This is the first time in weeks I have had access to the internet. I have not been allowed to receive or send text messages for three months. Just like all Kashmiris my telephone has been barred from such contact. The local news channels have been banned. India controls everything here. And then kills it. The situation is horrific. Over these months of food rationing and persistent curfew whereby all is closed and the streets totally deserted in utter silence, suddenly a protest arises and then spreads throughout the whole city in a surge of frustrated and famished rioters shouting ‘AZADI AZADI AZADI’ (freedom) until it dissipates suddenly into a cacophony of gunshots and clouds of teargas.
I observe all this going on at a safe remove of only one metre by a big thick brick wall interrupted by the Mevlana Rumi gate to Kashmir University, where I am residing. I see through the iron bars hordes upon hordes of protesters being shot at randomly, and I stand there repellingly incapable of doing anything. An endless cycle of silence and violence. The Indian army own total control and freedom to shoot at will, to shoot to kill, anyone whom they choose to.
Last week a seven-year-old child was beaten to death. You cannot accidentally beat a seven-year-old to death. It is not like a bullet that goes astray. I cannot see how a stone thrown by a seven-year-old child can do sufficient damage to any man to warrant his being beaten to death. Children in this part of the world are tiny. A seven-year-old is the size of a three-year-old westerner. So what kind of person beats a tiny child to death when his stone throw must carry so little force that it barely deserves a shrug? This is such a common occurrence here.
The other day I left the university grounds to visit a professor only one minute away. True there is curfew but his house is in a private road attached to the university so I thought I would risk it. When I returned a roofless sumo vehicle full of ten Indian army thugs laughing and shouting came charging through the street waving their batons and guns. They headed for an old man and tried to hit him and then they knocked a four-year-old boy off his tricycle. For fun. He was only 50 centimeters outside his house’s garden so that hardly counts as disobeying the curfew and yet they charged at him on purpose. They knocked him off the tricycle and then headed for me, which as a western woman I did not expect.
I am living here within the deserted university grounds, alone with the security guards and a few random professors and clerks. The university was evacuated three months ago when the troubles commenced and the students and school children all over the valley have experienced, as they always do, a great void in their education.
The Indian army gun down eleven-year-old girls banging on the doors of pharmacists when it is clear that their disobedience of the curfew is purely out of desperation. How can a full grown man gun down and kill an eleven-year-old girl banging on a pharmacy door in an empty street? A woman kneeling on the pavement covering her face with her hands had her hands beaten to a pulp and they had to be amputated. Two weeks ago, on a Friday, I heard the usual impassioned pleads for freedom hailing from Hazratbal Mosque, which is just outside the university. For an hour the calls of ‘Azadi’ escalated and escalated until suddenly I heard a spray of gunshots. The shots continued sporadically over the next hour. I later found out that the mosque was raided by the army and people were beaten severely. Some died, of course.
The Indian army have the right and the freedom to behave like this, invading places of worship simply because of impassioned calls for freedom by a people who are being totally crushed and obliterated. This sort of thing happens every day. Total abuse of power by the occupying forces. But the people of Kashmir have no right to retaliate. Nor the freedom to even leave their homes. I cannot bear my complete and utter uselessness in this situation. As a rich westerner even I cannot get food. The other day myself and seven boys shared two carrots between us and a handful of rice.
So how can these Kashmiris be managing when they have not been able to open their businesses for three months? How can they even have the money to afford food, even if there WAS food to be had from somewhere? You risk your life in order to get food. How can you get food without leaving home? Yesterday a young boy working as a clerk in the university showed me his mauled arms and the gash in his thigh. His arms were black and purple with crusted blood from last week. His legs were obscene. Flesh made hell.
‘I went to get medicine’ he said, ‘and the army caught me’. I smiled and said, ‘Oh you people are always getting caught on the way to get medicine. Rubbish it was medicine. You went to get biscuits.’
‘Aren’t biscuits medicine?’ he replied, smiling the same smile as mine.
Last week as I circled the admittedly beautiful university grounds, a forest of chinar trees and endless rows of roses in full bloom, moghul gardens outside every department (Why are these gardens perfectly tendered? Given the situation outside how do these people have the strength and hope to even care to tend their gardens? Everything here is death and hopelessness. I would have expected the gardens to have been left to run to desolation), I saw a thin little old man with a cotton bag full of lumps. Usually one doesn’t see bags. Certainly not ones with lumps in them. Not in these conditions. My mind viciously wondered how he got the food? Who he got it from? Had he bribed one of the army pigs at the university gates? I suddenly realised I was frowning and in a very ugly-minded manner. The ugly things hunger does to a person’s mind is shocking. His bag was probably full of dirty laundry.
Sometimes someone will address me angrily as I pass by, something along the lines of:
“Hey you, America! Why aren’t you helping us? You do something.”
“What can I do?” I reply, “I’m neither a politician nor a journalist. I’m just trapped here like you.”
“But you’re a Westerner. You see how things are here. We have been living like this for twenty years. When you go back to your country you tell them. You ask them why they aren’t helping us.”
“It’s your own fault,” I reply. “Why should we bother saving your country when its got no natural resources worth raping? All you’ve got is apples, goats and saffron. You’re doomed.”
A few seconds of silence will be followed by a warm invitation to tea. Muslim hospitality. At this time when every tea leaf is precious these people will share even their last few crumbs of powdered milk with you. And you sit there sipping the tea wondering how and where they managed to procure it and how much it cost them in beatings.
Courtesy :Georgina Violante