It is the dead of the night. I look out of my favourite bed-side window and find the darkness, illuminated by tiny lights at Takht-e-Sulayman, staring at me. Each dot of luminosity reminding me of the military occupation of my land. This takes me back to my childhood days when I was growing up in my hometown. Every morning, long rifles protruding from the surrounding military camps would inspect me as I walked to the school bus stop, and each night, a blinding beam of search-light from the nearest military camp would invade one of the rooms of our home. As a child, it would startle me and I was left petrified. I would navigate around that torturous foreign beam, scared of being mowed down by the long rifles if I got into the crosshairs of the searchlight. As I grew up, my mind started questioning these search-lights and long rifles, crackdowns and curfews, killings and rapes, and the causative agent of these monstrous manifestations in Kashmir:– the occupation.
Cooped up in a little apartment in New York, Mir Suhail, Koshur (Kashmiri for the uninitiated) artist extraordinaire, has been struggling, like the rest of us, to make sense of the arcane pandemic. Perhaps the talented cartoonist’s art ensures that he has better tools at his disposal in this endeavour than most of us. On the other hand, he shares a burden all Kaesher (Kashmiris) must bear—the India occupation of Kashmir and the utter lack of compassion for and solidarity with Kaesher by most of the global community. That probably balances out any advantages his art might supply.
On a cold day, some 27 years ago, Juma Sheikh, chowkidar of the twin hamlets of Kunan and Poshpora, Kupwara district in Kashmir, approached tehsildar Sikandar Malik with a letter written in Urdu signed and supported by thumb prints of the villagers. In elaborate and formal language the letter detailed the horrific ordeal of sexual violence and torture that they had suffered on the intervening night of February 23 and 24 at the hands of 4 Rajputana Rifles that had come in for a cordon and search. The victims reportedly ranged from a 60 year old woman to a 14 year old girl and a pregnant woman nearing full term. The men were not spared. Herded outside in the snow to makeshift interrogation centres they were subjected to various forms of torture like having chilli powder rubbed on the genitals or subjected to electric shocks in their private parts.
I got married in February. Half the marriage functions were held in Jammu where my family is now based post forced eviction from Kashmir in 1990. The other half of the marriage was held in Delhi where my wife’s family is based due to the same events of 1990. A Muslim friend from Srinagar who attended my marriage could not help but notice on a sad note this “scattering” of a Kashmiri community. “Chakravun” is the exact word used for scatter by all Kashmiris.
A whole population that challenges the Indian rule is identified as an enemy that can be dealt with only through exceeding violence. On the ground, a cobweb of military installations and camps acts as an instrument for the military to identify, persecute, and maintain a hold on the local population. In Kashmiri rural areas, one finds an army camp after every three kilometers and in some places, the pervasion is even deeper.
“Our land has a history of being ruled by tyrants and hypocritical regimes, but we Kashmiris have always voiced our opinion against that. I couldn’t stay silent on this issue. This is a protest song against a political gimmick set to undermine the kashmir issue and to influence our Kashmiri sensibilities through pseudo monetary packages. A shame full event done in the name of democracy.”