Growing up in conflict

The six people who were taken by the Army during the crackdown were taken to the nearby Girls College and gunned down before forces could proceed to their camps for rest, and call it a day.
GK Photo
GK Photo

The conflict is not the same for children and adults. Adults know the luxury of normalcy, while for the children who haven't seen anything else, conflict is the normal – no matter how grotesque and gory. Each one of us who has lived through 1990s in Kashmir has Kafkaesque experiences to share, but one realizes the atypicality only after being exposed to the standard-life outside.

Prelude: The first consequence with the children my age (born in the mid-80's) was that we weren't allowed to play with certain kind of toys- Guns & Pistols. I had a huge crush on a big gun with a shoulder-stock that Bashir's grocery store had, on the Eid eve. He had just one piece.  While importuning my parents at home, I'd rush to Bashir's store repeatedly just to see if it's still available. An indefatigable child that I was, the plea was accepted. Now, the steps to Bashir's store were brisk fearing the verve with which I had witnessed other children pursuing it. It was liberally priced at Rs. 46- a high-end toy in downtown those days. I visited maternal-home on the same day- of course without my real-looking gun and had to stay there overnight. In the interim, there was a crackdown (CASO, nowadays) in my area, and the first thing my mother had done was to blow my gun to smithereens and dump it in an adjacent garbage area. The next day when I went to see its remains, it was so minutely destroyed that it was akin to powder, and so was my heart.

Times were so tough that only miracles could facilitate your survival. In one such incident, during a crackdown when Grand Father and Father were out for the usual parade, militants sneaked into the kitchen garden, and then through the window into the kitchen. Our relatives/neighbors who lived on the same piece of land that we did- although our entrances on the main road were separate- joined us in those testing times. My mother lied down on the veranda, almost unconscious, awaiting an inevitable disaster. The army would start searching all the houses anytime now, and our gate being on the main road could be one of the first ones. These rebels did not possess weapons, which still makes me doubt if they really were the militants or just had some association (loosely called 'Soyath'). Nevertheless, they feared for life if they went for the parade like other men did. At the same time, they had no contingency plan. They weren't even hiding. They were sitting in our living room, having tea, which was served by my brave-heart grandmother, and nonchalant aunt of my father who lived next door. My mother was surprised- and still is- to see them exhibiting hospitality in abundance, asking them to eat another Lavas'e (bread). The search operation began and forces entered other houses. To cut the long story short, ours being the biggest house and broadest front wall on the main road, apart from a series of shops, was the only house that was not checked. Our neighbors who I said lived in the same 'Angan', were also thoroughly searched. In the evening, when I saw Army leaving, through a hole in window glass (through which I have seen much of Tehreek), I saw death going away, still fearing they might not screech their brakes again. While the adult men of our house were on their way back home, oblivious to the day-long trauma we had faced, we heard 6 gunshots. The six people who were taken by the Army during the crackdown were taken to the nearby Girls College and gunned down before forces could proceed to their camps for rest, and call it a day. Seeing such a 'justice delivery system',  I realized the authenticity of the apprehensions of these unarmed young men who were in our house. I felt we saved their lives. It was true. I'd then see them at ice cream parlor, and they'd greet me. I could never find if they even had a gun.

A few days later, our family was at my Puphi's residence when a grenade was thrown at the army convoy outside. As per army, they saw one out of the two militants running towards the few houses- one of them being my aunt's. Some 11 men including my father were called out, and houses searched. Knowing such operations, my father held my sleeping baby-sister in his arms and went out, only to be objected by the forces. The plan hadn't worked, although my aunt and mother had pinched my sister to make her cry, which could have then been presented as proof that the baby wants to be with her father. She did not cry. The army major said to his lieutenants that it's got to be one out of these 11 men. 'Kill them all' were the words. They were asked to show their backs, which is when the somewhat unintelligible wireless voice said some known Mukhbir will come to identify. The face-covered Mukhbir, who supposedly knew the two militants, confirmed there is none among these. 

I wrote a detailed account of another incident titled- When I found a human thumb- in this newspaper couple of years ago. Many other similar spine-chilling death shaves come to my mind, where a similar wireless message or other reasons saved my family. There are a plethora of such incidents which we all must share and archive in our history.

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