Kashmir Stories – Sanna Wani


 

Yesterday morning, I left Kashmir with an extremely heavy heart. Here is a (very long) thread from a Kashmiri who was just inside the Valley, on curfew and what I saw going on

Rumors have been going all summer that Modi’s government was cooking up some way to abrogate Articles 35A and 370. It was only after the Amarnath Yatra was evacuated on Friday that these rumors began to gain shape and traction. People began gathering gas, food, meat, money. Most people are bankrupting themselves to do so. Those who were self-employed or low-income were worried about how they would feed their families.

Panic was rife in the air and there was no relief. It was on Sunday (when a photo began circulating on WhatsApp, of the local hospital’s request to issue curfew passes for all their employees) that everyone’s fears finally came true. Most of my family is outside of Kashmir right now but we focused on getting my grandmother,and my pregnant cousin and her son out as soon as possible. My dad booked us the ticket for the next day but even then all of us barely slept in our worry and our pain.Around 10 pm, a messaged flashed across our phones announcing that, as per the request of the central government, all domestic networks were to be shut down indefinitely. All mosques, any place equipped with a loudspeaker, began announcing total curfew from 5 am tomorrow.

I cannot explain the anger and disgust I felt that night: not only was India going to decide our fate for us, but humiliatingly on top of that they were going to keep us blind, silent, deaf and hidden. This was their “democracy.”

Then it was morning and time to leave. My family and I live near the downtown core, which is notoriously the most tightly locked and where the military are most ruthless with civilians due to a history of protests there. Even though our flight was at 2 pm,we left at 8 am because we were worried that the curfew would make it extremely difficult even to get to the airport. We were not wrong. Upon driving for five minutes, we approached the first military blockade, right in front of main intersection, a pharmacy and a hospital.People were lined up, begging to get past. My dad got out of the car with the tickets on his phone (a risk) and was waved away first at it being invalid, fabricated. He finally managed to talk to a military guard and convinced him we really were going to the airport. Next to us, a man was holding his brother’s X-rays, was begging to be let through to take his brother to surgery scheduled for today. Another woman, desperately needing to refill her child’s medicine. None of them were allowed to get through.

The closer we got to Eidgah and Safakadal (the heart of the city), the more military appeared, the more men with guns and barbed wire. Also more boys and young men, sitting in a line outside their homes, on the sidewalk or a wall. Waiting. (Even now I worry for them) At one point, we were asked to turn around. We tried to a different route. There, we were harassed by an officer: cursing at us, yelling for us to turn around and go back home, banging on the side of our car. The other officer was calmer and so we got through to the main highway.

Again and again, we were stopped and ask to prove why we were outside, why we were moving. I lost count after the sixth or seventh time. It all depended on each officer. If even one decided he was done for the day or in a bad mood, there was no telling what he could do.Complete power and discretion were his. The power to maim or kill. It has always been theirs’, the CRPF’s, in Kashmir and we were breaking curfew. People have been killed for much less.

We reached the airport safely but even then we were worried about our driver so we stopped at the police station, at airport security, wherever we could to try to get him a curfew pass. The most we were given was a printout of our own ticket and boarding passes, proof he had been to the airport which was why he was breaking curfew. We still have not been able to contact him to make sure he got home safely.

Then there was the chaos of the airport.Easily, a hundred thousand people had flooded that tiny airport and the entire place was in a mess. Intermittently, certain flights would be delayed because of their proximity to the border and the tensions and skirmishes resulting in no fly zones.Tensions were still growing, even at the airport. Sudden shushes would fall and whispers would break out. Two of my father’s friends work at the airport both appeared, pulling him aside, telling him the news of Article 370 being repealed and then again for 35A and bifurcation.It was safer not to be caught talking about this (irregardless of political leanings), the military and police ran the airport after all.

At one point, someone (probably a BJP/Modi supporter) yelled, “Bharat Mata ki Jay!” (Victory of the Mother Land), trying to incite trouble. More yelling occurred, with other people with retributively chanting of the famous Kashmiri slogan of “Hum khya chathan? Azadi! Chein kya laingay! Azadi!” (What do we want? Freedom! Even if we must steal it! Freedom!).Then the military rustled at this and approached, police taking away the original inciter and warning everyone to stay quiet or face similar consequences. Some people even ran to the other side of the airport in fear. My dad said to me he never thought he would see the day when protesting and unrest was even inside the airport. But it turned out the insides of the airplanes were not even free. As we were landing in Amritsar, we were forced to listen to the loud clapping and celebration of most of the Indians around us, on their escape. Meanwhile, we felt sick with guilt and with longing to return. Longing to not have to leave in the first place. A loudmouth two rows back, laughing about how Kashmiri`s know nothing and how this was for the best for them.

Now I am safe and away and I am lucky for it but I have been able to think of nothing else. My home, my people, our suffering. The cruelty in all of this, the entrapment and the shutdown and the uncertainty we are forced to face time and time again. This is a scene right of a dystopian novel and most of the world isn’t even reading. The tenuous and fragile autonomy that Articles 35A/370 provided (because they were a bandaid solutions to an unsustainable, unfair accession) is now broken.

India is replacing the laws with outright occupation. India’s gloves are off so let me do the same: your democracy is dead. You are colonizers. You have provided yet again that you are willing to go to any vicious length to secure your own power, which is all you care about. You have stripped us of our rights and incited unrest yet again into a peaceful and beautiful place. This time, I pray, you will not escape the international consequences your actions deserve.Rest assured Kashmiri`s will not break and Kashmir is not gone. Our stories, our language, our heart and our people are stronger than any country can dream. Even under these circumstances, I am sure in sha Allah one day we will be free. One day, Kashmir will be free.

– Sanna Wani

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