“The manufactured, yet reluctant certainty & the unrelenting desire of there being yet another day to live keeps us tormenting more than the threat of the so called Indian ‘security forces’ hounding us like sniffer dogs”, my uncle grumbled, gazing toward me holding a face that seemed bloodless & a heart that kept beating with preternatural sounds. We had been on the run for 4 days since the martyrdom of the charismatic commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, Burhan Muzaffar Wani on 8th of July 2016 , trying some of the bizarre and precarious escapes from Indian troops.
Stories circulating of someone tossed on to the roadside who could not stand the trial of torture chambers & someone having been beaten by the cricket bats embedded with 5 inch iron nails kept us awake all through the nights.
Is this that defines Palestine too? Someone, not so surprised, asked & when no one answered, churned the reply himself. Yes, there’s a common thread running through Palestine & Kashmir – that of occupation, suffering & resistance. Nothing unites us like pain coming from the same knife. It doesn’t discriminate. Except perhaps for the fact that they don’t bomb or bulldoze our homes yet like they do in Palestine. At least, we’re fortunate in that sense. SHUT Up!, a voice full of disdain blurted out. What do they do with our homes during encounters, fake or otherwise? Don’t they sprinkle them with gunpowder & fit mines into them? Do they care for our family members who might be trapped inside? We’re unfortunate, utterly unfortunate. Palestinians have at least reached a certain threshold of resistance & solidarity which still eludes us. An awkward gap of silence followed. Then again he kept on asking questions and answering them himself for quite sometime. It could well have been that a cigarette didn’t occupy his mouth like everyone else present there! What’s the meaning of our prayers when we still fear them? Doesn’t God tell us to believe in destiny? Do we disbelieve determinism then? Sheer hypocrisy, sheer hypocrisy, he kept on chattering excitedly & I think the monotonous chatter would have given way to an interesting philosophical talk about free will & fatalism had not a women from a distance wailed toward us – “hata tima aayv’e” (Hey! They are coming). (They – the overarching & besetting anaphor for the ‘security forces’ in any occupation).
My uncle laddered down the rungs & ran toward a narrow alley between the rows of houses. I heard something creaking that first seemed within myself when the third rung of the ladder broke in the middle & I fell down. We had been escaping in the second storey of our home & the ladder would carry us toward the backyard into the alleys where we would escape into the apple gardens in a perfect black night. There was no refuge, Only illusions. Army & police were said to be dotting our apple gardens too, but the vast expanse would at least provide a expansive space to escape the hands that would otherwise carry us to the dreaded torture camps from where no one was believed to have returned home alive, at least not on his legs. Nevertheless, the fear of a bullet or a teargas canister piercing your skull from behind was always there. Or still worse, the pellets fired directly into your eyeballs & hence out rightly blinding you on the spot.
All these days I was constantly reminded of one of the protagonists of Jhumpa Lahiri’s famous novel The Lowland. Udayan is a naxalite in Calcutta inspired by the architects of the movement, Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal & Jangal Santhal following Marxism, Leninism, Mao Tse-tung’s thought. When Udayan, hiding inside the swamp, is finally arrested by the police & ordered to run away, he’s shot in the back. I could imagine myself falling flat on the ground in place of Udayan & my nails digging into the damp soil of the Apple gardens.
Someone tried to light up a cigarette, but someone else blew air into the match stick saying that he had heard the red of the cigarette can be seen exactly from a distance of 1 kilometer, the same distance a bullet can be fired from. No one dared to smoke hence after & we took a deep breath & sighed noisily then spreadeagled onto the luscious cover of grass beneath our apple gardens. Someone hugged an apple tree & grasped the green blades of grass and quietly wept. They think they would wrest our gardens from us. Never, Never. They belong to us, we belong to them. ‘Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos‘ (Whoever owns the ground, it is his from the depth of the earth to the height of the sky) – However forbidden the loudness was, he blurted out at top of his lungs in such a hushed atmosphere and no one tried to calm him down.
Internet access & mobile network, as everyone knows, is the first casualty in Kashmir before they start their killing & torture spree. None of us carried our smart phones with us, not because there was no network but because of the fear of being caught & our phones snatched away & observed for any martyr’s or the octogenarian leader Syed Ali Geelani’s photo or some other “anti-national” content for that matter. And in most cases the phones are never returned. A friend told me that he had hid his phone in a barn under the straw & another one told that his is under the mattress he had folded into his wardrobe & yet another said he would put his laptop and phone behind the books in his library if he hadn’t witnessed libraries being ransacked & some books taken away. I too would have confessed had I not felt embarrassed to have hid my phone, laptop, wallet, a power bank in a cowshed. After all these are the spoils of war!
It was perhaps 5th consecutive night we had been awake and were returning from the garden. Our families had been indoors, sometimes with their bellies hugging the floor for fear of being hit by bullets drilling through the window panes whenever the protests seemed nearby. Grandma had narrowly survived a heart attack & someone’s grandpa, suffering from asthma, had been coughing his innards out & gasping for air as they sprayed pepper gas that found its way inside our homes.
An elderly neighbor, trying to first hush up but nevertheless said that he had heard people saying that body of a youth was found in a local river in a village with his defaced countenance. His face had been cut from the corners of his mouth to the ends of earlobes. Apparently he had been arrested while returning from the funeral of Burhan Muzaffar Wani
I return to these words after a gap of about 3 months & nothing seems to have changed except the toll, of killed, of blinded, of maimed, of injured & of maddened. Like everything else around this too is uncertain. No one can tell you for certain of people dead, blinded or injured. Though newspapers need to guesstimate for their readers, so they do. Greater Kashmir in its editorial of Oct 10, for its certainty, remains uncertain somehow & shows the toll ‘terribly high- more than 90 killings, several hundred blindings & over 14000 injured.’
Right from my birth I have been living under the Indian occupation, more often than not, my gaze striking an Indian trooper’s camouflaged bandolier or the wooden butted gun hanging from his drooping shoulders. Close to a million Indian forces have build up over the decades of Occupation scattered from the steep cliffs to the alleys in my village. And although manifestly unnatural & unwanted they’ve become an abiding reality of Kashmir’s landscape.
Obviously, they’re a result of the false promises of India, a conspicuous evidence of India’s moral repugnance.
India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, writing in ‘The Nation on 11 April 1934, in the background of the British Indian government’s excesses on the radical protest in Chittagong & Midnapur, following the armory raid & anti-tax campaigns of 1930 forcibly recorded his protest & condemnation in following words :
“It’s a strange record, worthy of preservation for an incredulous posterity…. large military forces are brought from distant places ; they occupy territories in a way no alien army occupies the enemy’s land in wartime. They treat almost the whole population as suspect & force even young boys & girls to go about with cards of identity of various hues with photographs attached. They limit the movement of inhabitants & even lay down the dress that must be worn. They turn out people from their houses at a few hour’s notice. They close schools & treat the children en bloc as enemy persons. Under various pains and penalties they force the people to welcome them publicly, & to salute the flag which has become the sign of humiliation to them. Those that disobey have to suffer heavily & to face reprisals.”
The equivalence of these words to the state of affairs in Kashmir today is unmistakable. It’s deeply ironic that a nation once occupied & suffering under the thumb of the Britishers could be blinded to the suffering & occupation of another nation under their own force.
A.G Noorani in one of his essays in Frontline has painstakingly listed some of the ‘unkempt promises’ of Jawaharlal Nehru, the chief architect of our forced ‘accession’ to the state of India , that needs to be entirely reproduced here to remind everyone of our birth right & legitimacy of our freedom struggle & to summon the collective national & international resolve towards the final resolution of Kashmir dispute.
“Nehru’s unkept promises”
To Liaquat Ali Khan, on October 26, 1947: “I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the State to accede to India. Our views which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or State must be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people and we adhere to this view” (White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir 1948, page 46). It was also sent to Attlee.
Further, “our assurance that we will withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of the State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your Government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world ” (ibid, page 51, paragraphs 5 and 7).
Vallabhbhai Patel’s speech at a public meeting in Bombay on October 30, 1948: “Some people consider that Muslim majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and simple. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. The moment we realise that the people of Kashmir do not want us to be here, we shall not be there even for a minute” (The Hindustan Times, October 31, 1948).
Nehru’s speech at Calcutta on January 1, 1952: “If then, the people of Kashmir tell us to get out, we will do so. We will not stay there by force. We did not conquer the territory. There is no doubt about it that he [Sheikh Abdullah] is the leader of the people of Kashmir, a very great leader. If tomorrow Sheikh Abdullah wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan, neither I nor all the forces of India would be able to stop it because if the leader decides, it will happen. … Since the matter has been referred to the U.N., we have given our word of honour that we shall abide by their decision. India’s pledge is no small matter and we shall stick by it in the eyes of the world” (SWJN, Volume 17, pages 76-78).
In Parliament on June 26, 1952: “And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says, if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it [the Army] will not go there. … It might pain us but we would not send an Army against them, we might accept that, however much hurt we might feel … and we would change our Constitution about it” (ibid., Volume 18, page 418).
In Parliament on August 7, 1952: “So while the accession was complete in law and in fact, the other fact, which has nothing to do with law, also remains, namely our pledge to the people of Kashmir. If you like, to the people of the world, that this matter can be reaffirmed or cancelled or cut out by the people of Kashmir, if they so wish. We do not want to win people against their will and with the help of armed forces, and if the people of Jammu and Kashmir State so wish it, to part company from us, they can go their way and we shall go our way. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions like this. I hope this great Republic of India is a free, voluntary, friendly and affectionate union of the States of India. … ultimately—I say with all deference to this Parliament—the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir, neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations, nor by anybody else” (ibid., Vol. 18, pages 293-296).
Besides this, however trite it might sound, it was Nehru who took the Kashmir issue to United States providing international legitimacy to it with the consequent UN resolutions that call for plebiscite or independence as well, that finds legal justification in the UN resolution adopted on 13 August 1948 which recommended that a final decision on the status of J&K ‘shall be determined in accordance with the will of the people’ without reference to a choice between either India or Pakistan. (in Preface to Kashmir in Conflict – Victoria Schofield.)
Let me conclude with these perspicacious words of Tacitus speaking about Pax Romana – Solitudinum faciunt et pacem appellant. (they make a desolation & call it peace).
Sheikh Shahid is from Pulwama. Writes for Countercurrents.org & Kashmir Reader, which is currently banned by the state government.