Kashmir is a Nightmare Tonight

Kashmir is a nightmare.pngMy heart, it sinks.

I am looking into the darkness for answers and not finding any.

What  is it?

Article 35A?

A war?

Psy-ops?

Srinagar is crowded with muted people, like in a nightmare. They walk about with eyes half closed. Peering at what monsters hide at an uncertain distance. Everyone is afraid. Everyone is unafraid. They rub empty hands to keep them warm, as they strain their eyes with a blank face. The empty arms of their pherans hanging lifelessly on the sides. Kashmir, tonight, is a nightmare.

There were notices given to ration ghats to sell off everything because to a country starved for good news, food must not be in short supply. No news comes out of the iron corridors of power in Kashmir. Everyone is speculating the end of their world in whatever ways they can. What gets you through the night may not survive you tomorrow.

Will there be a war?  India and Pakistan have spared no opportunity to squabble like unruly neighbours. Their collective noise has only brought misery to Kashmir. And now, everyone says we are inching towards a war. So, while the snow is slowly melting in the thaw of early spring India has sent additional men to heat the air up with smoke and sirens.

The unbridled hate that has been so lovingly showered on Kashmiris in the past days, if not weeks, if not months and years has left little to imagination. One must be quiet in these times, very quiet, I have been repeatedly warned. There are families with children in India and anxious parents living alone, now awaiting war. It may come in any form. In the shape of a thousand more soldiers. In the shame of public beatings. In the form of dead children. Only they see the end of this war.

 

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The Emperor has No Clothes

There was recently a fashion show in India where pellet gun injuries were used as an “effect”. To showcase “Kashmiriyat”, none the less.

It takes time for such things to go down!

In other words, “an Indian fashion house used injuries caused by Indian forces to Kashmiris as a make up effect to sell expensive clothing”.

I can feel the lump in my throat.

India for long has been trying to appropriate Kashmiri culture, but this level of insensitivity is irksome. And frightening. There were simpler times when we had to deal with movies which dealt with Kashmiri stereotypes and Indian directors’ fancies of Kashmiri people, like belles in heavy costumes singing in shikaras, to the pretty shepherdess or people who live lives so isolated they cannot exist outside the movies. Now, it has become plain sinister.

This summer, Indian forces indiscriminately shot pellet guns at unarmed people destroying lives and families of victims, and now some random designer thought it appropriate to use the injuries for “effect”. Using a form of torture, or a fancy weapon used to blind Kashmiri populace en-masse, to represent Kashmiri culture may be a new low, but somehow fits in the unequal relationship India has with Kashmir. Since India has been hunting Kashmiris, and allowed its laws to do so, for the last 26 years atleast, it is just collecting trophies now.

A model walking down the ramp with a bandage and a faux wound may look dramatic, but where is the empathy in that? In April when Chetan Bhagat wrote a mindless (and heartless) letter to Kashmiri youth, the imperialist over tones were barely veiled. With this fashion show, the designers have sought to normalize the torture and victimization of Kashmiris. So as if patronizing was not enough, India seeks to trivialize and mock the suffering caused by its armed forces. If I am reading this correctly, is death the new fashion? Death is a part of Spring – Summer collection? I would be amused at how this sounds, had it not been so tragically accurate. Death was a part of the Kashmir’s spring and summer this year, and instead of apologizing, or as we keep repeating, empathizing, India has designers making light of it.

It is this culture that allows the unsuspecting Indian to continue with the occupation of Kashmir and churn newer and fancier justifications for it. That the whole culture of Kashmir can be treated as a commodity to be modified and sold as per convenience. In this is a sense of superiority that the military occupation affords the creative minds, where voices unheard cease to exist.

We cannot however ignore the morbidity that the designers chose to imply. By calling pellet guns a part of Kashmiri culture, they have given it the all the necessary justifications an imperialist would like. Had this been done as a protest, it would have implied that India is forcing the pellets on people of Kashmir and thereby brutalising their culture and history. But done otherwise (and with commercial intents), the implication is that “we rule Kashmir with the stick and guns, and that is so ingrained in the discourse that it is an acceptable facet of the populace.” The fashion show is a celebration of this gift to Kashmir by India. Perhaps the designers thought the pellet would be the new paisley, just another pattern from Kashmir, no matter  how removed from humanity it may be. And to draw this connection between the motif and the macabre is the ‘achievement’ of their art? The very idea that the lives of Kashmiris can be so cheap that injuries inflicted by an unpunishable army can be glamorised and weaponry used to blind and maim be celebrated is a major element of this nationalistic pride that people gain by “holding on” to the territory of Kashmir. In the same sense, it is also the cause that lends rationale to calling for a genocide in Kashmir (as done by an official handle of a Govt agency and a journalist with mainstream media, among others).

This is utter disgrace. An affront to humanity and indeed, art.

To Save Ourselves

My thoughts are all over the place. And there is no coherence.

The aftermath of killing of Burhan Wani has been met with the usual Indian response to everything in Kashmir. When the government of India hanged Afzal Guru, this was exactly what Omar Abdullah’s government did. When the government banned beef and then RSS mob killed a Kashmiri trucker, same. When the Army killed two boys in Kupwara in April 2016, guess what the government did?

Now its been three days, we are still under curfew. And it is expected to go on for at least two more days. What is a curfew? It is the disquiet which is propagated as peace by India. It is the subjugation which goes silently in the night of oblivion. It is painful breathing in air of pepper gas and smoke – and despair.  India is a violent country that prefers to shut down an entire population with the might of its army to curry a sadistic nationalist pleasure. All over social media, people ‘celebrate’ the death of Kashmiris – not the ones who took up arms against the Indian nation, but the ordinary civilians. Lost faces in a crowd.

What kind of people celebrate the death of people they never met, never knew and whose existence does not impact them at all – for better or worse. But that is the whole Indian sentiment about Kashmir, isn’t it? Its forced appendage to the Indian nation is a matter of pride for some and statesmanship for others; no one is quite clear how its severance will impact them, if it does at all.

Meanwhile, we have curfew immediately following Eid. The markets haven’t opened since Eid, offices, schools, colleges, universities are all shut – and people are counting the dead. Every few hours there is a boy dead or blinded. Every time this happens there is some sort of announcement from the Indian establishment to use “restraint” and “nonlethal weapons/measures”. This jingoism was adopted in 2010 and has continued since – leading to pellet injuries which cause blindness and death. Most of the people, who are shot, are shot at above the waist. Failure looms large, but the establishment has been ignoring it.

The Indian media and journalists were quick to jump onto the news of Burhan being killed calling him anything from “a terrorist” to “pig”, some even calling for mass murder of all the people who attended his funeral. Clearly, we are on the other side of the Pir Panjal. There is no India here. In this valley, Kashmir is held hostage not just to herself but to the undefined conscience of a nation she seeks freedom from. After years of misrepresentation, we cannot rely on others to tell our stories. We cannot be spectators to our own stories. Nor wait for a significantly large number of people to die, before the world takes note.

Everything about Kashmir is problematic in India. If Kashmiris speak up for Kashmir, they are asked to leave and go to Pakistan (or anywhere else). This is symptomatic again of the Indian understanding – the people can leave; the land they can take. Again, reflected in their discomfort with Article 370 which grants special status of Kashmir, and is in most cases like this one is irrelevant. There is a callous disregard of Kashmiri lives. 120 killed in 2010, 30 so far in 2016. And that does not even include the people who have been killed in incidents during the six years. There is hardly a number – no one is certain.

When we talk of death on such regular basis it is easy to forget that they were people, like you, the reader and like me, the blogger. They had aspirations just like us – and most probably did not want to be shot dead. They too had families and lives going on. And this morbid talk is not made easy by the jargon used in the media. When the government spokespersons choose to address the media – and surprisingly when the police head spoke to the media – they all lament “loss of lives”, “incidents”. No one in the establishment says that police/CRPF killed the unarmed protestors. This narration is slowly morphed into the even gentler “30 33 people died in the protests” – holding the perpetrators blameless, not even mentioning the killers, reducing the guilt.

Of course, the media has other tricks too. Like the victim blaming – they were shot because they were protesting, and the whole discussion in the public psyche dissolves into whether the protest was warranted or not. Why were they doing it? Who made them do it? They want to disturb peace? Why hold such a large funeral? This was best displayed in April when Nayeem and Iqbal were killed by the CRPF: there was an immediate attempt to discredit Nayeem by calling him names (a stone pelter, mobster etc.) Again, veering off from the crime of the armed forces of shooting unarmed civilians. This time too, the focus is hardly the attacks on hospitals and unarmed civilians – but how to quell the ugly situation that has come to be in Kashmir. Face saving. Of course, people like to question the basis of protests too – why are they angry or sad over the death of Burhan in the first place – they just do not want to listen to the answers. The answers don’t sit well with the Indian nationalism – they don’t want to hear that Burhan is hailed as hero in Kashmir or that even though they may not follow in his footsteps they won’t diminish his bravado and image. The background story why Burhan became a militant in the first place is not an uncommon story in Kashmir.

Quoting from Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s article for Kafila: Kashmir Burns, Again (https://kafila.org/2016/07/11/kashmir-burns-again/)

“In October 2010, Burhan Wani, then sixteen years old, was on a motorcycle, with his brother Khalid Wani, and a friend. They were out on a bike ride, through Tral, the area that they had grown up in, as teenage boys do, anywhere. They were stopped at a Special Operations Group Picket of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and ordered to get cigarettes for the troopers. Khalid went and got the cigarettes, Burhan and the friend waited. After the transaction, for no apparent reason, the troopers pounced on the boys, beat them up severely, damaged the bike, which had been Khalid’s pride and joy. Khalid lost consciousness. But perhaps it was Burhan who suffered the greatest injury, and that injury, an invisible one, was what any self respecting young person with a sense of dignity might feel when beaten for no reason other than the fact that he is there to be beaten.

It is possible that Burhan the teenager died that day when his brother’s motorcycle was stopped so casually, so callously. It is possible that Burhan the ‘militant’, who grew to be ‘militant commander’ was born that very same day.

Within a few weeks Burhan disappeared into the mists of the forests of South Kashmir. He emanated, over the years, in the form of videos shared over social media, playing cricket, listening to songs through his headphones by a campfire, posing, like a slightly silly macho young man with guns that he should never have had to feel the need for, that were thrust on him by the fact that ‘men with guns’ is the most important face of itself that the Indian state shows to Kashmiris. The militancy that is generated is the mirror of the occupation’s protocols. Armed men beget armed men. Commander Burhan Wani was produced and destroyed by the Indian state, which made it impossible for a young, intelligent, charismatic man like Burhan to salvage his dignity by any means other than that of being an armed combatant.”

The spurge in street protests against India have made this conflict a very individual thing. With continuous blockades in many areas of the city, curfews and crackdowns in villages, every person in one way or the other is a direct victim. There is no escape. The increase in protests, as much as India would like to blame Pakistan for it, is a sign that  too many deaths in the neighbourhoods have emboldened the people rather than deter them – sharpening the hatred like a tack. And the discourse in India does not help. It’s not like India does not want to seen as doing things. After rushing more troops to Kashmir, for some odd reason the Indian Home Ministry called a meeting of mullahs in Delhi to discuss the Kashmir unrest, and the Indian PM chaired a meeting of which the Kashmiri CM was not a part. It does a lot, just not the right things.

Days like today are rare. There was no news of fresh casualties, no news of clashes. In the interim and unrelenting curfew, people have come forth to help others establishing langars and volunteering in hospitals. These are not the things the Indian media would like to talk about. But we must. The biggest residue in a curfew is the despair it leaves behind in the debris of the failing society. What next? Everyone seems to ask. There are no answers. We will open our shops and schools till untimely death come knocking again or India decides to poke the fire. Till curfew is announced again, and the public beaten and battered locked inside homes. There is no giving up. That’s why we must talk more about the small battles won. To keep the hope alive. To save ourselves.

India and the Kashmir Ad

Dear Admakers from India,
There has been a spate of Kashmir-focused advertisements in India media recently. I feel we need to talk. This didnt need to be elaborated, but here is the deal, you seem to not understand Kashmir.
It started with a benign ad by an electronic payment gateway. A man somewhere in rural Kashmir makes an e-payment for some spare parts and produces electricity so that kids can play at night. (At night? No, sir, not in Kashmir. Its neither safe nor tradition for kids to be out of homes after Maghrib prayers have been called out. Ask around.)
Then came the incredibly cute ad from a bank set to a traditional Kashmiri rhyme. Personally, I dont find the ad to have much in common with Kashmir except the background score, but anyway.
Then it became sinister. As all things Kashmiri tend to do, when India starts meddling.
A telecom operator thought it would be a good idea to sell phones by embarrassing Kashmir shawl merchants. The ad was the subject of  a law suit and was taken off air. I am not sure if the people behind this ad apologized, which as professionals they should have.
Then came the this ad which conveniently chose to ignore the army’s atrocities in Kashmir to portray them as friends of Kashmiri villagers.
Not to mention, the Kashmir tourism ad which so calmly ignores Jammu. Eh? (The background score is gorgeous!)
This latest ad which uses the Indian Army is what got me to this table with you. As a Kashmiri, who is appalled by the level of knowledge Indians in general have about Kashmir, I find it to be an attempt to portray Kashmir as a village utopia which it is not. The address is all wrong. It of course creates a good impression on the target audience, but ignores certain basics about Kashmir.
On a side note, one still deals with people (highly qualified professionals) who ask “Kashmir has its own language?”, “Isnt Kashmiri and Urdu the same thing?” etc. etc. Off the topic, but yeah, that happens.
Unlike what people see in these ads, a pheran clad man running towards an army camp is more likely to be shot at or arrested. Not to mention, denied entry into the camp in the very least. I am sure your research would have brought up the difficult dynamics of the relationship locals share with the Indian Army. Can I tell you a secret? We are not really fond of the army.
For an Army camp to be set in the background of a “life long” friendship will require a collective forgetfulness of last so many years in Kashmir. The ad is a convenient brush over the disturbing realities of living in a place so militarized that it is constantly at war. Indians on an average are blissfully unaware of the undercurrents of the relationship between locals and the army. It may appear neutral and accommodating, but beneath the tranquil facade is the relationship of distrust forged by fear and reinforced by the history on Indian Army in Kashmir. Men like Bashir of the ad have been murdered by the dozen by the Indian Army with impunity. The fact that the other person is allowed to kill you on any frivolous basis is hardly the ground for life long friendship. See my point?
But the problem is set deeper. The ads have hardly any value in the contemporary Kashmir setting. Kashmir is at best a prop. A mountainous background giving the idea of a far flung place. A place with limited access. It ads value to the brand, of course, and simultaneously beats a subtle nationalistic drum, I know that. But then, why in Kashmir? You could have done it at some place in India where people are actually fond of the armymen?
The friendly Army and the friendly villagers using a friendly online portal to share baby pics on Whatsapp. It is a furtherance of the propaganda posters which the Army puts up every now and then around Srinagar. Of course, Srinagar is of least interest to you. It is neither rural nor inaccessible. We have cities too, you see. And contrary to what you may assume, we do have people who speak fluent un-accented English and have an immaculate Urdu pronunciation. I wonder why no one finds them. They are all over.
Granted that the tragedy of Kashmir is not going to sell you any products, the least you could do is not to use it to sell any more. A little perspective is all that I am talking about. When you speak of Kashmir and your army in its context, see it how Kashmiris would see it. At least try. Your ads will come out different.
A funny thing happened while I was writing this letter, you have come up with another ad. There are two kids in this ad, running after an army truck waving them goodbye. I am reminded of two episodes from my life in Kashmir by this scene. Want to hear? (You dont have much choice). Once, I was on my way to school and an army truck passed by me. There was a little boy, no bigger than the girl in the ad (if memory serves, he even looked similar). The truck scared him so much that he ran and hid himself behind me. Seeking refuge behind a stranger was, to that small child, the better option than just walking alongside the truck. Another incident happened when I was 12 years old. I was going by an auto rickshaw, one wintry day and an army-man stopped the auto and directed us to come out. Being only 12, I thought he must be calling the driver and not me. But, boy oh boy, was I wrong. First he scolded me for not getting out when called, to which I apologized. And then he asked for my identity card – which I did not have. I tried explaining that I didn’t have one and he could check with my school and all, but to no avail. He wanted to detain me or something till the auto driver stepped in and pleaded. Showed his identity card and assured the armyman that I was just a kid (because pre-teens sometimes can be mistaken for adults, you know). The armyman let me go finally but not without a tremble in my spine which had nothing to do with the cold weather.
Enough of nostalgia, but do you get my point? Next time if you want to place your product in the Kashmiri context, find a theme which is less embarrassing.
Laughing all the way on the hilarity of your ads,

Rich Autumns