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Fifth column

December 22, 2019

Doing Kashmir in India?


December 22, 2019

The last ten days or so have seen a lot of violence in India. From Assam to Bengaluru and from Chennai to New Delhi, peaceful protesters have been brutally attacked and assaulted by a police force motivated to display ruthless and raw power.

This is not all. There are bans on the internet, mobile telephony and even employment of colonial-era Section 144 that bars even peaceful assembly of four or more people. Many people are suggesting that India is becoming like Kashmir — but that is a terrible overstatement. A few days of curfew and communication ban or a few hundred injuries cannot be compared to the continued state of emergency and state-sanctioned violence that has continued in Kashmir for decades.

The situation is nothing compared to the mass fear and ruthless dread that is produced in Kashmir, away from the media gaze and with the active support from a large Indian population. Here is why it is so:

Four days after the Modi government imposed a blanket curfew throughout Kashmir, followed by the announcement of the abrogation of Article 370 of

the Indian constitution, an imam in one of the old mosques in southern

Kashmir made a heart-rending supplication that usually concludes the Friday prayers. He wailed at the loss of ‘mulk-e-Kashmir’, or the country of

Kashmir as the Valley is traditionally known, and asked for God’s help and guidance. The broken-hearted audience of the curfewed devotees that had made it to the prayers cried in unison, which gradually turned into a course of mourning. For the next couple of minutes, all that would issue from the minaret was uncontrolled sobs of cowered down people who had lost all sense of belonging and identity.

The security personnel who had been deployed in strength to keep a constant vigil on everything Kashmiri could hear the moans from the nearby road and the alleyways they had blocked with concertina wire. They felt alarmed, given that a large number of them had been airlifted in only a few days ago with scant information about their new deployment and its purpose.

Among them, a mid-ranking officer started to display signs of discomfiture, perhaps more because of the appreciation of his own strategic importance in guarding national interest — as constantly laid out by the television channels where patriotism on the Kashmir issue is measured by the decibel levels one can produce in the studio.

According to some eye-witnesses, as soon as the prayers finished, the personnel inquired about the whinging that was so loudly performed. Fearing a harsh reaction, the people avoided a proper response; thereupon, the officer allegedly approached the devotees with an austere pitch and instructed them to avoid any such crying in the future.

At the time, the fear of the unknown was so fresh and deep that a large number of people were unable to sleep for days and even weeks. The ghastly sight on the roads and streets was terrifying; almost every security personnel manning the roads – or, in precise terms, blocking them — and ordering public movement was a non-Kashmiri. The Kashmir Police had all been removed sparing a symbolic presence of a couple with every contingent of CRPF or the army. The Kashmiri cops were unarmed and were only allowed to carry plastic canes and deployed but to assist the non-native personnel in translating their instructions or perhaps advising them on minor issues of no strategic value.

Under these circumstances, the fear generated by the informal inquiry and instruction passed by the security officer forced the mosque’s administrative committee to request the imam to leave. Sensing the mood, he straightaway complied. In the heavy presence of military personnel of every ilk and hue, the dread that has been cultivated on the ground is so deeply overwhelming that the Kashmiris have been deprived of even decent mourning at this acute sense of a tragic loss, a luxury the rest of India is still able to avail.

On the same Friday, August 9, just before the prayers were to commence, another CRPF officer from the neighbouring camp called on the imam at our local mosque and advised him that there should be no ‘bhadh-kau bhashan’ or incendiary sermon. Otherwise, the imam was to be held responsible, a prospect that, under the new rules of engagement, could earn an instant Public Safety Act that carries a prison sentence ranging from six months to two years without recourse to any credible mechanism of justice.

To my knowledge, our local preacher had been guilty of dispensing long sermons that I have religiously avoided but which have never inflamed passions on any issue — small or significant. However, the threat was so potent that our mosque stopped the Friday sermon for several weeks in a row. It was later reinstated for a couple of Fridays but has since been excised altogether.

Several weeks into the siege, the desperation of Kashmiris was at its peak. There were rumours claiming various sightings of ‘mehman’ (guest) or ‘dastaeir’ (literally meaning turbanators), neologisms for Afghan fighters. All these stories suggested that contingents of foreign combatants were roaming about with each group supported by a couple of Kashmiris who act as their guides and interpreters. Luckily, it all turned out to be dud. Since then, luckily,

people have realised that hollow promises from far-off places won’t change their lot.

Almost all Kashmiri Muslims — from the valleys of Kashmir, Pir Panchal and Chenab; and Kargil to Jammu — fear their indigenous character is under serious threat as an aggressive New Delhi is on a civilizational mission to subsume their identity as crudely enunciated through the slogans of ‘ghar-wapsi’, a euphemism for forcible conversion to the Hindutva faith. The only other possibility is migration — forcible or voluntary. Regardless of how the new public rebellion against Prime Minister Modi shapes in the near future, Kashmiris will continue to be victims.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli