During the 1990’s, crackdowns had become a routine part of the Kashmir landscape, their frequency working like cascading calendar events. And such frequency made these crackdowns monotonously follow a predetermined set of unwritten rules. Habitations would be caged and herded to a common ground; identification parades would be serpentine and tedious; the unlucky ones would fall prey, being rounded up; and some extremely unlucky ones would either vanish in custody or come back home after having spent months or years behind the walls of state denial, broken to splinters. Ironically, the armed forces were very just in dispensing torture and humiliation, without any discrimination towards commoners during these crackdowns; each soldier assuming the role of a governor, judge and gallows man rolled into one. Without distinguishing on caste and creed lines, every Kashmiri got the same jackboot and gun butt treatment from the forces; the doctor, the professor, the mason and the peasant were given their equal share of abuse and military force. This was the only place where you could see systems of equality work under Indian rule. As years passed, these crackdowns became screening centers for the fodder that the forces were to use in their torture chambers, and such crackdowns often left indelible impressions on the psyche of countless innocents.
One day, New Delhi had decided to repackage these crackdowns without altering the contents of the ‘herd the Kashmiris to oppressive submission’ practiced therein. Now, it was decided that these crackdowns shall carry a ‘Goodwill’ flavor for the beleaguered commoners, already typecast in a mass ‘aatankvaadi’ label by India.
One cold December day, in north Kashmir, an early morning crackdown seized the village, and in dim lights of a sleepish dawn, the villagers were forced in hurriedly donned winter gear, towards the freezing fields that lay now barren and exposed to the winter frost. Under shadows of guns and behind shouts of aliens, all ages walked away from habitations, in fright and insecurity; the Muezzin lost his morning call for prayers. In time the crack of dawn rose like an aurora and created phantom shadows of the men in fatigue, their guns extending like spears aiming at village chests. The villagers sat on bare, cold ground, like rabbits tied in a farm by limitations of the cage, which stood perpetually guarded by the slaughterer.
As the winter day walked up to its slow pace, and as the noon warmed to its own freeze, some order in assembly was being forced by the troops by closing the villagers on one side of the field, just opposite their cavalcade. As the call for gearing up to the identification parade queue was being made in loud voices and menacing gestures, and queues were being formed, the officer seated on a chair at the opposite side was seen ordering and pointing to some of his soldiers. Soon a table was laid at a distance from the village crowd, a TV set placed on it and a VCR connected, powered from the genset that lay behind the line of olive green vehicles, right opposite the crackdown crowd. The ‘Goodwill apparatus’ of the crackdown had been made operational. At the right end flank of the village crowd, Imam Sahib of the village mosque and four of his elderly companions shifted a few steps away and turned their faces towards north, trying to keep away from the movie that was being played while the crackdown queue was crawling. For some moments the elderly Imam Sahib, a lean tall figure in flowing white beard and a white turban on head, and his companions evaded watching the movie, all their life they had avoided watching such modern entertainment, but this reclusiveness was to end soon. The officer had noticed their turning away from the ‘Goodwill apparatus’, and soon four or five soldiers rushed to the right end flank, had these elderly by the collar, kicks and blows accompanied, dragged them like corpses right into the centre front of the crowd and put them in direct sight of the TV. ‘We don’t watch movies’ the Imam Sahib cried; ‘we bring movies for you and you avoid watching them. Turn your face away and we will break your faces!’ the soldiers thundered while dispatching more goodbye rifle butts. The elderly, in shaking bodies and disheveled hair, messed attires, swollen faces, lowered their gaze trying to avoid the focus on them. Some young men who tried to protest, encountered jackboots and abuse.
In the shame of humiliation, in the silence of the winter, the elderly had moist eyes that prayed for redemption, yet saw nothing beyond. The glee on the faces of these soldiers was victorious, having won against the fragile body and a believing soul. In the freeze of indifference, nobody of the villagers noticed anything of the ‘Goodwill movie’ that day; everybody just heard noises of coercion and brutality in front of them and stood up like zombies to walk like ants in queues of parades. Some young men were taken as torture fodder for the chambers of dark that day, many of the elderly did not walk back home on their own. By late evening, many village houses resonated with groans of pain from inflicted wounds.
Packaging crackdowns under the tag of goodwill did not take the sting out of such collective punishment; it only was an attempt to camouflage such persecution, a tag which failed miserably.
Soon ‘Goodwill’ was to be replaced by the ‘Sadbhavna’ tag.
Srinagar, 20th December 2012
(The incident was narrated to me by a very respected journalist friend.)