‘Celebrating’ August 15

There is a sense of pride and jubilation among most participants of August 15 celebrations which are held at Bakshi Stadium. However, many school children participate in the function to escape the boredom of classrooms, for perks or to cherish the ‘royalties’ of the government, SYED ASMA finds out

Young girls participating in Independence Day celebrations held at Bakshi Stadium in Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar

Srinagar is on a high alert. Bakhsi Stadium, the largest stadium in Kashmir where the biggest political function is held to celebrate India’s Independence Day, has turned into a fortress. Not even one civilian is seen in the area. One who moves around faces questions, even temporary detention. Only security forces have the freedom to be here. Some of them uniformed and armed, some in civvies, holding wireless sets, all are busy in relaying radio messages. Public vehicles are not allowed to stop. One which stops faces harassment.

“I usually avoid taking this route around this time [August 15 and January 26] but sometimes circumstances force me. Some passenger is having an emergency and I have to take this route,” says an auto-rickshaw driver.

It is August 13, still two days before the celebrations would take place but full dress rehearsals have already begun. The security apparatus is such that even the parents of the children performing at the function are not allowed inside. “Entrance is restricted,” says a J&K police personnel when this reporter tried to enter the gate. This reporter had not revealed her identity yet.

“You are from which department? Information, Police, Fire service….? Don’t waste my time, come on, answer,” the police personnel enquired hastily. On knowing the identity, he asked for a government pass which were issued to media by the government. Meanwhile, another policeman comes forward, “Those passes are not for today but they are a must for August 14 and 15.” Along with my photographer, we are allowed to move after our I-cards are scanned.

After entering the main door, there are few policemen for frisking. For men, the personnel are standing right in front of the main gate and for women it is done inside a tent. Inside, a group of police women are chatting. “15 August and 26 January preparations are the hardest to work on,” one of them tells another. “Oh, come on! It is not that hectic. Have you ever been to the airport here? I was posted there for some time. It was the most hectic posting I have ever seen. The rules at the airport are stricter.”

As we move on, there is another enquiry post where the same questions are repeated, baggage and I-cards scanned, and we are allowed to move further. Finally, a locked door is opened which opens into Bakshi Stadium. Today, it is filled with participants, mostly the government forces and media. Besides, CRPF personnel are manning the posts, almost five in number, around the stadium.

Rehearsals for the celebrations of Indian Independence Day are going on. The main function is attended by politicians, bureaucrats, police officials and students. Everybody is busy with rehearsals. The participants are making every effort to perfect their performance.

School children present on the ground are the most excited lot. It is the mix of students from government and private schools. Besides, state police band, BSF, CRPF, home guards, fire services, NCC, are also participating. Students from 5th to 12th grade are asked to participate in this year’s celebration. Some of graduate students are also here for rehearsals.

This year, there are some changes in the programmes and children are not happy with it. “Last year and on January 26, this year, we performed rof. We enjoyed so much then but today it is only march past which is boring!” says Shaheen with a frown on her face.

Amongst the participants, NCC seems to be the most confident group. The training they have received makes the performances very easy for them. “Many among us have performed at Republic Day in New Delhi many times. So the local functions seem easy and less hectic,” says Noor.

Besides, they have been travelling across India and have had an opportunity to go on a few international trips with NCC which, they think, has boosted their confidence immensely. NCC students have had so much interaction with the Indian Army that it has influenced their mind set and in a way helped to make their future decision.

“Most of us want to join Indian Army. Seeing their disciplined and dignified life, we too want to serve the nation,” they say in unison. The only entertaining act in the list of performances is the act of Dare devils, says Basit, a student participating in the march past representing his school. He is a ninth class student in one of the government run schools on Srinagar outskirts.

Most participants of the Independence Day celebrations are drawn from various schools of Kashmir valley

Daredevils in their black uniforms riding black bikes perform dangerous stunts. It is a team of 29 J&K police personnel, out of which only 5 are Kashmiri. They get 15-16 days training in Madhya Pradesh, says Yousuf, a participant. He has joined the team in 2003. The Daredevil team is picked permanently and is exclusively meant for performances on August 15 and January 26. There have nothing else to do.

“We are busy rehearsing for these functions almost for the whole year as we try to produce a new stunt each time,” says Satish, another Daredevil. Their rehearsal was the most applauded performance in the stadium. Hooting, whistles and applause from other participants was enough to prove its popularity.

But all do not agree with Basit. Ahmed, a ninth grader, claims that he and his friends are better stunt performers than what these daredevils do. “We perform better stunts on foreshore road in Srinagar. But policemen often conduct raids and they don’t allow us to perform there. I bet we were better,” Ahmed claims and departs with a look of disgust on his face.

Most children have agreed to attend these celebrations to impress their other friends at school. Different children have their own different reasons to attend the function. Saqib is here as he wanted to bunk his classes. “It feels good to be here because we don’t have to attend our boring classes,” he says.

Sara, a girl sitting next to Ahmed adds, “And it is the only time when the government is compelled to take care of us otherwise in normal days we don’t get such royal treatment.” From the past few weeks, these kids are being picked and dropped at their homes by taxis to attend rehearsals which they seem to enjoy.

But it is hectic, they say, “Each day we have to reach the stadium at 7 am and rehearse till 1 pm or to 2 pm. Since it is the month of Ramzan, it is tiring,” says Ayat, a 10th grader.

(The names of the participants are changed on request)


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