Death of 14 Crows in ‘Democracy’

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by Jamsheed Rasool

Rep Image.

Rep Image.

In the movie The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock scared the whole world by projecting birds—with all their claw-jabbing and beak-pecking—as a threat to the survival of the human race. The 1963 blockbuster American flick loosely based on the 1952 story of the same name by Daphne du Maurier depicted sudden and unexplained violent bird attacks on the people of Bodega Bay, California over the course of a few days.

By a dint of an insurmountable cinematographic art, which never eluded the doyen of suspense movies, Hitchcock was able to depict birds into some of the most terrifying villains in horror history. Even 53 years of its release the opening scene of the movie, wherein hordes of crows and gulls cawing with deafening cacophony swiftly flock on to the screen from all directions, can beat the best-rated scenes of all horror movies hands down.

While some birds feed on grains and insects, there are some which relish the carrion. On the higher end of food chain and jostling for their share with the hyenas and jackals, the carrion birds like vultures and carrion crow, aptly called natural scavengers, strip the corpses to the elementary bony frame.

The Pulitzer award winning photograph of Kevin Carter in 1994 showing a kid slowly crawling to a relief camp being stalked by a vulture brought tears rolling down everyone’s cheeks. The events leading to the photograph and bouts of similar incidents even brought a spell of incurable depression to the photographer who committed suicide the same year.

In Nepal they consider it necessary to throw their dead to flocks of vultures. Nepalese believe it exorcises the dead of all past sins and in their reincarnation the dead are born in pious families. All along the history the carrion birds have made short work of those fallen by the adversary or their ill-luck.

In one photograph of the Bengal famine of 1905, vultures in mouth-watering anticipation clung to the wall of a round abound in Chittagong (in now Bangladesh) and bobbed their bony necks in and out of their turtle frames waiting for the moment to swoop down on the famine-stricken corpses of the peasants and transforming them into non-descript skeletons in a moment of few minutes.

In our own Kashmir, we have example of Gilgit and Astar, where the bridle paths were ubiquitously littered with corpses of Kashmiri men—falling to fatigue and perennial flogging—whose internal organs where clawed out by the birds of carrion. The vultures took care of the Red Indians slain by ‘the golden-haired aliens’ from Europe who had touched their shores in search of ‘Fountain of Youth’, or those slain by the medieval age barbarians of yore who left no eye alive to weep for the dead.

In times of autocracy, crows and vultures blotted out the emblems of autocratic oppression. In democratic times, it cleans up the involuntary and unavoidable blemishes of democracy. Vultures took great care of those slain on highlands of Kashmir during the insurgency of 90s with only a lucky few making it to secret burial grounds like that of Kitchama in north Kashmir.

Carrion crows, given their pedigree and unflinching commitment to scavenging, are collaborators of first order in Kashmir and their ubiquitous presence is emblematic of their heroic role in wiping out the occasional glitch of ‘Enforced Democracy’ in the broader essence of preserving ‘the collective conscience’ of India.

Given the pivotal role of crows, it is a matter of no surprise that our chief minister Mehbooba Mufti raised hell when she found out 14 crows dead at her official residence in the winter capital a few days ago. A team of experts including a veterinary doctor has been summoned for post-mortem. A few of the dead birds have been sent to Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in RS Pura district and a few other stinking specimens (wonder how much stink there would be brewing in their bellies after pecking out at so many corpses in their lifetime of scavenging) to a Bhopal laboratory.

The hospitality staff including the countless valets and chauffeurs would be visiting the compound only after few meticulous bouts of viral sprays are carried out. A few suspensions and terminations may not look all that out of place.

What if all the crows, the incorrigible janitors of the bird world, die a sudden death in Kashmir? What if for every secret killing now the odious job of digging a grave has to be done? What if the establishment will have to send a task force team to grave diggers at Malkah in downtown Srinagar for learning the art of speedy burials? Can we have more hotchpotch wild cages in highland areas where the corpses or their various chopped parts can be flung at the hungry wild leopards? Do we need to seek tenders for more body bags? Where to have the more secret of the secret graveyards?

In an era where the killing of 97 protestors and blinding of more than a hundred was not worth an independent inquiry, with most of them being settled with caveats of more damage to the next of kith and kin by the Munshis of police stations, the death of 14 crows triggered the establishment to order just a shade short of a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry.

Why did Mehbooba Mufti retain the sheepish silence over the killing and blinding of youth all these five odd months and why is she at her vocal best while reprimanding the veterinary doctors and state laboratory higher-ups in their failure to deduce the reason behind the killing of the 14 odd crows?

Is it just because Kashmiris are so low in the political food chain of the sub-continent? Is it because we are perennially supposed to wag our tails before imperialists in the manner the African slaves did before the Roman masters? And most importantly, would our chief minister exhibit even an iota of empathy for those slain by bullets and pellets that she exhibited for the slain crows?

I for one would not be surprised if she adopts a few crows. Crows are upbeat yes-men, who eternally caw their sycophancy, much like a few of those suited men calling shots right now. Or would she be just curious to know who is this ‘crow-eater’ threatening the existence of crows? Or is this through this collective death, crows want to convey a message: A message of resurgence, of being rejuvenated as incorruptibly upright creatures, to fend off the tagging of being wily opportunists and an unyielding oath to refuse to be conmen of bureaucratic bungling or being pedestrian cronies of statecraft buffoonery.

A little birdie, the one that happily munches on the stray grains, tells me that crows are on a mission of self-annihilation as they do not want to go down in history as mere ‘maggots’ enveloping the putrefying corpse of a kind of ‘enforced democracy’, a  perfect specimen of which can be found in Kashmir.  

(Views expressed in this article are author’s own. The author can be mailed at jamsheed.sophist@gmail.com)

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