Javeed Ahmad Raina
Kashmir is under a schizophrenic siege of lockdown as well as normalcy, both imposed by the government. This paradoxical situation of lockdown in normalcy and normalcy in lockdown spans throughout the year with phases of varying intensity in between. Military terms such as restrictions, curfew, cordon, operation, have been used since the dawn of independence to impose normalcy in an otherwise turbulent state. These linguistic tropes take care of people like a vaccine takes care of a virus. They immunise Kashmiris to the impunity of their tormentors. They create a culture of silence on violence and violence on silence. Kashmir has so long lived with the companions of calm and combat that it becomes difficult to differentiate peace from war and war from peace.
In Kashmir, lockdown and normalcy can have confusing connotations. Here, lockdown is a sign of normalcy. The period of normalcy, on the other hand, is the time of lockdown. The two terms are as intricately related as cause and effect. They work hand in glove to form a chain of violence against free speech. Instead of clear meaning, misnomers and paradoxes are encouraged in language. They are handy tools in curbing voices, maiming militants, and bolstering the military in the so-called abnormal areas of the state. In fact, normalcy implies a period of people’s preparation for impeding catastrophe and the military’s expansion into more areas. Between the people’s preparations and the army’s operations, the natives starve of bread and butter and crouch on their knees. The cycle of lockdown and normalcy keeps repeating, going up and down the hills and valleys like Sisyphus.
Normalcy is actually a phase of surveillance in Kashmir. Lockdown somewhat relieves the burden of living under secret scrutiny. In lockdown, romance suffocates in confinement and separation, but in normalcy lives suffocate in the open, on the streets. Thus, normalcy or assumed peace is a period of censorship and condemnation.
Kashmir has been frequently under curfew, as Sumantra Bose in her book, Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace, records. She mentions that in 1990’s the curfew sometimes lasted weeks. Many Kashmiri houses, as Mirza Waheed states, have secret histories buried in their wooden vaults. Kashmir is a place violated over the years by ruler and ruled alike. Here, the two sides of the same crown have been waging a battle against the threat of their own extinction. They act as both saint and sinner, beloved and the betrayed, to inflict infinite pains on the common people of Kashmir. They play hide and seek with each other and suddenly disappear from the stage.
David Davidas in his book, the Generation of Rage in Kashmir, states that 2008, 2010 and 2016 are the three major flashpoints in the recent history of Kashmir. These years were marked by frequent lockdowns and communication blockades. The turning gyre of lockdown and normalcy again raised its ugly head in the summer of 2019. Despite the passage of ten months since then, neither normalcy nor lockdown has gone from the streets of Kashmir. In fact, both have settled here to continue the alternate policy of war and peace and inflict further miseries on the common people.
The state’s callousness and opportunism have turned hope into rage for young Kashmiris. The institutional paralysis and opportunistic alliances have driven all aspirations into dust. Illusions of peace are sponsored through TV studios and then buried under the jackboots of lockdown. In an abnormal state, normalcy is achieved through proclamations and decrees. There is no reconciliation or consultation or discussion with the people. The very idea of normalcy has been so ruined that it now signifies a doomed fate. Nowadays, in the pandemic, lockdown has embraced normalcy and together they spend the curfewed nights in quiet corners of closed rooms in unspoken understandings!
The writer is a school teacher. firstname.lastname@example.org