Srinagar: Water and Blood

Srinagar



Smoke fills the skies, the air breathes like poison. It smells like a young spirit of a nation that has awakened to shake the status quo one more time. This is like the Muhammad Ali taking in all the rib cracking punches of Joe Frazier, he waits and waits until Frazier is left with no strength. This is the beginning of Ali’s turn to break free from resistance and turn it around. This is Jamia, the home of Kashmiri resistance. This is where it all began, 85 years ago.

Jamia Masjid Srinagar
Jamia Masjid Srinagar

In the serpentine alleys and lanes that become a maze of many mazes, protesters find their safety. Home-made-balaclava-masks, made out of t-shirts and handkerchiefs, they are not a symbol of their skill but of a Orwellian state that thrives on surveillance of protesters.

In the old city, lying on the banks of the Hydaspes, the ancient name of Jhelum or as we call it Vyeth, the people are whispering in mournful silences. In the small squares where young and old converge after prayers at the local mosques. News breaks spirit, sighs turn into prayers and all of the young boys bite their lips, wondering what the night will bring.

No news comes home.

A massacre occurs in Kulgam, there is news of bloodshed in Tral, Pulwama has been put under siege. Scores of villages, whose names were unheard, become part of a conversation that starts from Gaw Kadal. Village of Aripanthan, Qaimoh and numerous other places have entered a part of a memory that has traces in blood. Their names will recollect their history in the uprising. A part of our collective memory.

The boys in the streets collect money for the hospitals, some volunteer to donate blood. A caravan of pre-teens, teenagers and those who aged the day they were born in the 90s, street after street, hiding behind the camouflage of the darkness. The troops are everywhere, any discussion is futile. There’s no space for dialogue. The rage cannot be filtered.

Srinagar hospital
Pellet victims wearing eye shades in Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital

The hospitals are bloodied, wailing is constant but the melody of slogans each time the back door of the Ambulance opens takes over the silent wails of the hospital. One boy rips his shirt open, puts it around the wounded leg of a boy who hardly would 12 years old. The boy from the city says these are bullet wounds, he says it like he knows. As if he has felt a bullet piercing through his flesh. He says like he knows the pain, that he had to hide for days from an inevitable raid on his home.

The boys of the old city register themselves as volunteers. They had been there, when Srinagar was flooded. They held Kashmir together, when the state had failed. They were the state when the state disappeared. They are here again. What’s it about these boys that keeps them going, tragedy after tragedy, and disaster after disaster. It’s the culture of resistance and resilience, as old the city itself.

Srinagar hospital volunteers
Volunteers had setup relief camps outside Srinagar’s SMHS hospital

While Srinagar watched and witnessed the murders on streets in the Ragdas of 2008 and 2010, today the centre of the uprising has shifted from the city to the rural areas. The rage today cannot be curtailed; it cannot be pushed to the edge with plethora of informers and collaborators. It cannot finish in the storms of a crackdown. It is the manifestation of the anger that has turned into sheer street rage that refuses to accept the occupation to be a part of the daily life. It has rejected the proxies of the neo-colonial project with all their press statements and eloquent media bytes. Enough for the fascist brooding henchmen in the media to chew on, the rage is militant.

The rage rejects normalisation of violence and cold-blooded murder in lieu of fancy tourism ads. It rejects the obfuscation of history where the occupation is bottled with a mixture of saviour and propaganda. If we had to define this movement in one word, it would be – rejection.

A five year psychological warfare has been defeated by a single funeral of a 21 year old Burhan. It has reached to a point where every single policy, analysis has fallen on its face.

In Algeria, when the city of Algiers especially Casbah was put under siege that choked its population for years. It was the uprising from the mountains and villages,that crushed the foundations of the French imperliasim and it weakened the coloniser to the point that 150 years of Occupation met its end.

Srinagar has been turned into Casbah, nothing moves except the Vitasta carrying with smell of blood, and bodies of young boys who were drowned while escaping from the wrath of the state forces.

The mountains echo of relentless marches for freedom, the city whispers its abject restlessness. Riyaz has been killed. 400 pellets were pumped into his body. He has been left there, motionless. Srinagar has become darker, the breeze bristles the leaves of the trees in Riyaz’s neighbourhood. The windows ache, they witnessed a crime as they have witnessed many such crimes for decades. They beat with the wind, this is not a marsiya, it is Riyaz’s sister wailing and the women of the neighbourhood beating their chests. Riyaz’s lifeless body is being carried home for the last time.

Srinagar. Pauses.

Love in the times of curfew. The siege has turned the hearts of many who collaborated with the state, not through their deeds but with their minds. The occupation in their minds stands defeated. The love has found its place in the heart of the lover. Their hearts rejoice, as their eyes bleed tears.

These are the hundred days of solitude, and they don’t cease to be ending. This is a novel of heartbreaks after heartbreaks. Their lies no joy in the city, the happiness has been overtaken by the humanity, found in the gasping breathes of the boys from the old city, who run to the Ambulances every single time there is a siren. Every second counts they say.

A hospital turned into a slaughter house. The heroes in white coats, attend to each injury, they plug blood oozing from the bullet holes. They are in a different haal, a certain state of mind where their subconscious becomes the conscious. Every time an injured is brought into the hospital, within seconds they guess whether these are injuries are from a bullet or a pellet. Without wasting time, the injured are operated upon.

The eyes have fallen quiet in the hospital. Some boys have been carried from the pool of their own blood they fell into. They are held in the arms of the volunteers that have become stretchers. In this war, the comfort of the strangers’ arms, the boys from the old city, embraces the pain of the fallen survivors of a slow genocide.

Somebody make it stop. Now.

This is day after day of carnage. To what end, they ask. Their is no answer. Just a patient hearing. The rage has settled down. It has become basic nature. The culture of resistance has become permanent. It’s genetic, it flows in the blood.

A woman wails in-front of the banner pinned in the ground floor of the Emergency wing. An image of the handsome 21 year old Burhan. She cries, and a chorus of crying starts. She asks him, if he can see what we are being subjected to. She asks him, if he can see the helplessness of the people he fought for, she breaks down and falls on the floor. Two women hold her up, give her some water to drink. The air is solemn and every whisper is a careless mourning.

Heart sinks, with every minute, it feels like the stomach has been turned into a knot and the lungs are breathing fire. Outside the hospital, a few blocks down, the air is full of tear-gas. Somewhere protests must have been going on in the old city.

Irfan, the dilawar of the old city has been hit. He is shot in his chest. He oozes blood from his nose. He stops breathing. Irfan, persecuted for many years, sent away from home to prison and to an exile. His journey has come to an end.

Irfan Fayaz was Eighteen. Born in the year 1998.

Every day has become an obituary. Srinagar was not the heart of the 2016 uprising. But it bled. It bled every single moment of it. Srinagar has become Srinagarrison. Each time a group of people turn into a march, the women from the windows look behind the window panes. In their silent eyes, they are whispering something, what has become of this city, houses are put on fire, the hands that should have risen in prayers are falling. The march ends at the Martyrs graveyard, home of Kashmir’s martyrs. A national monument of memory.

Months after brutalisation in the streets took a pause, an old monster awoke. In the neighbourhoods of the old city, the night raids happened every night. The boys of the neighbourhood, became the guardians of the night. Armed with sticks and firewood, they patrolled the neighbourhoods,alarming the residents when the raids began.

In those moments, when the khaki clad or plain-clothed indian forces breached the checkpoints in these neighbourhoods. A noise began, it reverbrated until the anthems of Azadi held the mics of the mosque. The women led from the front, guarding the sons of the soil from a snatch.

The authorities improvised on raids, sometimes even using ladders to snatch the boys sleeping in their rooms. Such was the terror, that many boys went underground to save themselves from the prison. To fish them out of the underground, the authorities detained fathers, to blackmail the youngsters into a surrender.

Torture in prison is no secret. Use of stone rollers, bludgenouing with batons, electric shocks in private parts,

Agha Shahid Ali writes,
“A brigadier says, the boys of Kashmir break so quickly,
we make their bodies sing on the rack”

Srinagar watched the country around it burn and bleed. The city of a civilisation, two thousand years in existence, witnesses another massacre of its inhabitants. From Zulchu, the Mongol who sacked it in the fourteenth century, the city is a witness to the ugliness of human beings. Yet, again it witnessed another massacre flowing in its rivers and streets.

Srinagar, the city of the sun awaits its dawn from the centuries. The mountains have shaken the tyranny like cotton, and in the years to come it will see another upsurge. An upsurge like no other, because until injustice and humiliation of human dignity continues, so will the people to protect their humanity.

***********

As many youngsters are on the run, much like they have been since 2010, the street rage quietened. The careless whispers printed on the papers and in the broadcast media raised their decibles. Those representing the proxies of the colonial project in Kashmir, have the chutzpah to question the hope to be free.

Those collaborating and co-opting with a narrative to demonise the people who endured, cannot be part of its memory. The memory of the uprisings of Kashmir does not belong to those who chose ignorance over freedom.

It belongs to those who were transformed by it. Not by those for whom every day of this uprising was just a news ticker. In the three uprisings of Kashmir, we have known what freedom and dignity means in its essence. The feeling of collective love and togetherness despite being fought with everything the oppressor had got.

This is a struggle of generations for the beginning of a free people, it will continue with us or without us. Careerists and proxies of status quo will not be able to understand the essence of the meaning of freedom.

The wall has been knocked by stones, rocks and the reverberation of a nation’s cry for freedom. The wall will break. It has to. Nothing is built to last. Not even occupations.

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