The Nursery of Azadi

The Nursery of Azadi
Photo: UBEER NAQUSHBANDI
Photo: UBEER NAQUSHBANDI

Srinagar: Outside the dimly-lit house of Sheikh Majid at Nowhatta Chowk, clashes between protestors and forces have started. His 3-year-old kid Hamza says to him in a low tone, “Military aa gayi (military has come).” He then looks out through a hole in the window and quietly watches the clashes.
This has been how Majid’s son Hamza has been behaving during the current uprising. “He has watched the conflict closely, in fact lived it — processions being taken out by people, clashes between protestors and forces, tear gas, pellets and bullets fired by forces, rock-throwing youth, sloganeering, blood spilled, concertina wires, gun and baton-wielding soldiers — at this young age,” said Majid.
Now, Majid says, the child has learnt to enact the scene of kani-jang (rock-throwing) between protestors and forces.
Like Majid, his neighbour Ahmed who wishes to give only his middle name, is a parent of a six-year-old. His son Wahid has added many words to his lexicon in these 66 days of uprising. “For him, the words police and CRPF mean to ‘not move out of the house.’ The new words he has learnt are Azadi, martyr, one-ton, gypsy, pellets, bunker,” said Ahmed.
During the initial days of the current uprising, Ahmed said, Wahid used to get frightened whenever clashes erupted outside their house. “He no more gets frightened. Instead, he eagerly waits for the clashes to start. He then quickly moves upstairs and watches the clashes through the window in a crouched position.”
Majid and Ahmed belong to the downtown part of Srinagar, the area where clashes between forces and protestors are a common scene. It is also that part of Srinagar where authorities impose stringent curfew whenever Kashmir erupts for Azadi and in the current uprising the situation has remained the same.
The two parents Majid and Ahmed said “their two kids do not read and write much these days.” They said, “Even if we try to teach them sometimes, they don’t concentrate due to the uncertainty prevalent outside our homes.”
Majid said his son Hamza has forgotten whatever poems he had taught his son. “He has now memorised slogans like Hum Kya Chahte Azadi (We want freedom), Go India Go Back, and many other slogans chanted by protestors.”
Recently, Majid said he took his son to the masjid for prayers. “On our way back to home, some CRPF men standing on a shop-front smiled and made gestures of affection towards my child. My son Hamza told me, ‘Baba chalo yahan se, CRPF waale tear gas aur pellet maarte hain (Let us move from here, father, these CRPF people fire tear gas and pellets)”. Majid said he told the CRPF men what his son had told them. “They were shocked to hear what my son thought of them,” he said.
Ahmed said that a few days ago he saw his son Wahid sketching something. “It was a scene of clashes, the people carrying body of a ‘martyr’ on their shoulders. There were troopers with guns and boys holding stones in their hands,” said Ahmed, adding that he was shocked that day to see the sketch. “Some days ago, a boy of Fateh Kadal area was killed by forces in Malaratta area, a few metres from our house. On that day people of downtown had defied curfew and participated in the final rites of their ‘martyr’. My son had sketched all scenes of that day.”
Ahmed said that during normal times his son frequently asked for candies, biscuits and snacks. “But now that has also changed. He gets worried when I venture outside these days.”
Like Ahmed, Majid’s son had a particular liking for cheese. “He loves cheese. But ever since the uprising started and a stringent curfew was imposed outside, it has become hard to purchase eatables of his liking.” Majid said his son now doesn’t complain. “He has started behaving older than his age. Whatever dried eatables, potatoes, pulses and sometimes vegetables we cook, he quietly eats.”
In Wahid, Ahmed also sees the same change. “Recently, milkmen were not allowed by forces to our part of the city. We could not get milk for days. Then I could no longer bear it without tea. I tried to venture outside my home. My son told me, ‘Abu mat jao, hum kehwa piyenge (Don’t go outside. We will drink kehwa (a sweet Kashmiri brew) instead of tea’.”
Majid and Ahmed said their kids eagerly wait for morning newspapers and ask questions. “When they come to know that forces killed a particular boy in the region, they tell us they will throw stones at the forces.”
For this fear, the two parents said “they hardly take their kids outside with them. Their rage at this tender age is of the extreme level.”
Another reason for the rage in Majid’s child is that, Majid said, “Recently, the window panes of our house were broken by forces. My child thinks of the forces as destroyers.”
When the kids were asked what they thought of the government forces, 3-year-old Hamza and 6-year-old Wahid said, “Unke paas gulel aur bandook hai. Woh blue wali one-ton gaadi mein bachon ko le jaate hain aur pellet maarte hain (They (forces) have catapult and guns. They take children in the blue-colour one-ton and fire pellets).”
Psychologist Tariq Margoob said that children have a very retentive mind. “Children are like sponge. They retrieve whatever they see through their eyes in the sub-conscious mind.”
“At this tender age this is the level of hatred. It can be imagined what form it will take once they grow up,” he added.
Ahmed said his son sometimes by himself does wazu (ablution). “He then prays for a home at a place where there are no armed troops. There is no such place in Kashmir,” said Ahmed.

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