Memory: Strangled academic dreams and a never ending nightmare

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 under siege. We also urge our readers to use the hashtag #TheMemoryProject on Twitter, to add to the conversation.


Get necessary supplies and medicines!!!
For at least one month…
Kashmir is going to be under strict curfew for a very long time.

A volley of texts startled me.

Another unending, unnerving curfew?

A siege, not just on the movement of people but the minds, hearts and dreams. A complete strangulation of the physical capabilities, and a lot of mental trauma.

Like students world-over, I was preparing for my future after graduation. I was in the process, ensuring compliance with all formalities to pursue my masters abroad. But there is a difference, I belong to Kashmir. Our connection with the world is a button in the hands of the Government of India.

Though I didn’t want to believe the ‘rumours’, adrenaline rushed through my veins, as if I was face to face with a ruthless predator. Could it be that my bachelors would extend to a fifth year?

“It is nothing but a rumour,” I tried to reassure myself. Even though uncertainty and Kashmiris are siblings, I had to maintain my sanity.

It wasn’t surprising, but I was anguished over the vanished signal bars on my phone the next morning.

What did it mean?

Unending loops of concertina wires covered the roads outside my house. As I peeped through the small gap between the gate and the wall to get an idea of the situation, anger oozed out of my heart, like it was pierced by the sharp ends of these wires, bleeding my existence.

Could it be that the government would abrogate Article 370 that was already downgraded? The hollow shell was all that was left.

Anticipating the reason for this move that sent us back to the Palaeolithic times, I went inside to check the only working source of information we had, the television. The local cable was shut, but satellite television was still working. I watched the law being discussed, the fate of Kashmir was decided as the whole population was put under a brutal siege. Kashmiris were deprived of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression. The air had turned suffocating, the chests of people feeling claustrophobic with hopelessness hammering the heart.

Desolation on the streets mimicked the hearts of people.

The bars of my anxiety were peaking, not just worrying about the fate of my motherland, but my plans of studying abroad too.

Minutes passed like months, every passing second of the historic moments video taped in my mind.

I started having terrible nightmares. This didn’t seem real. But it was!

The move amidst a clampdown had left us alone, to let the anger seep into our veins, become a part of the blood essential to our being. One day having the world at your fingertips, playing the citizens of the global village, and being cut off the next.

While the pain of being robbed of our rights was depressing enough, my university offers came flashing in front of my eyes. I had received acceptance letters from universities in the United Kingdom, but I had two semesters pending at the Kashmir University. These semesters were supposed to be combined. But even after 4 years, I still had two exams pending because of the shutdown in 2016 when the whole academic year was trashed.

Since that lockdown in 2016, I couldn’t spend a day in peace.

The year when the walls of my room had turned monstrous, the air turned poisonous, and the bed became a hub of terrifying dreams. It had seized to exist as a comfortable place for me. I couldn’t let myself fall into the same situation again. I didn’t want to lose my mind again. But it was worse this time. I was probably going to lose the opportunity to go abroad for completing my education.

Amongst other compulsory documents, I had to have the transcripts by the month of December, to qualify for the January session. There was no way could I get the results of exams that weren’t yet announced. My degree was lingering on, for the fourth year now.

I visited the psychology department of Headwin Hospital, or Shri Maharaja Hari Singh as it is called now. A majority of the new patients during the lockdown were students, from different parts of the valley: Anxious about their future, in trauma.

Some students were worried about the incomplete syllabus and upcoming exams, some about the wastage of an academic year.

Uncertainty, loss of education, empty classrooms, no online access as the internet was still banned.

The hurdles to the intellectual growth of our generation were mounting. The government was directing schools, the parents were forced to pay the fees at most institutions, even as the schools were dysfunctional.

A lawyer acquaintance had to deregister his children from the school because he didn’t have money for the fees.

Hopelessness and despair, a feeling that had made home in the hearts of so many students was scraping me on the inside too.

But as a defence mechanism, I kept deceiving myself that the university had promised to complete our degree in 2019, no matter what happened.

As soon as some traffic started plying on the roads, I went to the university to enquire about the exams.

I was told by the officials that even they had no idea what the roadmap was. I left the university crying.

With no channel to vent out, I felt the rage gushing through me, and toxicity spreading. But there was nothing I could do, except wait. I had to wait. So I decided to seek refuge in my books. Something that would distract my mind from the deadly fumes that had filled up my room.

It seemed like a never-ending nightmare. This break in my education was slapped upon me by the government. These two years the Government of India owes me.


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