Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kashmir Protests

Kashmir Protests

By Majid Maqbool

Over fifty people have been killed in the streets of Kashmir since June 11, this year. Strictly imposed indefinite curfews with “shoot at sight” orders have failed to prevent people braving bullets, teargas shells, and batons on the streets. Protests have become a way of life. The military might of the state, strengthened by additional forces, kills with impunity. But the unarmed people of Kashmir, armed with slogans and stones in their hands, continue to protest day and night. Bullets no longer scare people now. The more bullets CRPF troops and police fire on the protesters, the more courage and strength people summon to resist.

People momentarily disperse after being fired at on the streets, only to reappear again, and protest more forcefully. The imposed silence of curfewed days and nights is broken by the constant cries of the protesters: “Awazan do, hum ek hain ….aye .. aye ..azadi..cheen kay laygain, azaadi!…Roe rahe hai yae zameen, ro raha hai asamaan..…ae shaheedo asalaam…jis Kashmir ko khoon say sincha, woe Kashmir hamara hai….” If the protest collapses from one quarter, others pick up the thread. All these slogans and protests have seeped into the dreams of children. They don’t have school on their minds. Even the kindergarten kids know how to lisp the rhyme: “Hum kya chatay?” Ajaadi!

From the loudspeakers of Kashmir’s mosques, the nights are lit up with slogans of freedom from all sides. Nights have become new days in Kashmir. People protest late into the nights, sleepless. On the streets, in every mosque, in the lanes and by-lanes of every locality, only one cry reverberates in the air -- Azadi!.

Despite being at the receiving end of bullets and batons, people got together to help each other in distress. In numerous localities, people collected food and funds for the poor and needy in their respective curfew areas. For those injured in the protests, blood donations camps were organized. Hundreds of people, despite curfew, turned up to donate blood. This is how the spirit of resistance is kept alive. Agha Shahid Ali’s poetic line aptly sums up this renewed wave of freedom sweeping Kashmir: “Freedom’s terrible thirst is flooding Kashmir...”

Meanwhile, for a long time on the news bulletins telecast from the New Delhi studios of Indian news channels, the news from Kashmir was headlined differently, aided with carefully picked visuals: ‘riots in Kashmir’, the “unrest and violence in Kashmir”, “valley on the edge”… The naive, ill-informed news anchors, unaware of the reality unfolding on the ground, keep putting the same question to the same chosen set of Kashmiri politicians and New Delhi-based ‘Kashmir experts’: “So what is it that people want? Why are they burning government buildings? Police stations..? Why are people resorting to violence? What exactly do they want?”

The truth is there on the streets of Kashmir for everyone to see. Seventy people, mostly teenagers, have been killed by state forces since Jan this year. If the Indian state refuses to accept the truth even after all these killings, and instead use more force to quell protests, what can people do? Protest more.

The wrong questions put to the wrong people can never find the right answers. ‘So, why are they burning public property?’ the anchors kept asking their Kashmir experts in news bulletins replete with visuals showing a government vehicle, a government office set on fire by the protesters. Interestingly, these questions were asked to everyone, except the people protesting on the streets!

On the ground people speak about the brutality unleashed by the ‘security forces’ in their respective areas. All these memories have become a festering wound, which is refusing to heal. “The CRPF men got hold of this boy near our home and he was beaten ruthlessly,” said one caller who watched the whole scene from the window of his room. “Then they took his pictures and left him there after beating him to pulp,” he said. ‘He was only a little kid’. Another friend, a doctor, was told by his colleague: “Yesterday an ambulance with paramedics and doctors was stopped by the CRPF troops on one street. They were asked to come out and used as a human shield by CRPF troops to protect themselves from the protesters,” he said. Another friend called to inform us that CRPF troops smashed to smithereens the windowpanes of her home.

A relative of mine kept as a grim memento a teargas shell fired into their home by CRPF troopers. The smoke filled their eyes, their rooms, for the whole day. “I preserved it after it cooled down. You can come over to have a look some day,” he said. Everyone has his own story of being witness to the blood of innocent people spilled on the streets. At a time when killings have become a routine affair, the injuries inflicted on thousands of people in the past few months have gone unnoticed.

Bullets can only kill people though. The sentiment and aspirations of freedom can never be killed. People can be shot at, but the sentiment is too deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of people -- and it’s beyond the reach of bullets. The sentiment for freedom has a habit of passing on from one generation to another. Force can not suppress it. Look at the streets.

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