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A Brick In My Hand

By Nawaz Gul Qanungo

24 November, 2010
Kashmir Times

It was during the early times of the armed uprising, when mujahideen in Kashmir were called mujahideen without stumbling down too easily into a moral fix. It was late 1990, perhaps. Human slaughter in Kashmir was commonplace. Late evening, an ailing old man, almost on his death bed, was talking about what the Indian government was up to in Kashmir . The British Broadcasting Corporation had just finished its radio bulletin, talking about how Kashmir 's shaheed were being prevented from being buried at Srinagar 's Shaheed Malguzaar – the martyrs' graveyard – at Eidgah. “Why?” The old man raised the question, to himself.

Then, he raised his left hand, stretched it upwards and spoke with frail voice: Yim chhi ne yachhaan zi kahn nebrium gochh yor yun te pruchhun, “Yeet saas baed lookh kithpaeth mooid? Yim kaem maeir?” “ They don't want the world to come here and ask, ‘How did such thousands of people die? Who killed them?'” Yi rozi taa-qayaamat yihndi zulmuk nishaan. “ It could be an eternal proof of [ India 's] brutality [in Kashmir ].” Of course, it was also for ourselves to remember, lest we forgot.

After twenty years, the grand old man of Kashmir 's resistance – aka Hartaal Babb – seems to have got the message. Aur aaj pehli baar... aur pehle marhaley ke taur pe... Sringar mein Eidgah mein ek symbol taameer karne ke liye, jo shohda ki yaad mein ho, us roz [Friday] uska aaghaaz hoga... Namaaz ke baad wahan jaaya jayega, insha Allah, aur wahan eenten le kar... ek ek eent lekar sab jayenge... aur wahan us deewar ki buniyaad rakhi jayegi. “For the first time, as a beginning, we shall build a symbol in Srinagar , a symbol in remembrance of our martyrs. After the [Friday] prayers, we shall go there, Allah willing. Everybody must bring a brick each, and we shall lay a foundation.”

He came to the point a little later: Jo qaum qurbaniyan dekar un qurbaniyon ki hifaazat karna jaane, usko dunya ki koi taaqat shikast nahi de sakti. “A nation that makes sacrifices and knows how to preserve those sacrifices... no power of the world can overwhelm such a nation.”

THEN, THERE ARE other bricks. The ones that are used to build back credibility, brick by brick . It was July 11, earlier this year. Human slaughter was commonplace.

Are you planning once things settle down to maybe meet the families of those who have been killed?

Let me once and for all sort out this immediate problem and that definitely is something that I would need to do... not political, don't be surprised if you don't see it on any channel or read about it in any newspaper... But just for my own personal atonement for the way I feel... that would be something that I would like to do.

So you do feel the need to atone... you do feel that...

Even if my finger is not on the trigger, the butt of the rifle is on my shoulder. I mean I cannot and will not shy away from my responsibility I've never been one to shy away from my responsibility. I've never been one to shy away from admitting that look I'm wrong and I'm sorry.

Does that give you sleepless nights?

This “job” gives me sleepless nights. But then that's always been the nature of this place and this work.

Do you feel weakened in any way by this crisis? Do you feel that it has taken away your strength in a sense to bring back control to the city?

A tired, depressed Omar Abdullah took a very deep breath, sighed and said:

I have...

He stopped, closed his eyes, shrugged as if willingly betraying his helplessness. And said:

There are no easy answers to that question... This has been a huge setback for me personally and politically... And I've got to build it back brick by brick.

A pleased Barkha Dutt frowned and said:

That's honest!

It's the truth.

Behold! Bricks. And truth!

Mere mortals like us never get to know this one thing: Truth! (Especially when big brother has some of the “truth” taped with its telephone surveillance.) All that we have is a poor memory. So let's cut back further to the February of 2007:

“I feel people should know about all killings, those by the security forces as well as by militants... We want the state to correct the black history of the last 17 years of insurgency in the state... We know some of them have gone across [the LoC]. But there are others.”

Omar Abdullah, then president of the Opposition NC, was talking about Truth and Reconciliation”:

Everything should come up. People should know everything. There should be no doubts.”

Just that a little over a year later, the word “truth” figured not even once in the Vision Document 2008, the manifesto of the National Conference for the state assembly elections.

But then, truth we do need to know. Just why exactly, and how, did all those Kashmiri Hindus leave the valley? Who drove them away, who arranged for their colossal departure? How many daughters, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers have been raped in Kashmir in the last 20 years, what happened in Kunanposhpora? How many Kashmiris have been, as they say, disappeared? Exactly how many have been killed? How many litres of lost blood would that be? Would it be enough to turn the colour of Dal deep red, Mr Abdullah?

We are prisoners of such cruel questions. You could help find us some of this truth, and set us free, Mr Abdullah. And that could well be a brick, too. One for yourself.

PS: So, will there be a curfew on Friday?

The writer was formerly with Business Standard. Follow him at www.drqanungo.blogspot.com