Experiencing the Siege at Home

Before returning, everyone asked me to postpone my trip till things get better, but I was adamant to visit my family here since I was born and brought up in Kashmir and curfew and protests were not new words in my vocabulary.
Experiencing the Siege at Home
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I am in Kashmir for my five-year-old son's summer vacations. Before returning, everyone asked me to postpone my trip till things get better, but I was adamant to visit my family here since I was born and brought up in Kashmir and curfew and protests were not new words in my vocabulary. After all I was raised in the 90's here. I believed I had lived through the worst and any situation in Kashmir shouldn't scare me from coming home.

Curfew isn't a new term for me. There was a curfew in place on my wedding day back in 2010. My groom had to wait till late night to come to my home. When he finally arrived, my cousin humorously whispered in his ear, "we promised you the bride on 10th but now its 11th, so you might have to go back empty handed."

This time when I landed at the airport everything seemed normal but the moment we stepped out of the airport there was an eerie silence. Few vehicles were seen on the road, the same road where I was stuck in traffic for about an hour and was about to miss my flight on the day when I last left Kashmir. Ambulance with siren on drove past us and I felt goose bumps. The air near home smelt of teargas and we could see the smoke.

It didn't take me long to understand that the situation this time is really bad here after all it is the 41st day of curfew and restrictions in the valley. Recently, both India and Pakistan celebrated their Independence Day, and here in Kashmir we were all caged in what is the highest militarized zone in the world. All forms of communications were shut down and we had no internet, no phone services and no cable TV. Now even night curfews have been imposed by the authorities. Although the broadband was restored in some areas, but phones are still dead.

More than 6o people are dead, over 5000 injured and 500 have lost their eyesight As a mother of two kids, one of whom is an infant, I feel I should have reconsidered my decision to come but then I think of numerous other mothers like me who have young kids at home. I can understand their helplessness when any incident happens.

I think of their resilience, of their courage, of their pain and of their suffering when there is teargas in the air and they can do nothing to save their infants from its effect. When kids as young as one are hit by pellets and they can do nothing to soothe their pain; when young boys are shot in their mothers lap and they fall asleep never to wake up; when young children are blinded forever, turning their world dark forever.

When I think of them, I realize I am home and one can ever run away from home.

Few days ago one such incident happened right outside our gate. One of the high rank police officer of our area was transferred because apparently he had no prisoners in his police station. He would arrest the protesting young boys and then set them free after a warning.

The new officer who came in his place in order to please his superiors had to do things differently. He made a few rounds of our lane with his entourage and when he saw he had nothing to control or stop, he caught hold of three boys, the residents of some village in south Kashmir who had rented a place in our locality. These boys were beaten mercilessly. Our lane is given many names by the young boys who protest, like they call it "khuje gali" (elite lane) since no one ever protests here for anything.

In order to create fear among people this lane was the safest place for him to exercise terror. He fired pellets which broke the glass panes of our neighbor's window. Luckily no one was hurt. He even wasted a canister of teargas to disperse a crowd that wasn't!

This incident happened right outside our main gate and this changed, rather confused, many notions of my so called NRI son. He became inquisitive as everyone started shouting "pellet ha chalyikh" (pellets are being fired). The next day he tells me, "ma I don't want to go to the garden to play, the police fires pellets there".

My son was not born here so obviously he had different notions of various things. He wasn't accustomed to conflict vocabulary and terminology. Surprisingly, the last 17 days we have been here has taught him words like pellets, bullets, tear gas and pepper gas. His young mind is not able to comprehend why the reality is different in Kashmir. Normally the good cops put the bad guys in prison but here the bad cops fire pellets at small kids who can never be bad.

Initially, he failed to understand why we couldn't go to the supermarket in the mid-day but now he knows that the army has put us under curfew.

Few months ago, when I was in my home abroad, one early morning my son and father in law were having an argument because my son was repeatedly shouting that he is from India and my father in law was strongly reacting, telling him 'we are from Kashmir, not India.' I could repeatedly hear them shout India-Kashmir, India-Kashmir. My son was drawing the Indian Flag and asked my father in law to show him the Kashmir flag if the Indian Flag didn't belong to him so that he could correct his teacher. I requested my father in law not to confuse his young mind and that we will explain him the reality the day he is old enough to understand.

That day I realized it will take me a long time to explain the reality of his motherland to him. I knew I had to tell him endless stories and answer his endless questions but I didn't want to force my ideas upon him and certainly not too soon.

Luckily, I didn't have to make a lot of effort. Experience is the best teacher. His stay here for the past three weeks has taught him a lot. This makes me realize it certainly wasn't a bad decision to come home irrespective of the situation. He belongs here and he needs to have his own lessons. As I was about to end this piece, he came and asked me, "Mom, what is Azaadi?"

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