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Opinion

Fifth column

Murtaza Shibli
January 13, 2018

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Kashmir diary

Kashmir diary

The first thing that one notices soon after coming out of the plane at the Srinagar Airport is an unwholesome welcome from the piercing chill. Though I had come sufficiently clothed as I left Lahore in the morning, the needles sharpened by the severe cold found their way into my marrow without much effort.

Kashmiris usually attribute this harshness to the Chillai Kalan, the 40-day peak winter season that will last till the end of January. Our folk-memory is filled with nothing but dread as the season is known for intensifying afflictions through its ruthless cold, heaps of heavy snow and unforgiving frosty nights.

As usual, the airport is filled with military personnel – like everywhere else in Kashmir. The presence of gun-toting men in uniform had somewhat eased earlier. But it later resurfaced with heavy military hardware following the death of militant commander Burhan Wani in July 2016. During my 50-mile journey home, the unceasing presence of military personnel along the road is such a familiar sight that it seems to be part of the milieu. Earlier in day, I read a statement from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who had claimed that “Kashmir would gain from only India and not from anywhere else”. As we drove, Mufti’s rejoinder filled me with a strange sense of optimism and I started watching the ubiquitous military personnel in olive-green fatigues against the burnt-out ambiance of the winter landscape as some green shoots of promise.

Halfway through the journey, as we entered South Kashmir, my mobile internet stopped working. It had been suspended a day earlier following the murder of a 22-year-old student Khalid Ahmad Dar at Khudwani, a village that is barely six kilometres from my ancestral home. Khalid was caught in a mass public demonstration that took place following the death of a local teenage militant Farhan Wani in a gunfight with the military.

While the Jammu and Kashmir Police Chief SP Vaid claimed that Khalid was killed by the army in retaliation for pelting stones at them, his police force sought to defend the death by asserting that “unidentified militants had fired towards the army camp from within the ‘mob’”. Both these claims were disparaged by eyewitnesses. The region’s leading English daily Greater Kashmir quoted the views of villagers who sought anonymity owing to the fear of official reprisals. “Khalid was on his way to submit the examination form for his sixth semester exams at the Government Degree College, Anantnag,” a report published in the newspaper stated.

Farhan was barely 16 when he died. He was a student of Class XI when he joined the militant ranks last June following the death of his militant friend. Although his parents had made several appeals for him to return – including an emotional petition that his father, a teacher, posted on his son’s Facebook wall – it did not elicit any response. In the last two weeks, Farhan became the second teenage militant to have died fighting the Indian forces. Earlier, 16-year-old Fardeen Ahmed Khanday died while leading an assault on an Indian paramilitary installation that killed five soldiers and three militants. Fardeen, who is the son of a police constable, became the first Kashmiri militant to die in a fidayeen attack – a feat that is usually associated with foreign militants who are supposedly tough and battle-hardened as compared to the local stock.

Earlier in the week, another Kashmiri scholar left his studies to join the resistance ranks. Abdul Mannan Wani, a 26-year-old PhD scholar in the field of applied geology at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), had come to Kashmir to visit his family. Within a month of his visit, he left his home in Lolab Valley along the border town of Kupwara, only to reappear on social media with a gun by his side to announce his decision to join the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Kashmir’s largest and the oldest pro-freedom militant organisation.

While the HM Chief Syed Salahuddin confirmed Abdul Mannan’s entry into the resistance ranks and called it “a good sign for the ongoing freedom struggle”, his Kashmiri friends at AMU published an open letter in the Indian Express asking him to reconsider his decision and adopt other means of resistance. Abdul Mannan’s parents have also issued an impassioned appeal for him to return to continue his studies.

The story of the scholar-turned-militant follows a common trajectory. As participant observers of the state’s wanton brutality, the Kashmiri youth pick up guns in utter hopelessness and frustration despite knowing that they are no match to a well-trained and massively outnumbered military. Prior to his joining militancy, Abdul Mannan posted his ordeal on Facebook – a story of humiliation that caused him deep trauma. According to reports, about a month back, Mannan was travelling home in a passenger taxi, which is locally known as Sumo. Along the route, the ever-growing naka parties of soldiers stopped the car several times. He became the target of the military forces as they dragged him at several places and humiliated him. As per his own statement, the fellow passengers sympathised with him as “intense insults” were hurled at him. They counselled him to remain patient. Commenting on his torment, he wrote: “this is the slavery of worst kind. I loathe this”.

Postscript: Amid all the heartrending events, there is some hope as well. Insha Mushtaq, the 16-year-old girl who was blinded in both eyes as the paramilitary forces attacked her with pellet gun during the 2016 uprising, passed her tenth grade exams. Her brutal ordeal made her into an icon of Kashmiri suffering and her strength and resilience shows the confidence of the Kashmiri spirit. Farhan Nazir, another victim who also lost both his eyes to pellets in two separate incidents involving the Indian forces, has also passed his examinations. In more positive news, Ghalib Afzal Guru passed his twelfth grade examination with distinction. Ghalib is the son of Afzal Guru who was accused of being involved in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament and hanged in February 2013. Prior to his hanging, he was not allowed to meet his family and was secretly buried in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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