Daanish Bin Nabi, a journalist living in Kashmir recounts the last 51 days of horror in the valley as the curfew is finally lifted, only to be re-imposed again after fresh agitations break out.
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Commander, Burhan Wani, was killed on July 08, on the third day of Eid-ul-Fitr. The news broke at around 8:30 in the evening. I was stuck in Sopore, my home town at the time and tried to reach Tral, but to no avail, as no taxi driver wanted to travel that side.
Our team at Rising Kashmir was on tenterhooks—assigning stories and keeping track of all that was happening. By July 09, news started pouring in that more boys were dying, literally taking the streets in a show of solidarity to Wani. As the madness started to breakout, I was given the task of taking charge of the online section of the newspaper, as the online editor, Shah Abbas, was stuck in south Kashmir. I could foresee what was coming. Living and reporting from the valley had given me a fair perspective on how events usually played out in such a scenario, but even my imagination failed to grasp the magnanimity of what was about to break out.
By the end of the day on July 09, 12 youth were killed and countless others were severely injured with pellet wounds.
From that day, the standard heading for any update that we published on our website read, “Youth killed in …, death toll …”
On July 10, we experienced horror first hand when I, along with cameraman of Press TV, Aijaz Khan; photojournalist of Getty Images, Nazir and an editor of Greater Kashmir, Majid Maqbool, were beaten to pulp at the SMHS hospital by enraged people, who first labelled us CID agents and then accused us of working for Indian media outlets.
Working for either organization (CID or the Indian media) is considered a crime in Kashmir.
As soon as the news of our beating spread, thanks to social media, my family members started to panic. In a span of 15 minutes, my mother called me twelve times asking about my condition. I was in severe pain, but I pretended as if everything was alright. Since then, my worried mother doesn’t call me to inquire about where I am. She doesn’t want to know whether I am hit by pellet or a bullet, she says. The only thing she now does, is to wait for my evening call. And when I phone her late in the night, she pauses to hear the background noises and doesn’t ask anything till I say, “Mama be wotus ghare, (Mom I reached home)”. It’s only then she relaxes and that too just for a few hours because I leave again the next day.
I often wonder about the mothers who cannot call their sons again. What do they do?
I started to receive updates from Shah Abbas (online editor) July 11 onward. His news would mostly be about the killed or injured persons. Now, whenever my cellphone rings and the screen displays “Abbas Sahab calling”, before answering the phone, I fervently hope that it is not about the number of people dead. But most of the time, that is exactly what it is.
My heading for the online update of the newspaper remains the same, only the toll and name of the place changes.
The tough night-curfew was imposed from August 17.
The first casualty of the night-curfew was our colleague, the defense and security reporter, Sumaiya Yousuf. She was beaten, harassed and abused by IPS officer, Amod Ashok Nagpure. Suddenly doing our jobs was hazardous. Senior editors, Faisul Yaseen, Sajad Kralyari, Adil Wani, Suhail Ahmed, Akmal Hanan and Fayaz Wani were nearly killed by the government forces while travelling home during dead of the night.
The backbone of our organisation is our driver-cum-pastor, Irshad Ahmed Khan, who has the heart of an Afghan. In the last 50 days, he has not slept for more than 4-5 hours each day because all other drivers are unable to reach work. While travelling home with Khan on August 17, at 01:15 am, our office vehicle was circle by at least 10 armed men in uniform, near old-secretariat, Srinagar. One of our employees from the layout section, Feroz Ahmed, was sitting in the back seat. The forces barked, “Who are you”? Where are you going”? Ahmed responded, “Jinab thodi hi door mera ghar hai” (My house is very close, sir). The armed men said forcefully, “get down and go by foot.” Before Ahmed could react, Khan shot back on his behalf, “Isko kutton se darr lagta hai” (He is afraid of dogs). His retort sent shivers down my spine. For a moment I thought, this is the last place that I will see in my life, thinking the forces will either shower bullets or pellets on us, but to our collective relief, they let us go.
Our editor-in-chief, Shujaat Bukhari, was saved twice from agitated, stone-pelting youth.
The grave situation of Kashmir 2016, can be gauged by another simple example. The veteran, ever-young photojournalist, Farooq Javed Khan, who has been covering the conflict for the past 30 years, doesn’t go back home anymore or if he does, he is so afraid of going back, that he keeps calling all his contacts before leaving, to ensure he reaches safely.
Even storytellers are not safe in Kashmir at the moment. It is beyond any condemnation or comprehension.
But Life Goes On
One of the worst damages to come of this conflict is the halt in the education of the young. South Kashmir has seen the most violent protests in the valley, but was the first to come up with the ingenious idea of keeping the young ones safe and occupied, by setting up voluntary curfew schools for children. Adil Mir, a civil engineer from the Kulgam district, was the first one to set up one such place and says, “on August 01, after continuous one month of curfew, I decided to teach my neighbouring kids. Soon other educated people from my neighbourhood joined me and we started to teach almost all the students of the area and of different age groups.”
Most of the classes are being taught at homes of the teachers. Taking a lesson from south Kashmir, Aarifa, aged 30, started a school in the Khanyar area of Srinagar district as well, she says, “I started the school because Hurriyat has told us to teach our kids locally, so that the education of the children does not suffer because of the turmoil.” Aarifa teaches class 7 and 8 students. Likewise, Khalid and Shuja have started a school in Rainwari area of Srinagar district to teach children and keep them busy.
While covering the 42nd straight day of curfew in the heart of Srinagar city, I got an opportunity to talk with a BSF personnel. His task was to stop everyone who crosses the Budshah bridge in Lal Chowk. He introduced himself as Ashok from Madhya Pradesh. A visibly irritated Ashok said, “Why did Burhan Wani pick July to die. He could have died two months before or after the culmination of Amarnath Yatra.” I felt a bit uneasy when he connected the killing of Burhan Wani with Amarnath Yatra and asked him why he thought so. “Humari duty sirf Amarnath Yatra ke liye thi. Wahan pe hamein pata chala Burhan mar gaya, aur hamein is narak main duty laga di. Main pareshaan hoon, Kashmiri kaisey itney time tak aandar band rehegein. Main saara Hindustan gooma hoon par aaisa mainey kahin nahi dekha,” he said irritably.
A CRPF personnel who I met in Rainwari was absolutely clueless about why he was in Kashmir. When I tried to talk to him, his first and last question was, “Kashmir main kab election hai?”. Understanding his naïvete, I simply said, “Yahan halaat kharab hai, election nahi hai.”
He only stared at me.
The overall situation presents a very gloomy picture. The continuous curfew makes it difficult for the people to move from one place to another, or from home to hospitals. Important things such as food and living resources are running out, but the curfew remains. The curfew, coupled with communication blockade in Kashmir has already claimed the life of an 80-year-old kidney patient. As per reports, Abdul Waheed was on dialysis for the last two years. On 15th August, his condition deteriorated and all that could have saved him was an immediate dialysis. As it turned out, curfew and mobile service suspension ensured that he didn’t get it done in time.
Tourist and marriage season in Kashmir has also crumbled. Almost 300 to 500 weddings have been cancelled. Kashmir is known for its lavish wedding affairs. The people who went ahead with their marriage programs have curtailed the elaborate Kashmiri wedding to a quick, no frills ceremony. The families find it hard to shop, so most brides/grooms have fled to Delhi and other parts of India for their wedding planning.
Kashmir’s economy lies shattered. Transport companies are at a standstill and the fruit-markets remain closed. Tourism has obviously taken a hit. As per reports, in its almost two months of curfew, Kashmir has suffered a whopping loss of over Rs 6,600 crores.
This has been the valley’s longest spell of curfew and shutdown.
As far as political engagement is concerned, nothing has been done on that front as well. However, Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, flew to New Delhi to reach out to the Modi government for a dialogue on August 27, but there are few takers for the “dialogue” on the ground. Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) itself is in confusion. While their party president in New Delhi, blamed the 05 per cent people and Pakistan, back home, the party issued a press release, asking octogenarian Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani, to give Mehbooba Mufti a chance.
What happens next on the political landscape in Kashmir remains to be seen.
Curfew Lifted and Re-imposed
The 51-day long curfew was lifted on 29th August in Kashmir. This spell of curfew was the longest in the complicated history of Kashmir. The erstwhile chief minister of the state, GM Shah, was known for imposing curfews in the valley at the smallest of pretexts between 1984-1986, the longest curfew under his regime, according to historians, only exceeded from 15 days to a month. By imposing the 51-day long curfew, Mehbooba Mufti has only added another feather to her growing hawkish-image as an administrator among the people.
However, the ground situation has changed drastically in Kashmir. As soon as the curfew was officially lifted, sporadic protests were witnessed all around the valley. As per reports, protests in erupted in Ajas, Bandipora; police and forces re-imposed restrictions in major parts of old city, Srinagar, after clashes erupted between protesters and forces. There were clashes in Kaloosa, Mazhama, Budgam. Also scores of people were injured as
government forces fired pellets and tear smoke shells on protesters at Kremshera area of central Kashmir’s Budgam district. How Mehbooba Mufti deals with the deteriorating situation on ground remains to be seen.
Kashmir has seen everything in the last 52-days and almost every journalist has his or her own tale to share. We leave our homes in the wee hours of the morning to avoid stone pelting youth and the wrath of the curfew-imposing government forces, not knowing whether we will see our family members again or they will see us on a hospital bed.
While filing this story, my phone has been ringing again, it is not Abbas Sahab, but another journalist, saying that an 18-year-old boy has been shot dead in Pulwama. My heading for the update begins again, “Youth killed in …, death toll …” only place and toll changed.