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Let’s talk about Kashmir: ‘What do I offer my son in a violent Kashmir’

Increase in violence and a prolonged unrest have scarred the region for many locals, including an HT journalist, who worries about her children’s future.

india Updated: Jul 06, 2017 12:23 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Special task force of police positioned outside a school during search operation in Srinagar.
Special task force of police positioned outside a school during search operation in Srinagar.(PTI File Photo)

On Saturday, June 24, WhatsApp groups here buzzed with reports of militants entering the Valley’s elite Delhi Public School. Being a journalist, I got the news around 5:30 pm, just as it was happening.

Violent encounters have become commonplace, but my reaction to this one was far from normal.

Instead of updating the online team of The Hindustan Times, I called home. My two children attend Delhi Public School. Although I knew that school had ended at 2:30, I still wanted to make sure my children were safe.

In May, my son, who is in class five, stayed until 6pm for his music lessons, something that many students do for sports and other extracurricular activities. The attack could have occurred on such a day, I thought.

As soon as he heard the news, my husband, Asif Qureshi, who is also a journalist, arrived at the scene. He barely evaded bullets misfired by a policeman. To our shock, a video of him nearly being shot was repeatedly played on TV.

Read Part 1 of Let’s Talk About Kashmir: Number of homegrown militants swells after Burhan Wani’s death

“Why are they saying, ‘Asif Qureshi bal bal bache’ (Asif Qureshi survived by the skin of his teeth)?” both my children kept asking in disbelief. Between their father nearly being killed and army vehicles entering their school, my kids weren’t able to get particularly excited for Eid ul-Fitr. Last year’s celebrations, which occurred around the time of the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani, were spoiled too.

The safety of Baba (Asif) overshadowed the images of military forces in their school. For the children, damage to the school was not actually an unmitigated disaster: it meant extra holidays. But it was not a happy occurrence either. My daughter, who is still in kindergarten, worried about her classroom getting damaged, since the paper plates she had painted during club activities lined the walls. My son was sure his classroom had been spared after he asked us about the exact location of the militants, but he feared for the safety of the school library.

Bullet proof vehicles stationed in the premises of Delhi Public School (DPS) where two militants were holed up during an encounter with the security forces at Pantha Chowk in Srinagar. (PTI File Photo)

That night, my son and his friends speculated about the violence and its implications on WhatsApp. They used words and phrases like “bazooka”, “encounter”, “machine gun”, and “pulling down walls”. “School ki halat kharab, hum tou gaye (School is in bad shape, we’re off),” the boys decided.

So when the school declared, the next day, that summer vacation would start early, the children were unsurprised. Sitting at home with nothing to do has become normal for them. Like other children, my kids went without school for more than six months last year.

My son, who turns 10 this October, is starting to form ideas of his own. He hears things on the bus to school, on TV, during family dinner with two journalists for parents who cannot help discussing killings and encounters. He is more and more inclined towards Kashmiri ‘nationalism’.

Read Part 2 of Let’s talk about Kashmir: Valley’s economy, tourism sector struggle to stay afloat

When he says things like “India wants Kashmir for its water resources” or “the Modi government wants all Kashmiris to die’’ or “the US president seems like an extension of the Indian prime minister”, I am shocked.

Just the other day, he couldn’t remain untouched by the frenzy and euphoria surrounding the clash between India and Pakistan for the Champions Trophy.

When a police officer was recently lynched, I did not want my children to see our society’s brutality. The list of such events is long. I don’t want my children to see the pellet-scarred faces of other small children; I don’t want them to see the mutilated bodies of militants; I don’t want them to see a weaver tied to an army jeep.

But what do I have to offer instead? In Kashmir, there is no alternative ‘idea of India’.

While my son nurtures the dream of joining an IIT to become a scientist, I am left wondering what the world will have come to in seven years when my son will be thinking of moving to college.

Some of my friends suggest I move back to Delhi whenever Kashmir turns violent, but recently, one of them advised against it. She thought the cow vigilantism, Islamophobia, and anti-Kashmir sentiment in the rest of the country had grown too strong.

Read Part 3 of Let’s talk about Kashmir: No place for Pandits in the land of their birth

My biggest dilemma as a mother is -- what do I offer my son instead of a violent Kashmir’? If Kashmir has grown violent, the idea of India has taken a hit.

Where should I bring up my children? At times, I just want to push them back into my womb and run away.

A special series by Hindustan Times takes a deep look at the ground reality in the Valley as it braces itself for the first death anniversary of militant commander Burhan Wani and increasing violence in J-K.