Unbearable Pain of Kashmir – I

Santosh Bhartiya, the editor of Choti Duniya, a bilingual Urdu and Hindi weekly, who was on a three-day visit to Kashmir in September and again in October end got to know some bitter realities of present-day Kashmir and how the Indian state has been dealing with it. In a memoir sent to Rising Kashmir, he pens down his experiences about Kashmir, the pain Kashmiris bear and how New Delhi manages Kashmir.
I was sitting and wondering what would have been happening in Kashmir? When I along with two of my journalist friends, Ashok Wankhade and Abhay Dubey, was in Srinagar between 11 and 13 September, I saw a picture of Kashmir that was impossible to conjure up, sitting in Delhi. It occurred to me that those who live in Lucknow, Patna, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore or Chennai cannot imagine the situation of today’s Kashmir. They cannot make out as to why the shops remain closed? Why young boys hurl stones? Why they litter the roads with stones and clear it up on their own? Why shopkeepers open their shops sharply at 6 pm? What compels the state-owned banks to change their normal office timing and start business after 6 pm? These questions began to fly in my mind like whirlwind, because I found my answers to these questions while I was in Srinagar, but will the people of the country ever be able to find theirs? In the meantime, yet another question bobbed up in my mind: is there a place anywhere in the country wherein a political party calls for a general strike, which is answered by people voluntarily closing their shops? In other parts of the country, to make even one-day strike successful, young workers of a political party have to wave lathis and use coercive measures, but a strike in Kashmir ran for 105 days on a trot for which a calendar is published on a piece of paper and people follow it.
When these questions troubled me, I decided to set out for yet another visit to Srinagar the very next day, because from 27 October the seat of government was to shift from Srinagar to Jammu for six months, and during all these months, Srinagar was to become empty of government officials, ministers and chief minister; they were all to move to Jammu. Only those people remain in Srinagar who cannot go to Jammu, who got businesses, who study in Srinagar or who live in Srinagar and who do not have any engagement with the government. It occurred to me that I should see this situation myself.
When I arrived in Srinagar, Haroon Reshi, our senior correspondent in the city, came to receive me. On the way, Haroon Reshi told me that shops are closed as usual. However, the intensity of stone pelting has lessened. It was expected that there would be lesser number of private vehicles on the road that day, but the vehicles that carry general passengers was virtually nil. The police presence was sporadic and that was not in order to ensure that the shops are closed. The curfew was in place not to facilitate the closing down of shops. On the contrary, the police presence was there and curfew was imposed because if people wished to open their shops they could do so. The government would apprehend those who, in common parlance, are called facilitator of strike, but the shopkeepers were not opening their shops on their own. It suggests that the courage and fortitude of the people of Srinagar was not weakened. The Indian government’s assumptions that people would get exhausted by prolong strike and open their shops, proved wrong. The Indian government assertion which was announced by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh that he would normalize the situation within seven days and he had asked security forces that he wanted to see the situation normalized within seven days. At that time people were wondering what would be the government’s action, would it resort to bullets on people, or would it jail them all, would the risk on their lives increase? Rajnath Singh had made the announcement on September 11, which was published in September 12 newspapers in Srinagar. Now October has ended. It is more than a month since Rajnath Singh has made that one-week-normalcy assertion, but that elusive one week has not yet come in which the situation would have come to the level of the government and the security forces’ expectations. In the meantime, the government neither tried to talk nor did it send a delegation to Kashmir. The Chief Minister too stayed clear from talking to anyone. Anyway talks with her would not have served any purpose as people’s expectations were with the government in Delhi, and the government in Delhi had shut both its eyes and ears.
I thought it better to begin my visit by meeting Prof. Abdul Ghani Butt, who was the most prominent Hurriyat leader who was out of jail or not arrested. I went straight to the professor and asked what the situation is and what should be done now? Butt sahib has been a professor. He put forth things and analyzed them logically. He gave me a long description of things that have happened in Kashmir. He put his hand on my head and appreciated my efforts. He said the way you make people outside Kashmir acquainted with the pain of Kashmir is commendable. I told him that I am a journalist, and my job is not to affect a breakthrough. He retorted, “Besides a journalist, you are a human being as well, and the people in other parts of your country should be aware of the pain and suffering we are going through.” He said, “I believe that this course will definitely help ease the pain.”
I asked Prof. Butt that students would lose their one year as the board exams were round the corner, he replied, “Yes, they won’t be able to appear in board exams, but it has become the question of success and failure in the examination of life here. Suppose, if we raised the issue of board exam, then who will take that exam? Children (students) are in prison.” During our one-and-half-hour meeting he offered tea and biscuits thrice and gave me a suggestion that I should meet Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq at any cost, who was locked up in a jail.
I asked but how I could get to him.
“Make an effort,” he replied. “I know you’re such a journalist that if you make up your mind, you will definitely get to the Mirwaiz.”
Prof. Butt’s suggestion made me a bit more anxious. I returned to my hotel and put my stuff there. Before lodging in the hotel, I thought I would request the government to allot me a room in the Circuit House where the expenses of staying are low, but as soon as this thought came to my mind, I realized that if I get a lodging in a government circuit house, doubts would crop up whether I am roaming around in Srinagar in connivance with the government. With this thought, I turned toward the hotel.
Keeping in mind, the suggestion of Prof. Butt, I started thinking in my hotel room as to how I could get to the Mirwaiz. I contacted my journalist friends and friends in officialdom, but to no avail. Then a miracle happened. One person came out and said if I did not carry my mobile phone with me and did not flaunt my identity, then he would try to arrange my meeting with the Mirwaiz. I greeted him with the assertion that ‘good deeds need no permission’.
I don’t know what that God-send man did that meeting with the Mirwaiz started appearing a possibility. Then, I got the call that I should instantly reach where the Mirwaiz had been detained. The man told me that he would meet me there and try to facilitate my meeting with the Mirwaiz. I took a taxi, and taking the round of Dal Lake, moved toward the hilly terrain. It is Srinagar’s most popular tourist spots – Cheshma Shahi. The uniqueness of Cheshma Shahi is that it got constant water supply, and nobody knows from where that water comes. There is a small hut near this tourist spot in which the Mirwaiz haf been locked up. My driver Ghani taking the round of Dal Lake moved toward Cheshma Shahi. We saw a few police and jail personnel standing there. Except them the place wore a deserted look. At a point I was stopped by a man, saying I won’t be allowed to go further. Then I had to talk to my contact, and I do not know how he managed to get the permission to go to the hut. In the hut I was asked to sign a paper and on that signature they wrote official permission and I went to meet the Mirwaiz. I might have met the Mirwaiz long ago, but he was aware of the fact that I was one of the three journalists who visited Srinagar. That visit, like a candle in the darkness, had illuminated a hope in the hearts of the people.

The Mirwaiz hugged me and took me inside the hut. We exchanged our views on the affairs of the country, the world, and Kashmir. In the process, the Mirwaiz told me that in past three months I was the first person outside his family who could manage to meet him. “People from my family visit me once a week. Other than them I have not seen anybody else,” he said. I asked, “Then, who comes to meet you?” He answered: “Wild bears as this area falls under the forest.” “And rats?” I asked. Pointing toward the roof he said there is a false wooden roof inside the main roof, and when rats play around in the day they are hardly noticeable, but in the calmness of night their scampering coupled with sounds of winds the whole surroundings become a haunting place. And I was looking at the Mirwaiz who was the most respected religious leader of Kashmir, the Mirwaiz who is the Chairman of the Hurriyat, the Mirwaiz who is well-educated, who is very gentle, and who (during Atal Bihar Vajpayee’s regime) on behalf of the government of India visited Muzaffarabad and Islamabad, carrying the proposals of Vajpayee in order to prepare them for talks. Today the same Mirwaiz has been confined to an isolated hut, and I started pondering as to what the government had achieved by detaining him here? Was it not possible for the government to confine him in his home? At least he could sleep in his home comfortably. The prison staff with him too has to face jail-like situation, and they too could have stayed in the comforts of their homes.

After having talked to the Mirwaiz for more than an hour, I came out his hut and started moving toward the hotel. Then suddenly, I asked myself if I should try to meet Yasin Malik? Malik was lodged in the Central Jail. I called some of the gentlemen who were kind toward me and asked one of them: “Is it possible for me to have a meeting with Malik in the jail? A lot of people would have been visiting the prison, and I can also go there by taking permission.” He laughed and said: “Fine, turn your car toward the Central Jail and I will see what can be done, but I cannot assure you that you can meet him.”

After 20-25 minutes drive from Cheshma Shahi, we somehow arrived at Srinagar Central Jail and after pleading and beseeching, meeting the jailor and the police chief, and proving myself a common man I put forward my request. I don’t know how God was benevolent on me that I got the permission to meet him too. I went inside and was asked to keep my belongings outside. I had to deposit my purse containing cash and credit cards outside. Without thinking for a moment that I might lose something from my belongings, I went inside. I don’t know whether it was the jailor’s chamber or the chamber of some other official. However, the officials sitting there were staring at me – staring and smiling at the same time. Then I saw Malik draped in a blanket coming inside the chamber. He took some time to recognize me, but when he recognized me, we sat together and I started talking to him. Malik is a very intelligent man. He is the leader of a group that took arms to bring Kashmir issue to the world forum. However, in the early 1990s, when Kuldip Nayar and Justice Sachar were in Srinagar, they persuaded him to lay down arms, and promised to do much toward resolving Kashmir issue. Malik accepted their suggestion and laid down his arms. I kept looking at this man. Despite the illness, the toughness on his face was quite apparent. He had been in the jail since Burhan Wani’s incident. After two hours of the killing or martyrdom or encounter of Burhan Wani, he was arrested.

I asked Malik if there can be a breakthrough in the situation. He answered, “What would be the breakthrough? The situation is in front of the world. It is in front of Pakistan. It is in front of India as well. When the prime minister of the country says that he wants to convert the country into Israel – it means the way Israel carries out strikes, we will also carry out similar strikes – the Kashmir issue has vanished between the rhetoric of Israel and strikes. Then what am I supposed to talk? Why should I think over it?”

The bitterness on Malik’s face was quite visible. Perhaps, he might be regretting the broken promises made by Kuldip Nayar and Justice Sachar on whose suggestion and assurances he laid down arms. After any incident he is put in jail, he might be regretting that as well. There might be regret for his voice not being heard outside Kashmir. He must be recalling every unfair treatment meted out to him.

After biding adieu to Malik, when I started coming out the jail, I asked the jail staff who was accompanying me who was the oldest prisoner in the jail? He told me that there is a Hurriyat leader (Qasim Faktoo) who has been here for 23 years. I was startled: 23 years in prison! He said, “Yes. Whenever he is released in a case, the police charge him in another one and the cycle keeps on continuing.”

Then I realized that the working style of police is same everywhere in the country. It’s no different in Kashmir. Someone told me similar practice prevails in Pakistan too. In such cases, after their release from jails, the governments charge them in yet another case and send them back to jail. Be it India or Pakistan, working of police is similar in both the countries. On this count, at least, the two countries are complimenting each other.

After meeting Malik, I came back to my hotel room and started thinking as to what should I do now? I kept note of all events of the day. While keeping notes, I kept thinking what I should do the next day? Then I was informed that a police officer had come to see me. I invited him to the room. It might be possible that he would have come in his personal capacity, as he wore plain clothes, but the possibility was also there that he might be sent by the government of Jammu Kashmir to learn who I had met. I greeted him and talked to him. He showed up for 15 minutes, but sat down for an hour. I discovered during the conversation that Jammu Kashmir government officials and Jammu Kashmir Police were all unhappy about all this. After having a long conversation with him, I came to the conclusion that if the government does not alter its policy of responding anything with bullets, then those who fire bullets in compliance of their order may one day refuse to do so. While talking to him, I also became aware of the fact that the government has crossed the limit of severity to such an extent that the fear of authority has gone from people’s minds. Now, I realize the governments used force to a certain limit so that the fear of authorities remains in people’s minds. But if the government wields its power more than a certain limit, the fear of government’s authority vanishes from people’s mind and this may be considered a grand stupidity. For Jammu Kashmir it can be safely said that the government has crossed that limit.

Those who were born between1952 and 1954 in Kashmir (and they are in lakhs) have seen curfews, baton charge, tear gas, rubber bullets and now pellet guns, and more than that they have seen bullets being fired since their childhood and in its wake the bodies. This is what democracy means to them. They are unaware of the democracy that is in Patna, in Lucknow, in Mumbai, in Saharanpur, in Muzaffarpur, in Chennai, in Bangalore, or in Hyderabad.
I did not sleep the whole night thinking if governments were really heartless? It does not feel the pain of people.

Do the people of the country become heartless, who do not want to feel the pain of Kashmir, and consider Article 370 as a stumbling block for assimilation of Kashmir into India? What is Article 370? What accord was signed with Maharaja Hari Singh? What were the terms and conditions of that accord? Who went to the United Nations? What were the United Nations terms and conditions? Who were the people who came between the compliance of those conditions? Why the people of the country are unaware of these questions? Since the people the country are not aware of these questions, perhaps this is the reason they consider every soul in Kashmir a Pakistani, and they are also under the impression that the Hurriyat leaders have left no stone unturned to merge Kashmir with Pakistan.