Couple of bomb blasts in Srinagar — the summer capital of Indian Kashmir – in late 1980s had heralded the beginning of a deadly and a protracted anti-India rebellion in the Valley of tall mountains, lush green meadows and crystal clear waters.
On a lazy summer afternoon, my mother told me several years after my birth, the Indian security forces had locked up Kashmir, as the insurgency had caught them unawares. Imposing curfews that would continue for days together had become a routine. On that afternoon, she told me that all the populace had been locked up in their homes, the hustle bustle of the otherwise busy downtown Srinagar had given way to ghostly silence.
Moments later, government forces barged into our house at Habba Kadal; the men were taken out for an identification parade while women were frisked in their homes. They checked every nook and corner of our ancestral house. My mother was carrying me inside her womb, and lady police constables even touched her belly to confirm that she was not hiding any ammunition. That was the picture of Kashmir exhibited to me before I came into this world.
In the West, parents tell bedtime stories and sing lullabies to their children so that they get pleasant dreams and think beautifully about the life they are living, but I grew up hearing the stories of repression and oppression, brutality, injustice and torture, all my life…And just like every second Kashmiri, I witnessed it first hand too…
My elders would narrate stories regarding strikes and curfews and how government forces barged into houses and frisked people and many a times hit them at will … all I heard all along was the stories of pain and tyranny which had touched all and sundry in this vale of Kashmir, which poets and emperors had called ‘a paradise on earth’.
We moved to press colony in the heart of the city when I joined school. Initially, it seemed fun as you could get everything downstairs. As kids you couldn’t have asked for more than a market where you could buy your favourite chocolates, ice creams and candies. I used to have ice creams all day with my siblings at the café shops that used to be full of people enjoying with their friends and family.
I was just following my daily routine after school when I went out one day to buy softy for my younger brother and myself. The market was abuzz with shoppers and traffic was plying normally. After buying an ice cream I started walking towards my home while my brother was walking just a few steps behind me. Suddenly I heard the sound of a massive blast. People starting running helter-skelter, the shopkeepers started downing their shutters and buses sped off.
I turned around to look for my brother and all I could see was clouds of smoke coming out from the café I had just bought my ice cream from. I was not able to find my brother as smoke had engulfed the whole area. Tears started coming out of my eyes. First I thought that it was because I was worried for my brother who was too small to fend for himself, but then I realized I was breathing in the tear gas.
I had not even heard about that gas till that time but now I was feeling the punch. I don’t know who fired that tear gas canister and why they fired it at all. I didn’t even try to inquire about that because in this part of the world, where human lives are not even worth a dime, things change fast just like autumn weather.
A moment later I saw my brother and we ran back home and our worried parents told us to close all the doors and windows lest the tear gas smoke gets in the house. On that day I got to know what this tear gas was, as my dad explained to me how government forces use it to their advantage in various situations.
On that very day, I came face-to-face with tragedies Kashmir has been offering to its residents for decades now, and at that very moment my journey with unusual tragedies in Kashmir began…