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.
Jammu and Kashmir is under the direct rule of Government of India for more than a year now.
It is spinning in the vortex of a political vacuum, into the chasm of uncertainty, into the disappearance of voices; the silence is deepening and bludgeoning bloody Kashmir into icy isolation, shrouds of deliberate misinformation blankets bloating graveyards.
As Amarnath Yatris flood Kashmir amidst intense ‘security’ arrangements, the local population is locked up.
Almost a year back, the Administration in J&K had issued an advisory in August 2019, which read, “keeping in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra and given the prevailing security situation in Kashmir Valley, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris, it is advised they may curtail their stay in the valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible.”
What follows is din and disorder.
Conniving politicians come in a collage. Lies float. Truth drowns. Rumours fly with counter-rumours. Panic grows and the fear of the unknown overshadows the preparations for Eid.
Locals started panic-buying essentials, connecting the advisory and deployment of additional forces to the dread of the ‘deterioration in law and order’.
Khaber Kya Chuk Karun, it seems they have sinister plans, a friend told me.
The following morning brought haste, as if the world was about to end, the streets were about to turn empty, the markets would disappear, as if the claws of siege from the past would creep up again.
As if the extended noose of communication clampdown will be dropped in, like people would be blindfolded, hands cuffed, their body shackled. As if people would be put in airtight containers, with a gun on their head, and the lid sealed.
People rushing to petrol pumps with cans, bottles, flasks to hoard fuel, and essential. Panic buying added to the confusion that something sinister was being planned, and people were anchoring their boats in a stormy sea of rumours accompanied by the government advisories, and counter assurances.
People had an inkling of why they may be caged till infinity, and why all the raids, arrests happened as a pre-emptive strike on dissent and potential protests.
The unknown, sinister wind was picking up speed. People positioned and prepared themselves for months of deprivation.
History was coming to rescue the present. Unlike past, this time, people were unsure.
“Why are they saying tourists and Yatri’s are unsafe? They were safe even during watershed events 2008, 2010, 2016. The pilgrimage was always given safe passage. Why now?”
“I heard there will be a curfew from Monday. All communication lines will be shut. And they will abrogate Article 370 and 35A,” said a friend in a car as we were heading towards our weekly evening classes in old city’s, Hawal.
“But how can they do it, is it not unconstitutional?” he asked.
I could not answer. I remained silent.
“In times like these when the unthinkable becomes thinkable, unacceptable becomes acceptable, I was hoping against hope. Dictators and authoritarians are rogue. They do what they have to, anyhow, somehow,” I thought to myself, staring.
Our classes were not held. We left.
Within an hour, things changed. The streets were now desolate.
It was not the same world.
Empty. Dark, dejected, and like a storm aftermath. Silent, and sullen.
Nothing had happened yet, but something was about to happen.
In some places, in the old city corners, people gathered in groups and discussed what were believed to be ‘rumours’.
The government itself issued these rumours, and the government then issued counter-rumours, and then government issued assurances.
It was pain and panacea. Everybody foreboded.
It was as if the room cleared itself for guests, as someone died in a house.
As if the streets were smelling like the past.
As if the streets knew the parting with its people is nearing.
As if the street knew that jackboots would stifle its breath.
As if it was preparing to hold people’s blood and stifled breath.
As if it was preparing to see jackboots on bone, and cracked ribs.
As if it knew that that olive green trucks, military buses, guns, batons will occupy it and run through it like blood runs through veins.
“Will you come see me if they cut all communication lines?” I asked my friend.
“No. I rarely venture out in times like these. I stay inside,” he said to my disappointment.
Soon I consoled myself with the thought that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AT ANY TIME, WITH ANYONE, ANYWHERE, and amidst bullets and curfew, why do I expect my friend to come out on the deadly streets and potentially get himself killed just to meet me.
I got out of his car, and hoped to see him soon.
While walking towards my home in downtown’s dark alleys, the thought of my friend who was expecting a baby kept me disturbed.
“He will be a father for the second time,” I thought as I walked.
I thought of the future, the unborn baby’s little fragile fingers holding mine. “A boy or a girl, anything would do as long as our treat comes,” I smiled to myself. A little peace inside. Outside, it was chaos and clamour.
“What is it that they are going to do to us?” Again, sadness sank with the thought. My brain was on sparking.
“I assure you that there is no plan at any level to abrogate Article 35A this time. All that you are hearing are rumours being spread by some people with vested interests,” the Governor had told reporters on the sidelines of a function in the summer capital on July 31.
I thought about it, even though I didn’t trust a word.
Everything is normal. It is peaceful, I wanted to believe.
A week after Government of India cleared the deployment of 10,000 troops, the Government of India decided to send 28,000 additional paramilitary troops to the Valley on August 1.
“The July 25 order had detailed that the troops were meant to strengthen the counter-insurgency (CI) grid and maintain law and order situation in the state. But no reason was given for the deployment of over 280 additional companies on Thursday,” I read a media report on my phone.
The government had also issued an advisory to the tourists to leave Kashmir immediately.
The advisory floated through the Dal Lake, generating splashes of panic, creating ripples of uncertainty and suddenly the tourist swelled lake was silent and desolated.
Travellers were evicted by police from hotels, health resorts, and houseboats.
There was a premonition of something sinister being planned, malevolent plans veiled in the abruptness of decisions that the government was taking, people said.
Silence and stillness laid its claws.
The crowded Dal Lake froze in summer.
Empty boats and houseboats bobbed silently and mournfully.
Everyone stared at the sudden silence.
Barbed wires unrolled.
It spread like a flood, clogging every fissure and crack from which people may emerge. Bunkers sprout up and resuscitated; reclaiming the abandoned world.
People were sealed and packed, locked down in an open-air prison.
Amidst the pro-India politicians too, boundaries blurred. Some met Modi and sought assurances, which were given.
But then, everyone who had a voice was put behind bars, at far off places.
Organisations were being banned.
Jails got jam-packed.
Apprehensive, I switched off my phone and slept as if leaving a heavy world of lies and deception behind and slipping into a grave.
Outside, on a lonely moonlit night, the silence was broken by the barking of dogs and the orchestra of crickets.
Eid-ul-Adha was round the corner.
I have cricket to play.
I have exams to prepare for.
I have messages to reply to.
I have a future to plan.
I have sustenance to seek.
I am unemployed.
I am failing.
People are being killed.
Space to think and speak is shrinking.
I have to talk to my loved ones.
I have to reconcile.
I have to see my friend’s baby.
I have a treat to relish.
But I live in a graveyard.
Or the graveyard lives in me.
Like someone’s head dismembered from his body, his hands cuffed, body shackled, mind shut, eyes blindfolded, and millions of armed men getting on top of his back, pushing him down, lowering him, into the grave, alive, while he cried, helplessly, unheard, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
I fell asleep while flying on the carpet of these thoughts, my cell phone right next to me.
It had been a month now, since this started. High-speed Internet was still shut, to ‘maintain peace’.
I was already asleep, a long time ago.
To be continued…
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