India’s Zaal in Kashmir

Rouf Dar on that ever tightening zaal of India

Mirza Waheed in his second novel “The Book of Gold Leaves” introduced, what might appear to foreign, non-contextual readers a fictitious creation but, a realistic character in Kashmir known as the zaal. Describing it, Mirza says it was a “beast of dust” which made frequent rounds of the streets and trapped people who stood nearby, whisking them away to interrogation camps and subsequent disappearance. It was an ensemble of terror, violence and state-sponsored brute force. Mirza’s description emanated from a reality and had actual instances of forces trapping civilians using every possible method at their disposal.

It is 2016, two years after the above-mentioned novel appeared in the public, and Kashmir is up again, against the might of Indian state yearning to snatch it’s right to self-determination. As forces were unable to control and quell an angered, simmering population, pellets, teargas shells and bullets — which can be fired from a safer distance — became weapons put into use as a daily routine. This caused maximum number of casualties in first few weeks of the agitation itself. Such brute force was acknowledged by the Indian parliamentarians as well and dubbed as something not even used by Israelis on Palestinians.

I am reminded of the zaal because that is exactly how the forces work and operate while cracking down on profreedom people (and no, the latter are more than 5%). Rakshaks and Bokhtarbands, the bulletproof vehicles coloured white and black respectively, resemble the zaal in a very analytical manner. To make arrests, forces board them and leave for their chosen area. Along the way they bundle up people, mostly youth, in these vehicles and drop them at their camps. Their swiftness allows almost negligible time to the locals to announce an emergency and act accordingly.

As the spree of arrests gathered speed, SP Vaid, a top police official, in a statement said that begunaah (innocent) youth will be released soon. Who are those “innocents” who will be freed (if anyone is freed at all)? How did his forces make these arrests? Yes, acknowledging the fact that the occupier’s intelligence trap is wide and intricate, but do they ever care for their prey. Is there any bar, any criteria for one to end up in their dark dungeons. Is there, and do they possess, a filtering mechanism to segregate “criminals” from the “innocent”. Isn’t the identity of a Kashmiri all that matters, and has mattered.

The great Indian killing machine is hell-bent upon eliminating Kashmiris when young. Those killed, injured and arrested form the young blood of this nation. Nasir Shafi, tortured to death, in the outskirts of Srinagar was 11. Khushboo, who died of cardiac arrest amid shelling in Shopian, was 13. Danish Sultan, who was chased by forces and jumped into Jehlum to die a less painful death, was 12. A multitude of youth fell to the bullets and pellets of forces this year. Another crop, 6000 to be precise, lay in the numerous prisons under draconian acts and otherwise. The zulm of the zaal is uniform. Among the 6000 arrests, and the number is increasing everyday, who can be tagged innocent and who guilty?

While education minister of the colony is busy concerned much about education, in an apparently cloaked bid to restore normalcy, his forces are busy sending young teenagers to graves instead of schools. Books have lost their owners. Bags have lost the shoulders that used to carry them. A college lost its prospective professor. AMU lost its postgraduate whose death arrived prior to his 3rd semester results. This is Kashmir where, before anything else, nothing is guaranteed but death. To assure the death of a revolution of the collective, 102 companies of the occupier’s troops have set foot in the valley since this agitation began on July 9.

Into the third month, as people began to get involved in annual harvesting, and others concerned about the nonavailability of daily wages, forces stepped up counter processes, or punishment to use an accurate term. This includes ransacking houses, vandalising property, plundering jewellery, harassing families and terrorising the whole locality into submission. This has also included setting ablaze paddy crop, damaging transformers, destroying apple fruit and running over dumb creatures like horses to death. They take one village, one area at a time. In the darkness of eerie nights, they leave their camps and unleash dark horror. They attack behind the back when people fall asleep, when they know it shall take time for people to make sense of what is happening.

As fatigue wears in — the fatigue of being under seige for a good three months, the fatigue of technological disconnectedness in 21st century, the fatigue of penniless and foodless households and the fatigue of suffering brutalities at a stretch — forces have swung into action, punishing all those who were active, and are active. Clerics who made a foray into resistance politics for the first time find themselves chased by cops as some are already behind the bars, booked under “safety” conventions. A list was unveiled in newspapers, some time back, of around 169 wanted persons which included religious clerics as well, most of them belonging to southern Kashmir.

As a matter of fact, a recent article, brutally critical of the IAS people in Kashmir, by three students drew both appraisal and flak in the same vein. Those who sided with the latter camp, maybe, did not understand some points made in that article and found them rhetorical and just “good English”. Their faces and their minds must wear a reformed look now as newspapers reported, on September 21, that the “worthy, talented and meritorious” DCs had signed 310 PSA dossiers in the last three months. This is plain English and no rocket science. It can be of much help if we recognise, at this particular juncture, our own and “their” own while unravelling the colonial structure.

Youth stay wary of oncoming problems and avoid fishing in troubles waters. Forces have kick-started a scheme to hunt youth according to the activeness of their areas. So, a boy from a volatile village, which was at the forefront of anti-India protests, will obviously make his way into their torture chambers. The zaal has been cast wide and youth are being preyed upon in droves. Each day the numbers revolve around 50. There are selective targets and then there are random pickings. Nothing bothers as long as jails get filled and medals shine on the khaki uniforms.

The zaal has got other mechanisms too, to co-opt and infest youth to their side. An elaborate recruitment of SPOs has been undertaken throughout the valley. Those who apply get selected. There is no special eligibility required to get selected. Narendra Modi also dispensed Rs 200 crore for sports requirements of the valley youth. These tried and tested methods, after 2010, may not work as effectively as the last time. People cannot be fooled around time and again with the same ruse. They cannot sugarcoat people’s aspirations every time. How long will they refute reality and scandalize natural protest registered by Kashmiris day in and day out?

Checking mobile phones of youth is another part of the same story. Pictures of militants, particularly of Burhan, anthems of resistance or other material that is anti-India attracts wrath from the forces. A boy was beaten to pulp for the same reason and even then he refused to delete the content. How cunning is that now? Will they scan each memory card and mobile phone to find such content and thrash the owner? By that logic, will they sue newspapers that carry the photos of militants and stories on them? By erasing the content from our digital devices, can they erase the sentiments from our hearts or will they devise an Orwellian software to brainwash our memory?

How can a postcolonial state control a colony that has resisted regimes before them? How will they decide the activeness of villages in this agitation? Was there any “inactive” area at all? Will they lock up an entire people in jails? Do they smell or taste or feel resistance in the people’s physique? Does their state possess enough bars to chain each person? Will they massacre masses and wipe out dissent? Can they wash off the stains on their hands? Can they democratically or coercively, ever, integrate a subdued yet aroused population, that hates the word and idea of India to the core?

A refurbished zaal cast in 1947 is trapping generations of Kashmiris inside. Nonetheless, escaping out of this mesh, people continue to rise. There is no staying put in submissive silence and accepting status quo. Dismantling the occupational structure and breaking down its ladders remains a priority. The zaal of resistance is in the making and it shall, with firm hope and in due time, enmesh freedom and justice for its people.



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Rouf Dar Written by:

Storyteller from Kashmir read his work at

One Comment

  1. Maliha
    November 18, 2016

    A well written analysis of the past months in Kashmir !

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