By Adil Bhat
It is a story of several long dark nights of the 1990s. Here the lives were spent amidst the craggy barbed wires, the sudden calls for crackdowns, uncalled for detentions, disappearances, abuse and the senseless killings of innocents. Children shivering in the winter breeze under the dark clouds huddled close to their mothers. The young sturdy men were made to squat. And the booted soldiers barged into the homes – frantically searching for ‘militants’. These were desperate times.
I found refuge in books, in power of the pen and writing. It was one such night of a dreaded military crackdown. As a child, the news of a crackdown sent a chill through my spine. The chill of the wintry night was always overpowered by that of the military “clean-up.”
This time, again, it was my village and all our faces had a similar expression of extreme fear, with varying intensities.
Today, I recall those nights and, while penning down my experience, I got hold of an old diary that had these words written, smeared with tears. Though the tear drops on the paper have dried, smudging the ink, I distinctly recollect the feelings of pain. Soon after the soldiers left the area, we went inside our homes. I ran up the staircase, leading to my room. It was anxiety. I still remember. I took out my diary and wrote these lines:
We struggle to rise above everyone and everything. The pain suffered and the loss incurred. For a moment look above in the sky and that too appears gloomy. The lost brilliance of the light. And we fall. One by one on the ground that re-sounds the fierce gait of the military troops. From the ground, I look up straight in the sky, again. But to no relief. I see the darkness enveloping over the Valley. No stars. No light. Gloom hovers over each house. Pulsating heart beats and ashened faces, fear grips every being, young and old. The troops enter, pick up the young suspects, brutally beat the elderly and rape the women of the house. This is the story witnessed by every Kashmiri.
This was a short note, or rather cathartic for a boy of my dispensation – quiet and sulky. It is this black past that horrifies me even today. Growing up in fear and anxiety, I still remember the tumultuous past of unrelenting repression. And this forever will be remembered.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has been the most abused law drafted and implemented by the Indian state on a civilian population. Random picking up, torture and rape and murder are the hallmarks of the Special Powers attributed to the Army, the most devious being the Rashtra Rifles or the RR! Rape as a weapon of fear has been unabashedly used by the army. This bodily insecurity of Kashmiri women and, also of men, who too have been raped by the same military, has had a negative impact on the collective psyche of Kashmiris.
Today the men huddle outside their shops, women gaze through windows and children walk to and fro school in fear of getting caught by the army personnel.
Going back in time, I remember my childhood days, both with fondness and despair, of playing in the fields encircled with barbed wires and being singled out by some army personnel, to be grilled, threatened and questioned for being a suspect, a ‘militant.’
Another experience in my diary speaks of truth, of childhood memories, of laughter in pathos.
It was a bright sunny day, after days of continuous rainfall. The school had got over. I was returning home along with my two other neighbourhood friends. Leg-pulling has been an essential part of growing up. As my friends were busy pulling my leg, I roared with laughter at their silly jokes. But not even a mile away from school, we came across the most dreaded sight – the sight of the Indian Security Forces. I call it dreaded because we all knew what was to come our way now. They stopped us and accused all three of us of being ‘terrorists.’ We instantly rejected their accusation. One of my friends said, “My father is in the Police.” To this an army soldier aggressively retorted, “I don’t care if your father, mother or anyone in your bloodline is in the Police. You should know what we can do to you. Okay?” As all three of us stood dumbstruck looking at the ground, the soldier shouted, “Okay?” We nodded our heads in agreement and kept standing there till we were asked to leave.
This point of leaving is always a challenge for the people who encounter a soldier on their way. We knew that our leaving the place will cost us a life or a deep wound. He ordered us to leave; we hesitated, fearing the reaction that we had earlier seen from other security personnel in the area. He took a deep breath and asked us to leave immediately. We gathered courage and turned our faces to leave the ground. As our fear would have it, one of the soldiers hit my friend with a baton on his shoulder. He fell and we hurriedly attended to him, dragging him with us, away from the sight of the soldiers. After reaching a point where all three of us were alone, I broke down. My friend writhed in pain and the memory of that is still vivid in our minds.
This is the kind of hatred that we have grown up with. And today, we see that this kind of humiliation and revulsion is not limited to Kashmir. The AFSPA mentality – of suspicion and treachery – has trickled down to urban metropolitan cities of India. I remember the prolonged days of loneliness spent in the initial days of my graduation in New Delhi. As I carry the burden of my identity away from home, in the Indian cities of Delhi and Punjab, the draconian law seems to have become the psyche of the common Indian man, creating images of hostility and suspicion towards the Kashmiri being, a distant ‘other’.
Adil Bhat is studying English at Delhi University. He tweets at: @subzadil
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘JNU and Its Tradition(s) of Dissent’, edited by Malavika Binny, JNU, Delhi, India.