Sunday, August 1, 2010

Children of conflict

JUST as the bus took a turn on a narrow winding road to Patnitop, I woke up. I hadn’t been sleeping, but it felt like waking up. The first cold breeze, the mountains, the clouds and huge swathes of sky — I was on my way home. After 15 months in Delhi, this was my sixth visit home, the first by road. This time, I had come to find answers — what was it about Kashmir that made my life in Delhi miserable, each evening agonisingly long? Why did I wake up each morning joining together the faint traces of a Kashmiri dream? What was it about Kashmir that I missed the most?In Delhi, news from Kashmir is filtered, and when confirmed by reporter friends in the Valley, every incident seems bigger and more hurtful. The Shopian incident, the fake encounters in Machil, stone pelting, the firings on the crowds, and the dead; all freeze to icicles — cold and numb. Each evening we discuss Kashmir, or what is left of it.

The bus journey takes almost 18 hours, hundreds of treacherous curves, potential shooting stones and checkpoints to reach the Jawahar tunnel — a 2.5 km long stretch of darkness that is the world’s only connection to Kashmir. The darkness lasted for more than two minutes, and just when we made it out, everything seemed accentuated. The small white flowers were as distinct as the Kalashnikovs that lined the road. The huge writing on the sign boards was clear — ‘CRPF welcomes you to Kashmir’.

I was lucky I wasn’t shot, but the guy next to me had his intestines splattered on the road

I was home — the guns and the roses, the mountains and the convoys, the searches and parades, the waving paddy fields with soldiers standing still, almost like camouflaged scarecrows.Everytime I see soldiers, I remember life till now. When I was ten, my mother would dress me like a girl during crackdowns so that soldiers wouldn’t pick me up. On long afternoons, my friends and I would play the militants — hold cricket bats and tennis rackets like guns and shoot at each other, using plastic balls for grenades. I was 14 when I was first slapped for not carrying an identity card. I was 20 when soldiers made me walk barefoot on a hot July road for answering back. I almost got shot at 22 while covering the ‘Muzaffarbad chalo’ rally in 2008. I was lucky, but the guy next to me had his intestines splattered on the road.Just before the bus reached Srinagar, I realised that one thing I hadn’t seen in Delhi was concertina wires, and I missed them terribly. They are far more interesting than barbed wires. Once, late at night, my arm got trapped in them and it took two friends and four cuts to get out. Now, near Broadway cinema, were long stretches of concertina wires sprawled alongside the roads and I almost smiled. I looked at my arm and the marks were still there, like the memories.The next day, two boys were killed. I have been home for six days, and the city has been shut for four. Life is slow; the mornings, the afternoons, the evenings — all are distinct. In the two days the city opened, I went to the new CafĂ© Coffee Day. The lights were sparkling, the glass tables shining and the barbecues sizzling in the garden. It was all surreal — from the people to the menu. The return to Kashmir is a return to the surreal.The day after, two porters were killed by the army in Machil, and protestors clashed with soldiers half a kilometre from my home. The soldiers chased them in gypsies and the boys ran, warning us on the way to do the same. My Kashmiri friends and I ran at once, but our journalist friend from Delhi couldn’t understand immediately and took a moment to follow. We hid in a dark garden under a starry sky at a relative’s home. It was his first real feeling of fear, he said. And when I laughed loud, he begged me to shut up with his finger on his lips.

I laid down on the moist grass, looking up at the sky in silence. I knew what I had missed all along. I missed Kashmir — as it was, as it is.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kashmiri youth aquitted after 14 years still not free.



For Ravi Kazi, a lawyer in Delhi court, a bail application of his
client has become, by far, his most important case these days. Kazi, a
Kashmiri Pandit, represents Mirza Iftikhar Hussain, who was acquitted
in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar bombing case after 14 years of imprisonment,
for a fight which Iftikhar had while in prison. Since Iftikhar’s
aqquital on April 8, Kazi has been trying unsuccessfully to get the
bail; today was another failed attempt.

“What will I tell his sisters and mother today? They will think I am
not getting him out because I am a Kashmiri Pandit and am not helping
him,” Kazi says to SAR Geelani and another Kashmiri Muslim friend, who
were also waiting for Iftikhar’s bail. “The judge is on leave today.
Inshaallah, I will get him, free on May 4,” Kazi finally told one of
Iftikhar’s sisters on April 30, the last hearing date.

A bail application was made for Iftikhar in which the court of
Additional Sessions Judge, Nivedita Anil Sharma granted the bail in
the sum of Rs 15000 with one local surety in the same amount, a surety
bond of SAR Geelani, an Arabic lecturer at DU, was put before the
court but after enquiry, it was dismissed on default.

“I then got my friend, a senior editor of an Urdu magazine, to submit
the bail bond but the court rejected it on the ground that he has no
command over the accused’s conduct in Kashmir while himself sitting in
Delhi,” said Geelani. “How can we get a local surety in Delhi who has
command in Kashmir also,” Geelani said.

Then, another bail bond of Geelani was filed which the court sent for
enquiry and when the charge sheet was filed that the accused’s Kashmir
address was not written on the file. “We said that the address should
be confirmed from the prison authorities where the accused was for 14
years,” says Kazi. “But the court decided to send an IO physically
from here to Kashmir to confirm the address and when he has come today
after all confirmations, the judge is absent,” Kazi says.

“It never takes so long to get a bail in these cases and especially in
a case where the accused has been acquitted after 14 years. There was
no justification for adopting the procedure. It seems that it is
simply to delay his delay his release,” Kazi said.

In 2008, in Tihar (Jail No. 1), Iftikhar, while in 12 th year of his
under-trial imprisonment, had a fight with another inmate Satinder
Singh Pal alias Twinkle who was serving time under MCOCA. Iftikhar had
hurled a paper weight at Twinkle which hit his head and resulted in an
injury which two MLC termed as ‘simple’ injury. Iftikhar, too, had
been attacked by a ‘bladebaaz’ Mohd. Idrish, a friend of Twinlke,
before the incident, according to a submission by the prison
superintendent to Additional Sessions Judge SK Savaria, which he had
reported to the authorities.

Iftikhar, 25 at the time of his arrest, had rented a shop in Missouri
and police ad clamed the involved in the blast. Iftikhar, the least
visible charecter in the judgement, according to police, was arrested
at the New Delhi Railway station while on his way to Gorakhpur with
another co- accused Naushad, who was convicted in the case. Police
claimed to have recovered from Naushad a currency note of Rs two which
they claimed would be handed used by Iftikhar to recieve a payment of
Rs one lakh. The court after 14 years acquitted Iftikhar for want of
evidence saying the two rupees note was in no way different or
special than other notes.

For Iftikhar’s family, the court dates first give them hope and then
crash it, making Iftikhar’s absence more prominent than in the last 14
years. “Since he has been acquitted, our mother waits everyday for
him. It is hard to tell her that he wont come tomorrow as well. I hope
she sees him one of these days or she will die of longing,” says
Gulshan Mirza, Iftikhar’s sister.

And for Kazi, Iftikhar has become the litmus test. “This Pandit is
having some sort of a revenge, his mother will think if there are more
of these strange procedures on the next date,” Kazi whispers to
Geelani. “And their house isn’t far from where we used to live in
Kashmir ,” he ends.