I was born in a state of cold war in Kashmir: the late nineties. It followed the infamous early nineties, the most turbulent period in the history of Kashmir. When I was a two-year-old baby, as my mother tells me, I became exposed to a curious case of depression. I did not cry, like normal babies do. I hardly made facial movements and was labeled a sensitive, unsocial, depressed boy at such an early age. I was looked after by a doctor in Jammu later and-as my mother tells me-a certain woman, who was related to us by my maternal grandfather’s side, used to accompany us to Jammu. She was the mother of Masarat Alam Bhat, an epitome of struggle for freedom in Kashmir, and a living presence of the state of youth in the conflict-ridden valley. In the Kot Bhalwal jail, where he was kept under detention, we used to look through a hole made across the wall of the prison and catch his glimpse. We used to stay silent while looking at each other, because we understood our grief through this silence. We heard the silence. We adorned it as the limit of our thoughts. The silence that shattered us. We just felt it. Pain it was. A lot of pain.
Almost two decades have passed since and Masarat today is under detention in the same Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu. The legal fraternity in Kashmir has always challenged his “illegal detention” and the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir has called for the quashing of his detention order several times in the past. But every time the High Court does so, he is slapped with a Public Safety Act by the government which prevents his release.
Lost Life and Lost Dreams
As a witness to the cold war, I saw Ikhwanis (pro-government militia) threaten my father every day, take money, and demand whatever they wished for. I heard about the Kargil War being fought somewhere around the hills of Kargil but hardly saw any Kashmiri take concern about it. It was normal: The war was not ours!
Amid all this chaos, I grew up enthusiastic about cricket. I watched my uncle play cricket all day long. He would hammer bowlers and tell me later that he drew inspiration from Saeed Anwar, a Pakistani cricketer, who would destroy the Indian bowling line-up almost every time there was an India-Pakistan contest. In the evening discussions, at the shop fronts in our village, I would hear everyday people saying, “What a great cricketer Zafar Mir (name changed) is!” This took away all my attention and I began to see myself as a cricketer. I wanted to play like a passionate young man whose first love would always be cricket. This all changed when my uncle took me to a Sufi singers’ gathering in Srinagar. On our return, he told me things that find relevance in today’s Kashmir as well. He told me,”My son, there is no future for cricket in Kashmir. Don’t waste yourself.” The words did not carry strength then and it was just a simple ruling that made me morose for the years that followed.
King can do no wrong
Last month in North Kashmir’s Handwara, a schoolgirl was allegedly molested by soldiers of 21 Rashtriya Rifles. People came out of their houses, protesting the alleged molestation and in retaliation, five people were killed in the collective action of Police and Army, including a promising cricketer.
Overnight the girl’s statement was recorded and spread over social networking sites by some anonymous source. In her statement, the girl denied any hint of molestation. After that, the girl remained in police custody and was hardly allowed to meet lawyers and other independent boards. The Jammu and Kashmir High Court later directed the police to report as to what authority the girl was kept under “illegal detention”. While her police custody continued, her mother revealed that the statement of the girl was recorded under coercion. Almost a month has passed since and the girl and her father are still under detention. The minor girl is caught between the ghost of state machinery and the muddle of societal structure. In the middle of all these restrictions on her body and state of mind, she vows to fight for justice.
For Kashmiris, the Handwara incident is now a memory. They won’t ask you to provide justice to the families of people killed in the incident because in the extended timeline of killings, rapes, tortures, loots, and every damn thing through all these years, justice has never been delivered. ‘Justice’ is just an overused word for them and it exists nowhere. As the old saying goes,” King can do no wrong.”
A Cricketer Killed
Nayeem Bhat was on his way to home after giving camera to his brother. He was shot in the abdomen by the police. Nayeem’s life was cricket and he had wished to play competitive cricket throughout his life. He was a close friend of Parvez Rasool, the only Kashmiri cricketer who plays in the Indian Premiere League. His story became parallel to the stories of thousands of Kashmiris. He was killed like them; made into them: A personification of unaccomplished dreams.
Is Nayeem the only one!?
While Kashmir was mourning the death of Nayeem Bhat, Indian politicians and media turned soft on this. They reported Nayeem’s death without bias, which has otherwise been their practice. But it was not enough for a Kashmiri because there are hundreds of such heroes we have lost in the similar circumstances and where media has protected the arbitrary government actions. Mudasir Ahmad Kachroo, a young footballer, was killed in the 2010 uprising when he was hit in the chest by a teargas canister hit by police in Sopore. Mudasir had represented the valley in different football teams. The story for which I decided to write this article and forms its essential part is untold yet. It is the story of Sajad Ahmad Shah, a young cricketer from Maisuma in the Srinagar City who was killed in the uprising against the Indian rule on 4th of April, 1989.
Sajad Ahmad Shah- A story of Unaccomplished Dreams
Reportage is not easy in Kashmir. One gets to face difficulties of every possible nature. And if you are not a journalist like me, then it is way too tough because people won’t believe you. They take Kashmir to be an industry; a money making industry. Being the unseen targets of violence, their understanding is blameless: “One man’s loss is another man’s profit.”
As I headed towards Sajad’s home, I was received by a woman on the front door. There were no men in their house and she gave me address to the shop of Shabir Ahmad Shah (Sajad’s brother). Shabir is a retired bank employee and runs a shop in Maisuma. I was delighted by his virtuous nature. It all went like a one-way conversation and he answered all the questions I could possibly have asked.
“It was Tuesday. 4th of April, 1989. We closed our shop around 11:30 am because of some disturbance in the city. I asked Muna (Sajad’s nickname) to deposit money in a bank near Jahangir Hotel. He came back home and had lunch. Our mother herself made him eat some morsels of rice in the end so that she was satisfied by his having eaten his meals.”
Of course, there can be no greater satisfaction for a mother than to feed her child with her own hands.
“We asked him earlier to not move out as there were apprehensions of larger disturbances in the valley. I was employed at Batamaloo branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank those days. Around 1:15 pm in the day, Muna was not present at home. My mother asked me to look for him but I could not find him anywhere. I went to KMD bus yard by foot and heard three bullets fired near Budshah Chowk in the city centre. I became frightened and looked through an alley. I could see a silent brigade of soldiers roving across the street. There was a noise on the other side of the road and I found one of my neighbors there. He was perhaps known to the fact that Muna had been hit and asked me to follow him. When I entered the crowd and saw the body, it was gloom. I was no more in my senses and we headed towards SMHS hospital. They denied us any entry and we learnt later that Muna had already been dead. His body was taken by police. I went to Police Control Room, Batamaloo but they did not handover his corpse to us. Later, Watali, who represented the PCR Batamaloo, asked me to wait till the crowd was dispersed.”
As I listened to him patiently, I could see numbness in his eyes. They turned heavy by the thought of a painful, three-decade-old memory. Sajad was just a memory now.
“Sajad was passionate about cricket. He played in the C.K Naidu tournament and helped Jammu and Kashmir win a match by hitting a last ball six over Chetan Sharma. He hit an unbeaten 87 runs that day. Javed Miandad did it some years later to the same bowler. He was a complete all-rounder and one of the strong contenders to make it to the Indian Team. When he was not listed in any teams later and was made to face gross discrimination, he was enraged. Vivek Razdan was taken into the Indian Team in the same year but Sajad’s performance was never rewarded. It left him dejected.”
I asked him if cricket was a new thing to the family as a whole as it must have been a novel thing those days.
“Sajad did it all by himself. We did every possible thing for him to make him realize his dream.”
Shabir also told me about the memories with his late mother.
“As power shortage was a norm those days (today even, it is the same), Sajad had asked for a TV which could run on batteries. As our parents had decided to go to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage the following year, they returned with the TV, only to fulfill a dead son’s wish. The TV is in his old room now where we have kept his trophies.”
Sajad was active about the politics as well and had given full support to the Muslim United Front in the 1987 rigged elections. He was also a JKLF sympathizer. As Shabir told me about the lack of electricity those days, I found it deeply relevant in today’s Kashmir as well- while I am arranging this story and punching the keys of my laptop, it’s 2:30 in the night and there is no electricity in my hostel. I extend the prospect of my eyes and I can see mountains overlooking Srinagar lit by powerful lamps. It’s for army bunkers. They need it more than I need it. It’s occupation.
Sajad’s parents died briefly after performing Hajj. His mother fell to a fatal injury on head which she suffered while mourning at Sajad’s death.
As I thanked Shabir and decided to head towards home, I was faced with thoughts of dejection. I was despondent. Am I still the jugular vein of dead men? Whose integral part am I? The opportunistic countries which never respected our culture and always harmed the mandate of a free and dignified Kashmir. In Kashmir, we call their policies as the ‘cycle of killings’. Some name it the ‘structure of violence’. Through our bloodstained memories, we see ourselves as the victims of cultural aggression. Our dignity and identity have been put to an unfathomable challenge, and after the suffering of almost six decades, the voice is defiant: Resolve Kashmir and stay in peace!
(Aarif Muzafar Rather is a freelance writer based in Kashmir. He is pursuing bachelors in Law from Central University of Kashmir.)
This story appeared in The Quint –