The Many Emotions of Kashmir
5 October 2019 3:38 pm
In the current crisis, the Indian state has morphed into an ugly monster in the eyes of Kashmiris – with each new assertion, it sprouts a new limb, a third eye, a pulsating nose. The anger is palpable. It is hard to escape it. Curses from the old and cusses from the young ring loud in each conversation on India. The oldest and wisest, are calm – unfazed. They have seen it all. Their experience has taught them better – you cannot trust the mainland. As is typical of all abusive relationships, the abuser starts by building tension. There is then an act of violence, and later attempts at reconciliation. Finally, there is calm.
We have likely not reached calm yet, despite what we may hear on the news. Chances are we will not for a very long time – word on the street is that this is a long, long fight. Those who have lived through the 90’s agree. The fight then was for freedom, the fight now is against India’s oppression. After a while, the elderly say, you accept what comes your way – there is no talk of freedom, no hope for anything but status quo and even that is now shaken.
Sixty days since the blackout started, we still don’t understand the necessity for the current measures. We are angry. Historically and now, the list of grievances of Kashmiris have been many but it can be summed up in the following emotions we all have felt this past month – or as the octogenarians would say, for all of their life:
Betrayal – The first reaction to any of this. Kashmiris as a population feel betrayed by the Indian government which they had, with time and history, slowly begun to acquiesce to. A politician put it well when he said that this is the third generation betrayed by the country which had pledged to respect their rights.
Agency – To cut off a population from any source of communication and to dictate their lives and political destiny by locking up elected representatives, politicians, civil society, human rights activists, journalists, protesters and even minor children takes away the agency of a populace. What do we have, if not agency, in a country that celebrates independence and participation?
Deceit – The tourists were taken out, ferried in a rush. We were told it was a terror threat. We were lied to. We were placated amidst rumours – told that 370 was not to be tampered with, that it eroded the essence of the constitution. We were lied to. As were all citizens of India.
Consent – Have we been asked for what we’d like? Not seeking our consent, not even informing us, shows how little value India has for the opinions of Kashmiris – even Indian loyalists. All the people of the mainland are mere pawns at play in a macho chest thumping exercise of the current government. The question of consent of the oppressed doesn’t arise.
Dignity – To be lining up at police stations to convey messages of births and deaths, to wait for the TV news and watch the ticker to find a message from a loved one outside of the state is what we have been reduced to. It is the year 2019, and as the rest of the country browses videos on dirt cheap 4G, we have been caged and can likely not go visit family outside our neighbourhood.
Silencing – Why then, the silencing, if the move is meant to be good for us? Are we not rational enough to be happy with something that benefits us ‘in the long run’ or is India afraid that sans the curfew and the blackout their deceit will be exposed? No matter if the economy, the healthcare and mere indicators like education and nutrition are likely to take a hit. The silencing can go on a while longer since none of the rest of India does not seem to object.
Lies – Watching television news every day is a masochistic exercise. Lies are peddled by the dozen and for someone in Kashmir to watch the news is to watch India make a mockery of their plight. Those watching can only find respite in some international news channels as local dailies have also been brought in line with fear – dissenting newspapers are now two page mouthpieces of the mainland.
Exigencies – What about the daily wage of the labourer who earns hand to mouth? What about those whose livelihood depends on ferrying your tourists? Or the apple farmers, or peaches or plums. Do you know they have a shelf life of a few days? Did you read the story of the woman who lost her baby because a doctor couldn’t be called on time? The lives India claims to have saved by the blackout is far less than the lives, livelihoods and prospects lost this month. But then again, why take a move so drastic which would potentially lead to a loss of lives?
And finally, there is zulm or injustice. There is an alternate speech register in Kashmir and the world zulm features right on top for everything India does.
Zulm is broad – zulm starts when you are watched, constantly by the many army present on the streets. Zulm is being under the gaze.
Zulm continues as curfews are imposed, schools and colleges shut.
Zulm manifests every time a search operation begins – physical and mental violations of your space by impunity-driven armed forces.
Zulm is being collateral damage. Zulm is being shot by pellets in the body. Zulm is losing sight. Zulm is jumping into the river and drowning because you are afraid.
Zulm is not being allowed to speak to your family. Zulm is also not being allowed to speak for your people.
Zulm is cancelling weddings for the fear of safety of life. Zulm is halting any celebration because last week, your identity was snatched away.
Zulm is not having access to school books. Zulm is failing clients. Zulm is this month for a girl who can’t leave home but had to give an exam online.
Zulm is killing hope.
Zulm is losing an identity.
Zulm is humiliation.
Zulm will live in memory.
The media in India has to be blamed, the octogenarians watch it in amusement. Tragedy begets a healthy dose of humour. Television news has long dehumanized the Kashmiris, taking a tone of voice and speech that frames them as unruly kids in need of punishment. Questioning the mainstream media narrative is important for all audiences. Kashmiris are naturally disposed to suspect it.
If all Kashmiris are happy, why then do you not want to hear their voice? Why then is there discontent? Why is there a civil curfew? A voluntary, albeit a coercive form of shut down. If it is all normal, why then do people go out on the streets to protest and risk blindness and death?
The majority is happily deluded, happily reading headlines and news tickers that tell them ‘everything is normal’ – an alarmingly Orwellian state of affairs. Soon enough, as communication lines come back up, Indians will discover that scrapping a rather worthless institution will not change how Kashmiri feel. Sixty days (and counting) is a long time to sit and dwell on zulm. This is not a memory we will let go off easy.
Time will come and go but memory stays and the power of memory and memorialization is strong. The images generated will last in our minds – image of pellets of wounds and gashes. A Kashmiri man used as a human shield, throngs of crowds at funerals, mothers distraught, girls in burqas throwing stones, young boys being chased and picked up in night raids. Like the image of Parveena Ahenger standing with a photo, waiting, these images will define the identity of Kashmiris for the next few decades. These images and scars are memories. And memory of the oppressed doesn’t bode well for the oppressor. So while you may think flooding your social media has little impact today, remember that memory persists and propagates. The human cost of a blackout is in its stories, not in its statistics. It would bode well to hear and retell them. This memory of pain will be bequeathed to generations to come, in stories of zulm, it might do us well to acknowledge it now, lest it becomes worse with time and apathy.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Amnesty India.