Diary of a Bloodied Summer: Part One

In history, diaries have often been recorded and maintained by those who faced war and extermination and the act of writing itself became a personal draft of the history that these people had seen; often the history of untraceable and unknown. In Kashmir too, while the world looks away - people steadily record and document events on a daily basis in the hope (and despair) that the world will take note some day. The summer uprising of 2016 which was precipitated by the killing of a popular militant commander Burhan Wani is the subject of this long dairy by Rouf Dar. The author records the mood, the aura and the violence that was unleashed on protesting Kashmiris. The diary will be published in a two part series, of which this is the first part. 

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We are a group of amateur footballers in a region of Kashmir that is famous for cricket. Yes, the lush, green, spacious playgrounds of Veyjbyor (Bijbehara) produced Parvez Rasool. And Qayoom Bhagwa. Football struck us, at quite an old age. Playing hours of the intriguing game every day, we decided to try our luck against the team of Yaripora whom we knew not.

The date was fixed. July 10. The playground of Higher Secondary School Yaripora would host us. We were excited to have a brush with more experienced players of the game.

On the evening of July 8, we quit the field for our homes. But our excitement proved to be short-lived. At home, grabbed got hold off my mobile phone, opened WhatsApp, and saw what I had never imagined. Burhan Wani lay dead on a bed with blood marks on his chest, right above his heart.

I was perplexed and shocked. I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing. Friends messaged in a similar confusion. We took it as a rumour. I scrolled down Facebook and read all the posts. They were full of tributes. Now I had no option but to believe. I had to believe that the iconic rebel commander was no more.

Further doubts were removed by the sound of slogans that came through my window. I peeped out. Not satisfied, I hurtled out and arrived at the village square a massive crowd had already gathered. Nobody said a word, except the chants of Burhan tere khoon se Inquilab aayega.

I could hear more sloganeering from the neighbouring villages. The intensity was immense. The roars were that of freed lions. Lions on rampage. Seething with anger. Filled with rage. Distraught at being dispossessed of someone so near and dear.

There was no discussion. Just emotions pouring out in the form of screams. Eid festivities came to a full stop. They were over, overshadowed, forgotten. In Kashmir, situations determine the mood of the people.

Within minutes, mobile network was shut down in the southern region and internet barred. Without social media to express their outrage, people hit the roads. The sloganeering did not fade away late into the night. Darkness was no hindrance. Darkness had dawned upon us, our movement. We had lost a luminary.

There was only one thing on our minds now — how and when to reach Tral for the final rites. Burhan had renewed the saga of armed resistance with the intelligent use of social media. After he, and his comrades, had appeared for the first time in a group photo, people had begun thronging funerals of militants. And Burhan Wani was at the apex.

 Some contemplated leaving at that moment, in the middle of night. Others planned for the next day. Some said his body had been taken to Badam Bagh and would be handed over in the morning. Others said he would not be handed over.

So, many youth mounted bikes and left as the whole region was drowned in roaring slogans. The whole valley was the same. We didn't know what was happening in other areas though. We anticipated a strict curfew and heavy deployment of forces which was never there. They could not stop anger. They cannot curfew simmering rage.

 July 9 (Morning): More people left. Some were hesitant for the fear of curfew. I could not manage a seat for myself and had to be content with staying home. Mosques played slogans and anthems. Sloganeering never seemed to stop. Burhan had ignited something everlasting.

The state may have expected it to be a normal militant funeral like the preceding ones, as Mehbooba Mufti later said. This proved to be a grave misreading. As they handed over his body, lakhs had already filled the lands of Tral. No one was absent.

As the young men returned, they were engulfed by crowds. They choked for want of breathing space. They showed us videos of the funeral. They had touched his body. They had touched his soul. They had embraced resistance. We touched them in unshakable belief that they wore Burhan.

We extolled their eyes, which had seen the boy who dealt nightmares to India, whose presence kept the state on its toes. They spoke of the uncountable attendees at the funeral. They spoke of Muzzafar Wani, the proud father. They spoke of the walls of his courtyard being flooded by huge rush of people. They spoke of numerous militants who made an unfazed appearance to bid adieu to their beloved commander.

They spoke of the roads full of people, moving on foot towards Tral. Everybody marched to Tral. All routes led to Tral. Tral was our Mecca on this day. Tral was the epicentre. They spoke of army vehicles in flames along the way. They spoke of how the armed forces ceased to exist that day and if they did, they seldom tried to stop people.

Elders quoted Sheikh-ul-Alam, ‘Tral will produce a Laal (diamond).' They said Burhan was the diamond. He had brought together the entire valley in collective mourning. People roared Tera Bhai Mera Bhai Burhan Bhai! Burhan Bhai!

Aftermath

The districts south of Srinagar city were most impacted by state violence insofar as casualties are concerned, particularly in the immediate aftermath. The toll kept rising each new day. The toll read as: 12 on the first day, 23 the next, 30 on the third, 36 on the fourth and 40 on the fifth. The count rose uncannily. This is what the state is destined to do. Kill those who fight it. Cut the tongues that speak against it. Slash the hands that are raised against it. Gauge out the eyes that stare it in the face.

As lakhs were busy with the final rites of Burhan in Tral, rest of the valley was up in protest on streets. Just moments after the martyrdom, young men, while marching towards Tral, were intercepted by forces at Qaimoh. They went after the newly-established SOG-cum-army camp at Qaimoh. They broke open the gate of the picket. As soon as they did so, several bullets hit the first boy in line. Zubair Khanday fell in a pool of blood. As the fight raged on, his body could not be picked up, resulting in blood loss. Till his body could be transferred to the hospital, he had passed away.

July 9, Nillow: A CRPF plus army camp that exists there for the last decade or so, was attacked. It was located on the road that led to my old school. I remember once being forced off from the bus and made to carry sandbags by army men along with my friends. It was begar. Forced labour that our ancestors had been subjected to. We, in school uniforms, were forced to imitate them. In another instance, our bus conductor was slapped just because he failed to find the right word in Urdu for mustard. They never need a reason to thrash you.

This day, however, the camp faced intense stone pelting. Crowds from three sides simultaneously converged on the camp. There were fewer men in the camp than usual because most of them had gone man hunting to Kulgam town. They responded with fire at once. One 23 year old youth named Feroz Mir died on the way to hospital after being shot in the abdomen. He was an Imam and had been fasting that day.

The armed forces would not let the dead pass through. He was taken to his home village via long detours, amidst shrieks and tears. His procession passed through our village. Women showered the body with tributes. Boys raised slogans. People wailed goodbye as he was lowered into sleep for the last time.

Damhal Hanjipora: Forces arrested few protesting boys which intensified protests. Army was called in. They arrived by firing aerially. Yasmeena was shot dead as she tried to free her brother from forces’ clutches. People stormed the local police station and set it on fire. Rifles were snatched — the exact number yet to be ascertained — and if the Inspector General of Police’s report is to be believed, they even fired on policemen. Rashid Kumar, a labourer, was then killed while he accompanied his diabetic mother to the hospital.

Indian military camps have seldom been targeted by protestors in the past. But, this is a generation that wears death on its forehead; that does not avoid encounter sites but confronts them. A generation that fights with their lives to save militants and help them flee encounter sites.

Nihama: A military camp again. Again, the number of dead was two. A carpet weaver, Khurshid from Harveth, reportedly climbed up a bunker and tried to disrupt the loaded gun. The soldier manning the gun pulled the trigger and shot a bullet into his head.

Azaad Thoker, 44 year old, also joined the dead soon. His injured body was beaten at three places, the drip removed at one place, by troopers, while on the way to SKIMS Soura. He belonged to Pudsoo, the village where legendary Dr Ayub Thakur was born. Azaadi was still yearned for. The crowd yelled Azaad waali Azaadi.

Behibagh: One of the most notorious camps in the area, which is remembered for parading passengers each day, checking their identities, making them walk a distance and frequently thrashing them, did not escape popular ire. The police picket which lies beside it faced stones. As in other cases, 19 year old Shahid Ganai fell to bullets of forces that are said to follow "Standard Operation Procedures".

Owing to the bloody backlash, Javaid Lone fell in similar circumstances in Khudwani. Mushtaq Ahmed of Havoora Mishpora, shot at Wanpoh, joined them soon. During clashes in Yaripora, two youth Asif Gulzar and Sayar Kumar of Chitragam (Shopian district) fell to bullets. Artificial administrative divisions did not matter. The composition of death transgressed all barriers.

In Tooli Nowpora, on July 10, forces caught an 11th class student Irfan when he was with his younger brother Faizan in their orchard. Faizan tried intervening but was caught too and both were taken to the Qaimoh camp nearby where both were tortured. Faizan was water boarded too.

Both were shifted to SOG camp near Kulgam district hospital where Irfan was again tortured severely which left him almost dead. Forces released an injured Faizan while an unconscious Irfan was thrown from the vehicle on road. The hospital authorities referred him to Srinagar. Mother accompanied him while father was still by the bedside of Faizan in hospital.

His father tried visiting him next day. At Wanpoh, paramilitary forces checked his identity and beat him up. He wasn't allowed to travel to Srinagar. On July 14, Irfan's dead body returned home. On the eve of Eid, Faizan was discharged from hospital to sights of people preparing small feasts for Eid. He fell unconscious. Gloom descended on the village and at once, people stopped buying chickens and other items.

On July 11, army men arrived in Churath Qazigund and started pelting stones at residential houses. Protests followed and army opened fire. Two women, Nabiza Begum and Neelofer, and one man Showkat Ahmed were killed on the spot. In September, Qazigund bled again when Mashooq Ahmed and Basit Ahanger were martyred.

 Never has anybody heard of any of the earlier mentioned camps being attacked by protesting crowds. Army men are generally viewed as more cruel and barbaric than local police forces — this does sound a bit paradoxical given our daily experiences with police — thus, any panga with them is preferably avoided. The current generation’s fearlessness in attacking the camps is not only unprecedented but speaks of absolute boldness in confronting power. 

People protested unhesitatingly. They straightaway picked up stones and showered them on these camps. The consequences were painful. Deaths, injuries, arrests, torture. As if Kashmir’s aren’t aware of the backlash? We are prone to oppression, by default, by virtue of our birth as Kashmiris. Seldom have political affiliations saved us. Never has the soldier asked what we aspire. Neither has the gun checked whose sympathies camp inside our hearts. Nor has the bullet of the occupier discriminated us on the basis of azaadi-pasand, pro-Pakistan or pro-Indian stance.

Evolution

Stone pelting differs in urban and rural Kashmir. In urban areas, pelters and forces maintain a distance, a no-man's land, between them. However in rural areas this doesn't happen. There are no such alleys and streets. There are no policemen with lathis. There are only army men and Special Task Force (STF). They use pellets or teargas indiscriminately. They shower bullets.

However the resistance evolves correspondingly. To counter the reckless use of pellets, youth were seen donning glasses and X-ray films around their heads to protect any damage to eyes and brain. They wore thicker jeans and sweaters which again prevented the entry of pellets into the body. Backpacks full of stones covered the chest area which protected and acted as a reservoir of stones — the only ammunition Kashmiris possess.

While Kulgam was burning with rage, no news from rest of the valley reached us as all cellular services were shut down by the state, including the mobile internet services. Hearsay prevailed. News of the number of dead reached us. Not their names. Not their locations. They were martyrs, the sacred ones, the sacrifices that Kashmir had made for its freedom.

The numbers soon turned into a list. More news of death poured in. Injuries. Pellets. Reconciling ourselves to such frequent arrivals of news of deaths became impossible. How could this happen. This was spontaneous. People were emotional, angry, sad, teary but still, no one had anticipated this strong a response from people.

Day by day, more news of death poured in. A friend arrived from outside Kashmir in the middle of a night, on foot. He showed us the list. We read out the names with utmost veneration. The districts south of Srinagar was all-over the list. Islamabad. Kulgam. Shopian. Pulwama. Other districts weren't far behind. The rage had ebbed out.

A local musician sang an elegy. Choan Burhan myonn Burhan. Bharatik leader aes dammphetti gassaan, yelli ousukh paan haawaan. Su oas Burhan, soan Burhan. Indian leaders were dumbstruck when Burhan showed them his face. He was our Burhan.

Anthems played constantly in mosques everywhere through nights and days. A strict shutdown (general strike) was observed. Hurriyat did not matter. Its calls did not. Its calendars did not. They did not even reach the public in far off villages. Everything was instinctual and reactionary. The people of Bugam even snatched concertina wires from the forces and subsequently used them to enforce a shutdown in the village square.

Flags were soon hoisted on the top of every mobile tower which was rendered non-functional by the State ban. Banners were erected in every village square. Boards which belonged to MNREGA were painted green. Walls were full of graffiti. Roads had messages of Go India Go Back. Everything asked India to quit Kashmir. People had a new freedom. Burhan waali, Azaadi!

A graffiti at a Kulgam market / Photo by Rouf Dar

Graffiti has been an artistic mode of expressing revolt in times when even peaceful methods are crushed down ruthlessly. The trend that emerged in 2010 carried on in this year's agitation too. Posters of Burhan Wani made with stencils appeared on shop fronts and walls. The walls of Kashmir imitated the year round exhibits of the Graffiti Gully along Jhelum banks, in Srinagar.

As villages rose, troops were unable to control every area at once. In 2010, there had been a comparative calmness in villages here. There were no pelting or stoning camps. The only activity people were engaged in was that of collecting and dispensing relief for the city people who were at the forefront. This time the dynamics changed altogether.

It was different kind of a feeling, while the entire world was busy labeling the situation in Kashmir as “unrest" or a "turmoil", we lived in a liberated zone. For the first two months or so, seldom was a trooper spotted outside his camp. There was no patrolling or crackdown. The local military camp’s commanding officer summoned village headmen and requested them to let their supply trucks pass through, peacefully, during the night.

This is the coming of age of rural Kashmir. This was our moment. Our Eureka. This was our Armageddon. This was our wake-up call. We woke up and faced up the state with all our might. We rose in dissent fearing no consequence. More than 40 were dead in first week of the agitation itself. And yet, the spree ceased to stop. The protests endured.

On Arrival of Newspapers

Newspapers arrived after weeks of continuous shutdown (strike and curfew). The police had even raided their offices and stopped their publication for four days. Ironically we heard a government official say that there was no ban on publishing news. They might have been confused. They searched for excuses. They tried and tried to negate the spate of violence their forces had ushered in.

Scrolling through newspapers, the objectification of death was vivid. The ghosts of 2010 had returned when pages were dedicated to the graphics of blood and death. The history of resistance seemed repetitive and unstoppable.

Newspapers carried lists of martyrs, whose numbers rose each day. I collected a few of their names. Then irritated, as the lists continuously grew longer, I gave up the process thinking that this shall be done whenever the killing stops. I know I am wrong for the killing won't stop until we are free. The last day of occupation will be our first day of peace.

The Legend

I heard from a local journalist that Burhan Wani had been featured on the pages of international newspapers including the New York Times and the Guardian. This was a moment of vindication. The ‘terrorist’ shroud over our militants, put by Indian propaganda, had fallen over a little. An indigenous rebel who sought refuge in Tral forests trending worldwide espoused our basic cause. Burhan is a hero. Resistance is heroic.

I heard patients in hospitals had named themselves Burhan in their OPD chits. This was to mask their identity, as the forces didn't spare hospitals either. They doubly injured patients by storming wards and beating them. Burhan had saved them from getting arrested. Burhan was our saviour even in death.

I also heard newborns were being named after the slain commander. A revolution had begun. He had galvanized the valley, the people who thought that something like 2010 can never be repeated again were shocked to witness 2016. It threatened to pull the state down. A name endangered their existence.

After weeks, as only state owned BSNL post-paid network was functioning, I managed to call a friend from a BSNL network. He was puzzled to hear me. He said everybody was concerned about me and that he had received phone calls from many loved ones to enquire about my well-being.

I instantly recalled my existence. I felt like being in midst of a war zone. I was in a war zone. The drones and airstrikes were not aerial but terrestrial. We were being killed by Kalashnikovs and pellets. Perhaps our life is not worth a drone. Why waste it when bullets and pellets suffice.

Weapons of Mass Protection

The camp at Chawalgam was attacked with stones many times. The forces inside had managed to lock up numerous people from the crowd inside. Those locked up included a minor too. He was released the next day. Within minutes of his release, he was again on the road with stones. How can a momentum that we have inherited through generations of oppressed Kashmiris be halted?

Now forces swung into action. They attacked as they do, during the night. This is akin to attacking when one’s back is turned. They started breaking window panes in Chawalgam locality. An emergency was sounded. Somebody got hold of the mosque loudspeaker and announced it. People took to the streets with whatever agricultural tools they had.

The announcement reached neighbouring villages who responded in a similar manner. This innovative communication, in the absence of mobile phones, was so quick and piercing that people from a good 7-10 km away from Chawalgam jumped out of their beds and were on the roads.

I saw people in their underclothes. A boy said that by the time he got dressed, somebody might get harmed or killed. “What's the point of dressing when either ways death will reach you?” he said. I was amazed. It was 12 mid night and people were out on roads. Nobody slept then.

 This event awakened people to different realm of brutal possibilities open to the forces. People from each village gathered independently and deliberations began. It was decided that a group of young men would be entrusted to keep a vigil over respective localities throughout the night. In case they spotted armed forces moving in darkness, they were to announce on the mosque loudspeaker following which people would gather. And fight.

This came to be known as the system of ‘rounds’. Every family collected stones and stored them inside their homes. They were to be used in times of emergency. Every Kashmiri was, and is, a stone pelter. Stones were in every house. These are our ammunition. That is all we have. Our own Weapons of Mass Protection.

 Rounds became a success. Youth would alternatively gather in turns and patrol the locality while others had a delicate sleep. To fight the darkness which hinders vision at night, each village pooled funds and got lamps installed throughout the locality. It once happened that an alarm was raised. As people converged, it turned out that thieves were caught. Still good. The system had other benefits too.

After these successful tests, axes, spades and sickles were introduced to complement sticks and stones. As final prayers of the day were offered and people had their meals, youth who had the duty to guard that night, would be seen with these tools and engaged in sharpening them on stones in the village square. Many got special tools prepared.

I thought to myself, will we be able to use them in case the situation arises. Can a Kashmiri slash an army man? I left the question unanswered. What I concluded was that these weapons successfully deterred opponents. Forces stopped roaming and wandering in localities then on.

Government Mulaezim

The demarcations between people and the enemy — the state and its establishments —became more clear than ever. Any employee in the government structure other than the medical department could not visit his office. Employees were carefully watched upon. As a friend recently mentioned, the practice of identity card-checking has been inherited by the youth from the armed forces to check if any employee is trying to reach his office. The whole system crashed and government was forced to announce no pay for employees not rendering their duties.

To further put a lid on functioning of government offices, the latter were set on flames of late though not primarily for this reason. In the first few days, a police station and a Lok Adalat were burned down in Damhal Hanjipora. More recently the mini secretariat, that houses DC office and other primary district departments, was set ablaze in Shopian. Numerous Panchayats have suffered a similar fate. This ensured that any chance of the state functioning are nullified. Every legislator of the region has seen his house and courtyards destroyed. Though they seldom live there, the act sends a message that even pro-India politicians are vulnerable in front of an angered population.

Local political workers and agents of different parties pledged their resignation in front of common masses and asked for public apologies. To prove their turnarounds, they raised pro-freedom and anti-India slogans in mass rallies. Sarpanch’s disassociated themselves from their political affiliations. Policemen who live in localities always have a pall of fear looming over them. Nobody wishes to be identified with the state or any of its establishment. Any association with the state or its arms brings a sense of insecurity. The tide is totally anti-state.

As the state announced the recruitment of SPOs in all districts of the valley, a careful vigil was kept in individual localities to check if any youth try to apply for the job. Though it didn't stop the applications but it did create obstacles in the process. Two youth were caught carrying SPO forms towards the DC Office. Their heads were shaved and the video circulated to deter others from choosing the same line.

Curfew Schools

The worst affected sector in situations like these is always education. Education is the future of a nation and when children remain away from schools, it does not foretell strong symptoms of prosperous future. 2008 and 2010 had led to a halt in schooling too. The shutdown of schools itself is a vehement method of voicing protest, albeit with perils attached.

To prevent children from forgetting their studies, community schools sprung upon an informal basis, mostly on advice of the political leadership. Local teachers and qualified people began tutoring children at homes or in rented rooms. The system proved a success, as there was no restraint on the curriculum or subject matter. The teachers who taught there got an opportunity to interact with younger ones about matters that are a forbidden territory in formal schools.

Debunking the myths in school books, especially historical accounts, became a routine. Awareness about Kashmir and its history added the much needed edge to the lessons. Students were ready to grasp out-of-the-box information because they came from a context that was involved in a war for freedom and justice. They entered classrooms with slogans in their minds and lips and left with them. In the time spent inside, teachers made sure they learnt the intent and meaning of those slogans.

Moving On

As the incoming facilities of our mobile phones were restored, I got a call from a friend in Jammu. She apologetically said, "yahan tum loguun ko gaaliyaan padhti hain". I claimed to be fine and replied that we have been receiving goliyaan since 1947 and before that too, so gaaliyaan konsi badi baat hai. This summed up the occupational story in a simple sentence.

The protest calendars started rolling. Whatever the content of the calendar, we knew the shutdown had to continue. Our preoccupations did not come from the leadership. We decided to be our own leaders. People had vowed not to let Burhan fade in history. People said Burhan had wished himself to be the last sacrifice Kashmir would make.

Being a firm believer in complete independence, I was distraught at the Pakistani flags being hoisted all through these months. However I realised that occupation and resistance are antagonistic. Whatever India likes, we hate it. Whatever India hates, we like it. This is natural and not inculcated by some agencies in us.

We prefer things that irk India. We hurt India by our actions and choices. We seldom use force like the state does. Probably that is because we don't have a choice. We are fighting a military might. We protest and harm our occupier in more subtle ways.

To be continued...



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