During the lockdown, I realized that something in me had shifted. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was no longer my favourite cricketer
ON 18th June, 2017, when Mohammad Amir took three crucial wickets against India in the finals of Champions Trophy, our entire hostel erupted in cheerful noise, I had not seen my friends that elated in a long time. That night I mulled over my transition from shedding tears, when India had lost to Pakistan in the group match of 2014 Asia Cup, to being extremely joyful for their day’s defeat.
In 2015, I finally got admission in Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST ), for a bachelor’s programme in electrical engineering, after several involuntary hiccups along the journey until that point which included unrests of 2008, 2010, and the floods of 2015. The university was located on a hill top in Awantipora district of South Kashmir, a distance of about 80 kms from my hometown Sopore.
Kashmir was gradually returning to stability only to be in mess again after witnessing the chaos and bloodshed for more than two decades which had completely put a halt to day-to-day life. But little did everybody know that the worst was yet to come.
South Kashmir, where the university was situated, was already the hub of militancy. Militants who previously preferred to hide their identities to protect themselves from security forces, had now become courageous enough to stop being in disguises and openly flaunt their pictures and videos along with their AK-47 rifles on social media. The rebel leader Burhan Wani, who was the face of new militancy on social media, had gained popularity all over Kashmir.
Meanwhile I had commenced the journey on the path of engineering, being an ardent supporter of Indian cricket team, I religiously watched every single match and cheered on every run scored and sometimes got frustrated whenever a wicket fell, like a die-hard fan. In fact, I was among the very few youngsters in Kashmir, who were of the opinion that sports and politics ought not to be mixed and supporting the Indian cricket team was not equal to going against the popular sentiment of hatred towards the Indian state. As a youngster, I did not understand the nuances of the relationship between Kashmir and India, but I had always known that the relationship was quite special and everyone in Valley was awaiting the day, when Kashmir will also be like any other normal state.
On July 8, 2016, while enjoying the breeze on the balcony of my hostel room, in the evening, the news of the killing of Burhan Wani broke out. Perhaps the most loved person in Kashmir at that time, was killed by security forces in an encounter in Bumdoora area of Kokernag. The news sent chills down my spine, because I understood that this was the beginning of something which could plunge Kashmir deeper into turmoil. In its immediate aftermath, scores of young Kashmiris were killed and thousands injured. Whole Kashmir was burning with fathers giving shoulders to the coffins of their dead sons, mothers and sisters wailing asking questions to their creator, why had he taken the light of their eyes away too soon. “Ye ha ohss me echan hund gaash”, ( He was the light of my eyes), cried the wailing mother living in the vicinity of the hostel, whose son got killed by security forces.
What followed the incident was complete inactivity for several months in Kashmir, with schools and offices shut, mobile connectivity was barred for several months, people were restricted to their homes helplessly with nobody to hear their calls for assistance. For the whole period of lockdown that lasted for about six months, watching the evening news bulletins about the number of people injured and killed during the course of the day and listening to the statements of different nobodies and somebodies had become the daily routine.
During this period of hibernation, I realized that something in me had shifted. I had also become a rebel, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (then the captain of Indian cricket team), was no longer my favourite cricketer, I had stopped making a distinction between India and the Indian cricket team, they were all the same. The inhumane restrictions put in place by the Indian government on Kashmiris, was something that even the caged unruly animals were unworthy of. Perhaps for them, that is what we were “unruly beasts”, who deserved to be caged and punished, and that is how the people of Kashmir were portrayed by the Indian nationalist media, to their mostly jingoistic audience “wolves waiting for the opportune moment to attack the Indian federation”. But little did everyone know, that the caged animal was not a wolf, but only a little bird, but fluttering its wings, as the bird was gasping for air.
The unrest lasted for more than six months. Life returned to normal seemingly after an eternity of violence. The coming year, we had to complete three semesters, which ideally would have taken one and a half years to complete, in order to compensate for the time already wasted. The hectic schedule almost made me give up on my engineering dreams.
The night, when India lost to Pakistan in the finals of Champions Trophy, I felt asleep, listening to the poem by Revolutionary poet, Habib Jalib:
“Tum ne loota hai sadiyon hamara sukoon,
Ab na hum par chalega tumhaara fasun
Chaar agar dardmandon ke bante ho kyun
tum nahi chaaragar koi maane magar
main nahi manta mein nahi jaanta”
(For centuries you all have stolen our peace of mind
But your power over us is coming to an end,
Why do you pretend you can cure pain?
Even if some claim that you’ve healed
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept)
The wrong policies of the government had made me reconcile with our doomed fate and give up on my dreams of ever seeing light in the valley. Perhaps I had stopped believing in the resurrection of Kashmir.
When that ominous August of 2019 came, I had almost completed my degree. At a time when the Indian government should have seriously given a thought to invalidating the AFSPA in Kashmir, they chose to revoke the special status or limited autonomy, granted to J&K under Article 370 of the Indian constitution, bifurcated the state and downgraded it into a centrally administered Union Territory (UT). The vents of the cage were sealed yet again, this time the oppressive measures on the activity in Kashmir were even more stringent. All the regional leaders whether mainstream or separatist were placed under house arrest, mobile connectivity was suspended, more than ten thousand boys, many of whom were juveniles, were picked up from their homes and put behind the bars, heavy curbs were imposed on the freedom of local press, curfew was imposed in all parts of J&K, even up to this day the high speed mobile internet is not working in Kashmir. All this to suppress any form of response.
Recently the J&K administration has approved the new “Media Policy-2020”, which effectively empowers the administration to decide whether a particular news is “anti-social and anti-national” or not. The move drew sharp criticism from the Kashmir journalists, as according to them the policy was detrimental to the freedom of speech and expression and had no place in the constitutional framework of India, the same constitution that the ordinary Kashmiris had stopped believing in a long time ago. I see people least bothered by such regressive policies of the administration, may be because they see New Delhi as a usurper and usurpers have a history of curbing the freedom of their subjects.
While Kashmir was under a savage lockdown, the world leaders were scheduled to speak at the United National General Assembly (UNGA), in September 2019, the people of Kashmir with all their innocence had tied their threads of hope to it. But nothing happened.
In November 2019, when nothing was working out in Kashmir, I decided to shift to Delhi for further education. To my surprise, I found that everyone in Delhi, from an Uber driver to my landlady seemed convinced that Modi had done wonders in Kashmir, by abrogating Article 370, bringing happiness to the people of Kashmir, that it was merely because of Pakistan that Kashmiris rebelled against India, that there was no fundamental issue of snatching the rights of Kashmiris and this move would eventually bring as they would say “Vikas”, (development) in Kashmir. I was bewildered by the magnitude of misinformation that had been spread among the ordinary citizens regarding Kashmir, through social media and by some biased media organizations. I realised that, perhaps we were already living in a dystopian society, where there were humongous handicaps on the free thinking ability of the proletariat, where the government’s propaganda was the ultimate truth and the truth was considered to be the hate speech, and where everyone was under the surveillance of the government.
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