some ugly things happened under his watch. However to his credit he has been brutally honest in owing up to most of it.

Kashmir is never an easy fief to administer. There is a perpetual squeeze from Delhi. That lug from the centre is oft times too hard to withstand [journalists know that better than the laity]. Top of it a million mutinies are always brewing in the valley. Everything is a tinder box. A crime, a mere charge, a rumor. Doing a balancing act isn’t exactly easy.

I think leveling charges of Omar's involvement in the sex scandal -- by the opposition PDP -- was plain shallow. Muzzafar beg is a smart fellow, who took his Harvard law lessons seriously and along with Mehbooba makes quite a gang. Since Omar is essentially a well meaning guy, and doing reasonably well, these guys plotted his downfall. Hence a counterfeit charge.

So Omar, taking the bait and real hurt, gave an impassionate statement on the floor of the house -- to announce his resignation. People may call it histrionic but Omar is not Farooq Abdullah. His diatribe does sound immature and rather schoolchild type but he is not exactly melodramatic. He is politically immature though. You don’t drive to the governor’s lodge on a rainy day and wake the old bureaucrat up.

It would be fair to assume that given our current crop of mainstream leadership – NC, PDP, Congress – who are chiefly a crooked pile, Omar stands out. And not because he is Farooq Abdullah’s son, but because at heart he is a regular Kashmiri, emotional but upright. Yes he surrounds himself with bootlickers [did you see them falling over each other to stop Omar from leaving the assembly] but I must concede that he is a refreshing break from the past. And his offer to quit may well check mate the wily PDP.

I hope he continues.

Sameer

[Blogged in a hotel lobby, in real quick time, as I wait for my chap to turn up]

Friday, July 24, 2009

A case for Kashmiri

Language is the spiritual exhalation of the nation.
~Wilhelm von Humboldt
Influential 18th century philosopher, academic, linguist and a great friend to Goethe


Pardon me for being a little indelicate here but I must confess that one of the worst things to happen to us in the last two decades is a steady erosion of our identity. We are losing our ability to converse in our mother tongue without actually feeling a modicum of guilt about it. Everywhere one looks -- in private schools and government offices -- Urdu has gained ascendancy. Doctors speak in Urdu, interspersed with bits of English. Journalists love to chatter in Urdu. The chief minister too is at home in Urdu, having stayed out of Kashmir for most of his adult life. Leave alone Srinagar, people in even small towns have started to encourage their children to converse in Urdu, insecure like the elite, who have long banished Kashmiri from their lives. Now we have Kashmiri columnists writing in the local dailies, pontificating the importance of Urdu.

Let’s get it straight here. Most Kashmiris speak a very Kashmiri variant of Urdu. We simply translate Kashmiri – our cradle tongue – into Urdu – our official language -- without caring two hoots about syntax or idiom. Native speakers of Urdu would scoff at our Urdu diction. The truth be told, but for notable exceptions, our Urdu is mostly mediocre. Our English being generically flawed, we seem to be taking a certain strange pride in not bringing up our future generations in Kashmiri. In reality it is wacky had it not been so tragic.

There is a beautiful York County maxim: As a hawk flieth not high with one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellence with one tongue. We perhaps need the toasted Urdu we so love to talk in. We also can’t do without English to comprehend sciences and computers and art. However it can’t be at the expense of Kashmiri. I don’t know how many Kashmiris know that 148 languages in the world have lesser number of speakers than Kashmiri. It is such a pity that we belittle our heritage, our very roots. Emerson got it right when he said that we infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to which each forcible individual in a course if many hundred years has contributed a stone. Kashmiri is our intellectual wealth. We simply can’t afford to squander it.

I fail to understand why Geelani gives most of his fiery speeches in Urdu? I am at loss to fathom why the Tabligis ambush people and drown them in their Urdu jargon? Why does the Mirwaiz suddenly switch over to Urdu, lording over his followers from downtown Srinagar? None of the aforesaid is official. The mainstream may hide behind the official language façade, when they talk in Urdu. But why can we not have two official languages like Bihar [Hindi, Urdu], like Assam [Assamese, Bengali], like Himachal [Hindi, Pahari], like UP [Hindi, Urdu]. We are such a crooked pile.

Outside the English speaking world -- in Europe and elsewhere -- mother tongue is afforded the highest status. In fact in Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and other advanced economies like China, Japan [including Russia] as well as smaller countries in Asia, the medium of instruction is their respective mother tongue while children have the option of learning English language as well. In Kashmir, we are not asking for such concessions. It is time that we seriously introduce Kashmiri as a compulsory language in our school curricula [government, public and private schools].

Kashmiri children need to learn their language, the literature of which dates back to the 14th century. In simple terms we are as old as the English literature. Surely we shouldn’t feel shame reading it. And our children need not squirm at the thought of having to look at a Kashmiri textbook. UNESCO in its global monitoring paper on education concludes that the importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality is key. In developing nations mother tongue-based bilingual education not only increases access to skills, the report suggests, but also raises the quality of basic education by facilitating classroom interaction and integration of prior knowledge and experiences with new learning.

In essence a language helps us express ideas and thoughts. When it comes to the mother tongue, thoughts often come straight from the heart. We dream in Kashmiri, we understand its humor, our laughter and tears have Kashmiri hints, when we are in pain we moan in Kashmiri. We express our best and the deepest feelings in Kashmiri -- because it is our real cradle tongue.

No culture is complete without its language. Kashmir needs to revive Kashmiri. We can perhaps take cue from Israel. One of the most spectacular feats of that country after its formation [illegal/legal – that’s another debate] was its miraculous resurrection of the dying Hebrew language. A pragmatic educational policy can be a great beginning to set the skew right here. Also we need to perhaps lessen our fixation to converse with family and friends in non-Kashmiri funny accents. There is no pride in it. It only makes us linguistically silly. And our expressions poor. Kashmiri is rich enough.

Sameer

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The loyal singer

Rafi came to our household in the late 70s I am told. He was all of 15 when he arrived in petite London, as people in Sopore liked to call the town then [taking a certain pride in the fact]. I was born a few years later but the London connection always baffled me. Sopore was, and still is, famous for its rich apple produce. I was to learn much later that they grew blackberries, raspberries and gooseberries in England. Apples and plums too can be found around London but only as wild forms and barely edible - unless you're desperate. In Sopore orchard caretakers would often chase us over long furlongs whenever our desperation to filch an odd apple took the better of us.

So Rafi, the young boy in a duffle coat came to our home for work. His father thought Rafi could stay in a big town [Chota London], pick up a few social graces and make some money. My folks took a liking for the boy, who was actually named Ramazan. When my mom asked him about his likes, he surprisingly said singing. Apparently the sole transistor in his village belonged to a rich man where his father used to work and Ramazan would listen to it, when he accompanied his father, with veneration. He must have quietly begun rehearsing. Thereafter his father brought him to the town.

And he helped mom in scutwork, watering flower pots, tidying up the kitchen and allied little chores. Also he would sing to her. Songs of the village, Kashmiri folk songs and most enthusiastically songs of the popular singer Rafi, he had picked up from the old radio in his village. Soon mom had a new name for Ramzan: Rafi. Hence everyone in our home, my dad’s chauffeur, workers in our orchards, our neighbors and relatives started to call him Rafi. He took it well. The re-christening made him even perkier with a satirical sense of humor.

Years later I was born and Rafi loved me dearly. He would carry me on his back, become a horse for me and ofcourse sing for me. New songs he picked up from our Texla Black and White TV [It would take five minutes to start]. Since TV was a rarity in the 80s, even in Chota London, Rafi would often narrate, with much melodrama, the plot of last night’s movie to eager yokels in the bakery where he would go to fetch the hot oven-baked morning flatbread [Lawasa]. He got told off for getting late but Rafi was not the one to mind such mild admonition. So he continued to work, cut jokes, watch endless stupid Hindi films and live with us.

Then came a time when gunmen began to appear in our locality.
They were everywhere and carried real guns, inspiring awe. Rafi would dismiss our wonderment with his unique brand of humor. ‘That guy with a double magazine Kalashnikov, he once told me pointing to a militant, can easily cut throats of the enemy’.
How can you say that mama, I asked curiously? ‘Oh, he used to cut people’s pockets earlier’, came the prompt response with a mischievous grin. In all likelihood Rafi was speaking the truth. During those difficult militancy years, he used to close the lawn gates early in the evening and when dad went out for the final prayer at night, he accompanied him to the mosque, just in case. [He had overheard in the bakery that gunmen harassed the landed gentry]

Then there came a time when I had to go out for higher studies. It broke his heart. He had only seen the places, I was headed for, on TV. Rafi thought I would drink and date debauched women. He had these simple notions about life. On my last night in Kashmir I remember he had a long talk with me, filled with innocent, naïve bits of advice. Like a wide eyed babe in the woods. I soon took a flight to alien lands and never really went back in the real sense. My only date with Kashmir remains my annual sabbaticals.

While I was away Rafi went on to get married and raise a family. He left us but continued to visit, especially when I came from vilayat. Since there was no phone in his village, I had to drive to his village, to his tiny hut [he liked it there, found peace, he told me] and bring him over to our home for a week. Ofcourse he would ask me a million questions about the new world, since he had grown to be so fond of world news on his radio -- BBC Urdu. I had to simplify things for the guy, who helped me grow up.

Rafi, I am told, after he went back to his beautiful village [his hut was in the middle of a mustard field] learnt other crafts. He became a mason in summers and wove carpets in the winter. However Rafi found time in every season to come down to his first place of vocation – our home -- and rustle up great food for my folks. And he spoke with me on my sister’s cell phone.

Day before he clambered on the roof of his little hut, ostensibly to fix a leaking arch. It was raining outside in the mustard fields. A loose brick led to his fall. Rafi fell and he was dead. While it was still raining outside.

It feels like missing a step on the staircase of memory.

I hope he sings to my mom in paradise.

Rafi
[1964-2009]
A God fearing, old school, loyal – Godspeed.

Sameer

Monday, July 13, 2009

Defiance Day

July 13 is the closest we have to a national defiance day. It marks the beginning of our assertion as pretenceless, independence-seeking, audacious people. Most historians agree that on July 13, 1931 the sky was tenderly overcast in Srinagar and there had also been a dust storm that morning. But no tempest could stop the fervor in the hearts of people, who had gathered outside the Central Jail in Srinagar. They wanted an open trail for the mystery man – Qadir – who was being tried by the Dogra ruler’s [Hari Singh] kangaroo court.

Qadir, now relegated to the margins of Kashmir’s vicissitudinary history, still has historians confounded. Most chroniclers of our nation’s narrative cannot agree on where he came from or what happened to him after July 13, 1931. All we know of him is that he was a butler to Major Abet, a British army officer, British Resident in Kashmir. On June 21, 1931 Qadir gave a rousing speech to hundreds of assembled men at Khankah-Mohallah in Srinagar. Kashmir had never seen such upfrontry. Pointing to the Maharaja’s palace in the Zabarwan foothills, Qadir hollered the famous words: Demolish the edifice of injustice, cruelty and subjugation.

The immediate provocation was the desecration of the Holy Quran by Maharaja's troopers in April that year. The Dogra feudatories would often treat Kashmiris like shit and had no regard whatsoever for their faith. A huge resentment was already brewing against the vainglorious rulers for years of persecution and all it needed was a sharp spark. Infact people had assembled to find a way to channelize their sentiment on the June day when Qadir gave that fiery speech. Before he spoke, a committee was formed to continue the fight against the Dogra oppression. Seven wise men were selected: Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Sa’ad-ud-Din Shawl, Mirwaiz Moulvi Yusuf Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah Hamdani, Aga Syed Hussain Jalali, Munshi Shuhab-ud-Din, and Khwaja Ghulam Ahmad Ashai. [Yes Mirwaiz’s and Omar’s grand-dads too. We share a collective legacy, don’t we?]

Four days later Maharaja’s men zeroed in on Qadir and put him in chains. He was swiftly charged with sedition and waging war against the state [yes the same sections of the Ranbir Penal Code, Omar still slaps on the pro-Freedom guys]. Qadir was to be tried on July 13, 1931. But he had already kindled a fire, which was going to consume Kashmir, in its enticing warmth. Around noon, as more and more people encircled the Central Jail in Srinagar, Maharaja’s troopers panicked. Matchlock guns were cocked. People refused to bulge, demanding the release of Qadir. Never before in almost 350 years [since the Mughal annexation in 1586; the vain rule ended 1753] was such an angry defiance palpable in the airs of Srinagar. Soon gunshots pierced the rebellion. Khaliq Shora, a feisty man from Srinagar, was the first man to fall. Kashmir had its first martyr. Crimson blood spilled. Twenty seven others died. Two women among the martyrs. Scores lay injured. The magnitude of Dogra brutishness was such that no one attended to the injured hours after they were shot.

July 13 marked an epoch in our assertion of a bold, new, chivalrous defiance. Hitherto called cowards and slaves, Kashmiris rose to the occasion and attempted to storm the ugly walls of tyranny, just like the French did in Bastille, on July 14, 1789. Sadly we couldn’t breach the walls. What was to follow was a murky trapeze that involved a series of compromises and deceits and charades. And as years went by the committee constituted in Khankah mohallah to take the struggle to its logical conclusion split. The Mirwaizs went their way, the Sheikh ofcourse we all know, walked into the glory-land, only to fall later. Ever since both sides have staked a claim to Kashmir’s past, its martyrs, its patch-work history. Both have dibs on a sentiment which in reality belongs to no one person. It is a collective legacy.

It was a spontaneous, collective act of rebellion, of revolution, of uprising which was to give an impetus to Kashmir’s centuries old yearning for freedom. Not that we were not rebels before but July 13 truly made revolutionaries out of us.

And we were never ever the same.

Sameer

Friday, July 10, 2009

Whose city is this?

Kashmir valley is a mere 135 km by 35 km in length and width.
That is it. Srinagar is the only city. In the old world sense.
[London, one of my friends who lives in NY, told me once much to my chagrin, is a glorified village compared to the New York City. Srinagar by that definition would be a complete wasteland, light-years away from anything remotely modern, but here we seek to make an exception for our ‘Shahar’ since we talk of home and hence unabashedly biased].

Now Srinagar is to Kashmir what DC is to the States. Jhelum is our very own Potomac. A little unclean perhaps but we haven’t been a particularly clean people. Talking of Srinagar, how can one give Dal a miss? Dal is our Lake Anna. And in winters when it snows over, we walk on its weed-filled water. Like Jesus. There are other bigger lakes in Kashmir, complete with migratory ducks with pierced yellow beaks and red-crested Pochard in them, but no one will tell you that.

Locally called Shahar, Srinagar an island of close to a million people who speak in an elongated dialect [more likely to say Naaa, compared to a crisp Na spoken in Sopore or Anantnag for instance]. It is also the seat of the government. The civil secretariat [with a million silver fish happily slithering in its myriad layered government files] and the CM’s office is in Srinagar. Hari Niwas, the 66-room palace, build by the last Dogra ruler Hari Singh for his wife [converted into a hell-hole interrogation centre by Indian soldiers during the insurgency years] too is in Srinagar. The obsolete DoorDarshan and Radio Kashmir [still listened to in rapt attention by everyone above 50] have offices in ‘Shahar’.

***

Historically the original inhabitants of Srinagar, who have since been overwhelmed by a steady stream of people from the countryside, labelled everyone outside the boundary limits of Srinagar: Gamik [villagers]. The word was laced with a very strange potion of conceit. It was exactly said for the purpose: to make the non-Shahri’s feel a little inferior, though they won’t acknowledge it. Just like you don’t call a milkman [Goore in Kashmiri], Goore on his face, yet you say it – amongst family, friends, neighbors – to show the poor milkman his place in society. Also because it satiates a certain class lust, mankind is so drunk on, in us. Marx was not entirely wrong, the erudite, white-bearded German. The City-village debate has a similar sub-text.

Curiously the people living in townships didn’t take such talking-down all too well because they didn’t consider themselves Gamik. People in places as diverse as Sopore, Anantnag, Baramullah, Bandipore, Shopian and other such places consider themselves townspeople, distinct from those living in villages [the real pastoral countryside]. There’s such a realm as middle ground and that’s where towns ought be placed in the pecking order, they opined. Alas the brutes, devouring their Harisa Zafrani [no translation needed, closest would be a hundredth variation of meat, steamed, sautéed, simmered and served piping hot] in the drawing rooms of Srinagar had already blurred the line. Everyone outside of Srinagar is a Gamuk. Period.

The Gamik laid in a patient wait, wearing a hurt and martyred expression, not failing to send their kids to read and write. The Srinagar-wallas meantime got busy selling fake Shawls in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar and Connaught Place, passing every rag off as semi-Pashmina [there’s nothing called semi-Pashmina. It is like selling semi-Silk]. All this while a quiet revolution was taking place. The folks from Kashmir’s hinterland, notwithstanding their apparent lack of resources and refinement, made their way to colleges and universities. They were fast planting flags of knowledge. Suddenly they were everywhere. The tide had turned.

****

Coming out of the terror soaked years, Kashmiris had undergone a fundamental change. It was most noticeable in the villages. Having crossed the threshold they refused to be terrorized intellectually. Ergo the best doctors in premium medical institutes, the top civil servants in the government, most skilled professionals and the academic elite come mostly from the villages of Kashmir. The villagers seem to be celebrating their redemption, globally. In the last one week – not one but two Kashmiri girls, from Sopore, joined the Obama administration. Among other things post-Tehreek [variously described as revolution/nuttiness/frenzy] the townspeople perhaps quietly stopped minding such stereotyping. They had become the new Shahris. Gingerly.

However the specter still haunts. It is still fair to ask who’s Shahri and who’s Gaemi in Srinagar, a city whose demographics have undergone a sea change in the Tehreek. The debate, though not too played up [we like things subtle, till they fizzle out] is taking place in the nut-wood paneled drawing rooms of Kashmir. Even the Tehreek -- on its last clutches, and kept alive by Hurriyet through their often inexplicit but bold defiance – is not sacrosant. The rise of Geelani and the downfall of Mirwaiz [both Peers, and that’s another class game] is squarely seen through the Gaemi-Shahri kaleidoscope. A top cop in Kashmir [true blooded shahri] I know, confided to me recently, this Gamuk [Geelani in a disparaging sense, he meant] has made life hell for us.

Even the mainstream is not immune. The ruling Abdullah’s [a mixed family with a true international blood-line: Swiss, Kashmiri, English, Indian] are considered Shahri, though puritans would exclude them. The patriarch Sheikh Abdullah [Yes, the Lion who stopped roaring towards the end] was born in Soura [a village in the outskirts of Srinagar, since integrated into the city]. So the Sheikh’s have always been half-shahri. Things came to a boil in 2002 when the Mufti’s of Bijbehara [Gosh, a village] came to power. So eventually full-Gaemik did rule Kashmir. In a way it marked a complete sub-urbanization of our political space. There were no sacred territories. The whole world, nee Valley, was the oyster. And the mad scramble to grab it continues.

In the olden days, when we were still innocent and spilled no blood, there used to be groups of northern Pintail in Kashmiri villages. Wild geese roamed the streets of Srinagar. They used to quack a lot, both being the same lot – ducks. In the smoke of the clash that we eventually jumped into and have been unable to extricate ourselves from, the duck talk has died out.

We mustn’t, I think stop the chatter, no matter how thick the smoke.

Sameer

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tormented


Daem phuit chi gamitsh myaen nazar
yoot matsar kyah?
mei rov labith lol shahar
yoot matsar kyah?

~ Zarif A Zarif, Kashmiri poet

My gaze has been silenced
What frenzy is this?
I lost my city of love,
What frenzy is this?


We are in the middle of this cruel completeness. The motif is flickering at such a rapid pace that it is near impossible to fathom what is happening to us. Still coming to terms with the rape and murder tale coming out of South Kashmir and its elaborate, planned, devilish cover-up, bullets flew thick and fast in North Kashmir. In a matter of less than 40 hours, four boys were sent to their graves. Prematurely. Suddenly. Coldly. Kashmir has stopped keeping a count of its injured. That is a mere footnote in our pursuit of justice.

Still hours later the scene shifts again to South Kashmir. A kid, 16 is summoned to a nearby army camp. Youngest in his home, Basharat went hopping to the 36RR fortress, never to be seen again. Parents, like anywhere else in the world, furious and restless, started making frenetic noises. Neighbors joined in. Omar Abdullah, the new czar of Kashmir, who surrounds himself with a useless bunch of advisors, joined the chorus, albeit in his condescending style: Find the boy or his body. Thank you, Sir. How easily does the lexicon change in the valley? People, alive and laughing minutes back, suddenly change into bodies. Omar’s narrative is not only tasteless but pure apologetic. Kashmir is too dangerous a place to let things drift in such an insensitive manner.

Salah Mattoo, my childhood pal, wrote in the London’s The Economist: ‘The Indian constitution affords all her citizens right to protest, which no doubt is at the heart of Indian psyche as it stems from its history of fighting the British for her independence. In Kashmir there exists no outlet for people to express their grievances.’ Alas protests in Kashmir trigger a panic button in the government war-rooms and they go to any darn extend to break it. In reality, any elected government in Kashmir [and Omar is no exception] does not want to do anything to displease the off-reality hawks, who sit perched in Delhi. Suppressing the sentiment back home is directly proportional to your status in North Block.

A very strange spiral has engulfed us. Like an F-5 tornado. And things move round and round in it. Half-bricks and Hartals and Curfews chase each other. In the absence of mandatory crisis management infrastructure to deal with human rights violations, people resort to throwing rocks [styled on the Palestinian Intifada]. There is a freedom camp [split in the middle – one side of it is this old, tough boy Geelani, hugely respected but rigid and other side is this young, dubious boy Mirwaiz, moderate but inexplicit] with its politics of dissent and strikes. The only common factor is the karakul caps they wear. The government of the day, unsure of how to go about it [how, on God’s green earth, can a Jammu based car-dealer advise Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson, how to deal with a sentiment for which six million people and the Sheikh himself staked everything. Pray, How?] End-result: Mirwaiz and co, locked up in their palatial homes. Geelani, too dangerous at his age, put up in a hut-prison. Omar hops all over his fief, like a czar pontificating the futility of stone throwing, while his subjects continue to die, under his watch.

I don’t think removing CRPF [we never used to fear them anyway in Sopore] will do any good. It is time for the creation of independent institutions to monitor human rights violations in Kashmir. If Omar has nothing to fear he should back calls for allowing independent organizations like the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others in Kashmir. No one trusts the government commissions. Two things, should they happen, may ameliorate the hurt to a large extend: disbanding of the thuggish SOG and removal of inhuman laws like AFSPA. Troop withdrawal can follow.

I used to love this beautiful, soft-spoken US-Kashmiri poet we had. Agha Shahid Ali. He died many years back and lies buried in Amherst, Massachusetts, close to the resting place of another great American poet Emily Dickinson.

An excerpt from a poem he penned on his beloved Kashmir:

Freedom’s terrible thirst, flooding Kashmir,
is bringing love to its tormented glass,
Stranger, who will inherit the last night of the past?
Of what shall I not sing, and sing?

Sameer

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

You can't curfew our hearts

A desire to resist oppression is implanted in the nature of man.
~Tacitus


Baramulla is a small, hilly, quaint township in north Kashmir. As I blog, it has been curfewed over. The orders may have been announced or unannounced but everyone has to adhere or you die. If you perchance don't know that a chocolate-color-curfew [the only presence is the cops/CRPF with their brown outfits, lording over empty roads and street dogs] is on, you may well be shot in the head or heart by a CRPF jawan lying in wait. In the last 36 hours, five kids have been killed in this fashion. Their only crime was that they had gotten together [in their naivety or in a bout of emotional impulse] to protest alleged misbehavior charges against the local police by a woman, which has since been rubbished by the cops. In the 21st century Kashmir you can't show your fists. Expression is dangerous. Resentment is prohibited. Dreams have been curfewed over.

Agree a furor exists. Agree that there is a huge mistrust that people harbor against India and the state government, agree that the same cops said a month back that those two unfortunate Shopian girls bore no injury marks and died of drowning [since proven wrong], agree that there is a trust deficit with the police who even failed to register an FIR in Shopian for a long while [eventually forced to do so], agree that the separatist leadership has been severely gagged, agree that people are genuinely angry at the Omar led government’s insensitivity, especially the way things were mis-handled in the aftermath of the rape and murder case -- not a dram of remorse exists. Instead the local police and CRPF -- exactly the likes of riff-raff -- who when they are not killing, while their time away by smoking bidis and cutting off color jokes while watching C-grade Hindi films, have been given a free rope. And boy do they whip the people!

I don’t know how to put it straight but people get beaten up a lot in Kashmir. And that shit happens everyday. People are slapped on highways and lowlands. In orchards and bylanes. For little or no reason. The catch is high-handedness. Ergo, to break up an instant protest, the Khaki scoundrels use excessive violence, which is not only disproportionate but plain inhuman. The fiercely independent Kashmir Times correctly editorializes that they are armed with blanket powers under the prevailing draconian laws and enjoy immunity for their acts. The dreaded instrument of repression is evident in the kind of blatant human rights abuses they commit and get away with. Omar, the new CM with old prejudices, can’t do much. He can, however, promise enquiries as the body count grows.

There are restrictions on movement. There are house arrests. There are beatings. There are bayonets held up to scare us. There are tear-gas canisters. There are furious bullets piercing innocent 20-somethings. There are attempts to silence protest. When has the stick suppressed the giggle of children? For 62 long years there have been protests, even before that. It is a mad trapeze in our hearts. They attempt to disperse people, chasing unruly crowds but fail to disperse the aspiration that hangs still in the smoked air.

You can curfew the lanes but not our dreams.

Sameer