Normalizing the Abnormal – The ugly shades of violence and occupation
My parents say I was born in a crackdown in a small idyllic village of picturesque Lolab, north of Kashmir. By the time I was thirteen, I already lost the count of times I had made an enforced attendance in a crackdown where we would be called to gather in a nearby meadow to spend hours and hours with army men surrounding us from all corners. I and my villagers, old and young, never showed any kind of dissent as to why exactly we faced an undesirable humiliation there. People would, in a more kind way, walk towards the meadow where we would sit upon mud and snow, for as long time as the men in uniform wanted us to. Gloomy faces turned cheery, with a smile on everyone’s face, when armed masters signaled an end to the daylong confinement. Back home, we would discuss the angry and soft faces, height colour and behavior of army men in detail. Days passed with no respite from the fear that had brutally overpowered our nerves leaving us with little or no confidence. But crackdowns were not the only means of turning people into submission. There was a curfew, frisking, body searches, and public parades. I faintly remember passengers of a bus making a long queue with their arms up in the air and armed forces thoroughly body searching them. Again, there was no question! No school or college professor complained an onslaught on dignity! No powerful and weak questioned! It continued or continues. Every new tactic of repression, physical or psychological, became a new normal. All this had become part of our lives and we lived with it. I wonder if you realize, however, that the things we see are not normal either? That we have become used to an unusual world. I remember one day, in a crackdown, under a huge walnut tree, our friend telling the story of an Arab child, who according to him was “killed in a crackdown by army personals for making noise!” For us, it was an absolute truth, for our world was full of crackdowns and all children of our age group throughout the world, in our imagination, had to face this. Ours was no special case! Life meant a crackdown, a search operation, an encounter, and subsequent deaths.
We had our own version of the world – a more conflicted and ‘war-some’. With passing time, I could unearth the genesis of the war that was on around me; around the whole vale. I could understand the meaning of the yells of age-old women, “Rubba! Yem zulme nish kar azaad” but could not actually realize the subtle ways of ignoring what afterward became the new normal. A political activist, as I am being told, had in the early nineties appealed people not to let these crackdowns become successful by suggesting to throw Kangris (firepots) at armed forces. Some of the well known political analysts believe that, had people obliged to his call, things would have been different now. But that didn’t happen.
Kashmir and all that happened in it had a definite impact on my mind for obvious reasons. It does affect your psyche in a place like Kashmir where a decade’s long conflict is going on and at times you feel the whole conflict is after you. You attempt to evade it, but end up making conflict theme of your discussions. In school, college and university- the conflict are connected to every fabric of your being. You dream of conflict and breathe war!
I am twenty-six now. The state and its machinations of silencing a dissenting population remain unchanged with everyday funerals becoming the new normal now. The rebel funerals, apart from witnessing massive throng of people, are becoming the order of the day where people have started to expect to mourn on every morning and subtly ignore the loss of most committed youth in the society. With a rise in the number of funerals a day, people have dangerously started to believe in the inevitability of the everyday funerals in the valley. From the time a young boy announces rebellion against the militarization and state oppression, we begin to arrange the basic necessities of his funeral, identify the land for his eternal rest, waiting for the last call and arranging the flag, thereby reducing his cause to a mere voracity of getting killed! Shouldn’t we ask ourselves the question as to how far are we complicit in taking the state-driven narratives to a whole new level? To what extent have we owned and supported our scholar rebels in tearing apart the father narratives? Have we failed them? Beyond any doubt, the young boys with arms in their hands have no fascination for death. They are chiefly not driven to the gun with an aim to get killed. There is no obsession with death as has been projected via state-constructed discourses. Death can never be a driving force, not the least a pleasing affair. After all, the whole of human advancement is an attempt to manage and keep it at bay for time being. There indeed is something beyond this infatuation, something that weighs heavily on the idea of death and ultimately triumphs over it. Something that boldly stares into the eyes of death and overcomes the fears associated with it. This something is the faith that drives an individual with an eye open to the immediate circumstances, an ear open to the cries of his people and a heart in submission to the Supreme Creator. This something is that overpowers death. Death of these boys is an inconceivable loss to us as a nation and we should in no way let these deaths become the new normal. If the gun has become a refuge for the youth pushed to the wall, we should come forward to help them collectively. In a state of war, we can’t be feckless enough to circumvent the conflict around us and let these killings happen on a daily basis. We should remember that accepting the perpetuation of representation of these boys as intrinsically violent contributes to a culture where violence is not taken seriously, victims and survivors do not come forward, and the victim is blamed for his death. Military apparatuses continue to use these young souls as cannon fodder and authentic narratives get buried under the majoritarian ones. After massacres, mass blinding, mass rapes, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and fake encounters, what else is left to be normalized?
The author is a research scholar in English Literature at International Islamic University of Islamabad.