Children of Conflict

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When a child is born, the first thing parents’ promise is a secure childhood, a safe place to live. But when you are a child of conflict, that promise is not only hard to keep, it is completely hollow. Being a Kashmiri, conflict has been a regular partner since my childhood. I have been brought up along with blood shed, brutalities, oppression and violence. But even then, my parents have tried to give me a safe and secure childhood. They have tried their best to isolate me from the raging conflict, so that I could have a stable childhood like every child deserves and every parent desires. Sadly, they couldn’t protect me from the conflict forever. I admit that I had a relatively stable childhood than most of my peers. Tales of torture, brutal killings, and fake encounters – these were just stories to me. Though I did feel bad that my brethren were being oppressed daily, having never experienced these brutalities first hand, I continued living my life as any other child would. I dreamt of fairy tales coming true. I weaved grand dreams. I vowed to rid the world of dark and the poor of misery. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I had my first encounter and subsequently realised what it meant to be oppressed.

A few days after all the cellular networks had been snapped, I went to fetch my mother who had been stuck at my ancestral home. As we were returning back, I heard quite a familiar sound. Familiar because when they fire tear gas shells at protestors outside your home every day, you begin to recognise the sound even though you don’t want to. As soon as I heard the unwelcome yet quite familiar sound, I immediately stopped and tried to locate the source. As I looked ahead, I saw some youth being chased by men in uniform. The security forces chased them right into the locality nearby while continuously firing tear gas shells and pellets without caring if they hurt anybody in the process.  We quickly ran as fast as we could and took shelter in a nearby hospital. The atrocities, which I had so far only read about but never seen in person, suddenly were laid naked before me as soon as I entered the hospital. The scene was a total chaos with ambulances and private vehicles constantly bringing in young boys covered in blood and withering in pain. As people rushed to help the injured youth, I painstakingly realised that most of these ‘protesters’ were not much older than me. In fact, several were younger, mere teenagers who couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 years old. Almost all the victims I saw were hurt in their eyes. Watching them being brought in felt like watching a bad horror movie scene unfold before my eyes. I felt ashamed. I felt so small. These were the brave sons of the soil who were risking their precious lives so that we and our future generations could have better lives and here I was, sitting in the comfort of my own home, unaware and unconcerned about the hell that had been unleashed on us. Long after the injured had been taken inside the hospital, I sat looking at the trail of crimson they had left behind. The trail seemed to ask me a million questions that I had no answers to. The blood seemed to be calling me, challenging me to pick a stone and hurt the one who hurt mine. But I felt rooted to the spot, guilt and shame drowning every inch of my body. I felt helpless, I felt small. I felt I didn’t deserve the sacrifices of these brave young men because while they were fighting the enemy, I was sitting at home blaming them for robbing me of my daily comforts.  I took a hard look at the scene surrounding me – wailing mothers, frail fathers and burdened youngsters. Everywhere I looked, I saw distraught and desperate faces. It was like the place was haunted by ghosts of a population who all knew that they were doomed. This was not how the people of my land looked. My people, the people I remember were happy people. Rosy cheeked young boys, beautiful mothers, smiling fathers, playful daughters – not these shrunken haunted faces I was surrounded by now. Every face seemed to tell a story, a story of horror, a story of pain. Every living soul seemed to remind me of the atrocities and the miseries that had been inflicted upon them time and again.

I remember speaking to my uncle a few days back and hearing him tell me tales of horror in the nineties. He told me that such was the terror unleashed by the men in uniform that the sight of that uniform alone made people go scuttling into their homes. If an army man walked a mere 10 feet within their locality, mothers would hold their children close, fathers would plunge the houses in darkness and sisters would start to sob, afraid that this could be the last time that they would be able to see their brothers. The story he had told me seemed to hold true even today. The only difference was that instead of cowering in fear, people were now happily embracing their death. I read somewhere that when oppression becomes the order of the day, fear takes a back seat. One can easily judge how oppressed a Kashmiri is if he is ready to be showered by bullets rather than sit silently at home. Yet the world seems to turn a blind eye. I wonder how much blood, how many deaths and how many more miseries it will take to wake up the world.  You may argue that with communication and internet blockades being slapped on us every other day, it is hard for the world to know what is happening to us. But I refuse to believe that the world cannot find out about such horrific atrocities. When the world can shed a million tears for a single person, how can it ignore the deaths of 67 people in a mere month? I hope and pray that the world wakes up before every face in the valley turns into a skeleton and before this valley of paradise is converted into a graveyard. I hope the world sees us as we are and not as we are portrayed by a country which only wears the cloak of democracy to hide its blood stained hands.

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