Repenting for Madness

It was one of the very unfortunate days of my life because a social activist like me stood as a bystander, and a mute spectator to the sight of school being set on fire.  I am aware about the anguish prevailing in the entire or some parts of Kashmir over the death of two youth from Sumbal area during the Army operations. I have also witnessed all the extremes of madness, often served as the justification to cause turmoil or as a reaction to the turbulence caused by the State Government or Security Forces. But over the years, I had grown to believe that while peace may continue to elude Valley, madness knows some bounds.  I had also established an understanding that there is some sort of social tide which will act as a pressure to deter mob mentality against children, educational institutions, medical establishments, and so on.  But what I saw that day, shook me up to my roots.

A mob of local persons, mainly the youth, grew violent in Hajan and took to stone pelting.  Soon, some one suggested “lets go after Army Goodwill School of Hajan and burn it to ashes”. For a while, I thought that someone will counter this thought and condemn those who were party to such an evil mentality.  My belief had also gained strength because there were a number of people among the crowd who had kids from their families studying in the same very school.But alas, I was proved wrong.

I mustered little courage to voice my opinion against such a sinful suggestion, but my so called well-wishers pushed me aside and ensured that my voice gets drowned into nothingness.

The crowd finally moved towards the school.  It started throwing stones, hitting at the structures and other add ons located on the periphery of the School.  The gate, signboards and window panes were the first to face the brunt. I thought the madness will be overtaken by sanenes.  Again, I was proved wrong.  Then I saw a group heading towards one of the  classrooms with all the arrangements required to torching the school building.  There were slogans, abuses, stone-hurlings, and so on.  The ultimate passion got the expression and very soon, I saw fire raging in one of the classrooms.  For me, it we not the classrom, furniture or the teaching aids that were burning, it was the fate of 40 odd children, who are our children, that was being torched.  Without any loss of time, my worst fears about the library getting brunt, also started becoming true.  There was no time available with school caretakers to salvage the precious books from the school library.

A fire brigade vehicle was seen rushing towards the school building, however, the mob did not allow it to negotiate the most treacherous patch of 150 meters, that was occupied by those who wanted to have the last laugh-laugh over themselves and their children.  Now it was the turn of some Army persons to test their determination.  With great difficulty, they could move in and tried to put down thefire. Compared to the possibility of loosing the entire school, the loss was meagre, but it is the possibility itself  that un-nerved me.  What if the entire building was gutted? I can visualise the fate of over 300 children who study in this school.  Who would have given them a replacement for such a wonderful creation of human mind? Neither the govt nor the separatists have the ability and desir to fill the voids in education system of Valley.  I have never kissed any hand for the reasons that it belonged any pertucular affiliation of the people and never missed kissing those that carried the blessings for our children, support for destitutes, medicine for the sick or acted as walking sticks for the old.  Here, I saw hands carrying the curse for our children, trying to burn their alma-mater, the only source of achieving their destinies.  I am ashamed of my own self for my inability to stop them.  I am disturbed because I could not even make a meaningful effort.  Why was I so weak, so meak and so effortless?  Why did I remain an inseparable part of that limitless madness?  Will the children of those who were part of this procession, or even my own children ever forget us?  How will they, when I can’t forgive my own self?

Today when my child looks at me, his eyes appear as if he had seen me as part of the crowd. There are others like me whose children stopped going to the school because the classroom was burnt, they are mobilizing the people to request the Army authorities to construct the classroom and restart the classes for the affected children. I was also asked to be a part of it, but I do not have the courage to be part of this effort. Another thought also comes in my mind that can I carry this guilt into my graves? Perhaps one day I will have the courage. I am still mustering that courage. When I do, I will write again.

Sahil Mushtaq is a social worker in Kashmir. Feedback: [email protected]

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