There are stages of grief, when the wound is new and the loss is raw, a state of denial comes first. A state of mind that is not able to comprehend the change in reality. Denial is followed by sorrow, melancholy, mourning. There is an unusual silence in this sorrow and mourning, and yet, the state of rebellious uproars can emerge once the dust of grief somehow settles.
On August 15, 2020, when the Prime Minister will hoist the flag of free and independent India, Kashmiris will continue to remain caged in the second stage of grief. When the tricolour kites will fill up the Delhi skies, the cloud of uncertainty will cover the hills. When the air of Delhi will vibrate with sounds of Kai Po Che, thousands of miles apart, Kashmiris will ask each other if their cellular network is working. This is a paradox that Indian democracy is sustaining itself in, and has become a living nightmare for Kashmiris, especially after last year when their ‘autonomy’ was unilaterally snatched.
It has been more than a year since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. A year of living under siege, a siege which threatens to last forever. From August 5 last year, Kashmiris have been put behind bars upon the discretion of the state, as and when required. More than 600 individuals were booked under the draconian PSA (Public Safety Act) which allows persons to be detained without a trial for up to two years, on the ‘presumption; that they’might’ pose danger.
With mainstream political leaders being detained, some booked under PSA, other Kashmiris detained in far-off states where even the nearest of the kin can’t approach them, the courts have also seemingly shrugged off their responsibility of hearing the Habeas Corpus Petitions of the detained people.
Yet, as though this was not enough, the government is also keen on silencing anyone who speaks of the reality, other than the one it likes to portray, by detaining people for the thought crime committed by sharing their feelings online about the current situation of their home. The Media Policy, 2020, issued by the J&K Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), threatens to put jail journalists, editors, and writers who don’t speak the language wished by the Government.
Therefore, the Central Government only allows a select few people to visit the state while disallowing the democratically-elected parliamentarians to do so and for ‘carefully chosen’ news to go out of state, while scrapping any account that it doesn’t like. When I was in school I remember reading that the media was the ‘watchdog’ of the government. The little me didn’t know that the roles could be reversed in an Orwellian State like ours, where the State watches and approves everything, including thoughts.
The new protocol of the union has sent shivering waves across to the people of Kashmir. This remains especially true for the new domicile laws introduced by the Centre, during a time when the entire world has been under the grip of a pandemic and the former state was and continues to be under President’s rule.
According to these new domicile laws, in addition of those who already are the permanent residents, anyone who may have resided in the state for 15 years, or whose wards may have studied in Jammu and Kashmir for seven years and taken a class 10 or 12 examinations, will be eligible to be a state subject. They will thereby be eligible for jobs, scholarships, and land rights in the state.
These new domicile laws along with the planned redrawing of the constituent boundaries have instigated the fear of a demographic change in Kashmir. Though this demographic change doesn’t seem so immediate, in the long run, it is potentially a possibility that none can negate. Not to mention, the demographic change that took place in the Jammu region during the gruesome killings pertaining to partition and hence changing from a Muslim Majority to a Hindu majority state. So, the fear for Kashmiris doesn’t come from nowhere.
These new domicile laws have lowered down the bar of political narratives within Kashmir. If it was about ‘gaining autonomy’ earlier, now it seems to ask for ‘sustaining and living as Kashmiris’. It seems to ask to not have to fight for identity or to not be treated as a guest in their own homes or to be cornered in the place they have a right to exist with dignity. Kashmir, which happens to be the only Muslim-majority state in secular India, is on the verge of being eroded. Is this the way political demands and dissent is answered in the biggest democracy of the world?
The Indian State seems to work on the policy of ‘starving’ people in the first place and then being benevolent, as it gives little bread crumbs to its citizens, not subjects, to munch on.
The ongoing lockdown has led to much mental stress among people across the world. Experts claim that some people may even suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the pandemic gets over. Yet, Kashmiris live with a different kind of PTSD every day, in which they suffer from trauma, anxiety, fear, insecurity, yet it is never ‘POST’. It’s always present, continuous, and seems despairingly perpetual.
I remember this one incident from my childhood, which took place during an encounter outside my home. My family was inside my home, except my father who was out in his shop when the ‘encounter’ started. As soon as I heard the bullet shots, my 4-year-old self screamed for my father. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I had thought he was trapped amidst the clashes. I cried out and screamed for him to come home, and suddenly I saw him climbing in on our sidewalls. I had never felt more alive than in those moments when I touched him after I thought I couldn’t see him anymore.
After that incident, I have always prayed elaborately, asking for the protection of Allah before anyone leaves home. With time I had started to feel a bit stronger and prayed a little less when I saw anyone leaving home. But, after I saw the news of a 3-year-old child sitting on the chest of his dead grandfather, that childhood fear came back.
The family of the 3-year-old claim that their kid gets up in the middle of the night only to say “Thak-Thak”, the sound of bullets. His entire childhood remains scarred, sadly. But, in Kashmir, we have less happy faces and even less happy childhood. Kashmir is not just conflicted land, it has conflicted souls, troubled people, anxiety-ridden minds, and scarred childhoods. We have half-mothers and half-widows, half-living and half-dead people.
While writing this article I had to gather courage and hope because even writing symbolizes aspiration. I have forgotten, we have forgotten, what to aspire for. Encounters, deaths, burned houses, and ruined lives are what symbolize us. We are a population who don’t know what peace means in the real sense of the word.
“Vaeni ti cha roozmut keh parri“
The line above roughly translates to “Is there anything else that remains to be done?”, that’s what my Abu told my Mumma yesterday. And, probably that’s what you will hear in every home of Kashmir. A Saga! Melancholy!
We seem to only wait for the foreseen, yet uncertain, future. The abrogation of 370 and 35A might have given a boost to the superficial territorial integrity of India and won the Kashmiri land, yet it important to mention that it was accompanied by much losses suffered by businesses, thus debunking the myth of ‘development’ finally coming to the valley.
Once during the violent happenings of the Partition Gandhi said, “I look at hills and my help comes from there“. If Gandhi was alive today, he might have wanted to re-phrase, and would have said, “I look at hills and a cry for help comes from there.”