Nerves of Steel

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arshid-malikArshid Malik

The people of Kashmir have nerves of steel – this is a sentence that pops up in my head whenever I relapse into recounting the endless massacres, torture, mental agony and losses that Kashmiris have survived in the recent past. Why nerves of steel, one might ask? Well, when I see my people living a life, “carrying on”, smiling and laughing at an attempt to either hide or ground the miseries and atrocities that have befallen them, I am greatly surprised for it takes nerves of steel to withstand such pressure and do what you are supposed to do as a matter of unfolding of day to day eventualities. Yes, Kashmiri people are a brave lot and they know, at least now, how to run a life parallel to an era of brutalities and atrocities. This is a very peculiar trait which develops in a scarce number of conflict-struck populations, Kashmiris being one of them. It is not easy, by any means, to let go of a brutal past and adjust to a reticent attitude towards what comes your way everyday – more brutalities and violations that is.

There is no negating the fact that the people of Kashmir, one and all, were out on the streets, mostly unarmed, seeking freedom from an era of suppression. It all started around the late 80s around the period when the armed freedom struggle surfaced in Kashmir and without even logically thinking or reasoning (there was little room for such phenomenon since the roots of suppression and the anger thereof was deeply woven into their collective psyche) the people of the Valley were out to support it in all manners they could – some joined the ranks while others chorused against Indian rule in Kashmir. There is also no denying the fact that the Kashmiri people, a few years later, were exhausted and chose to adopt nominal living styles almost away from the genre of the armed insurgency. I have personally observed that the middle-class, a couple of years post 1989 distanced themselves away from the “freedom struggle” which was a result of understanding and practically experiencing how ruthless the establishment could become even towards those who were knot wielding weapons but only supporting a cause which attempted to scale the tall claims of the central government and the promises made to Kashmir people by India’s political elite. I personally believe that even though the armed insurgency was a factual necessity but somehow it did not hits the “right chords” or else was hijacked by political powers that rule the elements of the subcontinent. Which leads me to ideate that the struggle as such may have followed a disjointed path but the people who supported it did so because they believed in it. A few years later the security paraphernalia (securing only the interests of the Indian state) managed to mellow down the armed insurgency to potential extent but the seed they could not reach. This seed was enveloped deep into the heart of the collective Kashmiri psyche and resurfaced every now and then, which in other words translates into the fact that the establishment was not able to crush the armed insurgency in Kashmir altogether. The seed, I talk of, sprouted again in the year 2008 continuing through to the year 2010 where mass (but peaceful) protests were organized against the atrocities of the Indian state.

The point I am attempting to make here is that the people of Kashmir felt betrayed by the ruling elite and agitated against it and this betrayal, instead of being “patched” somehow was intensified via media the security paraphernalia of the Indian state. It is but practical that the Indian state would “lash” out with massive artillery and brutal force against those who were wielding the weapons but when it boiled down to the common people the atrocious pressure applied by the establishment led to furthering the sense of betrayal and culminating into complete alienation of the people of Kashmir. This is what I would call “watering” or “tending” the seed. India, instead of strategizing and thereof “eliminating” the seed chose to water it. The seed took root and will continue to do so.

Today a cautious visitor planning to visit Kashmir receives all kinds of heartening talk as to the peaceful situation in Kashmir, which maybe effectively beneficial to the tourism industry in Kashmir, but after all it is all sham. The people of Kashmir are as agitated as they were a couple of decades ago. The only difference is that now the people have adopted a standard which empowers them to an extent where they can send their kids to good schools, have a decent meal in the evening and plan ahead for a better future but this should never be mistaken as “peace”. I am not attempting to warn off people visiting Kashmir but rather trying to bring the picture which always stays curtained behind the gleeful smiles of the people of Kashmir greeting visitors. It is only a method of survival, a mere means of livelihood and should not be sold out there in the market like a commodity.

The people of Kashmir have nerves of steel, and while I might sound quite redundant but this is the element of Kashmir. People who see us smiling and teeming with our foreheads shining bright with the will and enthusiasm to live a life on television screens they should not mistake for us for a people who survived a “riot” (because that is how the media portrays it) but rather as generations of people who have underwent some of the most brutal crimes ever committed against humanity be a forceful ruling nation.

And yes, we the people of Kashmir have not given up fighting; we have not surrendered to a “betel leaf culture” (a phrase I have coined for the Indian political elite who are as succinctly apathetic to the places where they spit their “paan” as apathetic they are to the plight of the people of Kashmir). This does not imply that Kashmir people are planning on another armed insurgency (don’t even go there) but rather that the people of Kashmir are very unhappy (you should check the statistics of the government run psychiatric diseases hospital in Kashmir). This sadness, however, does not weaken the people here; rather it strengthens the resolve of the people to stand upright and not look downtrodden and broken for no matter how much the state mauls the people of Kashmir they will continue to prefer respectable lives like soldiers returning from an unsettled battle.

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