OPINION: The Scarred Night Of Kashmir: 19th Jan. 1990

In these vague images, is ensconced a picture which time and again resurfaces,

They say, "Distance makes the heart grow fonder"; it however creates a hallucinating image of the reality encountered by us in the past. The image gets magnified with yearning, mirth, nostalgia and also the pockmarks on our psyche, of what impacted us & made us who we are. In these vague images, is ensconced a picture which time and again resurfaces, to haunt us, and takes us back.

We the children of a conflict ridden homeland have our respective stories and agony to share. Call it a hesitation, pride, inability, reticence or numbness, but narrating my part of the story pertaining to 19thJanuary 1990 is not easy, and am doing it after 29 years. The day is a sort of watershed moment in the recent history of Kashmir. The day when Kashmir lost its pluralistic & diverse ethos, and my generation, as teenagers on the threshold of youth & dreams, had to reckon with a collosal loss on various levels (irrespective of our religious denominations).

I vividly recall that the day had turned cold and we anticipated snow any time. We had set up a "Boora" (sawdust) bukhari (indigenous Kashmiri heating arrangement) and it wasn't really warming up. What can I say; some days are cold on all levels!

A coup of sorts had taken place in a Russian nation and we just about managed to watch TV only by 9 PM. Well, because of the TURN of power outage, our locality suffered that day. Yes, we had our TURNS to get the flicker of that yellow light, especially during winters. Darkness however was setting in the nooks & alleys of a homogeneous Kashmiri fabric. The monotony of the night had set in, and we were about to call it a day, when loudspeakers from Mosques started blaring Islamic, pro-Pakistan & anti-India slogans. These were mistaken for some kind of announcement initially, but eventually it dawned upon my father that it wasn't so trivial; "Kashmir had changed forever".

There was nervous tension all around and especially writ large on my Dads forehead. As we tried to make sense of it all, our minds by default recalled the spine chilling aftermath of partition/Communal riots & the Qabayli raid of 1947; when tribal incursion from across the border had wreaked havoc on Kashmir by widespread loot, rape, plunder and mayhem (Sikhs of Mirpur/Muzzafrabad had borne the maximum brunt).

Such an extrapolation at such times doesn't leave any scope for rational interpretation of events, and the only threat one anticipates is mob fury & mentality. As a minority, it's all the more disturbing, and one's panic stricken. So was our psyche, in those nervously taut hours. This because, War does not determine who is right!-Only who is Left..!

Much to our dismay, a huge mob started gathering in front of our house; a vast stretch of green which served as a playground generally. They gesticulated aggressively and repeated the slogans emanating from the Mosques. Mostly it was pro- Pakistan and pro-Islam sloganeering. Some verses, songs, anti-India vitriolic and muffled slogans of what came across as impulsive & rabid rage, surely unnerved all of us. The Arabic verses were some sort of adulation for Islamic conquests and tales of bravado against Kuffar & Kaafir.

It went on unabated, and in such an atmosphere of panic & uncertainty I was advised by Dad to hide with a hatchet in an adjoining construction site. A cold January night in Kashmir, when my parents, who in normal course would have made sure that am nicely tucked in and cosy, resorted to such a maverick decision. The thought baffled me and initially I in my teenage pride & zest mocked it as some sort of a joke. After all, how could he even think of this absurd idea in Kashmir, where in all my years of growing up, I had not witnessed, nor felt any such exigency that threatened me or my likes, basis our religious affiliation? But he was serious, and I in my mind had already started gearing up for the damp darkness of a construction site cellar, totally oblivious to the dangers, more ghastly than ghosts predictably lurking in there. Imagine the kind of psychological scars such scenarios leave on a young mind, to linger on for a lifetime.

As we sat hushed up, contemplating the scenario; our minds racing & heart thumping, we heard our Muslim neighbors calling out for us. Me & my mother were packed off to their home, out of some sort of rationale, while my father stayed back to keep vigil. Their home was my "friends" home which I visited so often. A sense of familiarity and calm pervaded for a while, till I was privy to a talk between she & her male cousins who had somehow dropped in. We were looked after, and yet at the same time a sense of foreboding dawned upon me when they exclaimed that the next sunrise shall usher in a new dawn of "Kashmir in Pakistan"!! Going into the what & why of this exclamation has its own bearing and historical baggage, suited to the vested agendas of conflict factories which thrived & still thrive on the carcass of Kashmir. It would run into reams and is beyond the scope of the topic at hand which attempts to encapsulate the effects of conflict, terror & ensuing sectarianism on a multitude of generations.

Somehow the never ending night culminated into a dawn which no longer held promise for our dreams. Call it whatever, but a significant bulk of Kashmiris of all religious denominations had already given up/packed up, in their minds. That night we all got scattered like fireflies turning to ash in a moment. In absence of any elaborate means of communication, we lost track of our friends who left Kashmir (forever in hindsight). An eerie silence hung over the grey skies and in hush hush tones, friends became suspicious of each other and wary of revealing their plans & whereabouts. Things don't bode well when a valley of varied flowers suddenly turns pale from an erstwhile vibrant hue. Such was the visage of my wailing valley on that night, that in retrospect we know what we put at stake and what we lost, individually or collectively.

Kashmiri_AFP_380 (142K)The Kashmiri Pandit exodus in wake of selective killings of their prominent civilians in the earlier months, and the dread of this particular night, messed up Kashmir forever. Similar stories surfaced later on, when my KP friends narrated how they had huddled up and kept vigils, how their parents had shut them up in attics, how they were given kerosene and matches in case of any eventuality, by their own parents. The whole conundrum and distress was ominous, and in light of rumour mongering & real threats by vicious agencies, KP exodus amounted to loss of diversity of Kashmir. The breakdown of trust in the majority community, breakdown of administrative machinery/ law & order and governors rule was the beginning of an end & KMD buses crossing Banihal this time towards Jammu, were on a "No return" path.

The mould had been set and Kashmiris were destined to be pawns for the ensuing spiral of violence & chaos. Zia-ul-Haqs "Operation Topac" wanted blood and Kashmiri blood was ready to spill over in an illusionary pursuit of "Jihad". Some would cut this analogy with the contention that Kashmir is a disputed land in the South Asian geo-political dynamics and therefore calls for a more comprehensive approach. Of course that's the general rhetoric and true on many accounts. However it would augur well if we delineate the whole imbroglio from its complexity and envision it from the perspective of how Kashmiris of all denominations have allowed themselves to get sucked up in the spiral of vote bank politics, geo-political scorecard keeping and territorial greed. After all, whose blood has gone waste for an elusive Utopia?? Did we really have it so difficult, not to surpass our odds without unleashing such catastrophic turn of events? Did we really die for motherland? Are we still fighting it out for our collective motherland; Pandit, Muslim or Sikh?

I know that I being a Sikh would again be chastised, accused or mocked for such a narrative, in wake of the irrelevant placement of my community; but my dear friends this is not about accusations, villainizing, or about defaming/appeasing anyone. It is plain & simple anecdoting of our collective truth which if narrated collectively, irrespective of our affiliations, would unshackle us and liberate us towards real reconciliation & freedom. That said I am not even going into the complexity of Sikh narrative in Kashmir, because it merits a huge body of work to reveal where the shoe pinches to the wearer (The Kashmiri Sikhs here). I may be perceived as a speck, being a member of a tiny minority on the vast canvas of Kashmir; yet no one can take away my share of sunshine as well as gloom.

We all are privy to a personal loss and an assimilation of that loss amounts to a collective tragedy that has befallen all of us--The loss of a comforting homeland for those who left, or those who stayed. I won't really go into the dynamics of my personal story, but the least I can say is that the night lead to unabated curfew, snuffing out my grandmothers life, when she suffered a mild stroke in Tral and had to reach Srinagar on makeshift arrangements of transport or on foot, only to be frozen & paralyzed forever for want of prompt medical attention; till she passed away after many agonizing years. The last memories of her home & village she could never revisit stayed embedded in her and in my psyche; those of a grandmas place, we frolicked to. Yes people perish & places change their "attire", but our places were snuffed out of their life breath in the aftermath of turmoil & conflict. Our re-unions aren't about meeting again. They bring out the camouflaged scars of our psychological & spatial displacement….. When the common thread of our fabric got snapped and we ALL were rendered rudderless to fight it on our own, devoid of any anchors OR moorings.

Questions of what's right and what's wrong turn hazy as my eyes try to cling on to what is mine in this plethora of black, white and more predominantly grey!! Oft repeated, in areas of conflict where doves try to broker peace & vultures are aplenty!

It's about time that we face our collective demons & slay them; if we really care for Kashmir. Otherwise carry on with the SHAM

© Manmeet Bali Nag

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