Srinagar:For the past 60 days, life in Srinagar’s historic downtown has come to a strange intersection of peace and conflict. Most roads are deserted and bereft of people, only the olive-green fatigues omnipresent, but now and then occur the stone fights, the sudden processions, and the tension of an imminent clash, of someone being killed or blinded or maimed, always simmers in the air.
Curfew has entered into its ninth week since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. But the raging protests in Kashmir, in which more than 70 civilians have been killed, have not petered out. In the entrails of the old city, people have become familiar with living in a cage. They spend the day in their houses, or sit on shopfronts and upon covered drains. Everywhere the buzz is of the “uprising”, this at once heady and tragic moment that may or may not lead to Azadi.
In this situation of hope and despair, defiance and fear, life in the downtown has thrown up all kinds of anomalies. Even amid the tragedy, there have been comic episodes; despite the mutual hatred between people and troops, there have taken place exchanges amusing and playful.
Last week, before the day’s curfew began to be enforced, a man bathed his ewe and tied it to an iron fence of a public lawn at Sekidafar Chowk. In the afternoon, the forces did not allow him to feed the ewe. When he insisted that the CRPF troopers allow him to cross the road, he was rebuked and forced to retreat. Late at night, the ewe’s annoying bleating forced the CRPF men to knock at the owner’s house, to ask him to take the ewe home.
The power department had been sitting on plans to replace decades-old wooden electricity poles with steel tubular poles. When people began using the wooden poles as barricades to stop troops from entering their neighbourhood, the department swung into action and replaced them with steel ones.
When a local MLA failed to secure the release of a youth from police, his family, a diehard supporter of National Conference, shouted and abused him at his home, leaving him red-faced. “PDP yan lognas tawnus, me cha wan dohai lekhay khenee, yeti (PDP ruined me. Now I will be abused here everyday),” rued the MLA.
A raid at a eunuch’s house led to public protests in Safa Kadal. The eunuch led the protests and, in the eunuch’s way, went about raising a noise by beating on shop shutters at night.
A milkman was surprisingly allowed to cross a barricade erected by troops in Khanyar. When he had reached halfway, the troops called him back, telling him to leave the container of milk on the road in sunlight.
In Eidgah, the head of a family courteously served Wazwan to guests on his daughter’s marriage, then asked them to shout pro-freedom slogans.
CRPF troopers at several places in the old city can be heard discussing nothing else than the ongoing uprising, especially the stone-throwing. A group of four CRPF men posted at Nawa Kadal, on condition of anonymity, revealed the name of the states they came from: Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. All four of them unanimously said that stone-throwing will not give Kashmir Azadi.
“Yeh sab rajneeti hai. Humein pathar maarne se kaunsi Azadi milegi? Kisi neta ya adikari ko marenge tab Azadi milegi,” they said. (All this is politics. What freedom will come by throwing stones at us? Freedom will come if they throw stones at bureaucrats and political leaders.)
About half a kilometer away at Rajouri Kadal, another group of CRPF men said that they wouldn’t mind if Azadi is granted to Kashmir. “Magar hamara kaunsa kasoor hai? Hum to sab rozi-roti kamane ke liye ghar se itne door aaye hain,” they said. (What is our fault? We have come so far from our homes only to earn our daily bread.)
But a CRPF man, who said he hailed from Bihar, said, “Ye downtown to backward hai. Yaha sab patthar-baaz hain. Boodha ho y