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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 29, July 10, 2010

Kashmir: The Turmoil Within

Friday 16 July 2010, by Humra Quraishi

Why can’t the Commission-cum-Panel on Child Rights order a probe into the killings of school-going boys on the streets of Srinagar city? Rather blatant killings out there, in broad daylight. And when this Commission can order a probe into any unnatural death of any child across the country, so shouldn’t the children of the Valley come in its very focus? In fact, last evening whilst hearing that follow-up on that young student of Kolkata’s La Martiniere School who’d hung himself within days of being caned by the school Principal, it struck: in recent months the four school-going boys killed on the streets of Srinagar were not exactly caned but fired at. Shot dead, allegedly by the security forces. Yet no investigative follow-ups, no raising of horror-stricken voices from the rest of us.

In fact, this week I was all set to write details of the days I was in Srinagar but the news of class 12th student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo has overshadowed the rest of those details …Anyway, let me try and piece together some of those. Foremost, it was more than apparent that there was an air of enthusiasm amongst tourists heading for the Valley and adjoining locales. Seated next to me, on the flight from New Delhi to Srinagar, was a Bengali family—Senguptas from Chhattisgarh. Their first visit to the Valley and unlike those previous years they or for that matter other tourists were not in any of those camouflaging moods. Bindis, saris, jeans, skirts—all there; and this in itself was enough to relay ‘healthy signs’—in the sense there were no fears, no apprehensions. And on my way back, two engineers sat on the seats next to mine. Prithpal Singh and Ram Gopal Singh had spent several weeks in Srinagar. In between coughing and sneezing, Prithpal kept offloading details of what they ate, shopped, saw and sensed. And it’s precisely this—what they sensed and saw—that held out, for he laid threadbare his observations along the strain—the Army will never be moved away from the Valley because by now they have got accustomed to camping in civilian terrain. And, mind you, a terrain like the Kashmir Valley and the benefits it holds out. Even as he was detailing the long list of positives that the Valley holds out, we landed in New Delhi amidst a raging dust storm and rising temperatures.

And settling back to routine I have been reflecting on what I could sense and see as I’d gone about the Valley…life is going on, but decay seemed more than writ large. Garbage dumps and heaps seemed bigger than ever before, drains stood choked even as nauseating smells spread along roads and by-lanes of the downtown areas and even around those newly constructed colonies on way to the airport. Not to overlook stray dogs roaming rather freely around those piles. It did come as a shock for Srinagar had never looked so neglected and run down. I think the Valley should declare that it’s all ready to host the next Commonwealth Games and, then, there could be those orders to get spruced up. However cosmetically, but at least some sort of gaudy, hastily put make-up will make its presence felt and seen!

And unlike previous years the average Kashmiri did not burst out in anger but that anger is now simmering. Yes, anger is there, and why not? As I have just mentioned, four young boys shot dead in these recent months and that too in the city. What must be happening in rural pockets can just about be imagined. And though a year has passed, till date the murder and rape of the two Shopian women remain bundled in mystery. Well, not for most of us but officially it isn’t a closed case. And the long list of those disappeared and killed in fake encounters isn’t receding. In fact, there are additions to those numbers…

To judge a person’s turmoil you have to just about see the pain tucked in those eyes. And I saw that pain in the eyes of almost all Kashmiris I’d met and interacted with… And some of those eyes stand still, as though questioning and demanding justice. Why can’t the persons manning those high powered commissions and panels wake up and see the plight of the affected families in the Valley?

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