‘They looked quite prepared for the attack’

New Delhi: If one musters the courage to ask, the immolation bid on the Kashmiri truckers in Udhampur a few days ago contains all the answers to what can now only be called the ‘Kashmir conflict’ because we have burnt all the better words to describe it to a crisp. The attempt by the Hindu mob to extinguish their lives with fire is a monument to the ex post facto nature of all our lives.
When this correspondent visited them yesterday morning and then once more in the late afternoon at the Safdarjang Hospital, the condition of Showkat Ahmad Dar and Zahid Ahmad Bhat was described as stable but critical by the staff and their family members. Showkat’s father had spoken to them but regaining consciousness is hardly a measure of being out of danger in such cases. The next two weeks will be crucial, as doctors keep monitoring their vital body processes.
Rameez Ahmad Bhat, who has had a fortuitous escape from what he described as “a dozen or more goons who emerged from the nearby Hotel Dolphin and looked quite prepared for the attack” was excitable in the way people who have been lucky in life-and-death situations are.
The entire setting was depressing. Rameez bragged a little about how he would not wear a shirt after the incident, having taken his off trying to douse the fire on Zahid’s body.
“The policemen, bureaucrats and politicians kept asking me to wear one because it made them look bad” he says, “But I was adamant, ‘Those Hindus tried to kill us, I don’t want to be clothed by you guys.’”
Finally, a senior ranking police officer managed to put him under a shirt when they were about to be flown to Delhi. I looked at his shirt. It was an old shirt, the kind a truck driver would wear.
Somebody in the police had been meticulous. “Now they have to treat these guys well,” he added, “It has become an important issue. They even mentioned it on TV, ‘Rameez Ahmed Bhat survived the attack.’” Showkat’s father, dignified in the manner only old Kashmiris with their off-white caps and worn out waistcoats can be, quickly added, “Showkat Ahmad Dar—they mentioned Showkat first.” Everybody smiled a little.
Even in the moment of tragedy, the acknowledgement of our existence by those in power counts; a lot. What pathetic lives we live!
One of Showkat’s cousins, a temporary teacher at a higher secondary in Kulgam, talked a little about the absence of career prospects in his field and why he would prefer to prepare for the Indian Civil Service instead.
A police officer has been assigned to the group, to keep watch. They are being accommodated at the Kashmir House. A car has been allotted to them. Not much, but clearly luxuries for a lower income group from a small Kashmiri village. Showkat’s father, who discovered a relation with this correspondent in five minutes flat, was happy with the arrangement. The burned, recuperating bodies are inside one ICU; the survivor and relatives inside another.
There is a law against cow-slaughter, an outdated law introduced by a Hindu ruler against his Muslim subjects who had no say in the matter. Nothing has changed. New rules get made, we have to adjust. In the process, if our bodies or our soul refuses to mould, we can be treated with iron and fire. Compensations are provided in cases of overtreatment. The reparation is always precise, like a surgeon’s blade, like the shirt given to Rameez. They know our worth. They keep telling us our worth until we believe them. But we must always mould.
One of the younger guys warned Showkat’s father to watch out for all the big ants around. He smiled, “What, should we be afraid of Indian ants now?”
When it was time for me to leave, I did not have the courage to ask Showkat’s father if he eats beef. The question seemed a little out of place.