Author: Saadut
•7:46 PM

Ye kamsund’oo naad, kusu aallav divaan?
Ye’ kamsind’e dupmm’phit tchoupi’ seeth aalam dazaan?

3.30 am is just between midnight and early morning when the night is still in transit and sleep still grips you tight. It was at this time in the late autumns of late 1990’s when piercing decibels from the Masjid loudspeaker announced an Army crackdown in the locality, ordering all males to assemble in the abandoned barren orchard that lay by high ground almost 900 meters away from my home.  A repeat of these announcements for the next 30 minutes or so seemed to drive more fear inside us, more of dread. In sleep deprived eyes mother was seen frantically looking for a safe place for her valuables, many crackdowns had been known to magically disappear many savings and valuables from households. By 4.15 am a half asleep habitation, now rubbing eyes and shaking heads was being herded in fading dark towards the high ground, that suddenly seemed so faraway today. Children in long pherans, tripped over each other, adults gripping their hands unsuccessfully tying to make them walk at an adult pace. Whispers were exchanged, whereabouts of extended families sought in this crowd. The autumn changeover to winter had just begun and most of us were already in our winter ‘astronaut’ dresses, spare for some deep sleepers who wore pheran draped over night trousers in their forced hurry to join the crowd.  The crowd grew by every lane, every turn; I never knew so many people lived in this habitation. These crackdowns were one social leveler; all classes, all levels of society were pushed and herded here like cattle by the security forces. As the peeping sunrays over the eastern hills created extended shadows of the breaking morning, crowds merged into the abandoned orchard. Like crowded packs of domestic animals let out in confined grazing grounds, security men were seen shouting and driving us to close in, on one side of the orchard slant which descended to the middle ground. On the opposite side of this orchard slant were rows of army vehicles, the whole orchard ringed by lines of uniformed men, looking down upon in stern glaze and finger on trigger at ‘helpless us’, as if in jeer and mock. And if the setting winter chill had not already set in our bones, the chilly stare and tone of these uniformed completed the freeze. We had nothing to beat this chill with; kangris for the day in Kashmiri homes are only prepared early morning, not in the middle of the night and there were clear instructions by the herders to assemble without any of these firepots. The overnight dew having inundated the barren orchard, all of us sat still on our knees; the vapor of our whispers mingling with the cold morning air. The shame of watching your elders and teachers being paraded the same way as you, forced on knees before gun trotting and stick wielding uniformed men, pushed and heckled like animals, is unexplained.  Showkat the tailor was holding his 7 year old son in the lap, juggling between his own balance and the cold wet grass; a stick wields, a blow comes his way, Showkat is unbalanced and his son falls from the lap, forcing them to sit separate. Soon such herding became the norm, as we were made spectators to our own shame.

By 10 Am that ‘CAT’ was already in the Gypsy, people were driven in extended queues to slow identification lines before the vehicle. In most likeliness an informer or a renegade, the ‘Cat’ lay firmly seated in the front of the vehicle, hooded and identity less deciding the life and death fate of people. It was no fancy act to walk past the ‘Cat’ even if you have had not even the remotest connection with militancy. Many a times these ‘Cats’ were known to have settled personal scores or dislikes in identification parades; his one hint would have the commoner bundled in or bundled out. Renegades were known to have created personal fiefdoms with the help of security forces in Kashmir where ‘God’ like aura was self assumed by them deciding the face of lesser mortals. While here our fate was being decided by ‘faceless hoods’ behind armed escorts, we were also worried about the ‘search operation’ by the uniformed forces back home, where only female folk had been retained.   

A lean and tall boy with patches of a beard, in an old worn pheran and slippers was marked, pushed out of queue and segregated as he came in front of the ‘cat’. The quiet boy dragged, lay stone faced as he was taken behind the line of armored vehicles. After a brief jolt, the queue continued to trod, the masked hood continued to decide. It looked like an eternity at the barren orchard, the noon sun passed its peak, and dew absorbed some by the sun rest by the restless people who sat on it. Masterji (that is how we called him, was a retired teacher in his 80’s; flowing beard, a lifetime of humble reputation and lots of respect) was sitting by Dad’s side, felt restless for want of water. He dared standup and approach the herding uniformed soldier close by “where to drink some water”, the soldier raised his stick, frowned and pointed towards a muddy water cesspool that lay by a depression. Masterji quietly sat down, my Dad holding his hand. By afternoon there were already more than 8 boys marked by the ‘cat’, who lay bundled to behind the line of armored vehicles, fate unknown. 

Zain, my cousin had recently returned from the US, his once in a lifetime holiday to Kashmir. We had in fact been in touch for long and decided that both of us would come to Kashmir on holidays at the same time.  His morning excitement of experiencing his first crackdown in Kashmir had already evaporated by the noon, now overtaken by a griping fear, the shake and trembles visible on his face. My own fears making me numb, I extended my arm on Zain just to soothe him, but he could see the blankness on my face, the brave mask that I was trying to put on failed. I tried to look up Dad sitting next to me, but failed to meet his eye, that was visualizing what we could not comprehend. 

Hunger and thirst pangs had overtaken when our turn in joining the queue came must have been already 5 PM. I tried of be ahead of Dad and Zain but a violent push by the soldier entrenched me behind Dad and Zain. The serpentine queue moved so slow, while I lost pace of my own thumping heart beat, “get over with it damn it, will you” I kept repeating. We kept tracing steps of the earlier queues in slow motion, as if novices walking on a tight rope between two cliffs. The first cliff was our fear, the second being our fate, in between the two we were hung as if by a slender thread. The queue moved like a snail and so did our fate.

Dad stood composed facing the ‘cat’, there was no reaction from the vehicle, “move on” shouted the officer standing next to the vehicle. When Zain faced the ‘cat’ next, his shoulders had dropped dead and his ‘always cool’ composure was all gone. As white as cold marble, his face stared into a windshield, the officer signaled to move on and I heaved a sense of relief for him, my own fate yet unknown. I extended my step towards the precipice, heart galloping when I heard voices ‘wapas aao’ (come back); Zain had been marked, called back and hastily dragged to behind the line of these armored vehicles. I froze, everything became blurred in front of me and I wanted to cry out loud but could not. Suddenly I head noises, somebody pushed me and suddenly I realized a soldier was kicking me to move one ‘aage chalo’.  Dad had lost his composure on the other side, all my life I never saw him so pence, as clueless as on that day. Zain had been our responsibility in Kashmir, my responsibility, and now the unimaginable had happened. 

The queues kept passing by the ‘hooded marker’ and by late evening as the process had been completed a few more boys had been ‘marked’ by the ‘cat’, only to be bundled up into the unknown. By 9.00 PM the cordon had been lifted and people were heading back home. Our standing at the same spot yielded no results, no amount of pleading with the officers helped. The boys had all been taken away in armed vehicles to the forces camp, destination we knew nothing of.  

Back home, Mom had been successful in salvaging her valuables but our rice storages (Kashmiris store rice for long winters) had been all scattered from the store into the backyard; while in our rooms wardrobes were so disheveled, belongings ravaged as if relics of a war. By 10.00 PM Dad was ringing anybody he could lay his call on, his friends in the bureaucracy, acquaintances and a trunk call to an ‘connected’ uncle who lived in Delhi. Desperation was transmitted via the landline; whereabouts of the army camp (and Zain) were sought. Tears, sobs were heard from the kitchen, neighbors sat with us through the night consoling, assuring. The night never seems to end, I must have moved out in the garden barefooted unmindful of the winter chill, just wanting to grab the dawn and end this night as soon as I could. Morning Fajr prayers brought with them a telephone call from one of Dad’s friends who had traced the camp and Zain there.  Prayers done, we set out for the camp; I drove, shivered, rattled and lost. Over potholes and clayey paths, these undone roads seemed to never finish.

Dad’s bureaucrat friend had already talked to the camp commander, and only Dad was allowed to get inside the camp to meet him. I and my younger uncle waited seemingly in eternity outside the camp, the obnoxious fortifications standing like a monster before us.  When at around 9.00 Am Dad came out, seemed after ages he had gone inside the camp, he took my younger uncle to one side and all I could hear was ‘saas’ (thousands) to which uncle nodded and pointed to his bulging waist coat pockets (from the sides of his shawl) and both went inside the camp again.

It took another 30 minutes for Dad and uncle to come out of the camp along with Zain, who looked drained zombie like and limping bare footed like a recovered corpse. If you had seen Zain in better times, you would not believe this was the same Zain coming out of the army camp, being supported by Dad and uncle. I offered him my shoes, but he kept quiet, with a lowered gaze he hardly spoke in the car, a silence that made me feel the culprit for his condition. I felt wretched, had I not insisted on his Kashmir visit with me, he would not have gone thru this suffering. Back home Zain withdrew into recovery and reclusiveness for some days, recovering gradually from his shock and wounds; one reality of Kashmir had touched him very hard. But why had Zain been picked up in the first instance, why had he been called back by the ‘cat’? During the course of our conversations later it dawned that while Zain stood before the ‘cat’ (Zain was sans a Kashmiri pheran) on that fateful day, it was his ‘New Balance’ sneakers that had attracted the fancy of the ‘cat’. And it was only when Zain had been asked to move on, did the ‘cat’ have an afterthought and signaled him to be retained; the 'renegade cats' desire for Zain's stuff had done him in. His sneakers, watch had been relieved of, he had been made to sit on a bare floor all night, despairing. And when he started hearing tormenting cries of torture in the room close by all night, he seemed to living close to his brutal nightmares. Close to midnight he had been caned, abused, beaten in this cell; his legs had been run over by jackboots, torture that had shattered him. Dad never told us about the ‘saas’ (thousands) bargain he had to undertake to free Zain, we never asked.

Some of the boys picked up on that fateful day were released within days, some detained longer. I could only guess if the ‘saas’ (currency bundles of thousands) tradeoff had helped any. The lean and tall boy with patches of a beard, in an old worn pheran and slippers who had been taken on that fateful day never came back home. Later found that he was the masons son, who worked real hard through his school, did well in studies and had been preparing for a professional career. The poor boy used to support his studies by working as a laborer on odd days and later as a mason apprentice along with his Dad. The only son of his father, he was used as a conflict fodder by those in uniform, his erasure lost to decades of state denial. His crackdown never ended. 

Along years, thousands of such poor, lean and hapless young men were to fall prey to state forced erasure, exhausting and depleting their improvised families of life and hope. Such people may have been lost to denial, but such stories live in our memory till eternity.

28th September, 2012 ; 19:44 PM 

Author: Saadut
•12:07 PM

Recently a sixth standard student was slapped with charges of sedition (waging a war against the country) and arrested by the Jammu & Kashmir police. 12 year old Faizan a resident of Eidgah in Srinagar, was accused by police of “participating in the stone pelting and subsequent burning of a police vehicle” on the first day of Eid-ul-Fitr, after eid prayers near Eidgah, Srinagar. Violence had broken out right after Eid prayers near Eidgah, after most of the separatist leadership including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq (who was also supposed to lead the Eid prayers at Eidgah) had been barred from participating in Eid prayers and had been restrained in their homes by the state.  

The boy was initially lodged at Safakadal Police station, after which he was ordered to be send to juvenile home by the remand court in Srinagar. While at the juvenile home, the minor alleged to have been forced to clean toilets and subject to abuse. Soon the local court granted bail to 12 year old Faizan. The minor was booked under Section 307 (attempt to murder), 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 427 (mischief causing damage) and 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage). Having been virtually declared as ‘an enemy of the state’ by slapping him with sedition charges, when the kid would have hardly even understood what ‘sedition’ meant. These grave charges implicated against this minor did not point as much to the extent of the crime he has been accused by the police to have committed of, as much to the extent of iron hand that the state was ready to wield; age and case irrespective. 

This was not the first time that minors had been booked in Kashmir and slapped with serious charges. While Farhan might have been lucky to be released on bail soon after social society outcry, others have not been. As per information given by Indian Home Ministry in response to an RTI filed by Advocate Babar Qadri, 70 % of the 5,504 protesters arrested in 2010 in Kashmir were minors. Most of these minors were not only lodged in adult jails but also in many cases their being minor was refused by the authorities. Since Jammu & Kashmir has no Juvenile Justice Board and Child Welfare Committee, these minors were often treated as adults in jail, sadly in some cases minors were even seen to have been handcuffed while being shifted to courts. In many cases the state has even refused to recognize or accept the authenticity of school certificates, certifying date of birth of these minors. Not only were these minors lodged with and treated as adults, exposing them to abuse, many of them had been charged under section 152 of RPC (Ranbir Penal Code) wherein the competence of bail only lies with the Principal Session Judge (or higher levels), making it extremely difficult for these minors to seek bail.

Kashmir has been passing through decades of conflict, sometimes waning and sometimes peaking; but a continued conflict nonetheless. This conflict has not only ensured that all state accountability systems have been thrown to winds, it has also put in place hollow political systems where in the divide between the common people and the political establishment is ever widening. The disenchantment on the ground is not only because of non resolution of the Kashmir dispute, but also because of the indifference of the mainstream political class who are responsible for running governance systems, towards the plight of the common people. In spite of understanding the fact that ‘sedition’ and ‘waging a war against the country’ are unexplained and alien terms for these minors who come from bare backgrounds, they were treated by the state as an virtual enemy; state acts often seen as pressure tactics to seemingly ‘punish a larger social group’ and create a forceful deterrence. But did such iron fisted acts really create any deterrence? Police accusations not withstanding, wheatear the child was actually a part of the protestors or not, the trauma in detention will surely ensure that he becomes a rebel against the state.  When the protestor in Maharashtra or Haryana in India protests with a stone in his hand (whatever be his reason), the terms ‘sedition’ ‘waging war against the country’ are not slapped against him, not even when encroachers in the interiors of Dal lake (in the very rare encroachment removal drives by the state departments) fight against the local police, the charges of ‘sedition’ are not even thought of. This is a ridiculous political contrast adopted by state systems! Since the lake encroachers and squatters are a sure voter segment in a ‘major election boycott adopting’ Srinagar, hence they are extended the benefit of political doubt for obvious electoral gains. The other protestors seeking justice and redressal (who may use lesser degree of violent protests that the lake squatter or the Haryana farmers use), are not voters for the mainstream parties hence become an enemy of the state.  When the state treats a minor (or even a major) as its enemy, he surely will become an enemy of the state in time.

The failure of political and accountability systems in the state affects everyone, especially the children of Kashmir.  Not only have these children grown in unending conflict but most of them have seen first hand incidents of abuse and death at the hands of state forces. At such a tender age such incidents are sure to mould a young mind into denial of the state, into enforcing a redressal via protests. As if the systematic abuse of civilians seen during the conflict in Kashmir was not enough, the state has also been viewed as forcing a denial of justice for all the aggrieved, (among others) be it the killed of 2010 or the families of disappeared. Such continued impunity for the state arms and denial of justice by the state makes the state an alien for the young generation in Kashmir. Also the stifling of opposite political voices by the state apparatus in Kashmir has had its own effect in strengthening protesting voices. When voices are muted by force, the calm becomes a farce and seems to break at the slightest provocation. Such alienation and stifling only sow’s seeds of mistrust and inculcates a rebellious nature in them. When the state is seen to act like your enemy, you are forced to raise a fist. Of the thousands of minors arrested all these years (70 % of the 5,504 protesters arrested in 2010), all of them must have gone through unexplained trauma at such a tender age while in detention (or torture). After being exposed to such trauma and emotional exploitation behind bars, what would these kids come out as? Surely not ‘refined’ as per state convenience. As in all conflicts, in Kashmir too, the physical, mental and emotional violence to which children are exposed and subject to, forces a huge change in their outlook, changing their world in totality. Conflicts, especially where the state is seen as a party, undermines the very foundations of children's lives, alienating them and making them politically more aware. 

Now there is talk of amending juvenile laws in the state. Such a talk would be only fruitful if the state systems were interested in following and accepting laws. In a situation where even the existing laws are brazenly violated by the same state arms that are supposed to enforce them, how do you expect them to adhere to new juvenile laws even if they were introduced on ‘legislative paper’?
While bodily injuries are easy to treat in a war, it is the mental and the emotional trauma that takes a greater toll on such societies. Unfortunately instead of healing old wounds of the Kashmir conflict, the state is bent upon creating new ones, feeding this conflict in continuity.