It is awful to follow Kashmir these days. Each voice in the tiny valley carries a hint of sob. Every hour brings in more sad tidings. The roar and the smoke of clash seem to be getting louder by the hour. Curlicues of Barbwire and Dannert wire appear ineffective. All efforts made to describe the strange shape of this furor have gone wrong. Without attempting to be all too worked up, it is safe to assume that the Tehreek [movement for Freedom in Kashmir] is on an auto-pilot.
There is a limit point upto which the human mind is capable of remembering names and ages. So many kids have fallen to ugly force in the last couple of weeks that the threshold has not only been submerged, it is completely blanked out now. Since the mind is programmed to seek answers, partly to beat the tedium and partly to comprehend what is going on, opinions are abound. Like moths on a starless night. Everybody – from the harried CM Omar Abdullah to the underground fugitive Masrat Alam – is incriminated. Vox Populi is filled with bewilderment.
The right to protest is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Throwing stones is not. Setting fire to government property is not. Clearly someone is not abiding by the law of the land. But that is not the whole picture. The rules on the use of force against unlawful crowds are also clear. Section 130 of India’s Code of Criminal Procedure, is clear: ‘If the assembly cannot be dispersed otherwise and it is necessary in public interest, then the executive magistrate can order armed forces to disperse the assembly. Even then, every officer must use as little force, and do as little injury to people.’ In Kashmir the line between natural rights and legal rights is often quite blurry.
At this moment a fear of the awkward looms. No one knows what happens next. The protests come along as asymmetrical. Bricks don’t come from Pakistan, as prime- time TV anchors with prim faces smeared with foundation cosmetics would break down for us. The weekly Hartal [strike] calendars issued from some hideaway, much electronegative as they are, continue to be followed in letter and spirit. The traditional opposition to the ruling coterie, Hurriyet, appears as naïfly as the common man. Omar is politically sidelined – trying to assert his authority by taking turns subsequently to preach on TV, order probes, dash off to Delhi (as and when summoned) and express -- what can be at best be called a cross between impuissance and an inability to do anything.
Three full fortnights of strikes have passed by. While it strikes one as windy and impractical, given the fact that the axe falls first on the less privileged, the effrontery is seriously alarming. The curfews are getting punitive. Phones in more sensitive pockets of the valley are jammed for well over a month. Text messaging doesn’t work at all. Six million men and women of Kashmir are finding it hard to grasp what they can do and what they are allowed to do. No one talks about the silver minted look of Omar anymore. As if on cue, everyone is looking up at the sky. The clouds appear shaped like stones.