He asked me to undo the knots of my trousers. I religiously abided in him. His hands were free as he was not carrying any killing machine. Furtively, his muscular, virile hands went into my pants, and he cherished my unmentionables for a moment.
Being a student of Class 6, I hardly understood his behaviour. His hands stayed in my trousers for quite a while. What was he looking for? Grenades? Or was he just paranoid? I failed to comprehend the reason for his desire to keep his hands so close to my private parts. Probably, the armed personnel wanted to make it sure that I was not carrying any ammunition, but I still am not sure.
Nonetheless, I continued to place the honour of Indian army on the highest pedestal for many years from the incident. I respected their valour. I looked up to the fact that they braved every harm and patrolled the roads of our locality ceaselessly to keep us safe. I was perhaps misguided. It was the uprising of 2016 that shovelled the patriotic opinion out of my brain. I no longer respect them.
Perfectly, 224 days back on a sweltering Sunday, when the rest of Indian students were buried in books to clear the prestigious IAS prelims, I too, unwillingly, bought a gaudy black pen and went for the exam. The underground room of the humanities department of Kashmir University was the place where our fates were to be decided.
The exam centre was 20 km away and walking the distance would have drained me out, but fortunately, a friend on a bike offered me a ride. The ride to reach the university in the ‘deadly environ’ was almost like ‘mission impossible’ for us.
We drove all way till Bemina without anybody bothering us. After Bemina, oblivious of the situation, we decided to take the route through Chattabal. Because of the internet ban, we didn’t know anything about the how Chattabal was simmering.
I would have never tread the path had I known that Riyaz Ahmed of the same locality succumbed to injuries from 300 pellets that doctors had to remove from his abdomen and still failed to save him. But destiny had something else in store for me.
Our bike was stopped right on the edge of Safa Kadal bridge. A ‘manly’ CRPF Jawan walked towards us. His facial expressions were somewhere between indignation and frustration. We sensed the danger. I rose my IAS exam admit card amidst the chaotic and screamed like a baby: “Sir, we have an IAS exam. We don’t pelt stones.”
But he was in no mood to listen. His baton came down on us wildly – on the shoulders, on the forehead and the spine! We ran like helpless rats; shrieking and squalling. The drama didn’t end here. He let out a stream of invectives: “Bastards, you pelt stones and then give exams?!”
The incident changed my opinion completely. I would never be able to associate armed personnel with the ‘honour’. They look at you as if you are the foreigner. They treat you like the white fascists treat black people in the movie “12 Years Of Slave”. They look at you with such doubtful eyes as if you are hiding an RPG in your abdomen. They will stop you and harass you if they spot any trace of hair on your face. Well, clean-shaven guys are not spared, either.
Everyone in Kashmir is living with stories of such inhuman treatment. There is a story behind every anti-army behaviour. Army men sow the seeds of indignation in the minds of Kashmiri youths. They are the ones who make us angry, very angry!