Kashmir in the doghouse

In a recent incident a young lawyer from North Kashmir lost his life battling the wounds after he was attacked by a pack of dogs. This is not the first such horrible incident. We have had many in the past years. Just skimming through the newspaper files one can get an idea of how street dogs have made the life of people hell in Kashmir. The complaints from almost all areas in Srinagar city, and from all towns and villages in Kashmir, are endless. In this background, we reproduce an article published years back in Greater Kashmir in the context of a similar news story. This can give us an idea of how the administration has failed to solve this problem. Also, how the people of Kashmir are condemned to live in a situation where even the loss of life means a trifle nothing.

The lead story in Greater Kashmir on April, 24th 2012, “Bloodbath by Dogs” is surreal. The news story quotes witnesses saying, “people were literally seen running for cover as the dogs kept attacking the humans”. This is macabre.

The future looks abominable and wretched because “experts predict that dogs are becoming confident to attack humans because of their growing population”.

It is a “story” right from the stable of  Saadat Hasan Manto: stark, scary and symbolic. For good measure, it is laced with black humour. Indeed, if anything, it is the actualisation of Manto’s fictional story, “Teethwal Ka Kuta”. On the face of it, in his story, the dog is the victim, but in the real life in Kashmir, it is the human being who is being victimised.

When you move beyond the literal, in Manto’s brilliant short story, the innocent dog subject to political brutality is symbolically the Kashmiri. Called Jhunjhun by the Indians and Sunsun by Pakistanis, he doesn’t know whether he is a  Pakistani or an Indian and is eventually killed in the crossfire between the two! Not far from the truth as it has been unfolding over the years.

After 60 years Manto’s powerful symbolism about Kashmir has transformed itself into the reality of Kashmiris in Kashmir thereby blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

The issue facing the state government now is how to deal with the “dog menace”. How they deal with it will depend, as evocatively described by Manto, on the nationality of the dogs.

The way Manto described it, is worth reproducing: “The dog went to Harnam Singh who produced a cracker from his kitbag and threw it on the ground. The dog sniffed at it and was about to eat it, when Harnam Singh snatched it away. ‘. . . Wait, you could be a Pakistani dog.’

They laughed. Banta Singh patted the animal and said to Harnam Singh, ‘Jamadar sahib, Jhun Jhun is an Indian dog.’

‘Prove your identity,’ Harnam Singh ordered the dog, who began to wag his tail. “This is no proof of identity. All dogs can wag their tails,’ Harnam Singh said.

‘Even dogs will now have to decide if they are Indian or Pakistani,’ one of the soldiers observed. And all Pakistanis, including dogs, will be shot.’ A soldier shouted, ‘India Zindabad.

So, juxtaposing Manto’s fiction with reality, while the Pakistani dogs will be shot, the Indian dogs will be castrated or, as the animal rights activists call it, sterilised. The Kashmiri dogs, one presumes, will either be killed or castrated depending on who they move with. They have no independent identity in this binary scheme of things. There is nothing personal in this. It is all in the cause of national building.

Except of course for some pecuniary gains! The height of insidiousness and treachery is that even in killing or castrating of dogs, some influential people are trying to make money.

Greater Kashmir has “learnt from reliable sources that some influential people are eyeing to bag dog sterilization project worth millions in the coming years. They have started some mischief of morphing videos on internet to show that people in Srinagar were “ill treating the dogs”.

Even the police seems appalled by this theatre of the absurd, as a senior police official has apparently told Greater Kashmir that ” It is height of greediness that at such critical juncture some want to make money out of this dog business”! Never mind the implication that that in non critical junctures, it is ethical to make money on nation building causes!

From the sublime to the ridiculous. The government seized with a missionary zeal to eliminate the dogs, has after one year of deliberation reached a major landmark: estimating the actual number of dogs. With unprecedented bureaucratic brilliance it has  estimated that dog population to be only “91,110” and not 1 lakh as generally perceived by everyone. No government, autonomous or dependent can get more precise than this!

This precision, it is learnt, has been made possible by the revolutionary method adopted for the dog census: count the number of legs of each dog in srinagar, divide it by four to get the number of dogs. Some rounding off was necessary to get the exact number!

In anticipation of the dogs being in a majority and  exercising their democratic right to rule, the government has “advertised posts of “dog caretakers” for Srinagar’s unemployed youth who if selected will be given a consolidated salary of Rs 3300 per month”. So even the  poor, apolitical and unelected Kashmiri will now have to serve the dogs of all hues and shades.

In the day to day realm, by having a group of dog caretakers, the state government is creating a vested interest among the young to perpetuate the dog menace. They will do so to claim regularisation and thereafter seek a cadre and status at par with government employees in salary and pensionary benefits!

Notwithstanding such generosity by the government, the Kashmiris, as has been well propagated over the years, will never be loyal to the India. As Manto’s protoganist Banta Singh says in the immortal line,  ‘Dogs can never digest butter”.

So, the Kashmiris will continue to bark, even if they don’t bite. That is not a problem as free speech is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India; even for dogs. Though more often than not some act like AFSPA will be invoked to limit the bark if it tends to become a howl.

This is a steady state of affairs in which both India and Pakistan are happy. As Manto pens it:

“Both Himmat Khan and Harnam Singh were laughing boisterously. The dog began to run towards Harnam Singh, who abused him loudly and fired. The bullet caught him in the leg. He yelped, turned around and began to run towards Himmat Khan, only to meet more fire, which was only meant to scare him. ‘Be a brave boy. If you are injured, don’t let that stand between you and your duty. Go, go, go,’ the Pakistani shouted.

The dog turned. One of his legs was now quite useless. He began to drag himself towards Harnam Singh, who picked up his rifle, aimed carefully and shot him dead.

Subedar Himmat Khan sighed, ‘The poor bugger has been martyred.’  Jamadar Himmat Singh ran his hand over the still-hot barrel of his rifle and muttered, ‘He died a dog’s death.’

The only question that begs an answer is that after the dogs are sterilised, will they stop biting? That is exactly the question asked by the Honorable Chief Justice of J&K F M Ibraheem Kalif-ul-lah. As of now, this remains unanswered. Till it is answered, it is a dog’s life for the Kashmiris.

Unless, of course, Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s memorable poem, Kutay, is internalised by them:

Yeh mazloom makhlooq ger sar utha’ay

To insaan sab sar-kashi bhool ja’ay

Yeh chaahain to duniya ko apna bana lain

Yeh aaqaa’on ki haddiyaan tak chabba lain

Koi in to ehsaas-e-zillat dila day

Koi in ki soee hui dum hila day!!!