Struggle against forgetfulness

In 2008, Kashmir made a transition from violence to non-violence. But the state responded with the same iron fist – volleys of bullets met handful of stones on the streets. Majid Maqbool narrates some of these stories.
In a small room, on the second storey of an old house in interior Srinagar, three college going boys sit around me in a semicircle. Their uneasy silence suggests a meaningful story. In this brief silence, I look away for a moment. Dust particles dance in a beam of light coming in from the small old style window. All the boys have stories to tell. I can sense it. I take out my notebook.   
But the boys don’t talk.  
Instead, they unbutton their shirts, one by one, and pull up their sleeves. Then they show me their injury marks – one after another—on their frail bodies. As if these injuries are some kind of trophies, they show them with pride. These are the bullet marks, the boys tell me calmly. On their legs, arms, hips, backs – the bullets have left scars. The injuries have healed but the biggest scar, however, is on their minds. And that is refusing to heal.   
Memories, unlike body injuries, don’t heal.
The memories of last summer, of 2008 uprising, of repeated arrests, brutal cane charges, bullets, torture, come back to haunt these boys from time to time. For every stone hurled, there is a bullet ready to be fired. To pelt a stone on the streets of Kashmir can be costly. These boys should know. They were shot at – many times, last summer – for pelting stones. But they survived to tell the tale. Bullets can kill people but bullets cannot kill their stories.
At another place, I meet a middle aged man. In contrast to the three boys, this man is bulky, sturdy, in his late 30s. He is a former militant. And he is eager to talk about torture of 90s, when people like him would be arrested, and then tortured in prisons. He was tortured, too. His eyes give a look of not being able to come to terms with his past. What haunts him – and many others like him – are the memories of humiliating torture he went through in his youth spent in different torture centres of Kashmir. He remembers and recounts the torture of 90s in Kashmir prisons, which has largely gone undocumented, with graphic details. I put on the recorder; the notebook can not capture the intensity of every detail – his pained pauses, his exclaimed sighs – while recollecting the ordeal he was subjected to in custody, repeatedly, in the 90s.    
This man knows his youth, withered in torture centres, is not going to return. For him his youth is a torture cell – a haunted place, never to be returned, and even thought of. All he wants now is that people shouldn’t forget what happened to him when he was young. “I don’t want such things to happen with young people like you,” he says, looking at me. “But the younger generation of Kashmir must remember what happened with people like us.” People can forget his past – his youthful years tortured in jails, but he can’t. His struggle is against forgetfulness.   
Back to the room, in between sips of tea, the three boys talk more about bullets they received in return for stones they hurled on the streets. When a bullet, fired by a CRPF personnel, hit one of these boys, he didn’t know that the bullet had hit him on the knee. He fell unconscious. Later in the hospital, when the doctors took out the bullet, they told his parents: he can’t bend his leg from now on. After months, what worries him is that he can’t go out to play with his friends anymore. And that is killing him, more than the bullet injuries.   
The boys have been shot at many times, they tell me, when they were part of different protests last year. I ask them the obvious question: why were you shot at? The answer is quick, and unanimous: “because we pelt stones! Because we ask for freedom!”
When one of these boys, after getting three bullets (all in one year), was finally arrested, he was then tortured in custody, brutally. His crime, he was told, is that he led a pack of stone-pelters from his locality. And that explained his multiple arrests, his torture, and the bullets he got. “They put a brick on my crotch for nine days,” he says. This is for pelting stones, the torturers told him while he was writhing in pain. “After my release last year, they told my parents that they are going to kill me if I continue stone pelting,” he says. “But when they fire bullets, beat us ruthlessly, what else shall we do?” Another one blurts: “If they can fire bullets, can’t we even pelt stones?”   
Before leaving, I hesitantly ask all the boys: so will you guys stop pelting stones now? The question evokes a smile on their gloomy faces. As if surprised and unable to understand my question, they look at each other, then me, and finally say: ‘Kane haez tulav baeyee…We will again pick up the stones…’


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