Suvir Kaul in Srinagar

From Outlook: “Days in Srinagar

“Srinagar has turned into a city of shutters. The taxi home makes quick progress as there is virtually no civilian traffic on the streets. We pass a four-vehicle army convoy—my taxi driver makes careful eye-contact with the gun-toting jawan at the back of the last jeep in order to get permission to overtake. A nod in reply allows us to zoom ahead, and I make desultory conversation while reading the occasional hand-written wall-slogan that says “GO INDIA GO” or the harsher “INDIAN DOGS GO BACK.” That makes me an unwanted visitor, I suppose, but then, not fifteen minutes ago, as I walked to the airport pre-paid taxi stand, one driver called out to his compatriot who had taken charge of me: “Haiyo yi chui local” (“Hey you, he is a local”). Poised between an Indian citizenship I wear with pride in my professional life abroad, and a “localness” which has learned to fear the cynical might of the Indian security apparatus, in Kashmir and elsewhere, I wonder what my time in Srinagar will bring.”

Television this evening also brings a reminder of the ways in which public debate within Srinagar is censored. Two channels, Sën Channel and Sën Awaaz (“sën” means “ours” in Kashmiri), are off the air, and the former broadcasts the legend: “The Transmission of Sen Channel has been Banned by Government, under order no: DMS/PS-MISC/10/840-52, Dated: 29-07-2010.” I ask my mother if she knows why these channels have been banned. Her answer is succinct: they discussed local political events, covered street demonstrations, and told the truth.”

Civil services and local administration have been systematically hollowed-out over the past two decades; there is virtually no accountability at any level, and receiving a government salary is tantamount to being on the dole. If nothing else, the Indian state has revenged itself on Kashmiris by teaching them how not to work while still drawing salaries. This salariat functions as a vast buffer between the Indian state and the elected J & K government and the mass of people whose livelihood depends on daily work and trade, and, like government servants everywhere, they constitute a bulwark against political movements that mobilize common people. This is not always the case, and there have been times when some sectors of government employees have taken to the streets to protest different facets of Indian rule, but they are, for the most part, at peace with their salaries.

Kashmir has never seen such widespread anger and mobilization, say those who lived through the worst episodes of armed militancy in the 1990s. Then state forces fought those equipped to fight back, and civilian casualties (and there were many) could be blamed on insurgents and counter-insurgency tactics. Now there are no armed militants, only people, their voices, and their bodies on the road, and of course there are stones.”

Kashmiris have seen too much suffering over the past two decades (and before) not to see themselves as at the receiving end of the policies of an imperial state.”

Phrases to work with, a new and respectful semantics—a journalist friend tells me that that is what both the government and Kashmiris need. The government plays strategic games in which the vocabulary they use for the political (not the parliamentary) opposition is charged and designed to belittle: they are the instigators of unrest, they are irrelevant, they are obstacles in the path to development. Small wonder then that Kashmiris see the government as colonial, mainstream politicians as stooges, and the military and paramilitaries as an occupation force. In the absence of a new, more innovative, more polite idiom, there is going to be no way of climbing out of the deep rut in which we find ourselves.”

A friend with a press pass escorts me past the razor wire that closes off our neighbourhood from Maulana Azad Road. We are asked a few questions by the police, which I let him answer, and then we step into the shuttered world of the market. On our route, we pass by a government office protected by CRPF jawans. They are used to seeing my mother walk by—she is the only woman in a sari for miles—and they ask my journalist friend about the day’s events. He tells them, and then I say to one of them (miles away from his home in Tamil Nadu): this is all terrible, is it not? He nods wanly, and says, kya karein, aisa hi ho raha hai (what to do, this is what is going on). My mother tells me that these jawans wish her and talk to her each time she walks by them, and that their loneliness is palpable. They are young men, far from home, under-paid, under-rested, and occasionally under-fed, deployed into a situation in which they know that they are loathed for their uniforms. No shining nationalist zeal or commitment brings them here; their poverty renders them cogs in the machinery of the state, and they well know that.”

Five more are dead today (27 in the last five days), and, worst of all, an eight-year old boy has been beaten to death. The police issue a statement saying that he died in a stampede of protestors, but there are eyewitnesses who say that he, cricket bat in hand, was raising slogans for azadi and was not quick enough to run away when the CRPF charged. Several jawans beat him, dragged him into their vehicle, and then decided to dump him on the side of the road. He died, not long after, in hospital. Clubbing an eight year-old boy to death? What kind of harm could he have done, mighty with his cricket bat? (Ah yes, perhaps he too picked up and slung stones at the police.)”

There is a vast population here holding its collective breath, and I am sure many are wondering, as they have in the past, after such knowledge, what forgiveness? And that is what it means to be a Kashmiri in Kashmir today.”


One comment

  1. Suvir Kaul should not be surprised with he sees in Kashmir. Any society that shuns pluralism, diversity, tolerance and inter-religious discourse becomes sick like the Kashmiris of today.

    Suvir Kaul has never lived in Kashmir and by aiding the tribal instincts of Kashmiris with support in Seminars he is hastening the countdown of Kashmiri society into a blackhole of permanent destructions.

    Kashmiris need to break free from those beliefs that were imported from Iran and Iraq over 700 years ago by mercanaries who took refuge in Kashmir but instead of melting into Kashmir’s Rishi culture, they indulged in forced conversions and breeded tyrants like Sikander Butshikan and more.

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