By Basarat Hassan
She came to a halt, even as she wobbled on her feet. She was incapable of walking any further. Though she desperately pushed herself to walk a bit more, she had to stop, upon failing to make any consequential progress. Finally, she took her shoes off. She sat inside a gap between the grove of willows and a mosaic of little wild flowers just off the road. All roads that led to the Tral town, a place of scenic landscape – a dense canopy of forest, terraced rice fields, pristine water streams, and panoramas of wonderful hillsides opening into the valley – were thoroughly flooded with protesters and mourners. Every few moments, the fury of the crowd boiled over; women and children, who figured prominently, were coalescing in public squares. Just moments before, she had struggled to find fortitude, essential for walking a long road. She had been walking, holding high a big poster throughout the march, a march that held her poignantly captivated.
As she settled down, she rested one foot in her lap. Initially, I thought she had stopped to fix her shoes and air her feet. But I became frozen as I could not take my eyes off what I saw. Her toes were heavily bandaged, stuffed with cotton and blood stains all over. She scratched her toenails and winced as she splashed some cold water on the bruised foot. Her toes were calloused and tired from all the running she had been doing since early morning. It was noon time now. She was a young girl of moderate height and her eyes were puffy and bloodshot. She was holding herself together and didn’t allow herself to shed any tears. Her clothes oozed grief, yet radiated the impeccable streak of courage that she personified. I sat down beside her and struck a conversation.
In the beginning, she was hesitant to ask for any help. I insisted and re-insisted. “Let me check your foot. If you won’t allow me to see your foot, you will not be able to walk. I want you to reach where you are headed sooner; otherwise you will get late with this unplanned halt.” She was assured by my words that everything would be alright. I lowered myself and took her foot in my hands. It was badly hurt. She maintained her composure, as I untied her bandage. Her toes had turned white like the skin of a dead animal. While I observed her foot, I could feel a searing pain like a sharp knife spreading across her body. I gently pressed them to allow the pus in them to drain out. It gave her immense relief, as the pain slowly subsided to a more tolerable level. But her eyes were still pools of blood and welled up. But she did not let any drops roll out.
I asked her about the portrait she was holding close to her beating heart. Tears started rolling down her cheeks; she just could not hold them any longer. As she opened her mouth, her lips quivered; her voice fell flat and dead, just like the curfewed Kashmir. After a considerable amount of stuttering, she scrunched her eyebrows together and said, “Who else would it be? It is our beloved Burhan Bhai, don’t you know?” She lost her composure and broke down. She raised her hand, holding up the poster of the slain Hizbul Mujhadeen commander. Until then, I was confused with her silence. After this, I had no answer.
For the last seven days, I saw how people walking in hordes to pay tribute to this young “militant”, Burhan Wani, who was popular among the masses as a scrupulous fighter. He was fearless, and loved by people in the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir. I was surprised by the way people had arranged community kitchens at every mohalla right from the National Highway to Tral town, a stretch of around 12 kilometers. There are as many as six alternative routes for people to reach the burial place of this young commander and every route offered a sight of great solidarity. The entire Tral sub-district appeared as if it was swept up by a ‘festival of freedom’. Teams of volunteers, comprising of both men and women, cooked meals for those arriving. People had erected makeshift stalls offering free drinking water and sharbat to those who were passing by. Young, enthusiastic girls and boys raced to refill glasses with sharbat, as countless people walked on foot, on such a hot summer day. Songs sung by women soared skywards and in every direction like azaan calling crowds to the call of duty. They sang lullabies and marriage songs, praising the way in which Burhan and his companions achieved their martyrdom. They filled the air with anthems of Azadi and held Burhan in an emotional embrace.
Later she told me, she had walked almost 20 kms every day to reach the Eid Gah at Tral, where her martyred hero had been put to rest. She had walked past many hurdles, through many check-posts, and paddy fields. The march for freedom is marked by adversities of all kinds.
Now, having returned to New Delhi, when I watch Indian channels, read Indian newspapers, and meet Indian intellectuals and friends, I find them so disheartening, reprehensible, and bereft of any comprehension. Regardless of how well-informed they think they are, they are so provincial in understanding the ingenuity of the Kashmir movement. For the majority of them, Kashmir is a mess created by Pakistan; for others the demand for Azadi is unconstitutional. It would perhaps do them good to probe what good is a constitution that is apathetic to human massacres. In fact, it legitimizes the coercive presence of lakhs of military personnels in an occupied land over which they have a rightful claim! It is a murderous doctrine that draws validity from every single citizen of India, despite their commitment to the constitution. How do we mend a patriotic Indian heart that believes in a static idea of India?
The Indians should remember that India was instrumental in aiding the formation of a new country in the subcontinent, Bangladesh. This goes to show how the Indian Constitution could not ignore the demand for a separatist nation. In the particular case of Kashmir, a good knowledge of the history of Kashmir would prove that the movement in Kashmir is neither secessionist nor a separatist. It is a mass movement for independence, as the people of Kashmir never aligned with India. How could Indian intellectuals, despite socialist or Marxist vacillations, shrug off the cardinal principle of human existence, the right to self-determination? There has been far too much hypocrisy which has resulted in dismissal of some of the worst war crimes, orchestrated in Jammu and Kashmir, in the name of Indian democracy.
Their unrealistic arguments and an indistinct approach towards Kashmir are more agonizing than the pellet injuries that the protestors in Kashmir have sustained in the army suppression of the outrage. Denial is possibly the best strategy adopted by India to maintain the popular support for the military offensive in the valley. I feel immensely sad when people living in India downplay and ridicule this genuine mass movement. In choosing not to take note of thousands of women, thousands of protesters, thousands of the disappeared, and countless unmarked graves, Indian citizens manage to remain indifferent and cold-hearted to all this bloodshed. Their colossal silence only brings war close to their peaceful doorsteps, and this war would spread like the fire into their diseased hearts.
The conversation I had with this young girl could open their eyes, unless they chose to shut them. She spoke in an uninterrupted fashion:
“How on earth could 5- 6 lakh people attend the funeral of a “terrorist”? This is how Indians look at us. We all are “terrorists”. And “agents of Pakistan”. If so, what business do they have in Kashmir? Oh, I forgot, killing Pakistanis in Kashmir. Would Indian citizens of any big city like Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore imagine living under curfew-like conditions for even a single week? A complete blockade, with basic amenities and communication lines completely cut off. No, they would not. We experience it, and only we can understand it. This is what occupation is! What are we banished for? For demanding freedom!
“Kashmir and India are not only two different nations but two different worlds. Are Indians so disconnected from reality, from our world, or do they pretend to be so? Do they know why Burhan Bhai is seen as a hero? Because he embodied vicariously the hopes and ideals that this Tehreek (movement) identifies with. His personal presence was atonement and promise of a freedom from this ugly Indian occupation. Everyone looked to him as a savior. He vowed to avenge the historical injustice done to Kashmiris at the time of Partition of the subcontinent.
“Why don’t Indians allow us to organize peaceful protests? Why don’t Indians allow us to engage in political deliberations? Why don’t Indians engage with us politically? What options have they left for us other than picking up the gun? They are unified in killing us. India is a dishonest country – who can validate this awful truth about India better than the people of Jammu and Kashmir? India should understand and act maturely like other civilized nations do, drawing from the recent examples of Scotland and Britain. If India does not allow us to remain independent, we will never integrate with them. Never ever until stars fall from the sky and mountains crumble to the sea. Even if we fail to attain freedom, it is still their defeat, defeat of their political and judicial system that never lets us live our own way. It is their defeat in all forms, in all times.”
She walked off abruptly, raising slogans, ‘Hum lay kay rehnge Azadi. Tum kuch bhi karlo’, marching again holding the poster of Burhan Wani, who is seen posing with an AK-47 rifle. She faded into a huge congregation but the voices of Azadi poured out relentlessly. Long live the people’s freedom struggle!
Basarat Hassan is a Researcher Scholar. He lives in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Email: email@example.com.
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