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A World in Which Civilians Are Terrified of the Men Who Claim to Ensure Their Safety

I’ve been standing next to the window for 30 minutes now. An hour ago, I was busy making futile attempts to read a book. Then a sharp sound of gunfire in the distance caught my attention. I rose from chair, turned off the lights and darted to the window to look out. Dad says the the houses that stay lit late till night are considered suspicious too. I thought he was paranoid. Now, I am too. You see, these men in uniform, they don’t need a reason to attack a house. It is, as if, there are no threads of humanity weaved in the fibre of their beings.

Curfew has its own, gradual method of building fear, especially when it lasts over 50 days. I was once fearless, now I’m shaking in anticipation, counting minutes to sunrise. I push away the curtain and  peep at the ghastly silent street. Minutes ago I thought I heard footsteps. Boots probably, lightly padded. I heard the sound of careful trotting, the faint striking sound of a bamboo stick against the pavement, the screech of the guns against the wall, a trained signal, a whisper. Sounds that swallowed the night leaving behind no snatches of air to breathe.
The lone streetlamp throws a gaily yellow light over the 100 year old building opposite to my room, throwing to life it’s old sagging windows, it’s pale dusty walls. The abandoned building is a matter of my concern too. When they will run out of schools to occupy, they’ll inhabit such buildings as well. Paranoia, I remind myself. Why do the nights frighten me? Frighten the souls of million other Kashmiris? Night raids, of course. In Soibugh, the forces beat up men and tossed him out of the window. How impervious to fellow sufferings can humans be! The women were mishandled and abused too. Countless such instances. My fright wasn’t unjustified.
I haven’t slept well lately. It’s been a month. Every night when the lights die down and tiny sounds of life cease to exist, the white silence haunts me. The night is unusually sullen. Even a faint ruffle of leaves sounds like a blaring warning, a grin across the sullen face of the night, an impending terror.

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It’s 2:08 am now, I hear a sound in the distance again. This time it isn’t a shot but a shriek. Multiple loud feminine shrieks follow the first one. I know what they are about and where they comes from. Hours ago in the bright day light, a multitude of men in uniform and a dozen local boys indulged in a heated exchange of words. This happened in the wasteland, some 200 metre north to my house. I had witnessed the entire scuffle from the corner of the window. They aimed the pellet gun at them, fired a couple of shots, caught hold of some of them, beat them to pulp and shut them off in their green vans. The women folk from the homes of these boys came out running, wailing, asking them to let go of their sons. A heartbroken sister shouted at the armed men, a few new slogans to remind them of the divine vengeance, of the strong will of the oppressed to wage a war against the oppressors. In return, one of them dropped his gun, curved his body in the shape of an inverted C and made some obscene gestures. She shouted back, spat on the road asked him if he could show the same gestures to his mother and sister. In an answer, he fired a teargas shell with a dozen of caustic abuses. Her will to face them was fiercer than theirs. She stood bravely in her casual clothes. Their guns, helmets and bulletproof vests couldn’t save them from the courage in her welled up eyes, in her trembling voice. Amid sobs, she kept throwing her fist in the air, repeatedly shouting: ‘Kashmir humara chodd do’. They had no answers for her.  The forces have returned now for another round of torture, for the showdown.

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The clashes had continued till evening. A number of shells landed around my house too. At this point of night, hours after the clashes, I could still see them. White plastic cylinders shining against the pale silver path. A reminder that tomorrow, more of them will assemble in the park and perhaps the kids will get used to playing with them. I stood thinking, glued to the corner of the window. I haven’t moved, but something has. A shadow flickers in a corner of the park. I hear them again, the whispers. I step back, stand still and straight against the wall, my heart beating in my mouth. Someone climbs over the wall and tiptoes to the house next door. I peep again and see heads patrolling the streets. I move to my bed silently and stay numb. The whispers, the screeches and the trotting steps continue to be the ghastly music of the night. I freeze in the bed, a myriad of horrendous thoughts pass over the horizon of my sentience. I keep waiting, hopelessly for the first light of dawn to break the insolence, to promise another day. I think of others who waited but never lived through the night or those who succumbed to the fear of terror. I’m reminded of the woman from Srinagar, who died of cardiac arrest when a cop pointed his gun at her. Surviving a night in curfew is a psychological feat in Kashmir.

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Several things can happen tonight. They can enter the house, ransack it and beat my family, they can shoot us to death, they might take my brother away for no fault of his, I might never wake up again, I might find my parents dead in the morning, I might be mishandled and abused. The next few hours are uncertain. What’s certain is that, just like the 50 nights that loom behind me, this night too shall be passed in insomnia, in the numbing fear of the impending terror.

Until the streets are safe and homes safer, the days and nights ahead of us shall brood in a similar tension. We will try and survive whatever they unleash on us and our land. However, the immeasurable damage to our psychology is hardly curable.

By Samia Mehraj

Writer and a poet from Kashmir

Photo Credit: Azaan Shah

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