The Death-brewing valley.
I never came home to feel this safe from any other city like I did, when I returned from there. Never was such a beautiful city horribly dreaded by people and longed to be left, for home. Never did humans dread and scare fellow mates this much as they do in this valley. Never has heaven been so hellish and devastatingly spellbinding for people to visit and yet await to depart. Never has loss of lives been such a petty affair and never have humans in their wildest dreams detested their own saviors in such a crude form.
All this happens nowhere but in the Indian valley of Kashmir. I happened to visit this heaven on Earth recently and this is an account of what I saw with my naked eyes and was left completely stunned by it.
Alighting down from the flight I had hoped for a very scenic, serene and picturesque beauty from this place. I got all of it added with a pinch of bitter reality and ground level truth sprinkled lavishly over it. They say, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches” and that’s what can be truly said about the condition of people in Srinagar. Off the valley from any other state in the country, the situation doesn’t look as pitiful as it does when you breathe in Kashmir. Guarded and demarcated by the soldiers of the Indian forces, the city bears a packed and dull look usually. Even though this is the tourist season, I barely found any visitors on the streets. The hustle-bustle is restricted to the occasional movement of the public, continuous vehicular movement of the forces and bullet shots fired on and by the soldiers. Life doesn’t seem to be welcoming in any spirit in the valley these days.
Though the people are immensely warm one however, visits this place with various preconceived notions. It is but obvious for people to be scared to visit a region that faces such frequent terrorist attacks. The scribbles on the walls of the houses and shops speak volumes about the malady that the valley and it’s people are a part of. They go on to throw light on the plight of the forces who are facing and combatting this morose condition everyday. From ‘Freedom for All’, ‘Go India, Go back’, ‘Burhaan Waani Day-8th July’, ‘Hume chahiye azaadi (We want Freedom)’, ‘Boycott elections’, ‘Azaad Kashmir’ to ‘Pakistan zindabad’, one finds such phrases vociferously ingrained on the walls as you move in the streets. Even though the scribbles have been painted away in other hues but the marks still remain and loudly voice the parroted notions of the brainwashed and misled Kashmiris. The tainted walls and shutters leave one baffled with the idea as to what do these people exactly want. The irony and agony know no bound when you see ‘Shaheed Burhan Waani’ written on a wall and spot a soldier right in front of it guarding the very same area.
On each Friday in the name of religion, mosques become a platform for the separatists to spread the venom of making India an Islamic state, of jihad, hatred and demeaning the nation as a whole. The namaz of the Jumma speaks less of Allah, humanity and brotherhood but more of bloodshed, discrimination and a merciless revolution that is being sought for in the name of ‘Azaadi’. Of the eight days that I stayed there, four days were officially called off by the local leaders as a complete shutdown in the city with no movement of vehicles or opening of markets as a warning and commemoration of the death of dead terrorist Burhaan Waani. The internet services were put off and the city was made to come to a complete halt according to their whims and fancies. The roads bore a forlorn, barren look with only mud rising and dusting my eyes and men decked up in uniforms with their bullet proof jackets on, placed at various locations firmly holding their weapons. I saw more convoys of the army than I ever have on a patrol. One after the other the trucks took rounds of the city and the region. The stench of fear, disharmony and hopelessness filled the air.
When you step into the streets, mental squalor takes charge. Despite the people being so humble one can’t help but suspect others because of the prevalence of hidden terrorism in the valley. A father wouldn’t know his own son is a terrorist. Men spit out venom against the nation they inhabit, derive resources and an identity from. From a civilian’s point of view, I know it is frustrating and annoying to be frisked every now and then and be looked down upon with suspicious eyes. I know it is baffling to face a complete shut down every alternate week or sometimes days. But the forces are compelled to do the same to maintain law and order, it is not for fun but their own safety. Under the ambit of the forces, I’ve heard people whisper about the involvement of the local police with the militants. The web and trap is laid so well and deep that it’s difficult to pave a way through. The uncertainty of life leaves you morose when you are not sure of returning back alive as you step out for work every morning.
There’s a lot that has been talked about the human rights violation of the stone pelters but let me remind you that the lives of the soldiers are at a larger stake than the normal people. Terrorists don’t target the civilian population but the forces. The animosity and hatred is only towards the forces. The bloody political vendetta between the various political groups and parties doesn’t bother about the merciless loss of lives in the region. The local police acts as informers for the militants along with the people who stand in strong solidarity with the militants. On visiting a historical palace I heard a teen girl saying,” Abhi to hum Hindustan me hain isliye hum kehte hain ki hum hindustaani hain lekin jab hum azaad ho jayenge tab to hum…..tab to hum azaad Kashmir ke kashmiri kehlayenge. (Since we live in India, we have to refer to ourselves as Indians. But when we attain freedom we’ll be referred to as…..people of the azaad Kashmir)” and when you hear things like this, as an Indian you feel the rush of blood in your veins along with the sense of misery and despair. It strikes your mind when you hear a little girl uttering such magnanimously huge words. This is when you sit, ponder and try to gauge the scale at which the youth stands mobilized and misled by the terrorist organizations and leaders. They say terrorism has no religion but the valley of Kashmir brutally defies this statement and promotes Islam as the religion of terror and merciless killings, of rage, insanity and vandalism. Existing in such a hostile environment is a task for the public but they’ve made peace with it. A terrorist attack, firing, hugs convoys of the army, soldiers posted in the lanes, dusty empty roads, an abrupt shutdown and a complete halt is something that is as usual and normal to them as is inhalation and exhalation to us.
However,not all of them want destruction or separation, some just want to live a normal, easy going life and earn basic livelihood. Ever wondered how would you feel when you step out for shopping and spot bunkers covered with barbed wires and armed men guarding the market area? This is a commonplace scene in Srinagar. A place might look serene and calm but as you dig deeper and strip off the reality, the truth leaves you starkly ashamed and perturbed. As Orwell writes in ‘1984’,
“War is peace
Freedom is slavery
Ignorance is strength”,
it seems to be holding true for the valley where undying resentment is not less than a mental war, the psychologically enslaved minds are looking for freedom, ignorant of the brutal consequences to follow hence, assuming it to be their strength. At nights the roads go barren and fear takes charge. The soldiers are ridiculed and reprimanded. Their human rights are not cared for lest talked of in the parliamentary forums.
When an attack takes place and a terrorist dies, he’s commemorated as a martyr and a slain soldier is not even mentioned. The politicians condemn the attacks on the soldiers but take no punitive action against the terrorists. The army ultimately functions pinned down under the little finger of the politicians who just blabber about taking measures in the future whereas that very future seems to be just bleak, gloomy and headed in no direction. If the army is liberated a little off the political control, they can easily take the terrorists for a ride but that doesn’t seem to see the light of the day. Only post wiping the terrorists off can we sit and have a conversation with the leaders on their demands. I wonder if the politicians will ever have the valiance of stepping up and sending their sons or daughters into the forces, see them getting shot and still sit in the AC offices only condemning the act of the terrorists. I wonder will they then not feel the ardent urge and rage to knock off the eye balls of those behind such attacks. But the fact of the matter is, none of this will ever happen because the politicians in our country don’t have the balls to do this. They don’t have the heart to go in the service of the tri-colour and someday come home wrapped in the same.
The lack of political will, involvement of local police with the terrorists, sheer and open support of the masses to the militants, hostility and indifference towards the soldiers are the hurdles our forces combat everyday to survive and guard the valley. Yet in our country a stone pelter is rewarded under the veil of violation of human rights and an officer who saves lives is slammed with an FIR. This condition leaves you aghast and in two minds as to whether should one be hopeful that the situation shall improve one fine day or accept the brutal reality that is slammed right on your face. Nowhere in the world is happiness and misery served in the same platter as on this heaven on Earth, called Kashmir.