Monday the 18th- Kaani Jung

'Rakshak ko bhejo'

                                                                                      ‘Rakshak ko bhejo’, yell the protesters 

My highly evolved defence mechanism maybe self-destructive for my relationships but it serves me well, in Kashmir. Start getting a terrible feeling in my stomach at six in the morning. ‘ I shouldn’t go to SMHS, today.’ I fall back to sleep. Wake up…it’s drizzling..type my blog post for the previous day least I forget something.

‘It’s raining and there is a tight curfew in our area,’ Mr T informs me. I head off to Nawhatta in an auto. ‘These auto guys are as crazy as I am!’, I think to myself as I sit in one which is willing to take me till, ‘Jahan tak apko jane denge Madam.’ There are a number of autos that have borne the wrath of the stone pelters as well as the security forces. At the first check point we are sent away. We take another route. We are stopped in front of Dastagir Sahib. A look at the id and once it’s determined, (after some confusion about the name) that I am not Kashmiri, (sir papa ka naam dekho) I am given the go ahead. After the ban on newspapers, my peers are looked at unfavourably.

Auto ride through a city under curfew

                                                                Auto ride through a city under curfew

The whole of downtown is cordoned off.There are barbed wires everywhere and unlike the other parts of town there’s no vehicular movement. We don’t get to reach the territory of Mirwaiz but in an auto we’ve gone far enough.

When I reach the hotel I’m told that there’s stone pelting taking place in Chanpora. I send a message to Mr T to reconfirm. ‘It’s over and please don’t go there. It’s Mr Geelani’s area. An MLA has also been attacked’.  I send a message to the former assistant informing him, just incase I need to be bailed out. Off I go in another auto with the condition, ‘Madam auto door rakhenge.’

After the stone pelting in Chanpora

After the stone pelting in Chanpora

 

The lanes are tiny and I am glad I’ve missed the ‘kani jung’. It looks horrific. I take pictures of  JK Police, speak to a person from the locality who shows me the broken window panes of a masjid. ‘We don’t know what to do! The boys are destroying their own property. We are asking them not to. They ask us to speak to the security forces but we can’t. We can only try to stop our own…we are stuck in the middle.’ 

A rickety rickshaw ride back to the hotel and a couple of hours later I get a call from the front desk. ‘Madam, shelling ki awaaz aa rahee he (tear gas shells). Pathraav ho raha he. Dekh le agar jaana he to.’ ‘Shukriyaa Janaab’ , I thank my informant. Batmaloo is the where the trouble has stirred. A boy from that locality has passed away the previous day.

KASHMIR 2016

KASHMIR 2016

IMG_3152

Kashmir Protests 2016

Kashmir Protests 2016

I head off with a new auto driver. Something about the stone pelters has changed. All these years in Kashmir, having covered so many protests, I’ve never faced a scenario where the boys have heckled me. Infact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure my safety. I can’t count the number of times, bystanders as well as protesters have given me shelter in their houses, when the situation became uncontrollable.

 

 

Madam ko bhejo!‘, they yell from the opposite side.  ‘Ghar me Ma nahin he teri,’ yells a JK police sub inspector. ‘ Rakshak ko Bhejo‘, they yell again. ‘JK police hame kuch nahin kareege. Ye hamaare bai he!’. ‘Now we are their brothers,’ he turns around and says to me. The Jammu and Kashmir Police department has recently had to deal with the wrath of the protestors.  It’s a terrible position to be in-going against your own.(to be continued)

 

Kashmir 2016

Kashmir 2016

Saturday the 16th-8th Day Of Curfew In Srinagar

Protests in Kashmir after Burhan Wani killing.

                 Graffiti in Kashmir after Burhan Wani killing.

I wake up to the sound of vehicles. Try to make a call but I’m completely disconnected from the world. Grab a quick breakfast… try to check out the news but the cable is down. Try to find the newspaper but they have been seized so I just start walking towards Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital- the hospital which has received the maximum victims of pellet injuries, since the killing of Burhaan Wani, the twenty-two year old Hizbul Mujahideen commander,  a week earlier. The funeral that was attended by two lakh people spearheaded the protests of 2016 in Kashmir, with many taking to the streets to stone pelt.  The pellet gun which was used as a non lethal weapon to combat the crowd has backfired on us. Around a hundred young boys have suffered injuries to the eye. An unidentified man has died of pellet injuries to his skull on the 9th of July at SMHS and on July 10th Altaf Ahmed from Rajpoora passed away due to pellet injuries to the chest at the same facilities. Kashmir is burning, yet again!

The curfew is a bit relaxed, a few vehicles are seen on the road. A kilometer later, I find an auto. I’m dropped with instructions on where he can be relocated.

I hope the things I mention next aren’t seen as a reflection on Kashmiris but as a reflection of the circumstance in which they find themselves.

As soon as I walk in through the gate of SMHS, I know I’m in trouble. The people of Kashmir have gathered to help their own. There are volunteers running helter skelter, assisting the wounded. The camera and the fact that I’m alone attracts everyone’s attention. Suddenly I’m surrounded by, I can’t even recall how many men. I’m in the middle of a mob and I am their enemy. ‘Vapis jao. Andar nahin jane denge. Humse kuch puchte ho, wahan par kat kat kar kuch aur dikhate ho.’ They don’t want me to enter and I tell them I won’t till they don’t permit me to. But I will stand in a corner quietly, by myself. They leave me to my own devices for a few minutes. Then a man from the Bemina Youth Welfare Committee, strikes up a conversation with me.  ‘Where am I from? What do I want? Why does the media misquote us? What do I want to portray? Have I ever interviewed  the Pandit migrant? Yes! Then why not show the plight of the Kashmiri Muslim migrant?’

By this time I’m sitting on a chair in front of this man and I lose my marbles. His tone and manner, the people around me every thing makes me feel cornered. The truth is – I’m terrified and thankfully I’m most aggressive when I’m most afraid. ‘You’re not the first man who has tried to intimidate me. Please don’t talk to me about Hindus and Muslims. The first time I came here a man such as yourself called me a kafir. In fact, ten percent of the people I meet over here are like you. But I return every year for the ninety who are not like you. The ones who are kind, the ones who invite me into their houses when I am in trouble. If I felt scared I wouldn’t be walking around alone. If you treat people such as myself as enemies, you’re going to defeat the purpose. You have to engage with us.’

I don’t know if it’s the pressure from colleagues in the adjoining tent ( The  Umeed-e-Kashmir), which has been providing water to the attendants of the injured) who are incredibly kind,  my tone or what I now feel is my over sensitivity  but he quickly changes his tune. ‘I was trying to help you and you got angry. I just wanted to understand what you do and help you in any way possible. Go in through the door without stopping and nobody will say anything to you. Aap ne kuch khayaa nahin’, he says as I hand back the cup of tea and biscuits which have been given to me by his colleagues.  ‘Aap jaanti nahin hum Kashmiri khilaa pilaa ke marte he,’ he says grinning sheepishly. ‘Haan Ghushtaba Hospitality kehte he usko.‘ ‘Khaana kha ke jayeega, humare saath,” he says as I wave him goodbye.

By the time I enter, I’ve realised that I should only speak to the women. I ask a few where to go. I reach ward number eight, where some of the patients are recovering. There’s a long line in front of the ward. ‘I ask a woman if I can enter. ‘No we are asking you nicely not to. Please go away from here. Kal media valo ko maad pari he.’ ‘No problem, I will just sit in a corner and not say anything to anyone.’ A man approaches me. ‘Idhar aaiye. Did you not read what is written over here?’, he says pointing to the graffiti  on the wall. ‘Damn my camera bag!’ I think to myself. ‘Endian media and dogs not allowed,’ I read out aloud. ‘No problem. I will not enter. Can I sit over here?’ ‘Sit but don’t approach anyone,’ says the man who is a volunteer and has been recently released from custody (he’s boastfully announced this to me).

A warning, outside the wards.

A warning outside the wards.

 

I don’t need to. People start approaching me. I’m sitting alone on the floor of a hospital, in silent protest. A number of people tell me how the Indian media, edits and misconstructs their statements, that’s why they are weary of me. A young boy from Tral who is recovering from an eye injury and has come for a follow-up, tells me that ‘ iss time azaadi le kar rahenge.’ Another man tells me that I am a few days late. My predecessors (Zee news) have done the damage. I can’t comment, I’ve never watched the channel. All kinds of people approach me, many gentle, many offensive. A man offers to take me inside the ward without my camera. I readily walk in.

It’s sad and scary. Hospital beds lined with boys in their late teens and early twenties, bandages tied to their eyes, some disabled for life. I am escorted out by my companion. Outside the gate a few people strike a conversation. It again becomes a large group. An elderly man comes and disperses everyone who has gathered around me. ‘Mere jigar, agar kuch dikhana he to dikhao ke log kese ek doosre ki madad karte he. Government kuch nahin kar rahee humare leyee, ‘ he says to me as I walk away.

A kilometer later, I start feeling  rather uneasy. I’m being tailed. A Maruti with four men in it is following me. I stop. They stop. I wait they wait. I run to the opposite side and wait. A few minutes pass by. They wait and then leave. I cross the road again, afraid they’ll take a U-turn. I come across two elderly gentlemen sitting by the side of the road. I ask their permission to sit with them. ‘Paanch minute kyaa, pandra minute betho’. As we chat about the situation, a scooter with two boys on it crosses by. They keep staring at me. Again and again and again, they go in circles. ‘I’m just being rather paranoid,’ I think to myself. I turn around to ask the Uncles, if it’s unusual. ‘There are all sorts of people in hospital. Don’t feel afraid, just hit them. Jo dar gayaa voh mar gayaa. If you need to call up someone come to my house and use the landline.’ I politely decline. I wait around for what seems like forever. The boys disappear. I hate walking on the streets of a curfewed city, by myself, catching more attention than is necessary.

I find my auto guy who finds it shocking that I haven’t managed to get anyone on record. I beg him to take me to SKIMS in Soura. He agrees under the condition that I will return with him during prayer time. We cross our first check point. The security forces leave us but ask us to drop a man and his pregnant wife close to our destination. There are many check points on the way but we manage to pass through the deserted city. I breeze in out of SKIMS, with the voice records of a few injured boys and their relatives.

I’m still apprehensive about going back to the hotel. I walk around Lal Chowk and am repeatedly asked by the security forces to find company and stop gallivanting alone. ‘Galliyon mein mat chalo Madam, yeh log kuch bhi kar sakte hein.’ ‘Mujhe kucch nahin karenge sir,’ I say hoping  what I believe is true.

Friday the 15th-Jummah

7th day of curfew in Srinagar.

7th day of curfew in Srinagar.

Apko dar nahin lagta didi?‘, asks my father’s rather chatty chauffeur as he zips me to the airport at half seven. ‘Lagta he!’, I reply distractedly as I play with my phone. ‘Phir kya zarurat he jane ki?’ ‘Maut jahaan aani he, vahi aayegi. Waise bhi- humara kyaa he? Na koin uppar niche, ronewalla na koin ronewalli, janabe alli!’ (Incase you’re wondering, the dramatics are the consequences of my childhood crush on the Angry Young Man).

 

It’s the (in)famous Jummah day in Kashmir. The day when the clashes between the armed force personnel and the protestors are intensified by religious fervour. The killing of Burhan Wani, has had a devastating effect on the people of the Valley. The aftermath of that – more than 37 dead, hundreds injured and blinded due to pellets. This count doesn’t even include the loss of life or the number of injuries suffered by the Armed Forces. Those of us who frequent the Valley, could sense something unsettling was coming this way.
Curfew continues in Kashmir

Friday the 15th-Curfew continues in Kashmir

 

I arrive to a deserted city. It’s eerily peaceful. There’s a curfew but boarding passes are curfew passes, so we are let off easily. The cabbie drops me off in front of the hotel, which is walking distance from trouble. I check in and get to work. The Friday prayers commence. People pray and then leave. I wait around with the men in uniforms, who are kind enough to offer me a chair. I have never been on this side of the fence – no questioning, just politeness and courtesy. Over the walkie talkies it’s ‘alpha’, ‘charlie’ and ‘romeo’.

 

A couple of hours later- the word on the street is – the city has been peaceful. I head back to the hotel. In the evening, the curfew relaxes and I head out to buy some beverages. The hotel is running short of ration supplies. Thankfully, the ‘doomster’, has munchies  to get her through the next few days. I ask a few people but every thing is shut. Right then a scooter stops. ‘Pehchana?’ ‘Haan, photographer hein aap?’. Not that I remember but has to be. Turns out he is. Mr Z, introduces himself and offers me a ride. ‘Did you manage to shoot?’, he asks as I hop on. I give my standard reply to most questions, ‘No.’ ‘But I might go to the hospitals tomorrow,’ I continue. ‘Nahin waha nahin jana. Maar raheen he waha par press ko.’ ‘Since when have kashmiri men started hitting women?’, I ask him. ‘No they won’t look at you as a woman but as a photographer. It’s really bad over there.’ I’m very confused by the time we exchange numbers and say our goodbyes.

 

Buy some stuff from my regular guy at Rajbagh, walk for a few kilometres and find an auto. I ask the auto guy if I will get bashed up by the locals? He’s aghast. ‘You’re our guest, please come and stay with my family. No one will hurt you.’ I thank him profusely. When I reach the hotel, I ask the manager if he’s heard of any such instances. ‘Ofcourse not! No one will do anything to you.’ By dinner time the news has spread. The waiter who comes in to hand over the omelette, is very concerned. ‘Ma’am mene suna he aap ko kissi ne bola ke aap ko maar padegi. Hum aurato ki bohat izzat karte he. Mein aapke saath jaoonga, koi kucch nahin karega.’
I reassure him that I’m aware of the decency of the common Kashmiri man.

 

Right on cue I get a call from my former assistant. He’s one of the few people who is aware of my whereabouts. Since the mobile networks are jammed he’s been unable to get through. ‘Mein ghabra gaya, subha se apka phone nahin mil raha he. Somehow I managed to get through to the hotel. I’ve informed my family that you’re in Srinagar. Go to my house. They’ll take care of all your needs!’ Somehow,  I convince him that it’s important for me to stay put. By the time we say ‘khudda hafiz’, I’ve decided to continue as per my original plan.