Where Are We Going?


Does anyone remember Ghulam Jeelani Bhat belonging to Shalimar area of Srinagar? A State Roadways Transport Corporation bus driver, this unfortunate person was on Panchayat poll duty on 25 April 2011, when he incurred the wrath of a protesting mob at Azad Gunj in Baramulla district for venturing out with his bus on a hartal day. Mercilessly stoned, Ghulam succumbed to his injuries three days later. People who knew Ghulam say that he was as passionate about ‘azadi’ as everyone else, but in order to feed his family, had no choice but to go for duty on that fateful day. None except his near and dear ones were present at his funeral and there were no protests against this killing, nor were any special prayer meetings held for him. The only consolation for the bereaved family of Ghulam was a hurried visit from the Hurriyat (G) Chairman SAS Geelani, who termed the incident “painful.”

Another ‘painful’ incident was to follow just eight months later, when Tariq Ahmad Bhat who ran a small shop in the Rang Hamam area of Nowhatta met with a similar fate. Had he been alive, Tariq would have been married for a year now. But, fate had something else in store for this 24 year old and today a simple tombstone is the only reminder of his short existence on earth. Tariq too had no option but to work hard in order to support his aged parents and a younger unmarried sister. Yes, he was engaged and was looking forward to get married in 2012. But getting married meant an additional expenditure and perhaps it was this worry that made Tariq disregard the ‘shutter- down’ call on the fateful day of 3 December 2011. And this decision cost him his life as his head was battered with cricket bats by a group of miscreants for not observing the hartal call.

Thus ended the lives of Tariq Ahmad Bhat and Ghulam Jeelani Bhat and in death too they were unfortunate. For had the security forces killed them, there would have been protests and they would have been declared martyrs- but being done to death by their own people consigned them to anonymity! Yet, at that time, there appeared a glimmer of hope that such incidents would not be repeated in future. While the Dukhtaran-e-Millat chairperson Syeda Aasiya Andrabi strongly condemned Tariq’s killing and said, “Youth are our most precious asset and their loss is the irreparable loss to the Ummah,” Hurriyat (M) too condemned this killing and stated “Curbing of these incidents is our national and religious duty.” Considering the immense influence that the separatists wield over the people of Kashmir, it was axiomatic that given their serious concern over the killing of Kashmiris by brother Kashmiris, this ugly trend would finally end. But, unfortunately this was not to be so!

Just a few days back (8 March, to be precise), Riyaz Ahmad Khanday a truck driver belonging to Matipora village, was returning from Mattan after dropping a consignment of willow saplings when a group of stone pelters attacked his truck. He was hit in the head by a brick and despite extensive medical treatment at SKIMS, succumbed to his injuries. Riaz was a higher-secondary school dropout, who left his studies to support his poor family. Having taken a bank loan, he had purchased a truck and ferried loads to earn a living. People who knew him well recount his friendly and docile demeanour as well as his intense desire to see his younger sister married soon, which made him undertake a very laborious work schedule. And, perhaps it was this desire that made him venture out with his truck on that fateful day even though he knew that a hartal had been called for.

In all the above cases, there are a number of common links. All the three deceased were killed for defying hartal calls. In retrospect, one can always argue that they should have known better and exercised discretion by staying indoors even if they did not support the hartal call. But then, all the three deceased belonged to poor families and being the sole breadwinners, could not afford the luxury of either staying home on a hartal day or joining the protesters. The next common link is the tragic fact that all the three were killed not by those who they were made to believe were the ‘enemy’, but by those who were their own brethren. Clearly, the separatist leadership failed to implement its self-proclaimed “national and religious duty” of curbing such incidents and so, “the irreparable loss to the Ummah” continues.

We proudly claim that we are a closely-knit and caring community. So, while our leaders may feel that frequent and protracted hartals are necessary to highlight the ‘Kashmir cause, the immense problems and hardships it causes to thousands of daily wagers cannot be overlooked since it concerns the wellbeing of our own less privileged brethren. Therefore, in deference to their suffering, we need to strike a balance, since we consider hartals a very important facet of our movement for the ‘right to self determination’, which we proudly proclaim to be the vox populi of the Kashmiri people. We raise slogans for ‘azadi’ because we feel that freedom is everyone’s birthright.  We claim that we are an extremely tolerant society that is being subdued by brute force. We consider ourselves a peace loving people being subjected to institutionalised violence.

But are we really what we profess to be? If we complain of being denied the ‘right of self determination’, then why are we ourselves so intolerant towards internal dissent? If we are indeed a closely-knit family, then what makes us attack and kill our own people without any remorse? If we are really peace loving, then why does every protest invariably culminate in stone pelting by our people? And why is it that our leaders are repeatedly turning a Nelson’s eye on this despicable trend of rampant violence which has spread like cancer amongst our youth and is costing us young lives? Is it that they feel that they are helpless do so, or is it just that it suits them to have ‘foot soldiers’ with a violent psyche acting as vigilantes and every ready to become ‘cannon fodder’? Your guess would be as good as mine!

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