India only wants Kashmir, not its people.
I belong to the generation of the 90’s; a time when struggle for the independence of Kashmir was passing through its bloodiest phase. A few months before it all started, I was enrolled in a prestigious school in Srinagar, but my education started at home.
As one of my former principal writes in his memoirs – which appeared in the school magazine a few years later – we had only 60 working days that year ─ the rest of the year was consumed by curfews, crackdowns, and strikes. Living in a posh colony shielded me from the outside world; I couldn’t see what was happening outside my fortified home, but even walls couldn’t stop the voices of freedom pouring into my life.
Like any child who recites nursery rhymes, I recited my own,
Hum kya chahtay? Azaadi!
(What do we want? Freedom!)
Sarhad paar jayenge, Kalashankope layengay, Bharat ko bhagayenge!
(We’ll go across the border, we’ll bring Kalashnikovs and we’ll make India flee!)
As a child, I recall asking my father what a kalashankope (kalashnikov) was and he pointed towards a pressure cooker. I wondered why we would have to go to distant land to get a pressure cooker.
Time passed by; my home became my school and my parents became my teachers. I learnt English war words before I learnt the alphabet. ‘Grenade’, ‘bomb’, ‘curfew’, and ‘crackdown’ became part of my lingo.
In May 1990, my mother was expecting my younger brother. While accompanying her to the Lal Ded hospital with my grandmother, I saw blood for the first time. A blast had occurred just outside the hospital; the injured were ferried into the maternity hospital, blood oozing from their bodies.
I will never forget that image.
The battle outside became bloodier while my battle had just begun. Bomb blasts, rape, firing, killing ─ I struggled to understand why all of this was happening, but soon I gave up. My parents shielded me from the outside world; politics became a big no-no in our house. Nobody talked about the daily happenings.
This disconnect, between reality and the small world, that was created for me was filled with television. It successfully separated the outside world from the world within me. Television became a part of my existence; it became my reason to live. My world was isolated, but occasional search raids, crackdowns or an encounter in the distant neighbourhood disturbed the calmness my parents were able to construct.
Reality hits hard:
It was late 1995 immediately after the inferno at Charari Sharief, when the shrine of a saint, most revered by the Kashmiris, was gutted by security forces as militants were said to be hiding inside. We had shifted from the city to the suburbs, living in a colony where neighbours hardly cared to know about each other.
One chilly night, mother was not at home nor was my younger brother. An overnight encounter at a house, two streets away, forced Farooq sahib, father’s close friend, to stay at our home. In the middle of the night, a loud knock at the door woke us up. Papa went outside, eyes half closed, and I followed. As he opened the door, ten men dressed in traditional olive green of the security forces pounced on him, slapping him till he fell to the ground. This was followed by kicks and hits by the butts of their guns.
Only a couple of steps behind my father, I stood, shocked, unable to move.
Farooq sahib rushed out of the house only to be met by the same fate. Blood was oozing out of his nose as he was dragged back inside the house. I tried to follow but one of them caught hold of me; I didn’t resist.
Then there was silence.
I thought I had gone deaf, until I heard the cries of pain come from inside the house. I felt hopeless, helpless and terribly alone. It continued for hours. Then they left and our lawn was filled with neighbours. Papa put on a brave face as he was being removed from the house, carried by three men. He pointed his finger towards me and signalled something to the next door neighbour, a woman who was holding my hand. She hugged me, moving my face towards her and away from the scene.
My father was moved to a nearby hospital for a few days and only very recently did he reveal the happenings of that night; how he had been tortured and beaten mercilessly. He was unclothed, water was poured all over his body and he was electrocuted; all this torture because a militant had allegedly passed through our compound and crossed over to the other side of the colony; an incident over which we had no control.
Coming of age:
Time doesn’t fly when the sole purpose of living is just to save your life.
It was early 2000; the hype around the Y2K bug had died down. I had started reading newspapers filled with morbid stories of death and grief.
I was growing up. In Kashmir, growing up comes with its own set of problems. When all people are seen as enemies, a young 13-year-old is seen as a potential enemy. There were security forces all over, ogling at women, passing lewd remarks and all the while nobody dared to raise their voice.
Fear of life is the greatest fear, and I was there, caught in the web of uncertainty.
“Identity card kahan hai?”
(Where is your identity card?), a security official demanded.
(I don’t have one.)
Abuses were hurled at me and I was hit with a bamboo stick; I was made to hold my ears whilst doing sit-ups and then I was told to run. I ran as fast I could, but it seemed to me that time had stopped and it was a race for life.
The next day I got my identity card made and it became a part of my life. Air, food and water are needed for survival, but in Kashmir, an identity card is more important than the rest. Every time I stepped out of the house, mother reminded me to carry it. Like all the other things, this piece of paper also became a part of my life. It lies in my wallet as an unwanted necessity.
The final blow:
When I first got access to the internet in 2006; I began reading everything I could get my hands on. I read about the 90’s and realised that all these years, despite the fact that I lived in Kashmir, there had been a severe disconnect between me and my Kashmir. In Kunan Poshpora, a hundred women were gang raped by security forces. Protestors were fired upon at Gaw Kadal killing 57, and the whole town of Handwara was burned to ashes by the Indian security forces. 10,000 people are still missing after being detained by security forces.
Then came 2008 and it began all of a sudden. People were protesting against the transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. Then the communal forces in Jammu did the unbelievable; they imposed an economic blockade and huge protests erupted. A protest against the transfer of land was now a full blown revolution. There were no guns, only bullets from the security forces. One after another, protestors fell to their bullets.
I was angry. People my age were protesting peacefully and bullets were showered on them. I couldn’t sleep at night and I wanted all this to end.
The killing of innocents is still continuing and I’ve lost count of the dead ─ everyone has.
What country showers bullets on its own people?
I came to realise that India only wanted Kashmir, not its people. Kashmiris were just an unwanted addition to the piece of real estate they had acquired. Nobody cares about the people, whether they live or die does not matter. Even young children aren’t spared and this makes me wonder, how are these innocent children a threat to a great nation of a billion people, one of the largest democracies in the world?
I don’t feel like an Indian and I don’t see why I should feel like one. Indian security forces have killed my people and raped our women – 10,000 people are still missing. Independent sources put the number of dead between 70,000 and 100,000; nobody knows how many were injured and how many have been disabled for life.
The government figures say that 20,000 people met death; that means more than two innocents were killed every single day for twenty-one years.
I am not anti-Indian. The common Indian has no role in our sufferings. In fact, they have more in common with Kashmiris than the corrupt Kashmiri politicians in the government. I don’t throw stones at the security forces as my upbringing never taught me so. I will fight but I will not hurt you.
Kashmiris also want peace, development, jobs, but above all, they want the right to life and dignity which has been sinfully denied.
Azaadi (independence) may sound utopian but it is the only option left to save Kashmir and the Kashmiris. Some may argue that if independent Kashmir is viable, it is surrounded by three nuclear powers. My answer to them is that if Kashmir is independent, even for a day, that day would be more precious than a thousand years lived under the brutal, repressive regime we are currently living under.
The day our land will truly be ours and the air we breathe is free again, the winds will bring the songs of joy, peace and freedom.
I am hopeful.
Wande tchali sheen gali, beye yie bahar.
(If the winter comes, can the spring be far behind?)
This post originally appeared here.
Follow Omar on Twitter @obi3e
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.