I’m a Kashmiri and a ‘coward’. Whom do I fight for azadi?

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Yeh khoon ki mehak hai ki lab-e-yaar ki khushboo

Kis raah ki jaanib say saba aati hai dekho

Gulshan main bahaar aayi ki zindaan hua aabad

Kis samt say naghmoon ki sada aati hai dekho

-Faiz Ahmed Faiz

(Is it the scent of blood, or the fragrance of my love’s lips

Which direction has the breeze wafted from?

Has blossom kissed the garden?

Or has the abattoir just lit up?

Which direction do these songs come from?)

Yeh saniha bhi mohabbat mein bar’haa guzra

Kisi nay haal jo poocha tau aankh bhar aayi

– Nasir Kazmi

(In journey of love, finally, befell the inevitable tragedy

Eyes welled up, when someone inquired welfare of me.)

Often friends living outside the state start conversations these days with the question: How are you? I wish to reply to the question but I can’t seem to find correct adjectives to describe how I am. In times of curfewed life, every word appears to attain a hue of its own and leaves me utterly confused.

How do I carve a word that exactly fits my state of existence? Confused hardly begins to define it, numb is just one facet, disgusted doesn’t do it justice while afraid and tired appear more like consequences rather than the state to me.

Somewhere down the line, I am reminded of the man in Lawrence’s poem “Snake”

And voices in me said,

If you were a man

You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

I am the man in the poem: not man enough to go out on the street, picking up a stone or a gun and not finishing the immediate symbol of occupation – the soldier or the lowest screw of occupation – the bureaucrat or the agents of occupation – the mainstream politicians. The dictionary lists the quality as cowardice.

Indeed, I have been a “coward” most life. My heart always races at a tear-gas shelling, human blood makes me nauseous, bullets induce a terror in me and the CRPF soldier makes my knees go weak. Yet, the anger in me seethes. I wish to break the curfew, fight or at the least be a volunteer.

But I hear now they don’t even require blood, and the pictures and tales of volunteers make me envious. When will I gather the courage to go out, risk my life and help my people? Why do I place such a premium on my life when many of those younger to me have tilled the land with their blood? Burhan was only fifteen, the newspaper said, when he decided to fight.

Whenever a boy dies in the conflict, my eye inevitably perceives his age. In most cases they barely exceed twenty five. And here at 28 I am still dithering. A rage swells inside me. Yet I am afraid, truly afraid!

But, the question is who do I fight? I was man enough in 2009. I remember it clearly as yesterday. I hitchhiked my way to all the three chalos – Pampore Chalo, TRC Chalo and Eidgah Chalo. Small matter that at Eidgah I nearly got shot by an angry soldier. Standing outside his bunker, he felt deeply offended by the jeering crowd, cocked his gun and trained it at me.

I remember lifting my hands too afraid to move an inch. Perhaps, my face registered a plea for mercy: my life was spared. I didn’t mind. He was human after all, and faced with insults – both personal and to an idea held sacred and inviolable, I would perhaps have reacted the same way. I was in a good mood anyway; Eidgah had played on both my identities: Kashmiri and Muslim.

The prayer and dua led by Mirwaiz still holds a special part in memory as one of the best I ever read. I had been a man!

In 2008, during the Amarnath land row, I had been a man too and protested vociferously against the land transfer bill. I had celebrated publicly when the land was officially transferred back.

It led to a highway blockade and deaths as Jammu followed with a high-decibel protest, but I didn’t mind. I had been a man. In 2009, when the Shopian rape and murder case rose to public limelight I had been a man.

I had protested but it was 2010 when I had been a man most. When my neighbour, a young man gone out to buy curd, was shot dead by our own Kashmir police, I had defied curfew like many others and attended the funeral. The man in me literally shook with anger and grief at the sight of the brother of the deceased fainting after the burial.

Out of sheer boredom, I had written a light-hearted piece on curfew addressing me and my ilk as coffee patriots in a moment of self-deprecating humour.

The piece, this time around, was more morbid as the wails of a dry tap outside my room disturbed my peace. I had nearly become a shaheed as two processions I was a part of, got fired upon at Ram Bagh and Pantha-chowk.

I remember the boy next to me falling in slow motion as a tear gas shell hit him squarely on the forehead. I have no idea till date whether he bled to death, or was picked up. I was not man enough to stick around, rather I ran for my life and remember drinking a glass of cold water in the house of a stranger I took refuge in to soothe my nerves.

Another time, I was man enough, was when I went out to peep at the road after offering namaz at a masjid. Sadly, for me, I happened to land right in a group of CRPF men, and I was thrashed with such a degree of relish as the Urdu idiom expresses best: Rahay naam Allah ka!

The man in me tries hard to make the mind forget the pain and humiliation of fighting for dear life when thick bamboo lathis are raining on you. I can’t forget half limping half running, having strained my knee ligament in a motorcycle accident a few days before, smarting from scorching pain, running for dear life.

To date, the mind recalls the flesh stinging when a lathi thrown by the chasing jawan struck my back. The recollection still gives me heebie-jeebies!

The man in me faces a crushing defeat each time it tries to convince the body to go out. Perhaps, this is what they call trauma. I can only write my protests on Facebook, for all that it counts. People say we are Facebook warriors, I agree. But what must one do?

But the body is only a part of my problem. If I were to persuade myself to fight, the question remains who to fight? The soldier? He represents the Indian state at its repressive worst to me. Yet, I find it difficult to hate him. Unfortunately, I was once working at a place inside a CRPF camp and, not having much to do, I would often strike a conversation with some jawaan. Usually, it was quite a painful realisation that he was technically a “mercenary”.

For many of the armed forces were their ticket out of poverty and a way of climbing up the social ladder. With the limited education, they could afford armed forces not only offered a secure job, but a chance to retire after a fixed number of years and get employment under the ex-service personnel category.

Patriotism was the icing on the cake, but it wore down in a span of few years. They experienced the same fear, same suspicion and “hatred” for us and we experienced.

Now, how am I to forget that? And yet, I can’t forgive him for his sexual crimes. What has his poverty to do with molestation and rape of the women of my land? How can poverty negate his fusion of imperialism with patriarchal chauvinism: of thinking the way to supress a “restive” people is to soil their “prestige”, which lies with the women of the land?

How do I forgive the footsoldier when he smashes ambulances and beats the injured? The man in me hates him, but another part of me pities him. What do I do? I wish to fight the politicians and generals but the rational man in me says they are secured completely against such fools as me.

Who do I fight then? I don’t know.

The Article First Appeared HERE

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