A year goes by…. in Valley of graves

A year has gone by but it is difficult to shun the ghost of June 11, 2010 all across Kashmir Valley. It follows you wherever you go – from home to work place to streets – even amidst a semblance of routine hum drum of life, which goes on, as usual.

Last year on June 11, when Tufail Mattoo was hit by a tear-gas shell, it was beyond anyone’s imagination that the next few months would unfold the most turbulently tragic times in Kashmir. 118 deaths followed the revelation of Machil fake encounter killings in May last year, sparking protests during which Tufail Mattoo, returning home from tuitions, was the first to be killed. The vicious cycle followed claiming many more lives, leaving hundreds injured, many still recuperating and battling for life, many maimed and scarred for the rest of their lives amid a long period of shutdowns and curfews. It was not simply for the scale of violence and brutal deaths over a period of five months, during which time everything else including economy came to a halt, which made the summer of 2010 the biggest tragedy in the history of two decade long Kashmir’s armed conflict. It was accentuated by the official response of denial – negation of any wrong doing on part of the men in uniform who went on a killing spree and refusal to even lodge cases in accordance with law. But going by the track record of two decades, this official response revealing the ugly pattern of impunity, wasn’t so unusual.

Why summer of 2010 qualifies to be the worst calamity is because of its timing and background, it is because of what it did to the people, destroying hundreds of families and causing collective anger, pain and complete despair. It is terrible for both the physical and long term psychological distress it has caused. It is devastating not only for the statistics but also how the events unfolded, brutality fuelling rage and rage shockingly met by more brutality – nothing coming in the way to offer even a mild breather. An endless nightmare, much more for those whose families were affected, left with losses to mourn – devastation and destruction.

The early years of insurgency in Kashmir may have seen more bloodshed and deaths, hospitals filled to the brim with injured battling for life. But things were different then. There were dreams and hopes – collective and individual – even amidst those war like times. People’s resilience had not been pushed beyond a point. They had been caught between two guns and even as they initially found themselves bound to one on basis of ideology, they gradually found strength to oppose a culture of gun. In the years of rise of insurgency, Indian government to combat the groups began the process of fully militarising Kashmir fetching more troops and littering the entire landscape of once a paradise with bunkers and security camps. The militant groups gradually diminished or gave up the gun, and within a decade, their size and numbers had drastically declined. But the size of the troops did not, though in recent years, some barricades did disappear. Neither did the writ of the official gun, misused and abused to the hilt with no mechanism of accountability against men in uniform who engaged in brutalities and atrocities.

When peace process started between India and Pakistan about a decade ago, people reposed their faith in it, hoping for both a resolution of the political dispute as well as end to human rights abuse, in fact hoping that latter would pave way for former. Ideally, it should have been so. But it wasn’t. People’s patience was tested beyond and point and the unheeded hopes transformed into impatience, impatience into anger, first visible signs of which were seen in 2008. The summer of 2010, came after the absolute despair of Shopian rapes and murders of 2009, diminishing the feeble hopes and faith in Indian system of justice and democracy that people were left with. The winter months of the year started with a smaller cycle of deaths, a trailer of the following summer, unlimited rage pouring out on streets and met with a stiff, cold brutalities.

The five month long turbulence is long over. But shock refuses to die down, anger still seething within at how cold blooded murder was followed by denial, of months of branding young protesting boys as paid terrorists, of complete refusal to hold policemen and security men accountable for snuffing out life, leaving 118 bodies limpless in pools of blood to be carried to their graves. The government’s strategy last year was to do as it pleases and tire out the people.

In that it may have succeeded. But it has been victory of none. A heartless government that solely takes pride in silencing people, not heeding to their grievances  and shrieks of pain, a government that believes it is at war against its own people, has not just lost face among public, it has lost the moral authority to rule. Moreso, because it fails to learn any lesson from the tragedy of 2010, still viewed officially as a doing of ‘paid miscreants’.  No mourning of deaths of youth, over 100 of whom even the government has acknowledged were innocent. Crackdowns and raids continue, so do arrests. Injured are still recuperating or battling for life, many unable to deal with psychological trauma. Parents who lost their sons still unable to reconcile, naturally so. An eerie calm pervades, people reeling with a crisis of uncertainty and hopelessness. Tourists flock the Valley and this is official yardstick of normalcy which the chief minister of Twitterabad will not allow anyone to disturb. As he busily tweets away with what he considers more important stuff of discussing his shoe size or comparing his father’s dance to Sushma’s, he also ensures that the Valley is converted into a prison, inside out with random arrests of Kashmiris and stopping everybody else who dares to raise voice against such repression at the airport itself. Normalcy! Some cruel joke!