It was a lovely morning that day. The cheerful girl in me woke up to the vibrant rays of the sun and the merry chirping of birds. It was a perfect start hinting that a beautiful day was just waiting to greet me. But little did I know that it would not turn out to be as expected, but was certainly going to be a memorable one.
The day was 30th June 2009. The road was missing the normal hustle-bustle. There was dead silence everywhere. Life in Varmul, Kashmir, had been paralyzed. The town had lost three of its youth just the previous day, resulting in people’s anguish and an undeclared curfew.
To be honest, I didn’t take it very seriously. For me, it was just another incident involving the killing of innocent Kashmiris, another incident that deprived a family of its only son, another incident that made an old father shoulder the coffin of his young son, another incident that made Kashmir weep yet again. It wasn’t an incident which could be called as the only one of its kind. Something that happens quite often in Kashmir had happened once again — human rights had been violated.
Let it be, how does it concern me, I thought to myself.
The silence was soon to be broken by noises. People had come out on the roads, ablaze with anger. They started chanting slogans to demand action against those involved in the killing of the innocent youth. I found all this so boring and useless.
However, I didn’t know the day had something else in store for me. I didn’t know that it was going to leave an indelible mark on my mind and change my casual attitude towards such incidents forever.
It so happened that I was sitting with all my family members when we heard some noise out on the road. We saw the protesters being chased by the security forces for pelting stones at them. My grandma thought it sensible to bolt the main gate so that no stranger could come in, and in this way avoid any possible untoward incident that it could result in.
No sooner had she done so, someone started banging on the gate. Before any of us could muster the courage to open the gate, the banging stopped and the person was gone. We all took a deep sigh of relief. And just as we did, someone shouted from outside the house, ordering us to open the door.
It was the security forces, looking for protesters. Since we had bolted the gate, they thought we were trying to protect some of them by letting them hide inside. They looked around, found none of them and then asked my father to call all family members out. As soon as my younger brother stepped out, they caught a hold of him and started to take him away.
My brother — my only brother — the person I love the most, they tried to take him away from me.
My world came to a halt at that moment. Those minutes seemed like an eternity. I saw him trembling with fear. He had turned pale in the face. Every one of us tried to convince them that he wasn’t involved in anything, but it seemed to have no effect on them. They took him towards their vehicle, like they had caught a common criminal. Somehow with great difficulty, we managed to persuade them to leave him and they went away.
This wasn’t a very big incident compared to what Kashmiris normally face. But it was big enough for me to leave its imprint on my mind and I’m sure it’ll never be erased from my memory. It shook me from head to toe. After that, all I could think of was the fear filled eyes of my family members and the shivering body of my brother.
What if they had taken him away? What would those angry forces have done to him? What if he had met the same fate as many other Kashmiri boys? Would I’ve thought of it as ‘boring’ and called it ‘yet another story’?
Then how could I term the killings of Kashmiri youth as usual incidents, I questioned myself.
That night when I went to bed, I don’t know what had happened. But something inside me had changed; something perhaps I myself don’t understand.
I was never an insomniac but my sleep had vanished away. Only Kashmir was on my mind. The tragedies of people were no longer boring stories for me but a bitter reality — the reality of you and me, the reality of life and the reality of bloodshed and death; something that we all have been living with.
I forgot to sleep that night; probably because I was just getting up from a deep slumber.
The girl in me who didn’t care about the killings had just vanished away. All incidents of families losing their sons concerned me now. It wasn’t just their sufferings or their woes now, it was mine too. I was just beginning to feel all the pain Kashmiris have gone through and in fact, are still going through.
Next morning, the first thing I heard was that another youth had succumbed to injuries, the fourth death in the case.
My heart wept and wept bitterly — for Kashmir was weeping.
[Samreen Mushtaq is a postgraduate student in the Department of Political Science. She can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org]