Conflict is brutality. It disjoints the happy-living from people and pushes them into a life which has nothing to offer them except the memories, bursting at its seams with trauma, trepidation and loss. It mars all hopes of living. It mashes down the dearest dreams to ashes.
Conflict is death. Death of existence; death of conscience; and death of life. It’s a deadly storm which turns life upside down. And it is he who lives in a region embittered by conflict that knows how inhumane conflict is. He is the oppressed. He is the sufferer. He is the victim. Conflict denies the human conditions. Homelessness, wretchedness and glumness, is what one has in a region of conflict. One becomes a vagrant in his own land.
I too belong to a conflict-ridden land. I too have have been its victim. Became a vagrant in my own land when I was dislodged from my own home. I was made homeless by men who walk with guns and wear the olive green uniforms; men who call themselves, the Indian army.
A child sees his delight in childishness and cheerfulness. Lucky are the children who experience that delight and hapless those who were deprived of that. Among the latter I am the one; a hapless, who couldn’t make the lasting merry with friends due to the constant migrations from one place to another, and in between losing what would have defined my otherwise cheery childhood.
In 1995 I was stamped with an agonizing experience on my memory. The Indian Army commandeered my family house for official military business and threw us out on the street. The next two years, we changed four houses, with us finally settling into the main town of Sopore in north Kashmir.
We migrated to Sopore but what troubled me most was to make friends. I made some in Sopore but nevermore are we in contact. When I returned back to my village after 8 years in 2005, it was very difficult to mingle with my village boys. They would panic me and some were jealous of me. They called me ‘Baazruk’ (Urban), because compared to the flanking villages, Sopore is considered to be somewhat urban. I had no idea what was brewing up in their minds when they confronted me: sometimes they warned that they would beat me if I went through a particular alley and sometimes they took my bicycle away and rode it. The rule was, I could not play with them. Even if sometimes they allowed me to play cricket with them, I was the last man to bat.
At home, “Army Waleio nui makaan” (Army took our house), was a common phrase. This phrase is particularly important as it defines my childhood. And I hate that. But it is hard to forget. Those memories pester me constantly.
In a conflict zone one is subjected to grim realities of life and sometimes these realities have a comic nature. There are memories which are as sacred as the divine verses, as excruciating as stabbing of the heart, and as pleasing as listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony. Memories do bring emotions.
In the autumn of 1995, 29th of September to be precise, I was in my bed when I heard some noises outside. In those days, Kashmir was hearing many sounds; sounds of single loaded rifles, Kalashnikovs, long machine guns, grenades, and land-mines; and it still continues to hear them.
I quickly surmised it was the noise of trucks. I got out of bed. I put my feet on the window sill and drew my head out a little but saw nothing. The fence of our house blocked the outer view and my pygmy height added more to my inability to see what was going outside. I was still looking through the window when I heard loud bangs on the main gate of our house.
I went out of the room onto the front veranda. I saw the burgeoning presence of army men with most of them holding those long guns, which had an unusual name, AK-47. I never understood what AK-47 stood for. Some said it was Azad Kashmir in 1947.
The armed men took weird positions as if some violent combat was in the offing. Some rushed into our cowshed, others inside our house, and some, to my amusement circled a man. He had no weapons but wore a cowboy hat. After our house was searched by the army, I saw my father talking to the man with the cowboy hat. My father was showing him something with his hands. And the whole time I was with the other members of my family standing in a queue as if waiting for our execution. I was looking frantically at my father and at that Indian cowboy. Soon father called on me, but I hesitated to respond. There was some fear looming inside my heart. He called on me again. I inched closer. I remember hearing my father talking incessantly to that man in Urdu and English. As I was standing next to him, father placed his hand on my head and in a pleading tone spoke to him; to the man with the cowboy hat.
Helpless, my father kept lifting my head and kept pointing towards my other family members. But the man in the cowboy hat only moved his head sideways in the negative. Then he said, “there is no chance; you have to leave.” Those were the first English words I learned. Maybe, they are the first English words I remember. The words just came and occupied a little space in my cerebellum.
The uniformed men who spoke Urdu with a strange accent, took away my home, but gave me my first English words.
It was not just our house that was commandeered by the army, but two more houses, owned by my uncles that were also taken away. Soon, tractors from all over the village were brought to transfer out the possessions of the three houses. In the evening, an undeclared curfew was forced in the village. My village; my paradise, the beautiful Panjipora.
After about six years in 2001, the Army vacated our three houses and gave them back to us. After a continuous search for three days with the help of villagers to check whether anything undesirable and dangerous was left behind by the army, there occurred one more takeover. The army occupied our house once again only to finally vacate it two months later. Since then the house has been in our possession.
After we got our house back, it took us two complete days to wash it with the help of water pumps powered by tractors and hundreds of kilos of washing detergent. There was filth everywhere. The house was damaged and left like that for us to fix. Hindu gods and goddesses adorned the walls. On the kitchen door the word “SIGNAL” was inscribed in capital letters, which is still there, making us believe that something is wrong with us. Even if we were to become amnesic, we could not ignore that “SIGNAL.”
The day the Army vacated our house, me and my cousins played cricket in the lawns. It was an unusual game of cricket. Instead of a cricket ball, we had balls of coal. In the lawns of the three houses there were numerous little black balls, heaps of them. The Army men used coal as fuel to fight the harsh winters of Kashmir. They would soak the hard black coal stones in water and leave them as such for many days. After the coal stones would become soft, they would make little balls of it and use them in coal-heaters.
We grabbed a wooden plank and made a rough cricket bat out of it. Every time the coal-ball would hit the bat, it would blow up into little pieces. It was great enjoyment for us. And that perhaps was making a comedy out of tragedy.
We were making this comedy in front of the cowshed of our house. The same cowshed which the army had used as an interrogation centre at the 22RR Panjipora camp. I remember when we were in Sopore we would come to meet our relatives in the village on Sundays. And whenever I would visit my house, I would always see a horde of people standing outside the gate, under the walnut trees. Every time I enquired to what was going on, people would tell me that their son, or their father or their brother had been taken in by the army. I never knew how many of them got back to their homes and how many disappeared.
On the back side of our house, there is a vast Apple orchard, which seems limitless in size. A few kanals of it also belong to our family. The years the Army was in our house we had forsaken those orchards to some extent. But when the Army left, the orchards were again taken into keen consideration. We employed men to get the weed out and plough the land. Many a times I had heard from the men working in the orchards that they had unearthed a human skull or a limb while ploughing the land, but never did they find a complete body.
This takes me back to the interrogation centre; the cowshed. Sometimes when I enter the cowshed that was used as an interrogation room by the army, which we now use as storage room, I feel like I can hear the shrieks of the men who had been interrogated in it. I feel like I can smell their blood. I get goose bumps just by thinking about it. I look at the black walls of the shed and see the picture of an army man—the infamous Captain Rakesh, the Interrogation officer.
Back when the army had control over our house, I would visit my native village every Sunday and I would hear the stories people would tell of interrogations. Years later, while I was working as a journalist, I was asked by a my friend of mine to see, if there were any stories of enforced disappearances in my village. I found no such case in my village. But in my neighbouring village I did find out that there was one such case. So I contacted the family and asked to meet, and one evening I went to their home.
Since I was somebody they already knew, it was easy for me to ask the difficult questions and get their answers. A week later I filed my story for the web portal I was writing the story for. One of my distant relatives had happened to read the story I wrote, which he brought up in conversation when we met in a marriage ceremony. We began to talk about Abdul Rehman; the man who never came back. Half an hour later, he concluded, “Rehman khiou tehend makanan” (Your house devoured Rehman).
Although he meant it metaphorically, I could not help feeling guilty. I thought of my house; a beautiful house which had millions of tales to tell. I wished my house had the power to speak, so that way many unanswered questions would be answered. After all, my house is a witness — a prime witness.
[Iymon Majid is a postgraduate student in the Department of Political Science. He can be reached via emai at: iymonmajid [at] gmail.com.]
[Views expressed herein are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Jamia Journal’s editorial policy.]