It was quarter past eight in the evening on July 10 when we heard a commotion. We were playing with our toddler inside the house. At first, we did not know what made the loud, cracking noises. It sounded like a truck backfiring on the highway. Almost immediately, a person came rushing inside, puffing to catch his breath. “There is firing going on outside at a bus,” he said. In a couple of minutes my husband, Syed Abid, who is the deputy commissioner of Anantnag, made phone calls and went out to take stock of the situation. The spot where the bus carrying pilgrims to Amarnath was attacked is a stone’s throw away from our residence. Not knowing exactly what had happened, I went out in the mayhem and found an acquaintance, a local from Anantnag, who looked shocked. I could feel his agony as he said, “What had these people done to them? Why are they ruining everyone’s lives? Things are going to be very bad. They shouldn’t have done this.”
Such killing of innocent people, who were visiting Kashmir during their holy month to perform religious duties, cannot serve any cause. What is it that the attackers were trying to prove? That they can use violence brazenly, against anybody and everybody? Or have they sown the seeds of their own destruction? No Kashmiri can associate with this bloodshed and violence.
I returned home, shaken to the core. How many have died, how many are injured? I couldn’t help thinking of my parents who had just returned from umrah the week before, after the holy month of Ramzan. I kept thinking how tragic it would be for the families of these yatris back home to hear that they would never be able to see their father, mother, sons or daughters. They would have seen them off with the hope that they’ll pray for all their wishes to come true when they reach the holy cave.
I switched on the TV to find that news of the attack was already out. Just then, I received a call from my brother in Jammu to make sure I was okay. Within 10 minutes, I started receiving calls from everyone I know to confirm that I was safe.
We were physically unharmed. But are we, all of us, really safe? As the mother of an infant, I shudder at the thought of the next generation not being safe from the growing hatred, animosity, the feeling of otherness among communities and an environment of fear and suspicion. In Kashmir, we are seeing each day, our young ones increasingly getting pulled into the quagmire of violence.
I collected myself and decided to call my husband to check on him and the situation on the ground. He was at the district hospital attending to the injured and sounded extremely upset. The victims were innocent civilians, many of them women, who had travelled all the way to pray at the shivaling at Amarnath. As a young IAS officer posted in the restive South Kashmir for the last two-and-a-half years, he is a witness to the violence in the region.
As someone born and brought up in Kashmir, with values of hospitality, humanism and tolerance, he could barely accept the course of events. What and who could possibly comfort a human being who had just lost a family member while on a religious journey in the land of the Sufis?
Likewise for me, as a Kashmiri, the fulcrum of our socio-cultural existence has always been multiculturalism, tolerance, compassion, accommodation of the other view point and a syncretic inter-faith existence. The attack delivers all these values a body blow. It brings a bad name to our collective existence, the much fabled kashmiriyat. It exposes the violence that knows no boundary of race, religion, creed, colour or the human cost it involves.
But this incident also made me realise that all of us in Kashmir stand together in unequivocal condemnation of the violence. Across the board, everyone I knew was aghast and lost no time in expressing it on social media groups. The civil society, media, trade bodies, doctors and political organisations — mainstream or otherwise — were quick to state that the attack wasn’t on the pilgrims but on all Kashmiris and our ethos. The attackers had managed to murder the yatris but the attack also brought us all together to raise our voice against the pathological mindset that targets innocent non-combatants.
As a daughter of the soil, I can’t reconcile with the fact that guests, pilgrims no less, had come to my home state and were killed in cold blood.
I was overwhelmed by this deep sense of guilt and shame. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. At 4 am, I saw dawn breaking and I told myself that the darkest hour was just before sunrise. I reminded myself that this is neither our culture nor our religion. The perpetrators of this heinous crime are not Kashmiris or Muslims or perhaps even human.