Painted in Red

They all sat together in a single room. Pin drop silence. All that could be heard was the sound of T.V. A news reporter was reading out the latest developments in the area. Developments not in the form of infrastructure or education but of situation. Of a situation that had led them to be locked up in their homes. Curfew. It had been a week that they had been locked up in their homes. First internet services were snapped and gradually all kinds of connectivity. One could not even know how a person was. No news source other than the national television. Indian television.

The issue with being dependent on Indian media was their non-reliability. They would never showcase the truth. They did cover the militant army encounters. They rejoiced on militant deaths. They showed their disapproval of people joining funeral of militants. But they never digged down to understand why an 18 year old would shun his studies and take up arms. They showed the angry mobs protesting on streets but could never gather the courage to bring forth the reason for their anger and anguish.

But right now they did not really have an option. They had no other source. The unrest was triggered by an encounter. And people had poured in thousands on streets for his funeral. Along with the prayers there was one thing that reverberated in the air that day. “Hum kya chahte? Azaadi!” This word, “Azaadi”, had compelled the forces to disperse the procession. Means used? Tear gas shells, pellets, rubber and even live bullets. That day a dozen more boys were killed. And hundreds others injured.

Tear gas shells are frequently used for mob dispersal. The proper usage? To be shot at an upward or downward angle of 45 degrees. But in this part of the world, tear gas shells were shot at 90 degrees. Right above the waist.  As if they were aiming it at people so as to cause injury and panic. More than tears by a gas, a mob can be dispersed by the realisation that a participant is hit by a canister and needs medical attention. From protests their attention gets diverted to calling an ambulance or arranging a vehicle and driving the person to care and safety. Similarly pellet guns are classified as non-lethal. On being shot they shoot out small balls ranging from 300-30. In most parts of the world they merely shoot 30 pellets at a time. But we live in an exception. 300 pellets are released from one shot and they are not as non-lethal as claimed by the security agents and the governing bodies.

Pellet guns did not merely cause death. In majority of the cases it caused something graver. It caused the death of dreams and hopes. Ideally they should have been shot below waist area. Instead every injured person with pellets was hit above waist. Most of them hit in head and eyes. Some wounds recoverable, others not so. The worst sorts of injuries were in eyes. And even worse the news that they had lost eye sight.

What was moving was an interview of a journalist with one similar patient. He had been operated upon but recovery of his eyesight was unachievable. When he was asked about his dreams, he said, “ Earlier I had but now everything is black. Nothing is left.” And tears had started gushing out of his eyes. Gloom. It was not merely the loss of eyesight. It was not merely a genocide. It was not a mere mob dispersing technique. It was intentional breaking of dreams, lives and souls. How could a democracy do this to its own people (and an integral part)?

The answer was more political than human. A solution which no one was ready to implement. Egos’ and personal motives stood higher than humanity. And the streets of Kashmir were forever painted red.

 

Of Here and There

Apart from the stark contrast of culture and lack of mountains, one thing was very apparent at the new place. Wherever you look, however far you try to search there is no army man standing with  a loaded gun. This seemed so abnormal. Back home an army man could be found every 100 metres or even less but here…  She was clueless as to why. That was the first time she realised her homeland was a conflict zone. And that it was captive and yearning. All the people had a single dream. Freedom!

Adjusting to Indian society and culture was difficult. People usually asked very difficult and strange questions. Is it safe there? Have you seen terrorists? Does it blast every day? And they go on and on. That was when she knew the partial news coverage Indian media provided. For them it was merely a piece of land. For her? Kashmir! It was difficult to give them answers and bring forth the reality of Kashmir. Not because of the complexity of the conflict but because of the adamant nature of her questioners. They knew only one thing. “Mera Bharat Mahaan”. And they would not listen to a word spoken against India. Or to something that would paint India in bad light. They could not bring themselves to think or realise that India could be wrong and atrocious too.

Amongst all this a news took everyone like a storm. A guy had turned a militant and was now attacking army convoys. Army and CRPF were being attacked. It seemed as if armed struggle had started afresh. Following the news of blasts and killings she came to know about the person doing all this. (A name that means “bearer of good news”). This person claimed responsibility of all the recent attacks on the Indian army and forces. He also sent a strong message to counterparts in India, “We will earn our freedom soon.”

(the name). It was stuck in her mind. She could not understand why. Later, videos and pictures of the guy, who was by now being hailed as a hero, emerged. And she got her answer. She knew this guy. Not only did she recognise him, she even had memories of him.

She vividly remembered the smile that was always on display on (his name)’s face. How he displayed empathy with everyone. His kindness was an example in the whole school. Even teachers adored him and said the level of humanity he had was exceptional. He could not harm even a fly. Today the same guy was hurling grenades at humans. Unimaginable.

(his name) had lost his father very early in his life. Bought up by his mother alone, he knew her hardships and made sure he caused her no additional headaches. He was the calmest child of his age. His siblings were an elder sister who helped run the household with her mother and a twin. He always thought he was bestowed with the best mother and sister anyone could have. And his twin was like his own shadow. Inseparable.

It was late November. The sky was dark with black clouds and light was low even during the day. It had been snowing all night and it seemed to continue the whole day. Despite being the first snow of the season there was a strange lull in the atmosphere. As if something was utterly wrong somewhere and yet nothing could be done.  That day his brother was untraceable. He searched whole of their place but he was nowhere to be seen. Mother told him that he had moved out to buy some snacks. The nearest shop was a mile away. So (his name) started walking towards the shop. All the way long streets were strangely desolate. And the army numbers were higher than usual. Sensing trouble, he hurried. As he reached the shop, he met a strange sight. The snow was no more white. It was red. Even snow had withdrawn support. On the molten red part of the snow lay his brother. Shot dead.

For months together he did not talk to anyone. Neither did he attend school. He could hardly sleep. And when he did, he woke up shouting and crying. Doctors said he was suffering from PTSD. PTSD is not so uncommon in Kashmir. Almost half of the population suffers from it. Almost everyone has seen dead bodies, heard gun shots and grenades go off. People have dreams of identification parades and gun shots. And who held those killer guns? Army.

For a long time (his name) was depressed and could not resume his daily life. Probably he could not accept the loss. How could anyone ever anticipate losing a twin. It was after a year that he could finally face the reality and resume his life. It was difficult but he did all he could. Sometimes he would break down in middle of activities. Sometimes in midst of a crowd. That seemed to be the most difficult part of his life. Only if we knew better.

It was his higher secondary school exams. The ones parents say are the way to an easy life (the most common lie though). He had studied hard and thought he could ace the exams. It was the physics exam day. He was glad for he had attempted whole of the paper satisfactorily. But as he reached home that day, a new pain was awaiting him. In his absence some army men had entered their home forcibly and tried to impose themselves on the ladies. When the ladies did not yield they took them along with. Later, their bodies were found in a nearby brook. Both of them dead.

Rapes, forced disappearances and deaths were not new to Kashmir. But when this all happens to someone first hand it is difficult to bear. That day he felt helpless. His brother had not been given justice. And when he wanted justice for his mother and sister, he was met with same fate. Post-mortem reports were altered. Rules were bent. And the killers were given a free passage along with a transfer. Justice was murdered once again. Again, like all those years when 100’s of youth were killed and no one was held responsible.

The day he realised he could not get justice in the Indian legal system did he make up his mind. He wanted to avenge the deaths. Not just of his family but of Kashmir. Of the 1000’s of martyrs who laid their lives to free it from the occupation. That day he disappeared.

She could still remember the day like it had happened yesterday. (his name) had not appeared in any other exam. Nor could anyone get him to talk or do anything. It was the onset of depression. And this later led to his disappearance. Some said he killed himself in grief. Others said he crossed over the border. But no one did anything. Moot spectators.

It had been a year since his disappearance. He had returned as suddenly as he had disappeared. His eyes still spoke of the ordeal he had met. His pain had not died away. Time did not heal his wounds. Incurable.

Yet, whenever she had conversation with her Indian class fellows they held him wrong. He was labelled a terrorist even without hearing his side of the story. News anchors shouted to establish their point. People started discussing him on national television. But they never knew what provoked him. She wanted to ask them how they would feel if their brother was out to fetch snacks and was shot at without any fault. Was it some play? Was he a wax model? A target to practice upon? She wanted to ask them if they had ever reached home and found that some army men had misbehaved with their mother and later killed her? Would they still worship their country, their army as they do now?

Her staunch Indian fellows were blindfolded by the media and their national chauvinist mentality. The truth never reached them. She wanted to tell them his truth. But then are Kashmiri students studying outside the state not killed and labelled terrorists or lodged in jails for no fault? Or even worse, they sometimes merely disappear. And quiet she kept.