Dhaar Mehak dwells on the normalization of militarization and violence in the lives of ordinary Kashmiris over the years and a point in time where this 'normal' is questioned by young people and redefined in an era of political awakening. The article is the first from Wande special issue on Kashmiri women titled Me and Militarization.
Summing up the memoir of the first 25 years of one’s life may not be a cool idea in any other part of the world. It is, however, a fundamental duty I see myself in the assignment of, in this part of the world. A person reaching the said age is seen as picking up on the experiences of life and learning. The same person is supposed to commit mistakes, stumble, fall and arise therefrom. Gain experiences. Know the worth of family. Enjoy life with friends. Think about career building and walk little milestones towards the direction of a stable and fulfilling future.
My fragmented memoir nevertheless is one of militarization. Being born in and growing up in the conflict situation internalizes the conflict in you. As a person, you see and visualize the impacts and incidences of conflict as something quite usual, quite regular and thus normal. The first intuitive question the person asks herself is of feelings. How does it feel to grow in militarization (that is indeed one practical manifestation of the conflict)?
Evolutionarily speaking, it feels normal and okay. Children living in this part of the world “enjoy” more holidays than otherwise. Apart from Sundays and national/state holidays, the regular spell of hartals, bandhs and curfews keeps children away from school. The freedom of immature minds lies in skipping classes and watching cartoons. In preferring play-times to learn. A hartal, no matter what the reason and cause behind it, becomes an occasion of happiness, celebration and freedom for the young minds. They expect more and more of it; of course in the ignorance of causes and consequences. This is the same for my narration of the memoir. So many missed school days, so many postponed exams, a lot of play time, the joy of waiting for the bus in the anticipation of non-arrival, having the tiffin lunch at home and the infinitely long tenure of play-times.
Reframing the first question of this memoir, how does it feel to grow in militarization when you are a female? A woman with female genitals. A girl who grows conscious of her body. A human being who experiences various changes. An individual going through the glut and flood of hormones; how does it feel to be in the constant shade of the gun?
The situation is different, differing mostly because of the dichotomous factors of geography and economy. Growing in the urban area and coming from an economically sound background gives a female a comparative stabilizing power that doesn’t make her as vulnerable, susceptible and especially exposed to all the sexual/gender violence, a conflict situation is plagued with. On the other hand, coming from a poorer and rural puts a female in more threat and exposure to mishaps. This argument doesn’t float in a vague air but bears testimony from the recent historic episodes. The conflict-related violence in my memory marks me safe. It, however, doesn’t leave me alone as I generalize the situation. The threat remains there. It just remains there in theory and probability. It looms around like a knife hanging from a grey cloud!
Militarization is an abnormal phenomenon through which the armed military personnel get unnecessary power. The normal trials of the court, the normal fear of the court of law and the normal threat of the jail don’t accrue to them. They get immunity from the usual punishments. At the same time to create hysteresis for one and to quench the thirst of their alternate frustration the same set of people go on committing sexual violence. Relying on memory, the journey of school buses has always been safe comparatively. Walking on roads, crossing the streets with huge army or police has always been gut-squeezing. Driving a car as a woman makes you look comparatively powerful and independent and the chances of harassment may come down.
I remember an incident from 2017. I was in a car sitting on the passenger seat and the car was driven by my friend, who happens to be a boy. Driving through the Apple Valley road towards Pahalgam, the traffic density is very low, the only other car on the road was a Kashmir Police jeep ferrying STF troopers. At one point, some girls aged between 17-22 were pushing a hand-cart full of hay. The STF men standing behind the vehicle looked at them with fierce eyes and scanned their bodies. That was a moment my heart sank and fear gripped the nerves inside my skin. All the bad things I could imagine flashed in my helpless mind. To my relief, the police vehicle didn’t stop. The harassment and sexual violence did take place but a considerable distance existed. Where do we conclude for this question in my analysis? At the crux of unsafe-ness.
The instance of ironies is no less pronounced. Where from do I begin! We hate militarization the conflict brings with itself but at the same time, we do not have an alternative but to co-exist. We do not wish to breath in the air of conflict. We do not want to share the same land and food and air as that of the military that is aimed not for our safety but otherwise. The phenomenon of this unwanted coexistence is once again internalized. Every morning as we step out, the shadow of the gun in the hands of military personnel casts a dark imprint on the ground under the new sun of the new morning. Seeing a thing/event every now and then converts it into monotony. To a great extent making the person, who is experiencing the phenomenon, indifferent to it. Until a jolt or sudden violent reminder surfaces, an average person remains more or less indifferent to the situation.
Where does all of this take us? To reactions. To outbursts. To manifestations of unhappiness and anger. The tales of youthful blood are universal in their vigour and heroic responses to injustice and status quo. The history of the resolution of conflicts has always been written in blood on the epitaphs of graves. That’s where all of this takes up; to the graveyards of Kashmir. The state wants to maintain its power, suppression of voices begins claiming hundreds and millions of youthful bodies making blood bath a normal phenomenon of the day. How normal is this normal?
Having grown up in the 1990s, all this has been internalized in me. The militarization in particular and conflict, in general, was at its peak in the 1990s. The killing was common. Militants, military, collaborators and civilians all were at equal risk and equal threat. Deaths were more like the order of the day and less a rare event. So it looked more or less normal to the growing kids, with occasionally hearing the elders moaning about the status quo. What followed was a comparatively silent spell of events that lasted till 2008. The silence was broken in 2008. With a prick, this long spell of uncomfortable silence burst out and metamorphosed into a new wave.
Children do not remain children forever. Time moves, understanding grows and questions demand answers. Having witnessed all thick and thins of survival, the questions of identity and demand loomed over one and all. The characteristic feature of the 21st century globally is increasing education, increasing knowledge and the World Wide Web. Children who have grown up to become young men and women by 2008 began bustling with youth and vigour and demanding answers.
What is normal began to be redefined. A method of peaceful protests was adopted. As the demands were put forth, people began protesting. The answer from the state came in the form of police and military trying to foil the protests. This was not accepted in the domains of new normal. This can not be; ever! Democracy is all about freedom to demand and negotiate. To retaliate to the unacceptable police actions, stone became the tool of these set of protestors. The new normal came to be understood in the hurling of stones.
In the span of the next few years, hurling and pelting stones became normal. The young and old all alike came to realize that by appealing the moral sense of the oppressor, no one ever has succeeded in attaining the desired end. Reverting back to the gun and endeavouring on a new age militancy developed as a concept and soon became the new trend of the day taking it closer and closer to normality. Indeed this is the latest normal. The killing of Burhan Wani gave way to a new age militancy in Kashmir in the summer of 2016. The dark day came like a jolt and revolution. Hundreds of youth rose up to take Burhan’s vision ahead. The number of new age militants has ever been soaring since then. So has been the increase in the spell of militarization in this part of the world.
In today’s time, the normal is a wider variety and summation of sub-normal. We live and coexist with the military. We see so many young men joining in the armed rebellion and militancy. We see encounters every now and then. We see killings and the use of all the inhumane tactics and weapons. We witness all sorts of unacceptable things, yet we tend to live on. This is an apparently normal, something that looks like normal from outside but as one approaches closer and closer nothing of normal remains.
It has to have an impact on one and all in general and talking here in particular on women. One that women have a history of loss and grief. Losing parents, spouse, sibling and children, getting pushed into poverty and starvation and bearing all the burdens and losses in their hearts, women have been bearing this all. The common sights as that of Association of Parents of Disappeared Children (APDP) meetings of half-widows and orphaned children portray the picture of suffering. This being a common occurrence in this part of the world looks like normal but it is not and it can not be normal. The situation in 2018 or 2019 may look calmer but the jolts and shocks will continue till the end is reached.
The fundamental normal that we all seek in this part of the world is (a) the attainment of the ultimate end of deciding our own fate by means of plebiscite or anything that is acceptable to all in general, (b) end to the bloodbath, (c) an end to the miseries of our mothers in particular and everyone else in general. Till then the normal will be defined, altered and redefined. It will evolve, the conflict will metamorphose and each new generation will take part in the furtherance of the cause. ♦