“This book marks a moment when a brave and resourceful new generation of Kashmiris is finally shattering the Valley’s long solitude”.
In the troubled history of contemporary Kashmir, the summer of 2010 will be remembered as a watershed. Protests against the ‘encounter’ killings of civilians turned into an unprecedented display of courage, as a new generation took to the streets, their only weapons the stories in their hands. It has been called Kashmir’s intifada, marking a paradigm shift from armed militancy to mass rebellion. Significantly, this was also accompanied by a remarkable explosion in the writing on Kashmir, in a new language of ideas that bypasses the old and parochial ways in which Kashmir has been seen and understood.
The pieces in this volume voice the rage and helplessness sweeping through the valley. While also offering rare insights into the lives of those caught in the crossfire. With contributions from journalists, academics and artists, Until My Freedom Has Come is a timely collection of some of the most exciting writing that has recently emerged from within Kashmir, and about it.
Away from the tumult of its streets, away from the heady slogans, from the explosive whoosh and clatter of tear-gas shells, and the deadly crackle of live ammunition, one moment returns from Kashmir’s turbulent summer of 2010. It insinuates a place for itself, a whispered observation of oddly unsettling precision.
Mummy, mae-ae aav hearts fire. Mummy, the fire is at my heart.
These were the last words spoken by twenty-four-year-old Fancy Jan as she turned away from the first-floor window of her working-class home in downtown Srinagar that July morning. She was reaching for the curtain, her family said, to keep out the acrid teargas smoke floating in from the streets of her volatile Batmaloo neighbourhood. (The window lacked glass-panes; the room was still being built.) The ‘fire’ she had drawn into the privacy of her home was a bullet, and she dropped dead soon after, a victim of a casual brutality, of a weapon fired carelessly by one of the hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers on the streets outside.
Fancy Jan was one of a handful of women killed in the summer, in this most recent upsurge in Kashmir’s tortuous history. The rest were young men in their twenties, but many were just teenagers—boys, really. That grisly calendar had been quietly unveiled early in January 2010, when sixteen-year-old Inayat Ahmad was shot dead by Paramilitary soldiers in the heart of Srinagar. On 31 January, a thirteen-year-old was killed when a tear-gas shell fired by the Jammu and Kashmir police hit Wamiq Farooq on the head. Less than a week later, as sixteen-year-old Zahid Farooq returned from an evening’s cricket with his friends, he was shot dead by a passing Border Security Force patrol. His killing may have been provoked, we are told, because the boys had jeered at the passing vehicle of a senior officer.
The years since 1989, when the uprising against Indian rule first began, have been bloody for Kashmiris. The militancy, initially armed and supported by Pakistan, was quick to draw the full weight of the Indian sledgehammer. For Kashmiris, the insurgency, and the counter-insurgency that was unleashed to flatten it, ended up shredding the everyday fabric of life. The sheer force of India’s massive military commitment may appear to have overwhelmed the armed militancy, but twenty years of this presence has resulted in a deeply militarized society. With well over 6, 00,000 army, police and paramilitary personnel already deployed in Kashmir, the numbers that go into holding down a rebellious population are clearly at saturation point. Today the Kashmir Valley has the highest concentration of soldiers in the world—more than Afghanistan, Iraq or Burma. It is only in the last five years that the shape of this intervention has been dragged out of the guarded penumbra of Indian ‘national interest’. Away from that shadowy protection, it now stands increasingly exposed as a clumsy attempt to overwhelm, with sheer force, that obstinate, often inchoate, but in the end, very political desire for Azadi-freedom.
These decades of a silent, undeclared war have extracted an enormous price: seventy thousand Kashmiris have been killed since 1989, and eight thousand have gone ‘missing’. To this must be added the less visible costs of torture, rape, life-long physical incapacities and grievous economic, social and psychological damage. The extent of this devastation will probably never be fully estimated, but its restive contours are beginning to stir under the blanket silence that has enveloped Kashmir for most of this recent past. The long-whispered murmurs about the existence of mass graves, for example, found confirmation only in 2009, when a civil society group patiently assembled a list of their locations. (The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir has recorded nearly 3,000 such unknown and unrecorded graves.
Word of one such unmarked grave, in the faraway forests of Machil, in Kupwara, north Kashmir, arrived in the month of May 2010; it was news because it was still a fresh site: three unarmed civilians had been killed, shot in cold blood by soldiers of a Rashtriya Rifles unit, the specialized counter-insurgency force of the Indian Army. The bodies had been buried anonymously, and then announced as those of militants killed in an ‘encounter’. Such calculated venality is not unusual, except that it had become public in time, and news of it had reached the already volatile streets of Srinagar.
It was on the fringes of one of these protests that another lethally aimed police tear-gas canister took apart the skull of seventeen-year old Tufail Matoo, as he walked home from his tuition class. This was already June. Tufail’s killing set off huge, emotionally surcharged demonstrations, unprecedented even by Kashmir’s overwrought standards. A civilian killed inevitably led to other killings by the police and paramilitary soldiers. Sometimes there were several in a day. Then more protests and more killing. In four months of this bloody oscillation 112 people had been shot dead on the streets of Kashmir.
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