She is cursed at the very first sight. Profanities welcome her. She is battered with stones and bruised with every possible thing that comes in sight; shoe, wrinkled log of wood, bottle – whatever in sight. She deserves that. She is a terror. She is the one that stops and then chases. And then there is a unison voice emerging amidst its roar of engine – “RAKSHAK AAYI.”
She is far more than a usual spectacle because she is not a RAKSHAK (Protector). She is the inverse of her name. In a land where brother means traitor and a brotherhood becomes fratricide, she too means the other side of her name. She is a chasing coffin; coffin with an engine, in which the pawns of oppressors hide and emerge.
She is there when stone pelters, dissenters and protesters are bundled, kicked, smashed. She is there during encounters no matter fake or genuine.
She is there to protect puppets. She escorts them. She is there standing on a deserted street accompanying lonely looking soldiers wearing bulletproof vests, leg guard and steel helmets.
She is there during long curfews, strangulating every street, alley, and every voice that emerge from fissures.
She leads us sometimes to the mouth of a graveyard and sometimes shoves us into a grave. She is palpable, living witness of all killings, you need no probes or investigations- ask her! She knows who is who and what is what?
During imposed normalcy she walks past unnoticed, unabashed. But during summers the mere screeching and rumbling of her would send us into unknown alleys, knock unknown doors, and climb otherwise inaccessible and impossible walls.
On one evening of summers of 2016, I went to the mosque, taking a short cut. There are many short cuts in downtown Srinagar that give nightmares to chasing Indian forces. During the day, we were not allowed to pray but in the evening we managed, somehow, anyhow. The Rakshak came to our locality. The half opened shops closed down within a blink of an eye. The people on nooks and corners, on shop fronts hurtled sending few yawning dogs on the street helter-skelter and hens and cocks in a pell-mell flight.
Within no time, the locality wore a deserted look. As soon as Rakshak arrived, a barrage of stones were hurled at her. No one inside dared to come out. But soon many Rakshak jeeps appeared. This emboldened forces inside them and they came out. I watched from the attic of the mosque. These forces would rarely lift up their eyes. Otherwise I would have been another causality. Soon it was banging, whooshing, and clattering, smashing, profanities in air. The tear gases, flash grenades terrorized the deserted street. Everything was dark except the area falling under the lights of Rakshak and momentary lighting of flash grenades. White lights on Black Street and olive green forces with shining plastic batons.
The forces searched people everywhere. It was a tragicomic. Stones were hailing from the top of rooftops, difficult to guess who hurled them. They searched people under cars, behind poles, under shop parapets, and hurled choicest abuses. But it was a blackout! Only their olive green helmets and white Rakshak were visible. While leaving they smashed doors, shattered window glasses and ransacked whatever came in sight like a lawless people, an unruly mob.
And when they left, I descended and left mosque in a haste. I was sure my parents would be petrified. I ran, unable to breathe in tear gas, pepper permeated air. My Mother, holding back her tears, remained silent and I walked in my perpetual summer silence. As I reached my home through same short cut the mosque blared with slogans of Hum Kya Chahtey? Azadi! (We want freedom.) Azadi ka matlab kya? La illaha illallah. (What does freedom mean? There is no god but Allah).
The Rakshak of course came back but the loud speakers didn’t stop.
Inside Rakshak things get worse. A stone-pelter friend of mine in downtown recalls how he was hurled into Rakshak when she was waiting for him outside his locality. He was dragged by neck from his house and hurled into the jeep. Inside it, he was kicked, slapped and then sent to torture centers. He later on had to pay a hefty sum to be exonerated. Also, when a Rakshak chases someone, she also chases money. Conflict is a trade. Later, he came to my house and showed marks of torture. My eyes welled up with tears. All I could do with my friend was to yield a promise of not pelting stones again.
The sight of Rakshak, whenever we walk through alleys of downtown reminds us of brutal occupation, of killings, tortures, curfews , extortions and of course, at dusk, we look across our shoulders to make sure she’s really gone. You can’t trust her! She is more than a white gypsy