Things seemed fine when I left Delhi for Kashmir on August 2, 2019. I was heading back home for a long holiday, to attend a close friend’s wedding and to celebrate Eid with family at home.
Like all other Kashmiris who have moved out for work or studies, I too grab every chance to visit home.
The flight took off from Delhi and I was excited. I switched off my phone, as per the instructions. Little did I know that I would land to a different situation an hour and a half later at the Srinagar’s scenic defence airport.
As soon as I switched my phone back on, I got a rush of news notifications that tourists and Hindu pilgrims have been asked to leave the valley due to “serious security reasons”.
As I was trying to guess what happened within the short time that I was mid-air, father called up asking if I had reached — his ritual call every time I go home.
People at the airport looked panicked. A chaos Kashmir often endures, was spread around once again.
Nobody had a clue what was going on. From a possible war between India and Pakistan, where Kashmir would be the battleground, to abrogation of Article 370, to a large scale operation in Kashmir turning the place into a prison, endless curfew, rumours were ripe.
The streets were even more chaotic.
People were hurriedly stocking up on essentials, buying emergency medicines and fuel for vehicles. People swarmed the fuel stations carrying cans, which are usually used for milk, to take additional fuel.
The panic buttons had been pressed and no one had a clue why.
A friend’s wedding was scheduled for August 2, 3 and 4. Even though the event passed off peacefully, unease lingered as the guests who had come to attend the wedding could not get their minds off what was happening or what was about to happen.
The dooms night
On the evening of August 4, I went back home. Are they going for a war, I thought to myself. In the darkness of the night, the scary thoughts engulfed me and I decided to take my parents along with me to Delhi as soon as I could.
Speculation on social media was that the internet and the phone services would be snapped. A rumour, I thought.
But at 11:36 pm my mobile data went off.
Never has a night been so difficult; lying in a room, jets hovering above, internet snapped and speculations refusing to die down.
I called my friend to at least talk about what was happening. For two hours, we spoke about the situation, possibilities, his four-month-old baby girl.
After 2 am even the telecommunication was snapped too.
An eerie silence was what followed.
I looked out through the window, stars glimmered, the longest, toughest night of my life.
Doomsday was approaching, it felt like.
Scrapping of Article 35A and 370
By the morning of August 5, we all knew the entire build-up was for the removal of Article 370. With no means of communication, we could only imagine what was happening across Kashmir. Communicating became difficult, commuting even worse.
The city of Srinagar was surrounded by spools of concertina wires manned by thousands of troops. Every attempt of moving around the city, even to buy essentials, was met with questioning and finally being asked to return, or worse.
Medical emergency cases were turning into casualties as patients were losing precious time to get to the hospitals. Attendants had to walk all the way to the hospitals to call for an ambulance. Many died for not getting medical assistance on time.
Two days had passed in speculation, isolation and no news about the world outside. For the coming days, we could not hear from my sister in Delhi, where she works for a news organisation. It was through the OB van of a news channel that we finally managed to speak to her.
For the next two weeks, I was home, in chaotic silence.
Gloom overshadowed Eid too. It didn’t feel like a festival, no grand lunches, no Qurbani and no congregational Eid prayers at major mosques.
Flying out of Kashmir was a task too. In absence of internet, there was no easy way to book a ticket. The only place where tickets could be booked was the airport itself, where people stood in long snaking queues to try their luck.
Anger, peace, normalcy, gloom, what was happening? No one could understand.
With a heavy heart and window shields closed for “security concerns” at the Srinagar airport, I took off from my home, not knowing when I would be able to speak to my parents.
Many days passed without news of home.
Finally, a colleague who met my father sent a message from the media centre in Srinagar, a facility the government had set up for journalists to send across their stories.
‘They are fine’, was what he told me.
That is all that I knew for a long time after returning to Delhi.
And that one message kept me going.
The author is a Digital Video Producer based in New Delhi.
In the series titled The Memory Project, Free Press Kashmir aims to recreate the clampdown through people’s memories and document lived experiences of a people. We also urge our readers to use the hashtag #TheMemoryProject on Twitter, to add to the conversation.
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