[Photo: Dibyesh Anand “Graffiti in downtown Srinagar”]
The sun was shining, a bright new day was upon us. May our day be blessed with love and peace that is what I prayed that morning. Well if you have these things nothing else matters, right? So another day, a new hope gave us another start of what we call life. And yet, the day reminded us that there can be no love, no peace in a police state that is Kashmir.
Summer is beautiful everywhere but I think its more beautiful here in Kashmir; when you wake up with chirping of birds early in the morning you find morning more beautiful and glorious . So same happned with me. It was saturday and I was happy from the morning. I got intuition that something good is about to happen. My phone rang and it was my brother calling from his office and he told me to be ready as we had to visit our hometown. The moment my ears heard, I was joyous as I had not visited it for a long time. I packed my clothes and other things which i needed at my home. After an excruciating wait that was less than an hour, my elder brother came along with a cousin I am close to. We left with excitement.
As we were heading towards our home town kupwara (trehgam) some 115 Kms away from the heart of city of Srinagar, I had a novel with me and i began to read that since my brother and cousin were lost in their own conversation. We crossed Pattan and I felt bored. I started listening to a song ‘yeh honsla kaisai jukai‘ (‘how can this courage bend’) and was lost in it. What a pleasant morning I repeated to myself with eyes closed.
I was interupted by loud noise outside, I opened my eyes and saw we were in Sopore and cops were searching every vehicle there. Apparently they were looking for a militant. Soon it was our turn, so a SOG (Special Operations Groups for those who don’t know) cop headed towards our car and asked us all show our IDs and we obeyed. He was a huge guy. My cousin, a short tempered person, uttered in a low tone “kabar yeh zulam kar gase khtam” (who knows when will this oppression get over?). The cop overheard but ignored us. Another securityman with a killer look came and said brusquely “you have to come out of your car as we have to search inside as well”. The cousin said “shayed chu ath manz keh tav nuk iraad” (I think the cops are planing to plant something on us). The cop number two stared with hostility. Anyway, they finished their search and then the third cop said “what is this phone doing under this seat”? We were shocked for a second. Actually my brother had losr his mobile phone some days ago and were unable to trace it since there was no sim card inside this second phone set he had. He had no clue he had dropped the phone inside the car. My brother replied politely but firmly “It is my phone and since when has it become a crime to keep my own phone in my own car?”.
Things now turned nasty. Cops had become angry and insisted on us accompanying them to their camp. All the images of what we had heard from families and friends, in anger and in shame and in helplessness, about brutality and the suspension of decency in paramilitary camps in the valley came flashing in our young minds.† As we entered through the gate of the camp, more than a score of security men surrounded us. Anger, impotence, fear, confusion, anxiety, defiance, all sorts of emotions surged inside me as we were stared at collectively as if we were terrorists. As a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) and two Sub Inspectors (SIs) were briefed by the original gigantic policeman, they asked us rudely about the phone, our details, and our laptop was scrutinised. “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, “How are you three boys related?”, “What do you do?”, questions came non-stop. It was only when the DSP realised that my brother and my cousin worked for an international organisation that he became mellow. He shrugged his shoulder as he said “Sorry, it is our duty”. As we left, feeling the stares of the cops behind our back, anger did not dissipate.
The day of reality could not be different from the morning of hope. How could I have forgotten that I was living in a valley that is a police state where every inhabitant is treated with suspicion as a potential terrorist? Still a teenager, the realisation made me feel like an old man burdened by the experience of centuries of foreign rule and occupation.
I felt occupied.
I felt oppressed.
I felt unfree.
I felt defiant.
I felt I was a Kashmiri indeed.
[Malik Aabid is a young Kashmiri writer residing in Srinagar and available at www.facebook.com/malik.abid3]