The rotten smell of fear and helplessness

IN Media Freedom | 23/03/2011
The CRPF stops me. "Where do you think you’re going?" he asked. "Home," I said. "Where are you returning from?" he persisted. "Work." "Don’t you know its curfew. I didn’t see you earlier on in the day walk from here." I told him that was because I
The second of a two-part series from the diary of award-winning photojournalist DILNAZ BOGA- jottings she maintained on the tumultuous days in Kashmir last summer.

The diary: Jan-September 2010

‘Nothing to lose’

Meanwhile, people in India are wondering why parents can’t keep their kids at home. Little do they know that when a teenager gets shot outside his home while playing carom. A teenager tell me, “I am living for nothing under this occupation, at least I will die for something.” His friend, also a stone-thrower added, “I have nothing to lose and everything (freedom) to gain.”
My father calls and asks how my day went. I told him they killed another kid. He asks, “What did he do?” I hang up. I’m disgusted.
Sign of our times

On August 19, I finally crack. Two days ago, this story was supposed to be about a miracle survivor, who had cheated death despite the grave nature of his injury. But today, it is not. At 4 am, nine-year-old Milad Ahmed Dar, lost his battle to death after six days of battling hard.

Hailing from Laar in Ganderbal, Milad had gone along with his family, to visit a relative in South Kashmir, said his father Mohammed Amin Dar. He recalled how Milad vomited after he returned home from the darzgah on August 14, and then passed out.

Alarmed by his condition, his family rushed him to a district hospital in South Kashmir amidst violent clashes. “We passed mobs. Then I saw blood on my sleeve. I thought he must have hurt himself when he fainted at home,” said Dar.

Milad was soon referred to a city hospital. A doctor who saw him in the Emergency ward said, “When the child was brought to us, he was already in a coma and was suffering from fits. He was bleeding from his nose and also had a small puncture wound, measuring 0.5 cm on his head. He had a history of fever and diarrhoea.”

He added, “We called the paediatrician and opted for a CT scan, thinking may be it was an infection in the brain. We had no idea he had been shot in the head. Even his parents didn’t know. The bullet had travelled from one side of the brain to the other.”

I had to get to the hospital to see him. I had to see my miracle survivor. I walk for an hour and then hitched a ride in an ambulance. Its easy to walk with a laptop and camera in my bag. Its heavy but I’m numb.

The ambulance driver warns me that if the paramilitary stops them and discovers that I’m a media person, there might be hell to pay. I don’t care. I have to see Milad. I need hope.
I reach the ICU and regret the fact that I made it. They are shooting kids with my tax money. With a tube, sticking out of his mouth, tiny Milad lay on a big bed. Milad looked too tiny on the full-sized ICU bed meant for adults, with his face, bandaged right up to the bridge of his nose. “Fire Arm Injury to head,” the file lying by his bed said. His father hovered around him, with a worried look. Parents feel helpless when they can’t shield their children. In Kashmir, after six decades that helplessness and sadness has ripened to rage. This explains the increasing number of street protests in the last three years.

On condition of anonymity, a doctor said, “No one could explain how, when or where the child was shot in the head. This is the sign of the times we live in. I’m assuming the child must have gone numb in extreme fear or excitement that he did not even feel the pain of the bullet piercing his head. Had he felt pain, the nine-year-old would have complained or cried at least.”

Curfew pass?

In an attempt to collect the pink slip that would allow my free movement in the city for the next four days, I made my way to the Information Department from my home. After all, what good is a journalist cooped up in his or her home at a time when the job requires you to bear witness to what is happening outside?
A group of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel stopped me as soon as I stepped out of the gate. “If there was a curfew in Delhi, would you step out?” he asked. “Yes, I’m a journalist and I need to get my curfew pass,” I replied. There have been several curfew days in the last few months and I’ve stepped out before, I added. He checked my credentials, and let me proceed. The pedestrian after me wasn’t so lucky despite the fact he had a curfew pass. They charged at him with a baton.

Negotiating my way through five groups of argumentative CRPF personnel, I finally heaved a sigh of relief. Had I been a local, there was no way in hell I would’ve been allowed to make the trek. The fact that I look Indian and I’m a woman also helped.

Militarised masculinities

On curfew days and regular days, I walk a lot in the city to take photographs. Some of the policemen and CRPF that morning let me through because they recognised my camera, I guessed. “Madam, I’ve seen you in Maisuma several times during protests,” said a cop. I politely nod and walk on after showing my credentials and explaining repeatedly what I was doing out there.

The only people out on the street were men in uniform and cops in civilian clothes, lots of other government employees from the security sector in cars without number plates and hospital staff on their way to work in ambulances.

Upon my return from the hospital, I was dropped close to home. I walk four hours a day on an average. It helps. The CRPF stops me. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, while the rest of his crew gawked. “Home,” I said. “Where are you returning from?” he persisted. “Work.”
He wasn’t about to give up easily, “Don’t you know its curfew. I didn’t see you earlier on in the day walk from here.” I told him that was because I had a curfew pass and I had taken the bund. Finally, he let me go. But a man with a curfew pass behind me got assaulted with a baton by a local cop.
Nothing feels as rotten as a potent concoction of helplessness and fear. I waited for a few seconds and walked on. I turned back, praying that they had let the man go. Strangely enough, the guy had started walking in my direction as if nothing had happened. Then the realisation hit me, he must be so used to it that batons failed to faze him.

Cope or cop out

There’s no manual one can refer to about coping with non-stop spells of curfew, or being cooped up within four walls with raging emotions that extend from despair to anger and frustration to helplessness. Maybe knowing how prisoners cope within confinement might help in my case.
After all, Kashmir is one big cage with prisoners where no one is allowed to speak, post comments on Facebook without being slapped by draconian laws, protest on the streets against murders or attend funerals only to get fired upon and killed by “security” forces. Nothing is normal here. No one is allowed to be normal. The government probably thinks normal is boring.
The anger and the frustration are, these days, not merely emotions that cloud the collective consciousness of the locals alone. A policeman deputed at a stone-pelting site near the airport, lamented, “We are caught between the government and the people. How much are we expected to endure? I have to go home in my civilian clothes, without the uniform, because of social ridicule. And if the stone-pelters lay their hands on me, they will lynch me. Even my family is not safe because of this job.”

Sources say, usually the authorities don’t cut off the electricity, as they want people to stay home and watch television and not come on the streets to protest. Obviously, this, along with other measures like shooting unarmed protestors in the streets fearlessly has shown little results in changing hearts in Kashmir.
So, while emotions lay bottled up tight into chests tonight, along with the memories of the gruesome past all across the Valley, I lay in my bed and murmur a prayer to defeat hate and fear in me and the rest.

The day the Gods forgot Baramulla

North Kashmir’s Baramulla district is no stranger to violence and bloodshed. But the last few months have been exceptionally hard on its well-conditioned population. With restricted access to press, the grass root-level situation has largely gone unnoticed from July to November 2010.
Palhalan village in Baramulla saw 35 consecutive days of curfew. After a day of relaxation, the authorities resorted to the same strategy to control the situation.
“We have never treated so many patients with gun shot injuries,” said Dr Khursheed Ahmed Khan, Block Medical Officer at Block Kreeri Hospital in the neighbouring village. In the last four months, the number of injured received in the hospital due to bullet injuries was 36, said Dr Khan.
The hospital even now receives four to five cases of “alleged beating” daily, disclosed hospital sources. Going by the statistics, brutality at the hands of the men in uniform is a norm here.

Three women suffered from gunshot wounds in the four-month turmoil in Kreeri - out of them two have crippled for life, disclosed Dr Khan, accessing his records.
A witness outside the hospital recalled, “People were even arrested by the army from this hospital during the unrest. During the first raid in hospital, they caught two protesters injured in firing. Then, personnel from 29 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) of the Indian Army came again and picked up two more boys from the operation theatre,” Shamim Dar (name changed) said.
Recalling the events preceding the hospital raid that day, Shamim, who is a higher secondary student, said, “That day, there was so much shelling (teargas), and two people had been killed in Palhalan. We went to the hospital in Kreeri. Soon the hospital was raided and four people were picked up. They were beaten in police station. They were kept there for six days.”
Razak Malik (name changed), who also escaped from the hospital that day, with a bullet wound remembered, “We went for the funeral of Ghulam Rasool, who had been shot that morning. The forces fired on his funeral at 2 pm. This is not a protest, the people said. A second person was killed there.”
As he lifted his pant to reveal his calf to show us the injury, Razak said that he had not gone to the hospital since that day and had been treating his wound at home.
To save their lives, some of the mourners ran on the hill. “We were six in a group. An army man caught me and the other one shot me from close range. In the scuffle, I got away. Another guy was shot in the stomach. We hid in our homes, as the forces didn’t let us go to the hospital.”
Razak knew the end was near. Fear overcame desperation and the boys decided to defy death. He said, “We took the car and I told the driver to overrun the army personnel if they got in our way. Either way, they would’ve beaten us up despite the bullet injuries. They tried to stop us and broke the windshield of the car.”
Razak had tied his leg but was bleeding profusely. Finally, the group reached the hospital. “The army got there and hit four members of our group with rifle butts while I hid. They even broke Station House Ofiicer’s (Kreeri) wrist. The police intervened and took the detainees with them. When people went to the police station and protested then they released us,” Razak said.
The guy who was shot in the stomach alongside, died. “He was shot in the stomach - through and through – he didn’t make it after he was thrashed. They (security forces) let him bleed to death.”
This was not the end of the turmoil that Palhalan witnessed. After a day of relaxation of curfew last week, the police imposed restrictions again “as a precautionary measure”. Palhalan completed 42 days of curfew on October 31.

The Bullet vs the Stone

An Update:
Since December 2010, SMS services resumed only to post-paid customers in Kashmir. Several leaders of the separatist amalgam of the Valley, the Hurriyat, are still behind bars since their arrest last summer. And so is President Mian Qayum of the Bar Association. In the last few months, almost 5,000 preventive arrests have been made by the security agencies.

The state is readying itself for summer. There are talks of building a new prison. Local newspapers have been warned by the government from refraining from carrying news about Egypt, Tunisia and Lybia. Meanwhile, no one has been accountable for the 123 killings since January 2010. The victims' families are still running from pillar to post.

(Dilnaz Boga is a journalist from Mumbai. She worked for Srinagar-based website Kashmir Dispatch in Jammu and Kashmir in 2010. In 2005, she shot a documentary ‘Invisible Kashmir: The other side of Jannat’ on the psychological impact of human rights violations on the children in Kashmir. She was awarded the Agence France-Presse Kate Webb Prize for her courageous work in Kashmir.)

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