A generation under curfew: A mother’s story of bringing up children in Kashmir | Hindustan Times
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A generation under curfew: A mother’s story of bringing up children in Kashmir

Generation after generation is being pushed away from India.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2016 18:27 IST
Toufiq Rashid
A policeman stands guard near a barbed wire during curfew in Srinagar. As many as 68 people have died in Kashmir in violence that began after a militant leader was gunned down by security forces.
A policeman stands guard near a barbed wire during curfew in Srinagar. As many as 68 people have died in Kashmir in violence that began after a militant leader was gunned down by security forces.

“Hamari azadi cheen ke yeh khud azaadi manarahein hain’’ (They’re celebrating their freedom after snatching our independence).

This was a comment by my eight-year-old son when his grandfather said on August 15 that it was India’s Independence Day.Without taking his eye off his cell phone, he shrugged his shoulders in disinterest.

My son’s cry for azaadi had nothing to do with similar chants by thousands of men and women in the streets in Kashmir.

He was upset that he couldn’t step out of home, he missed his favourite Chinese food and restaurant. His sports day, his summer camp and school fair were cancelled, and like the rest of the population in Kashmir, he remained confined to his home for what seemed like ages.

His anger was deep rooted-- the boy’s eyes welled up as his father was wary of a boating trip somewhere in the interiors of Dal Lake last Sunday.

While he struggles to come to terms with the consequences of boating in times of curfew, my four-year-old daughter doesn’t understand why a trip to her grandma’s house a few kilometers away has become impossible.

“Nani ke ghar ke pass bhi military hain mama?’’ (Is there military near grandma’s house as well?) she asks.

READ: Protester killed in clashes as Rajnath reaches Kashmir

“Winter is around we can’t go boating after this,’’ my son says, pointing to the garden that is getting increasingly filled with dried leaves that announce the arrival of autumn in a few days.

He says he couldn’t even have his quota of ice cream this year. “What is wrong with the government, why don’t they let us out?’’ he asks.

Their anger against the government is ironic considering how a few months back, the siblings were discussing how to report people making graffiti against India to the police.

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My son -- amazed at how people supported a neighbouring country during cricket matches when they live in India – saw an anti-India graffiti outside a building. He said the wall should be pulled down while my daughter had a simpler solution -- reporting the matter to the police.

Today, however, India has gone from a beloved country to “they”.

His reaction to the Indian Independence day is casual and callous. A few years ago, the same boy wanted a picture taken with a huge Indian flag outside a mall in Delhi on Republic Day.

His “Hamari azadi cheen ke’’ statement about small things such as food and outings can become a cry for “independence” any time.

A boy gestures at a member of the security forces in Srinagar as the city remains under curfew following weeks of violence in Kashmir. (REUTERS)

The 14- to 18-year-olds who fill the streets holding green flags and Burhan Wani posters must have been my child’s age in 2010, when more than 100 people died in street protests.

They must have also been worried about Doraemon, Shin Chan and Spiderman movies. Today, the same boys are fearlessly taking off their shirts to challenge the security men to fire at them. The same boys are asking others to follow militant commander Burhan Wani to his grave, fighting.

The same children are now soldiers of Azadi (freedom).

Not every child born in Kashmir is genetically predisposed to hate the country of his birth and if they are becoming anti-India, the government and policy makers have to realize that the handling of Kashmir is flawed.

READ: Can autonomy be the meeting ground for lasting solution in Kashmir?

With every passing day, generation after generation is being pushed away from India. And my children will be no exception.

We might hide gory photographs of children with faces pierced by pellets, we might not show them the morning newspapers but it won’t be long before my son will not require his parents for information gathering.

He will soon have WhatsApp and a Facebook account. Besides his ride to school will teach him what he needs to know.

With confinement, hours of cartoon watching, the sense of deprivation and the loneliness and journalist parents whose livelihood is all about filing stories of attacks, protests and killings, it’s very hard to keep children from not getting affected.

The scenario is a constant reminder of what had happened to our generation, 26 years ago.

I was a little older than my son and had just entered my teens when life in Kashmir came to a standstill. For days we didn’t see schools, the streets were filled with protesters, some even wearing white shrouds. The newspapers filled with pictures of dead bodies, wailing women, crying children. It was all about graves and death--a local newspaper also kept a death clock, adding the number of killed in the day to the count. Much like the population clocks in every big city.

The scars were deep. Even after years of living in Delhi, I was unable to scream out a colleagues name across the room. I found it difficult to sing songs for birthdays celebrated in the news room. A loud laughter came with difficulty, a smile was enough I always thought. And people said I had sad eyes.

Over the past decades, my eyes just started learning to smile again but then a 2008, a 2010 and a 2016 happens and your eyes get constant reminders of what had happened in the past. And it leaves you wondering... Will there ever be closure for generations of children in Kashmir, will there ever be a closure for me, and now my son.

(The views expressed are personal. The writer is Hindustan Times’s bureau chief in Srinagar.)

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