When she travelled outside Kashmir for the first time last year, to visit me in Chandigarh, I was taken aback by an unexpected but stark observation from my apolitical mother. “There are no forces here on the roads,” she said. Today, and for the past many days, the promised dawn of a new Kashmir, to my mother and everyone there, means a siege: More gun-wielding men and suspension of all that is law and order.
An out-of-the-blue phone call lasting 30 seconds on the morning of August 19 has been my only contact with the family since I returned to Chandigarh after living under curfew for a week. The television here roars, though, that Kashmir is peaceful and normal. But the memories of my time in Kashmir make me want to use the endangered right to dissent. Having travelled on empty roads and beyond concertina wires, I think we may need a law to abrogate the existing definitions of peace, paradise and normalcy.
I have been living outside Kashmir for exactly two years and five months. I have an Islamic name but the last time I attended a mosque must have been during my school days. However, as the debates about religion and region get shriller, I am reminded of my identity — a Muslim from Kashmir — at each moment when I think of using Article 19 of the Constitution of India, or merely when telling someone my name. The fear of the unknown, and the known, restricts my expression. The distrust on the streets of those not conforming to the ideas of a brute majoritarianism has made me feel more “Muslim” than a preacher in my neighbourhood would have.
When Article 370 was brought down in broad daylight, it was not merely the promise of letting a people decide their own destiny which was buried, again. It was perhaps also the burial of the façade of the so-called “mainstream” in Kashmir which would previously tell us — the apparent fence-sitters in this conflict — that India has a special place in its heart for us, citing Article 370. Today, that “mainstream”, too, has been arrested in Kashmir. I am sure a free court witnessing a democracy snatch the constitution of a region without consulting its people would term it as the undermining of the principles of natural justice.
“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst,” said Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud in August last year. On August 10, this year, I landed at Srinagar airport and witnessed a sea of anxious faces waiting for their loved ones, to take them home, away from the streets filled with guns, teargas canisters and chilli grenades. This is my memory of the promised new constitutional privileges in Kashmir. As for the statements being made by demagogues claiming that we will soon be “developed”, Kashmir will remain a place of unrest even if it has those beautiful mountains where you wish to have your own plot already. The claimed calm and normalcy only make the headines look good. My mother has not heard my voice since last Saturday — she will tell you what peace means.
What happens after this so-called historic development? I have only known twisted meanings of peace and normalcy all my life; so excuse me if I cannot even hope for it because the academic definitions are too deceptive.
Think about those under lockdown and pray that this — absence of any information about your loved ones — never impacts your homes and hearts. I am not invoking your conscience, though. That has been an obsolete term for a long time. Empathy already stands revoked.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 23, 2019 under the title ‘Empathy stands revoked’. Write to the author at email@example.com.