For too long, I have been thirsting for dissent; dissent in India, and dissent in the Indian army. For too long, I was worried that we had either gone beyond or never reached the healthy art of whistle-blowing – the backbone of a democracy, and the saving grace of civilizations smothered to sickness.
A few weeks ago, a man in his crocs and warm coffee inside him, dressed in his soft skin and a silken gown, made the following statement, “Why is he complaining? Isn’t he the armed forces?”
A week before that, a man in his boots made the following statement, “Why do we not get proper food if ‘there’s food for everyone’?”
“Why don’t you let us romanticise savagery if you don’t follow the laws that you make?” were the words of Tej Bahadur that I chose to hear; and the words of everyone I never heard.
A little over a month ago in Kashmir, when the air was still sub-zero, and the clothes still weighed you down, my mother rushed into the “warm-room” of our house and brushed the snow off her clothes. While brushing the snow off her clothes, she complained that the army shouldn’t be on the roads. She complained that nobody should have to be on the roads. I was wondering if her concerns were jurisdictional. “How can one stand the cold standing 12 hours a day in this Kashmir weather?” She was repeating to me, perhaps reminding me what I had noticed a few days ago and chosen to overlook.
Over the few kilometres through the swindling roads to my home, with the gear-jammed, throttle-frozen, engine-dead, otherwise perfectly functioning Summer Santro Xing, I saw scores of Khakee (the colour is what the armed forces wear in their uniform) with blistering cold weapons tethered to their bodies… or blistering cold men tethered to the metal, breathing vapour as thick as the cataract in their eyes.
So many Tej Bahadurs, I thought to myself.
Respect; I thought it was the army that the swarming patriots respected. I thought it was the men and their sacrifices that the swarming patriots respected. I thought it was the sacrifices, which, sometimes do not have to be made. Sacrifice. It is not. It is the blind sense of intoxicating patriotism in a common man, like the Sleeping-Beauty-verses that help you sleep well at night, living with yourselves while you know you shouldn’t be able to.
The truth is you didn’t even like that man till you were told you liked that man. The truth is you didn’t even know you hated that man till you were told you hated that man, or a man.
At ten, (or the later hours) in the morning, if I don’t don 3 layers of clothes when I am outside the walls, my face will be numb and my spine will arch to a point where I won’t feel it anymore. My lips will chap with blood oozing out of them, making gashes hither tither across the soft tissue; and there is the perpetual fever and the cold, of course. Cold: the bane of the modern man; or the bane of the modern paratrooper. I have always believed it is harder to brave the cold.
Three days in Kashmir, even travelling in my car, my nose already had a fissure, which bled most of the times. The blisters on the lips and the chapped faces are ever so painful, even with 10-minute exposures to the cold sun.
Since 6-8 in the morning, on open roads with crippling dry air, these uniformed men are made to stand throughout the day. At the end of it, even for a habituated, seasoned Kashmiri, the heads feel like they have been clubbed. To top it with more misery, the food given to them is extremely questionable, probably inedible.
I am no idol worshipper or a worshipper of any sorts. I am no patriot or worshipper of any sorts. I am no flag-lover or a worshipper of any sorts. I am no misogynist or a worshipper of any sorts, and hence, I do not connect to Indianism, or any ‘-isms’ of any sort. Four years ago, I was Telugu after 17 years of being a Kashmiri, and now there is more Tamil in me than most Tamils I know. I am also a Kashmiri. I am also a Telugu. I am also Tamil; and a tad bit of Malayali if I may. And a tad bit of everything, if you may.
There is a man behind that uniform, plagued by love. Also plagued by life; also plagued by duty, and by the eyes of a hundred crore. He is too, a tad bit of everything. No matter what you call him. Not matter what he calls himself; he is too, a tad bit of everyone.
This piece of mind is Indian Army Men, devoid of the term ‘Army’ and the term ‘Indian’.
The army are told they are sent to Kashmir for the nation. For the nation and for fighting the enemy; for fighting the enemy and saving the people, for saving the people and taking home the greater good. With that in mind, they end up fighting for survival.
For a month, I have only covered and focused on the crimes that the army has perpetrated, but that doesn’t mean one should ignore the fact that one of the worst lives in Kashmir is that of the paramilitary and it doesn’t have to be.
At Ghanta Ghar, the symbolic border at the Lal Chowk, I talked to a Jawan (soldier) and discussed water filter prices with him. No colour green in his eyes or a tint of red for anger and war. No saffron and no blue. Water filter prices: water filter prices to a home back home.
Happy 68th Republic Day, and let us celebrate this one with patriotic dissent.