State of Play

Kashmir: It’s Been a Month

Human beings probably best reveal themselves in how they regard fellow humans. In pronouncing upon the other, by word or by deed, they often pronounce upon themselves. A fortnight before I watched the lockdown shroud descend on Kashmir on the night of August 4-5, I happened to be crossing the Valley on another assignment — a remembrance, part personal, of 20 years since the war over Kargil.

The Amarnath Yatra was in bustle, protected convoys were whistling up and down the road from Srinagar to Baltal, the preferred base camp to the holy cave. For a while, I journeyed lodged in the belly of one such column; the road is narrow and often only permits single-file traffic. An hour out north of Srinagar, between Ganderbal and Wayil, the pilgrim carriers came to a halt. It was a hamlet called Nunner. Habitation hugged the road close on either side; in a recess stood a copse-like opening shaded over by robust summer foliage; some village folk hung about outdoors, mostly idling. Presently, men began to leap off their buses, as if to a common trigger, and lined up along the wayside.

They dropped their pyjamas and trousers — those wearing shorts were swifter on the draw — and began to relieve themselves on the village walls, someone’s home, someone’s shopfront, someone’s little lumber depot. Some among the impromptu party chortled, their delight not entirely on account of the unburdening of bladders; their delight, clearly, also a sensation of achievement. Others wiggled their pelvises and scored abstract patterns with their discharge. Yet others called out to mates to participate in the collective and wanton violation; many declined, but some were willing.

No native of Nunner motioned them off their property, much less utter a word in reproach. The pilgrims had the company of armed jawans, in buses fore and aft. This was a secure desecration. I should state I tried to reason with their wrongdoing and suggested a more open space, just a little down the road, near Wayil perhaps, where Sindh nullah flows. I was shown a middle finger by one who wasn’t yet done fastening his drawstring. Another said, as if to spit on me: “Tuu bhi inhi mein se hai kya? (Are you also one of them?)”

The Indian male is notoriously unmindful and indiscreet about letting off pressure below his belly-button, but this was no lone-ranger act of furtive opportunism. This was a mindful, methodical dose of abuse, of which I was only a collateral recipient. That man had the bully’s post-barbarism cheer to his tone. Nunner — or Nunner by any other name — was always going to be their chosen place for defilement; there was, to the whole passing spectacle, a retributive triumphalism — here, this is what we will do to you, take it.

Nunner’s scars were already beginning to evaporate as the buses departed; the pilgrims had revealed a few indelible things about themselves.

Our book of revelations has proceeded infamously apace since that brag, brazenly made, in the summer of 2014 by one of our elected eminences — it can now be said that it is possible to have a majority government in this country without the support of… (read India’s largest religious minority; also read Majoritarianism). What did that reveal to us of the dispensation that governs us?

What do we reveal of ourselves when we ascend the high pulpit and brandish the rhetoric of paanch-pachees and shamshan-kabristan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we motion compatriots to banishment in Pakistan? What do we reveal of ourselves when we slaughter a youngster for the headgear he sports? What do we reveal of ourselves when we lynch because someone reads another book, follows another faith, eats another meal? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make a celebration of that lynching? What do we reveal of ourselves when we endorse the devilish marauders of a little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we make common cause to obstruct justice for the parents of that little girl? What do we reveal of ourselves when we cheer the assassin of the man we still call the Father of the Indian Nation? What do we reveal of ourselves when we collaborate to deliver landslide mandates to each and all of such unabashed purveyors of bigotry? What do we reveal of ourselves in turning lusty champions of hatred? What have we revealed of ourselves in Kashmir?

We have revealed that we can weaponize the prejudices of the party that profaned Nunner. We have revealed, too, that we can do to a whole people what Major Leetul Gogoi did to that young shawl-weaver called Farooq Dar. Only, Dar was far more fortunate. He was trussed up with ropes and was sent on one round astride the bonnet of an army jeep. Kashmir is trussed up in concertina wires, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed to speak, and it has been a month. Kashmir has not been allowed its say, and it has been a month. Kashmir is no longer Kashmir, and it has been a month. It was stripped and demoted through the mechanics of a diabolical subterfuge, and it has been a month. Kashmir’s supreme will came to reside in a governor who, until the dawn of the night of long knives, was professing he knew nothing of what the fuss was all about, and it has been a month. Kashmiris pronounced that will, through their governor, with their voices muzzled and often interned, their conversations abrogated, their movement frozen, their neighbourhoods sealed, their aspirations and anger tear-gassed, their protests pelleted, their prayers quartered. They make the biggest jailhouse of this democracy, nearly eight million inmates. It has been a month. It’s a patent lie that Kashmir is normal; to label reports of a populace seething and stifled propaganda is the most pernicious propaganda.

Kashmir is a hard and complicated place, no less because it also lies infiltrated and instigated by rogue instruments across the cantankerous fence. It is also a rending place because its soul was inconsolably cauterized by the gun-point hounding out of Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90. Governments can be hard and complicated and rending in their ways too.

Our governments have been no exception; they’ve been serially hard on our people. In the Northeast, in Punjab, in West Bengal, in the troubled jungle geographies of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Jharkhand, all across this sovereignty during the Emergency. In the “defence of the realm”, governments have employed unspeakable excesses. But seldom has the celebration of such excesses been so wide and so untrammelled and unashamed. Let Kashmiris cry. Lock them up, starve them, be done with them, we care that they should be dealt with, now or never. Let them suffer. Let them be maimed. Let them die. It’s all well and just if Kashmir can be vacated of the Kashmiris who inhabit Kashmir. Kashmir is the paradise of our lusting, Kashmiris are the parasites that need extinguishing to make way for us. It’s what we have revealed of ourselves, one human to another, this past month. You must brush your teeth before you smell the coffee each morning; one morning, look yourself up in the mirror. It’s been a month, a fair time to reveal yourself to yourself.

Kashmir

Notes From An Operation Theatre

This is how we did it, this is how it is usually done. There are standard operating procedures. The subject must first be prepared for what’s to come, even if the arrangements cause some consternation and distress, even if the subject appears baffled and unwilling. The subject needs to be persuaded what is being done is only for their good, there’s no cause for panic or fretting. It may hurt a little in the beginning but it will all turn out well in the end. It’s strong medicine being administered, but it’s essential medicine. Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine, this is for your own good.

Sanitisation is required. Doors need to be secured. Sounds need to be shut. Nothing may come in. Nothing may slip out. This needs clinical planning and execution. It needs trained personnel in close attendance. It needs precision tools. It needs expert minding. Nothing can be out of place, nothing can be permitted to go wrong.

Faces masked, hands gloved, anaesthesia administered: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5… “Scalpel!”

And so it was that Kashmir was taken.

The soldiery was commandeered and deployed, so many thousands even the birds huddled close. Then, in the darkened shadows of night, an unseen hand moved to unbounded muffling: no movement, no messaging, no sound nor syllable. Landlines gone. Mobile networks gone. Broadband gone. Cable television gone. Civic restrictions on. The countdown to a comprehensive stilling. Kashmir etherised. Kashmir under treatment. Codename Operation Kashmir.

It was to emerge from that induced coma, its constitutional feathers ripped, its body carved, dismembered and downgraded to manageable contours, its prominent “anti-bodies” identified and referred to sterilised laboratories. Other known and potential “germs” scraped out and packed off to distant quarantines.

Surgical strike. This is how it happens, this is how it is usually done. There are standard operating procedures.

Post-operative remarks of the Surgeon-General on ailment and aftermath

Infection and contamination are to be prevented at all costs, anything that jeopardises the outcomes of this procedure must be proscribed. Amputation of sections cannot be ruled out because pathology suggests gangrene may have set in in some places. The requirements of critical care remain pressing; robust doses of medication will need to be pumped in for a sustained period, and there will have to be mandatory and frequent phases of sedation in order that eventual recovery on desired lines can be expected.

The chief cause of affliction by this acute malady was found to be the unfettered and long-term prescription of a feel-good drug called 370. It played havoc and triggered a rash of ruinous symptoms that were getting out of hand. It constricted and suffocated some parts, throttled the nerves. It was found that exclusive privileges enjoyed under the influence of 370 had begun to score fatal sores; it was urgent to de-clog starved channels and infuse hitherto restricted interests and influences to restore vigour and vibrancy. Overdosing on 370 had also led to bloating of some sensory organs, which in turn had prompted delusionary fits and, very often, violent lunging towards secession. External instigation was aiding these symptoms, but there were internal wellsprings too, feeding the disorder and its destructive syndrome.

Gupkar has been cauterised and cleansed. We ran a super-sopper along the length of the avenue and swept up the residue. Gupkar was a chronic trigger to Kashmiri misconduct. This is where all its rulers reigned from and took turns ruining the realm for nearly half a century: Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti and, for an interregnum, Ghulam Nabi Azad. These three families and their legatees, their patrons and partners — the Abdullahs, the Muftis, the Nehru-Gandhis — were identified as the core of the carbuncle, a knife had to be run through their monopoly on malevolence, and the possibility of any recurrence stitched up.

Comprehensive surgical restructuring was required to ensure that. That manoeuvre was successfully conducted. One body part — Ladakh — had to be cleaved away in order that it could afford enhanced blood flow. The remaining, and chief, body part — Jammu and Kashmir — had to be radically repurposed to control recurrent paroxysms and correct faulty alignment. To that end, it was necessary that its command centre was relocated. That has been achieved. Power will no longer be located in, or issue from, Gupkar or its gallery of residents. Power will henceforth be a prescribed entity designated Lieutenant Governor who shall function under the direction and authority of a command centre self-invested with the best interests of the nation.

Should Gupkar eminences — or those aspiring to their expired authority, the likes of Sajjad Lone, even Shah Faesal — behave and reveal signs of correction, they may earn allowance to contest seats for a new confederacy of municipals which is to be called, in the aid of keeping spirits and appearances, the legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir itself revealed imbalances inimical to the well-being of the bodypolitic; they will require to be attended to and remedied in order that proper functioning can be restored. A separate team of experts may be assigned to suggest ways so that one body part (Kashmir) is not pressing overly upon another, and under-attended body parts (Jammu, in the main) can be given their due. In the interests of good health and prosperity, Jammu and Kashmir should be read and understood, henceforth, as Jammu and Kashmir, not Kashmir and Jammu, as has, unfortunately, been the case so far. That’s a rectification we recommend to the separate team of experts to keep in mind when they go about their business of re-ordering the physical geography of this still living entity.

Post-operative conditions are usually a period demanding careful watch, monitoring and patience. This has been a monumental exercise, and despite the best efforts, there could be ups and downs. They will have to be handled firmly and resolutely.

We have reserves of strong medicine and enough well-trained personnel, there is no cause for alarm on that front. For the moment, all is well, contrary to uninformed reports you may be fed. One of the precautions we took in order to be able to undertake such a critical and vital gambit was that we informed very few. So do not pay heed to those who do not know.

Hallucinatory vignettes coursing a bloodshot, pellet-ridden eye

That lamb I had, which they commanded to silence, it bleated, and they shot it… That pigeon was the only thing I saw moving, and then something of it caught the concertina and it fluttered and then it moved no more… There was that graffiti on the wall, “India Go Back” and it had an exclamation on it the shape of a gun… then the wall turned, as if to the change of a camera angle, and it became flat as a road, and there were boots marching on it… Someone was shrieking and it was a silent shriek that did not even turn to a balloon of vapour because this isn’t our winter… I was writing an essay on Peace and everytime I wrote Peace it spelt itself Panic… I threw a stone and it took my arm away… That phone of mine, it was so smooth, and just the size, I used it as soap to bathe… None of this can be true… What is true is what I am told every time I come to… “Everything is fine, everything is calm, everything is normal, everything is for your own good, everything is under control…” …So my blistered eye is a lie dipped in a surreal slipstream, and these nightmares are a matinee screening I bought tickets for… the movies have returned to Kashmir as promised… all is well.

Kashmir

Diary of Srinagar lockdown I & II

A reporter’s worst nightmare is not being able to tell the story; this week, the powers enacted it coldly, and with singular completeness. But it’s poor form to complain of being pinched when everything around you is being hammered. The reporter in Kashmir this week was a niggling collateral to seismic enactments whose impulsive after-tremors have been stilled by jackboots and commanded at gunpoint to behave.

These are fragments from a diary that lay proscribed for days:

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Shortly after I arrive in Srinagar mid-afternoon, a friend of several decades comes around and insists on ferrying me home. “No point getting locked up in a room with nowhere to go. It isn’t safe, a big lockdown is coming.”

“How do you know a lockdown is coming?” I ask him, a little irritably.

“If a lockdown isn’t coming, why are you even here?” he retorts.

Argument over.

Continue reading “Diary of Srinagar lockdown I & II”
2018, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A puppet in torment

Shakespearean tragedy has a canny kinship with Kashmir

When you’ve decided to dig in, it might be advisable to ensure you don’t burrow so deep that scrambling out is no longer an option. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, is darting, helplessly but consciously, towards making a political grave of her power dugout. Her serial capitulations to the provincial shenanigans and the national worldview of her chosen partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, are as astonishing as they are unsurprising.

Unsurprising because a dark, and yet unstated though frightfully abject, compromise was written into her decision to fall in step with the BJP after prolonged prevarication. Astonishing because no Kashmiri chief minister in living memory has been so sublime in submitting to routine rebuff and remonstration at the hands of an ally – the kind of heckling and humiliation that cannot be going down terribly well with the constituency she so painstakingly built over the years.

The latest of many snubs that Mehbooba has taken is her government’s declaration, doubtless extracted by some backroom arm-twisting, to the Supreme Court that Major Aditya Kumar of the 10th Garhwal Rifles was not named in an FIR by her police as one of those responsible for opening fire on a mob near Shopian that resulted in the deaths of two civilians in late January. If this isn’t a patent lie, it most certainly is a deferent volte-face few will fail to notice, not least her unquiet south Kashmiri citizenry. Mehbooba’s police and her party – the Peoples Democratic Party – had openly rowed with the army over the incident; Major Kumar’s father, himself a serving army officer, had gone to the Supreme Court protesting that his son was sought to be unfairly prosecuted. But Mehbooba sounded firm about addressing the killings, “Anguished over the tragic loss of lives in Shopian,” she had tweeted soon after the incident, “… have ordered a magisterial probe into the unfortunate incident and asked the enquiry to be completed within 20 days… We will take the probe to its logical conclusion. Justice and peace are two sides of the same coin.” Her counsel’s submission to the Supreme Court on Monday – my lords we have not named a Major Aditya Kumar – clarified to us yet again that Mehbooba is allowed neither magistracy over a probe she’s ordered nor her promised logical conclusions.

Continue reading “A puppet in torment”

2017, Kashmir, Reportage, Srinagar, Telegraph Calcutta

Valley Voices

Last fortnight, I spent some time in Kashmir, trying to sample opinion on the Centre’s new effort to open dialogue.

 

Dineshwar Sharma landed here last week as a text message. A couple of days before New Delhi’s newest emissary to Kashmir presented his person to the Valley, telephones of local notables began to simultaneously ping – mainstream and separatist politicians, opinion leaders in the media, academia and the bar, hand-picked retired civil servants, all from a list of numbers that Sharma had been handed. ‘Could we meet? Want to talk? I’m coming,’ is how Sharma was sounding out his target audience.

The response he received was, to put it mildly, lukewarm, especially insufficient in dropping early winter temperatures. Separatists rejected the overture out of hand; mainstream entities like Omar Abdullah of the National Conference showed little eagerness, settling down for a ‘private call on’ only because Sharma had gone knocking his door; among others in the intelligentsia, few obliged, opting to sense the depth and drift of Sharma’s enterprise before they revealed their minds. Those that arrived at his heavily secured VVIP perch at Hari Niwas – many dozen delegations, authentic and adulterated – had mostly been herded and nudged to Sharma’s presence by administrative fiat. On the eve of Sharma’s arrival, the office of Divisional Commissioner Basheer Khan, occupied itself shooting off directives to any outfit worth the name to present themselves to Sharma – Bakerwal and Gujjar tribesmen, boatmen, tour operators, hoteliers, motley sets of tillers, women’s and youth groups, government-funded NGOs, even a dubious crew of young journalists nobody seemed to know existed. As Sharma laboured on in his exclusive bungalow, trying to shore up respectable numbers of the interested, The Telegraph spoke to a cross-section of those not on his telephone log – young unaligned professionals who remain invested in Kashmir and count among stakeholders as any other. This is what they had to say on New Delhi’s latest venture:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rashid Rather, Sociologist: Kashmiris love talking, we’ve been talking since 1947. The issue is what about. To me the problem here is not about how to deal with separatists, it is how Delhi has dealt with mainstream parties, right from Sheikh Abdullah to Farooq Abdullah to the present generation of leaders. They have been pressed to the wall. Delhi has failed the Kashmiri mainstream consistently, it was made to fail before the Kashmiri people to a point that it had no credibility left. From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv to P.V. Narasimha Rao to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, everybody made promises and turned on them. That is what has created the space for separatists. There were always separatist pockets here, but they were pockets. New Delhi-inspired failures of the mainstream have expanded the separatist constituency. My message to New Delhi is: don’t be bothered about separatists, look at how you have treated the mainstream, how you have manipulated and emaciated it. But they are not prepared to learn any lessons, they are going on repeating the same mistakes. They have played with the mainstream leadership. Such a record inspires no confidence in us. The new emissary has met many so-called delegations, nearly 40 in two days, but is this a railway platform? What is he trying to do meeting so many delegations in such a short time? Are we to take this seriously? It has become a joke. Please do not come to Kashmir without examining your own record, it will serve no purpose. Go back, introspect and if you realise you’ve made mistakes, a start can probably be made.

Continue reading “Valley Voices”

2014, Kashmir, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Uphill with Omar Abdullah in Beerwah

An elderly lady embraces Omar Abdullah on the campaign trail in rural Beerwah
An elderly lady embraces Omar Abdullah on the campaign trail in rural Beerwah

Beerwah, Dec. 6: Out barnstorming the countryside a day after multiple terror hits to the Valley, chief minister and National Conference spearhead Omar Abdullah spelt out a blunt “no” to any post-poll deal with the BJP.

“That’s not going to happen, people can keep speculating and dreaming about it,” Omar told The Telegraph in an exclusive chat along his roadshow. He was touring his newly adopted rural constituency Beerwah, southwest of Srinagar.

It appears imminent the ongoing elections will throw up a hung Jammu and Kashmir House and there has been speculation in some circles Omar could ally with the BJP, or support its power effort from outside. Omar conceded the mandate may be fractured but said nothing will drive him to an alliance with the BJP, which is making an audacious first-time bid for power in India’s only Muslim-majority state.

Continue reading “Uphill with Omar Abdullah in Beerwah”

Essay, Kashmir, Telegraph Calcutta

Grave caged by Parray’s life

Kuka Parray's elder son Wasim at his graveside in Hajin
Kuka Parray’s elder son Wasim at his graveside in Hajin

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones – Julius Caesar , William Shakespeare

Hajin (North Kashmir), Dec. 4: Where Kuka Parray is interred an argument still rings between good and evil, between what he was and he was not.

Who’d argue with a daughter whose eyes moisten when she points in the direction of Parray’s grave and lets out a sigh: ” Meray Papa… my father.”

Who’d argue with the fathers and mothers of those that Parray’s men wantonly killed – “that traitor who preyed upon his own”.

Not a blade of grass springs on Parray’s graveside, much less a blossom; and birds don’t alight to sing. For a cage it is where he lies, a padlocked enclosure of mortar and wrought iron filigree erected on his front lawn, a stained general in his cold labyrinth.

He wouldn’t be safe elsewhere in a place under open skies. He denied himself the eternal liberties the way he lived and died.

Between folk singer and folk terror, Kuka Parray became a blistered chapter in Kashmir’s contemporary tales, a chapter nobody fondly recalls but nobody would wish to forget in this neck of the woods.

Continue reading “Grave caged by Parray’s life”