By Abdul Manan
My fondest memory of growing up in Kashmir is frolicking the streets with creaseless rupee bills, which like every twelve year old I received from elders, on Eid. Wrapped in celebratory mood, the otherwise barracked streets of Srinagar would be bustling with exquisitely dressed families, exotic snack stalls, and a flurry of firecracker vendors. On Eid, the misery of conflict was temporarily forgotten. Not any more.
A week ago I received a miserably broken video message from my twelve year old cousin who, wanting to wish me for Eid, had managed to ‘broker’ few minutes of banned internet. An eerie silence backgrounded his voice, the kind that imitated mourning, not Eid.
“Eid is not fun anymore, it’s scary,” were the concluding lines of the video message.
This was an unusual Eid for Kashmiris. Two teenagers were shot dead by the Indian forces and all ten districts remained under police curfew. For the first time in Kashmir’s recorded history, Eid congregations were disallowed at two of the oldest prayer sites, Eidgah and the Hazratbal shrine. The events that unfurled on Eid accurately reflect the self defeating approach of the Indian state toward Kashmir.
During the past seventy days of unrelenting curfew and crackdown, eighty five unarmed civilians have been killed by the Indian state forces. Most shot, while some grotesquely beaten to death. The most recent fatality was a fourteen year old. The indiscriminate use of pellet guns on civilian population has partially blinded or critically injured more than 820 citizens, half of whom are below the age of 20. Seven year olds, college lecturers, women, early teenagers, young adults, the long list of murdered or blinded civilians, apart from being heart wrenching, is analytically significant. A close examination of the nature of the current protests in Kashmir (I did some first hand research when I was there few weeks ago) makes unequivocally clear the turning of the middle class on the Indian state. The inflating middle class composition of and the upper-middle class support for these protests point to a changing, unprecedented trend in the Kashmir conundrum – the Kashmiri middle class is indeed considering extra constitutional alternatives – one of which is “Azaad.” (Freedom)
One observation that various sources reiterated, during my research, as if it were a fact was the change in reigns of the “freedom movement,” from the reserved group of separatists called the Hurriyat Conference to the “young men (and women) at the street.” In analytical terms this statement translates to the urban, young blooded, intellectual, and educated composition of the latest protest movements in Kashmir.
The Indian state, besides the obvious moral decadence, is now mired in an identity clash with the Kashmiri middle class, more fierce than ever. An academic from the University of Kashmir who has spent three decades studying, nurturing and producing the intelligentsia of Kashmir, during our conversation, explained the unprecedented surge in participation by Kashmiri students in civil means of protest. “The armed rebellion in the 1990’s was but a foreign, inorganic venture…but this, this is the soul of Kashmir speaking truth to power,” he said, with a hint of pride.
The discourse about Kashmir, especially the current situation, deserves to be examined from an analytical standpoint, in addition to the humanitarian perspective. For the first time middle class Kashmiri mothers are not only in favor of their children protesting, but have themselves taken to the streets. For the first time, academics, lawyers, journalists, doctors, and the entire workforce of Kashmir have challenged the Indian state, not from the comfort of their lounges, rather from the blood ridden streets.
The current cycle of protests started at one funeral, which was followed by four funerals, then by forty, compelling the middle class to reconsider its tacit alliance with the Indian state. More insecure the state, more intensely will the middle class search for alternatives. The Indian state has humiliated the Kashmiri middle class for at least three decades. The collective conscience of a mocked people has now found a means and momentum to regain the compromised self esteem. The Kashmiri middle class is at the forefront of this struggle, a new development in Kashmiri politics.
The Indian state has conjured, in a cauldron of gross human rights violations and political disasters, a deadly ghost for itself- an antagonized Kashmiri middle class. Arrogant regimes that bury their heads in the sands of paranoia and denial typically wake up to a deep, forceful political tornado. A classic case of the consequences of such denial is Iran, The Pahlavi regime in Iran (Ironically, Kashmir is nicknamed Iran-e- Saghir, “Iran of the subcontinent.”) was convinced until 1978 of there being no serious threat to the regime, especially from the middle class. The excessive fear that the state invoked in the people would eventually contribute to its own downfall
Atlast, the middle class succeeded, their high threshold for suffering outlasted the all powerful state. Ryzard Kapuncinski’s description, in his book The Shah of Shahs, of the precise moment at which the Iranian state became psychologically ineffective could indeed be held increasingly true of Kashmiris – “They stopped fearing.”
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the South Asian poetic giant most vividly remembered for his anti establishment poetry, shared a brief but intimate relationship with Kashmir. Faiz’s marriage ceremony happened in Srinagar, conducted by none other than Sheikh Abdullah. In the light of Faiz’s acquaintance with Kashmir and of his spirited poetry, I feel obliged to let him weigh in on the events currently unfurling in Kashmir,
Our pen will forever register that which is unleashed upon us.
As I replay my cousin’s message to weave together the broken sentences, the simmering rebellion so evident in his bored eyes reminds me, as it should to Indian state, that fear will no longer suffice.
Abdul Manan is an International Affairs and Religious Studies major studying at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania.