Quick Recollection of the Kashmir Siege

A view of the siege in Kashmir’s capital Srinagar [image Gulf News]

Abdul Azeem*
#Death of a neighbor

We witnessed the death of a neighbor, it was 8th August 2019. Not many knew about it because of the communication blackout. No mobile or internet services were available. The family had to make an announcement in Masjid for her burial and funeral prayers.

#The Eid of no Bliss and Celebration

Eid but no Eid. I was told that the word Eid meant celebration but today August 12, 2019, the word lost its meaning for me, it made no sense. No exchange of Eid greetings. No news of our loved ones. We couldn’t go to for the prayers today for even Eidgah was sealed. It was weirdly unsettling as I broke my routine, as I walked towards the local mosque to offer the Eid Salaah. Post the khutba and I went rushing to my paternal uncle’s place. We greeted while the gloom surmounted everything around us. I reached back home only to find my brother out, searching for me. ‘We live in dark times. We got worried when it took you so long to get back, my family said.

It is not always the big things that bother you, sometimes small, often mundane things get to you.  Not being able to video call my brothers working in Oman and Dubai on Eid was one such thing. Unlike every other year, this year, we didn’t know anything, not the mosque they offered Eid salaah in, or the delicacies they cooked there. We didn’t even get to greet them. Our paternal uncle and aunt who had gone for Hajj felt distant, we couldn’t talk to them while they were away. Everything that I previously deemed ordinary, had become a task. Calling, texting, and exchanging pleasantries felt like tales from long-forgotten folklore.

As my heart pounded, the noise of the helicopters from outside made it worse. I knew it then, this was not an ordinary Eid. As the Imam delivered what some would call a fiery khutba, it felt as if God blew the spirit of life in numb empty bodies. The mosque rang up with a slogan I have been hearing since as long as I can recall, “Naara’i Takbeer, Allahu Akbar, Hum Kya Chahte – Azaadi!”. For a moment, it sounded like the revolution was at the doorstep. Moved everyone, made dua, for that’s what the dispossessed do, this is their dark purpose—fanning the hope of celebrating the next Eid in the shades of freedom. InshaAllah.

#Dreams and Nightmares

I live in cognitive dissonance. These days, my night visions perplex me. While sometimes, I see us, I see us free, sometimes years of tyranny catch up to my subconscious and I see myself being caught by the paramilitary. I was caught in Chrari Sharief, Chadoora, I saw this in one of my dreams and I woke up in dread. In another, I woke up in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

#Sickness, Medical Aid and the Signature of the Perpetrator / Traitor

It was a siege in the truest sense of the word. I remember it was August 13, 2019, my cousin had to get a signed document from SHO Rajbagh, for his three-month-old son was sick and had to be taken to the hospital which was just across the road. Even pregnant women weren’t allowed to visit the hospital for a check-up. It felt like we were facing the wrath of the Titans.

An old Kashmiri facing Indian soldiers [image: Peoples Dispatch]

#Communication with SiblingsA day before your independence day, we got ours. On August 14, 2019, ten days after we were cut off from all our kin, we managed to talk to our brothers working in Oman and UAE. It was a censored call made from the Srinagar DC office, as emotions just like words were getting rationed. My brothers were very worried. “We are safe”, we told them but our hearts were filled with grief and fear. We are still under lockdown as I write this. There’s no change.

#Visit to DMHP, Pulwama for Mental Health screening of children on 19/09/2019

I along with my team members from IMHANS visited DMHP, Pulwama to assess children with mental health. We assessed 13 children, mostly adolescents. All 13 of them were taken to DMHP by the Referral Coordinator of a local NGO. Out of these 13 children, I did a mental health screening of 6 children. All 6 children had anxiety, aggression, and depressive symptoms. They were mandated to attend Child-Friendly Space (CFS) and Adolescent Recreation Center (ARC) from 01:30 pm to 04:00 pm every day to cope up with the happenings in the valley.

The first child I assessed was 15 years old who happened to be the son of a local policeman. He complained about having a fear of night raids, uncertainty due to the closure of schools, uncertainty due to the examination, headaches, high palpitations, and sleeplessness. These symptoms he claimed surfaced post the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. “Why do you fear, your father is in the police?”, I asked, to which he responded, “It doesn’t matter who we are or which agency my father belongs to. The raid will reach us also, they will take us too. We are not special”. He added that almost 15 boys from his locality were picked up by army and affiliate agencies which added to his fear. It was astonishing to see the kid of a policeman scared, just like other children in the locality

Many children just felt alone considering they had no friends to talk to owing to the communications ban. “We’re not able to connect with friends and share our worries with our close friends”, they said. With the current condition, they added that their parents restricted their mobility in the locality owing to the fear of being picked up by the army. This further amplified the feeling of loneliness they claimed.

All this has led to many kids’ pocket money being reduced from 10-20 bucks to 5 bucks a day owing to the decreased earning of the family while many started to hesitate to ask in for money. While at first, it may seem to be a superficial issue but these issues have greatly affected the kids of the valley in general and at least the ones with that I interacted in particular.

Abdul Azeem is a writer and activist based in Kashmir.

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