Kashmir – After almost 9 stitches (then laparoscopy was not as advanced here) and two days in hospital I was shifted back home, to be bedridden for many more days. Early Sunday morning, day after I had arrived back home, announcements were heard from the Masjid loudspeakers about a crackdown by Indian paramilitaries, asking every male to assemble in the open play field, which was close to our vicinity.
The announcements were repeated early dawn break, shaking people from slumber and hurrying them to the common ground. Mother got worried about me, but Dad insisted since I was bedridden, should stay back and paramilitary forces would surely understand that. Mom sat close to me (my bedroom was on the second floor by north western corner of our home, from where I had a clear view of the playfield in the distance).
By close to 7:30 AM, the field was starting to fill up; even the edges by that bordered the graveyard had been taken over by people. Even from that distance I could feel the cries of paramilitaries herding people like flocks of dumb cattle towards the grounds. In this deaf silence, the faraway noise of paramilitary vehicles was too audible, which seemed to have invaded our habitations in endless columns. Since our house stood at the periphery edge of the habitation, soon we became only the second house from where the searches started. It was almost 7:45 AM when Mom and I heard noises and rattling of windowpanes from out first floor; the Paramilitaries had started kicking the doors and calling for inmates. My granny responded (she used to sit in the ground floor), but these paramilitaries would listen to none of her responses. They had fanned out across the first floor while three of them coming up to the second floor “bahar kyun nahi aaye?” (why haven’t you come out (for the crackdown parade)?) My mother pleaded “iss ka operation dou din pehle hua hai” (he has been operated only two days back). “Nikalo iss ko bhi bahar!” (take him out now), another shouted “saale ko ghaseeto bahar” (drag him out), I watched bewildered in silence as two soldiers grabbed me and dragged me down the stairs ; my mother cried and pleaded but there was no relenting by them. Not able to sustain the dragging, trying to clutch the shoulder of one of the soldiers and almost collapsing, I dropped by the gate, leaning by the wall.
I could hear the pleading cries of Granny, imploring them to let me stay drowned by the shouts of these paramilitaries who were running across the house now. I held one of my hands near the stitches, withering in pain and leaned on the other, trying to gradually hold the ground. Meanwhile couple of boys from our vicinity who were on their way to the crackdown assembly playground, came down to assist me, opened the gate and helped me towards the crowd (had they been asked by the paramilitaries or had they volunteered to get me, I don’t know). At times during pain and humiliation you want to cry aloud but the thought of having made a spectacle of yourself in front of a watching crowd restrains you; and this was exactly my predicament at that moment. The disgrace of having been treated such soon became stronger than my pain to some extent, as I sat by the edge of the playfield close to Dad and uncle. While people were being paraded, my mind wandered back home to the cries and despair of Mother and Granny, when I was dragged from those stairs, she was stopped from following me and when I dropped down near the gate while the paramilitaries had a scornful glee on their faces. In my torment I observed lines of people staring in silences into an unknown fate, like some creatures who forget to bleat when herded to an abattoir. The randomness of crackdown was still to follow in later days; right now these crackdowns were still to sink in our psyche. The first crackdowns in Kashmir were mostly limited to siege, search, and seize operations. Such crackdowns also specialized in the randomness of arrests, since CAT’s (informers who were later used to identify and tag people for arrests) had not in place yet. Such randomness often resembled like the hand that grabs at fleeing chicken in a cage, only to slaughter them later.
By afternoon the body searches of people in the playfield had been complete (I was spared the body search here) but the house to house search was still going on. Meanwhile some boys from the crowd, including Hassan Din, a bearded young man who was original from Kishtwar but worked as a domestic help at my uncles, had been segregated and taken to the other side of the road; view of which was restricted by columns of paramilitary vehicles. While the boys were being taken, voices of protest by some elders of our vicinity (and my uncle) were showered with abuses and rifle butts. Everything fell into silence for a brief; after almost half an hour of the boys having been taken, I could hear cries from behind the columns of vehicles. The noises came in a din, while words were incomprehensible but the agony was not. Paramilitaries had started interrogating these boys randomly right there and this instilled palpable fear in everybody. Two of the boys, I learnt belong to a family of vegetable tillers (aar’mm) who tilled right next to the ground where they were being interrogated. I could imagine their torment being tortured and persecuted on the same land they had tilled, their cries of helplessness to a crowd that was close by but could do nothing. Some soldiers standing close to the vehicle engines facing us were laughing at our subjection and forced vulnerability, which we were enduring in silences, while their officer sat on a chair ahead of them watching our excruciated show. I felt an urge to stand up and cry loudly, to defy, to confront; but the feeble in me was overwhelmed by the torture cries of these young men emanating from behind the columns of security vehicles. By almost 4:00 PM the house to house searches were over (we could see paramilitary search parties returning back) but the crowds were still being held in the grounds. As the paramilitaries started to windup, some boys who had been taken earlier and pulverized, had been let go, while six or seven young men including my uncle’s domestic help Hassan Din had been taken away by the paramilitaries.
I was helped back home by Dad and some of my friends. At home Mom and Granny looked exasperatedly distressed, since I had been taken. Paramilitaries had run amok in the household; every thing in the house had been disheveled by them, with dirt filled army boot marks even inside Dad’s prayer room. By evening many households claimed to have lost valuables, but Dad and Mom seemed to be preoccupied by something else than check for lost items at home. “We need to send him out” Dad said pointing at me “but where to?” “Anywhere, but of this place” he replied. I was already feeling the strain on my wounds and by the next day infections became obvious, taking a toll on the healing.
Hassan Din was released after more than a couple of months, broken and shattered. Uncle helped him in his release, but Hassan Din never came back to work in Srinagar. I never knew if the other boys ever returned home, and the vegetable tillers sons were too not seen for long. Later I learnt both of them had been interrogated for weeks at the paramilitary camp and were released after lot of effort by their folks. One of them probably never married (he had developed some serious health complications during the interrogation) while the other one joined militancy later on. The playground was in later years used more for funerals and crackdowns than for playing.
In the coming months while Kashmir was already being converted into the world’s biggest prison cum torture center, to yet endure the worst, my parents (like hundreds of other parents across the valley) were preparing for their son to leave Kashmir.
24th January, 2012