Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where are my fireflies?

As a rule night comes early to Kashmir. The lowdown from ground zero is that violence has now been completely institutionalized. The largest democracy in the world and its Blackberry czar in Kashmir seem to be clueless about how to deal with their single biggest problem -- the street kid. Less than three weeks after the prime minister of India dropped by for a two day spring vacation, assuring the natives that their human rights will be respected henceforth, three young boys were sent to their graves. Their human rights scattered in Srinagar bylanes, with their teenage blood.

Accountability is a slut in this city. Top cops I conversed with say their men come under a hail of stones from irate mobs and they only fire in total defense. The paramilitary troopers cooped inside their sad bunkers lead a drab life and shoot when slightly provoked. Add to this the countless intelligence agencies at work, trying to help the government maintain law and order, and the riddle is complete for you. Kashmir is a police state. No dissent is brooked. The idea is to hold the popular sentiment down with jackboots. The panic button is perpetually on.

Across the other end of the Kashmir conundrum are the pro-freedom blokes. Having exhausted most of their options the separatist chariot is kept trundling by strikes, locally called Hartals. A human life is worth a day’s Hartal. Period. During the strike period the elite stay indoors to water their well-manicured lawns, those with no gardens to till read Urdu newspapers to the last tittle and the more outdoorsy sit on shop fronts, exchanging small-talk. Kids in several hot-spots throw stones at cops with a recklessly irresponsible defiance. There is a curiousness to it: All this looks perfectly normal here.

The civil society is somewhat split over the frequency of strikes. Hartals in Kashmir are unique in that they are very political in nature. Historically strikes have been the prerogative of workers. We have refashioned Hartals to fight an economic and nuclear power, which doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about clenched fists. How else do we protest, a senior separatist leader asked me quizzically? I had no ready-to-offer answers. As long as a strike remains peaceful, the society can be expected to support a legitimate cause. Any inconvenience caused to people is an expected spin-off. You cannot overdo it.

The narrative flickers at a riotous speed in the valley: From killer troopers to trouble-making teenagers to well-heeled separatist leadership to the bacchanal mainstream polity. Everyone has a strong, almost poisonous opinion of one other. They appear like strings of a beautiful musical instrument and when you try to strum it, it sounds like a vuvuzela horn.
The melody is lost.

As I blog, I can hear gun-shots piercing the waxing gibbous night. A fierce encounter is ongoing somewhere near the riverside. There are no fireflies tonight. Only tracer bullets.

© Sameer