Srinagar: Since last year, on the last day of every month, Samiullah Ramzan seals his mouth with adhesive tape inscribed with “I protest”, slings a bag across his shoulders and heads to Lal Chowk.
The 29-year-old auto-rickshaw driver from Chattabal in downtown Srinagar has been protesting against the perennial cause for much bigger protests and rebellions: the “Indian rule over Kashmir”.
“The tape on my mouth symbolises that no one is allowed to speak the truth in Kashmir,” he says. Each time he embarks on his solo protest, the police detain him.
He stands in front of shops, outside eateries, mingles with the crowds in bus stands, displaying posters demanding release of political prisoners, justice for rape victims of Kunan-Poshpora, whereabouts of disappeared persons and “complete freedom” for Kashmir.
The police, who seem to be baffled by his “unique” protest, have detained him 12 times in the past seven months.
“What kind of democracy is India which gets intimidated by the silent and peaceful protest of an auto-rickshaw driver? This shows how insecure India is,” Samiullah says.
Although the police dismiss him as a “nuisance” and a “headache”, they are in a fix.
“He does not speak, he does not use violence and he gives us no reason to beat him. We are encountering something like him for the first time,” a police official told Kashmir Reader, wishing anonymity.
Samiullah holds no grudges against the police, whom he describes as “brothers who are caught in the circumstances they can’t control”.
“The Indian state is cunning, they are using one Kashmiri against another,” he says.
“Besides, I am prepared for anything. Pursuit of justice and freedom demands sacrifices and I consider myself lucky that I am fighting for azadi,” he says.
Pressure has been building on him to abandon his “mission”. Friends have started calling him crazy and often tell him that Kashmir will never get azadi. “But I tell them that azadi will come and even if it doesn’t we still have to struggle for it.”
Fed up with nagging by friends and the family, Samiullah decided to live separately. In October last year, he bought an auto-rickshaw.
“I don’t want to be a jogi or a beggar. I respect my job…I earn for 29 days a month and protest on the last,” he says.
Samiullah, who has an undergraduate degree in computer applications, hails from an affluent family of mutton dealers. He was running his own garments shop in Lakshmi Nagar, New Delhi. The barbaric rape and murder of a nursing student in December 2012 transformed him and he returned home.
Overwhelmed by the outrage over the crime, which brought India worldwide infamy as one of the most insecure places for women, Samiullah had joined the protests in the Indian capital.
“I wept for Nirbhaya (the name given to the raped girl by the Times of India),” he says.
However, Samiullah says that a larger reality dawned upon him during those turbulent days in New Delhi.
“I learned that the violence of the state is meant only for Kashmiris. During protests over Nirbhaya rape, people burned cars and damaged properties but the police didn’t do anything. Had such protests occurred in Kashmir, the police and CRPF would have killed hundreds of us,” he says.
The mood in Delhi at that time was such that Samiullah felt emboldened to attempt what was fraught with risk.
He wrote “Asiya and Neelofar too were raped” on placards and distributed them among shopkeepers. Even the tepid response the placards evoked died down soon after they came to know Samiullah was a Kashmiri.
In fact, he was harassed so much that he fled New Delhi and came home.
“They made my life a hell. I realised they had double standards, one set for their own people and another for Kashmiris,” he says.
“At that moment I told myself that peaceful resistance to injustice is the only dignified way to live.”
Samiullah’s greatest inspirations are human rights lawyer Jaleel Andrabi, who was murdered by the army, and author Arundhati Roy.
“I want to tell India that Jaleel sahab’s mission has not ended. You can kill hundreds of Jaleels but not their mission. There will be hundreds of Jaleels to fight for justice,” he says.
Last time he was detained, he was carrying a bag filled with Roy’s books which he says give him strength and “pricks my conscience all the time”.
“If an Indian national can fight for our cause why can’t we do that? It is a shame that puppets like PDP and NC are helping India consolidate its rule. They should learn something from Arundhati,” he says.
Many people have offered to join him, but he wants to do it alone. “I know there are people who want to distract me. But I won’t let them succeed. Before I die I want to see an independent Kashmir. I am only a foot soldier of the movement…I urge all to start decolonising their minds and demand dignity. Begin from your own individual lives and azadi will come,” he says.