Mapping the Occupation in Kashmir- 1
These short pieces locate the places in different areas of Kashmir that are under military occupation. The aim of this small endeavor is to illuminate the physical density of the infrastructure of militarization in Kashmir, to make visible what is being invisibalized in the discourses of normality.
Draw a map of Kashmir and mark all army camps and bunkers and posts. You will find the armed forces can be anywhere in the valley within 20 minutes of each other. The ‘posts’ which are invisible to you will become visible. The posts not mere barricades, like the ones Delhi police puts at Lajpat Nagar, but they are permanent abodes built by the Indian army before and after the 90s.
If you are flying into Kashmir, you land on the 40,000 kanal airbase, 2,500 kanals of which have been usurped from the nearby villagers and they are being paid anything between Rs. 800 per kanal a year to Rs. 6000 per kanal per year depending upon the quality of land–orchard/paddy. It is the occupiers who get to decide what kind of land it is. The so-called “international airport” is a 100-acre strip that has been leased by the military to the airport authorities. So, that is your first ‘post’. Check the figures with defence estates organisation.
After the first post, as you step out of airport, on the left side are at least 400 of kanals of land taken over by BSF during the past 20 years. Drive 3 km down the road, straight, you have police headquarters in the midst of a residential colony, constructed despite objections by the residents. Three km down the road, take a left turn at Hyderpora chowk, drive straight and on Tengpora bridge you have a bunker and a monstrosity of an ugly, cemented, tiled structure…a bit of it a temple, mosque and god-knows-what. The brave soldiers of this bunker, during the 2010 uprising, drowned a boy in the flood channel. Five-hundred metres away, there are bunkers on both sides of the road.
Drive straight, a little ahead of Bemina crossing, on your left, you will find “residential quarters” of CRPF in the neighbourhood of a “police school”. Now imagine if your brave paramilitary soldiers come under attack from terrorists, it is possible they will massacre the schoolchildren next door, going by their record of conduct in such situations. If you take a right turn at Bemina crossing and drive a kilometre, you have Tatoo Ground army garrison spread over 1,100 kanals. The troops of this transit camp were supposed to be shifted to a newly-constructed headquarters for Kilo Force at Sharifabad, 7km from the police school. Not only did they occupy the alternate site, they stayed put at Tattoo ground too (well, being a transit ground for Maharaja’s asses is definitely going to leave behind some element of obstinacy).
Inside this garrison, the brave army is raising the children, pubescent girls among them, of former army informers, in an orphanage named Muskaan. Before they brought in the children, this camp had been attacked four times with rockets. After that, the attacks stopped. Will you be willing to let your girl child spend 10 days inside this camp, with soldiers who don’t see their females for a year at stretch?
After leaving these posts, drive on the Srinagar-LoC highway. Get down at Narbal crossing, you will see buildings on both sides, a radio tower on the left, occupied by CRPF. Drive straight to Pattan, you have Hamri garrison. You have to get down to know what a ‘post’ means. Now one of the gates to this garrison is also the gate to several villages and everyday women have to walk under the gaze of India’s “professional” army. Talk to these people. You assume thousands of troops inside these camps are hibernating bears who rarely come out. Every day hundreds of vehicles drive in and out of these camps. They patrol streets at least thrice a day. These are worse than the diminutive posts you wanted to see and dismiss as insignificant aspects of the occupation. Thousands of kanals of orchard land is under the occupation of this camp and villagers get peanuts. A little ahead you have another BSF camp on the right, then a camp at Palhalan, a camp at Sangrama, three or four camps in Sopore, an agricultural college under the occupation of the army at Wadoora, a 20 minute journey from Sopore, another at Seelu, another at Handwara, a brigade headquarter at Drugmulla.
At Drugmulla, on the roadside, you will notice a freshly-constructed transit camp. If you bother to ask villagers about its history, how the land was usurped, you will get this gist: For three days the villagers were subjected to crackdown operations. For three days Indian army leveled the terraced paddy fields and walled it, leaving only a strip of land abutting the road. Why was that strip of land left out? Because it belonged to the Pandit community. There is a temple nearby, if you care to see. A little ahead of that temple are a few houses. The new camp’s wall passes through their courtyards. Ask the residents how they feel. Beyond Drugmulla, the entire district is littered with camps. It is tiring to even count them. The ‘posts’ I mentioned are visible to commuters, they are in-your-face structures on the roadside. I have not counted their smaller offspring in the interiors. Let us not mention how many people were tortured inside these camps.