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The Lambs of my Valley - Arshia Malik

I keep getting asked – “this silent majority that you keep talking about, why is it silent? Why doesn’t it speak up? Why did they not protest every time a Kashmiri Muslim got killed be it civilian, policeman, or collateral, forget the Kashmiri Pandit? If there is a silent majority in the Valley which does not support this “Ideological Occupation” by extremists, this proxy war with India by Pakistani-military establishment, why then have they not ever spoken up? Why are they still silent?

These are good questions with easy answers, in fact; the answer lies in the question itself – ‘extremism and occupation. Readers are now able to connect extremism with the 9/11 event and its aftermath. Yet, the occupation of our Valley by radical groups, funded by a failed state, wanting to preserve its divisive and destructive two-nation theory has not been just thirty years old but decades older since 1947. We now call this prolonged war by Pakistan as its ‘unfinished business of Partition’. But then ever the introspecting kind, I decided to explore the question.

Yes, why hasn’t the silent majority been able to do anything about this? The immediate answer is fear. The terror that the Pandits felt when fleeing in the wake of the terror pogrom, the same terror was there for the Muslims too. Secular Muslims, Communist Muslims, Progressives, Atheists, cultural Muslims, lapsed ones, liberals, they all scattered when the first targeted assassinations started. Not only were prominent KPs targeted but prominent Muslims were on the hit lists leaked out or pasted on poles too. Pakistani ISI had calculated and planned the proxy war down to every detail. Once the guns were smuggled in, it became the new normal – “gun culture”. You can find it in news briefs and headlines, even in common parlance – “unidentified gunmen”. Yet these unidentified gunmen were very much identifiable in the 90s and throughout the two decades of the new millennium. Gunmen, who extorted the business families and the elite rich, influential families, were often found to be from the same mohalla or locality.

Gunmen who settled disputes in families over property, etc. were also the local area commanders who kidnapped people, ‘mafia-style’ to inflict terror on the family and often released them for ransom. Then, of course, the love disputes where the gun more often silenced the fathers or brothers once the “gunman” had set sight on a woman – reluctant or not. The “gun culture” is one of the many factors that silenced the silent majority. Kashmiris are not a martial race or militaristic ethnic group like the Sikhs. Sir Walter Lawrence in his seminal work ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ has described us as very docile, often to the point of submitting to authority in the wake of a confrontation. The Valley ecosphere is what makes us peaceful, spiritual and submissive to the might of the mountains, the rushing waters, and treacherous terrain.

So radical Islamic groups from the fall out of the Afghan-Soviet war, coupled with the petrodollar funded, ISI plans of Ghazwa-e-Hind recruited disgruntled Kashmiri boys, fed up of New Delhi’s games. This meant that guns, especially the favoured Kalashnikov, made a permanent home in the Valley. All it takes is a gunman to pay a visit to the home or office of the dissenter, the protesting or a little vocally loud one after they have been informed of him and the person along with his family is silenced forever. In the 90s it worked. As the conflict became deadlier and deadlier, with no Azadi in sight, the militant groups, with the visuals of ISIL/ISIS beheading people on television screens making an impression on their imaginations and appealing to the savage in them took to targeted beheadings and killings in the new millennium.

If there is a study of dead bodies killed by militant groups throughout the thirty years proxy war, one will notice the mutilations, the torture, the sadistic handling of the victims becoming more and gorier as the years dragged on. Even the threats changed from, “we will kill with one burst of the Kalashnikov, to he or she is going to die a slow, agonizing death by beheading, with the corpse put on display in Lal Chowk,” the last coming from non-other than Zakir Musa, a former Hizbul Mujahideen commander and founder of an Indian wing of Al-Qaeda called Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in 2017, who had broken away from the Hizb and prompted the Intifada factory to quickly issue denials and defend radical Islamist thought behind this statement as the “frustrations of a militant in a power play within his faction”.  

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Then there are the informers, or over ground workers (OWG) of the militant groups comprising of journalists, editors, bureaucrats, civil society members, politicians, and community leaders. You will find them on TV channels apologizing for the violence unleashed, defending the Pakistani-military-establishment’s role, about radical and political Islam. They have a network of paid or unpaid informers. Remember in India trade-offs do not always happen in currency. There is always a favour or nepotistic request to be curried. In exchange for that, these minions will identify anyone who is seen speaking or writing against the “tehreek” or “Azadi” and inform on them which is always followed by a visit of the “unidentified gunmen”. People, who study totalitarian regimes like East Germany under the Stasi, Russia under Stalin, Iran under Khomeini, will recognize what this is and where this leaf is taken from. The very same Intifada factory that likes to call out foul about India going the Orwellian way, have no qualms about creating this ecosphere of fear, mistrust, terror and “manufacturing consent” for Azadi which they then peddle in Western universities and forums.

In the East, families are comfort zones and relatives are the ‘Achilles heels’ for anyone who dares to think differently. Anyone who has reservations about what is happening rarely speaks up, because there is this feeling of being watched, being judged, being weighed whether they are good Muslims or not, the right kind of Muslims or not. In such a tribal society, a mere suspicion is enough to guarantee ostracism at the local mosque and in gatherings. With family honour always a priority in such insulated Muslim societies, it would be suicidal to speak out or form a group to register dissent or protest. The rate of suicide in Kashmir is directly proportional to people who elected to be mute and decided to silence themselves for the family’s sake. Again, studies will prove this.

Then there is the unofficial curfew after dusk. Not many people understand this basic freedom of cities, or towns where after the day’s work, people form circles, gather as communities and exchange views, stories, and ideas together amidst eating, drinking and general merry-making (an ancient practice since the advent of Homo Sapiens). But 90s were all about getting home before dark, fear of the agencies, and the militants both. The state’s complicity in the disappearance and custodial deaths of thousands did not encourage people to continue with a way of life. The tales of the tortured in infamous interrogation centres of Papa 1 and Papa 2, (our local Guantanamo Bays) and the ever-present “unidentified gunman” changed the whole cultural scene. Marriages began to be held in the daytime with the ‘baraat’ processions trying to finish all rituals in daylight.

After the Internet made inroads, it did not ease this unofficial shutting down of the city and towns after dark, but Kashmir Valley got a social life. Internet chat rooms substituted for physical gatherings and even today it remains as one of the most popular ways to meet-up, exchange views, get news, register dissent and cut through this dominant one-sided narrative of Azadi. However, the Internet is also where the ISI continues its proxy war through digital channels and forums and where rumours run rife and stone-pelting plans are made and arranged. Hence, the Modi-led government has been dilly-dallying the ban on Internet since August 5 after abrogating Article 370 as a security measure.

But the biggest factor is the “patronage politics” played by the Government of India from 1953 onwards, and encouraging the National Conference, the dominant party to develop fascist tendencies and either merge opposition parties or dissenters or totally annihilate them. Throughout the 90s, various interlocutors, Track II diplomacy, closed-door meetings with secessionists, granting them travel privileges, passports, visas, invitations to forums to speak on behalf of not just Valley Kashmiris but Kashmiris in Jammu as well as Ladakhis, Kashmiri Sikhs, Dogras, Gujjars, Bakhrewals, the Shias, and other ethnic groups and communities. It didn’t matter that only a small percentage of Valley Kashmiris with the “gun culture” were manufacturing consent for Azadi. This legitimizing of terrorists like Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah, and others and parading them as representatives of the aspirations of the people in the form of the Hurriyat Conference at every opportunity did not go well with the local populace who knew about the mayhem these very people were involved in. In this scenario, how could anyone speak up against the Hurriyat thugs even as they were amassing wealth, property, and building the lives of their children in India and other foreign countries?

Now that the BJP-led government is at the Centre, and even after the abrogation of Article 370, the locals are not going to trust the government measures to go after these “thugs” with house arrests and investigations into finances. We wait for the day, a compromise will be made and the charade of CBMs (confidence-building measures, with a biased, partisan, bigoted interlocutor in the midst posing for photo-ops) unfold. Once bitten, twice shy. There have been gimmicks of investigations, trials, and arrests by the NIA and once in a while some news about old terror cases been slapped on Yasin Malik, etc does come up. But unless an example is made out of any one of the goons who used to walk fearlessly and boldly declare their atrocities on videos, the silent majority is not going to speak up. This intensive use of “patronage politics” to those who are the stooges of Pakistan and enemies of the state is what has effectively rendered everyone silent and forced to dig their heels and kick in the “wait it out” survival mechanism.

Then there is the terrain. This is the least understood of the factors, and over the years as I found out, despite the rhetoric, screaming and oratory declarations of “Kashmir hamara atoot ang hai”, (Kashmir is an integral part of India) not many Indians know the geography of the Valley they claim for themselves. Of course, many have come here as tourists and go back with their own observations. But living in the Valley in the conflict, away from civil lines, raising families in the “Gaza Strip” of Srinagar and trying to work out careers, eking out a living year after year after year, is very different from a few touristy weeks. Despite the economic packages, there are areas which are still unconnected by roads; the winter months still see snow-bound hamlets and villages cut off from each other (the Kashmir Earthquake of 2005, and the September 2014 flash floods exposed how helpless the administration was despite the numerous economic packages coming from the Centre for development in the area. Kashmir administration whether the previous one or the new Centre-led one doesn’t have an effective disaster-management plan as of date, despite a lot of paperwork and presentations and grants.

Secondly, the terrain is treacherous as it can be in a mountainous region. One needs to see video clips of how much difficulty even the Army faces while evacuating civilians, or rescuing avalanche survivors, or even shifting the injured in a terror attack to hospitals. What chance does a civilian have who after speaking up, will face terror threats and a visit from the gunman? A quick look at some sites will show you the data of Kashmiri Muslims killed just for belonging to a political party or elected as sarpanches or being in the police force.  The said person or family will have no option other than to migrate to a safe zone outside the Valley or leave the place altogether. This is where “ideological refugees”, a term I coined for those who do not conform to the Azadi view, come in. These dissenters have gone into self-exile in their own country. They are not as recognized as the Kashmiri Pandits who went through actual ethnic cleansing and a terror pogrom. But they cannot even form a coalition of sorts outside because of their families back home. The “Revenge of Geography” on these “ideological refugees” (taking refuge from the ideology of radical and political Islam) has been harsh and hence they chose silence.

One point which will be brought up time and again is the people attending the funerals of militants despite curfews. Martyrdom is a fascinating sight; people will flock to see. A Valley where there is not much to do by way of news, or local gatherings takes every opportunity to get together, be it the regular Urs at dargahs or weddings and funerals. Also, militants with guns defying the forces definitely guarantee a crowd. Hannah Arendt in her seminal work ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ (1963) introduced the concept and expression ‘banality of evil’. It demonstrated that the evil monsters of the Holocaust such as Eichmann were not fanatics or sociopaths but merely ordinary men following orders. It doesn’t mean that what they did was ordinary, but their actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly exceptional. Applying it to Kashmir and of course the crowds supporting gun-toting wannabe-Rambos; it becomes clear that these ordinary men, women, and children are going with the flow of the narrative, and the charged atmosphere.

Of course, there has been criticism of Arendt’s thesis, but the basic premise is that ordinary people who were ancient neighbours suddenly developed this extremism to ethnic cleanse their neighbours and push their own flesh and blood into a bloody war. Like Steven Wineburg says,” With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil, but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.        

These are just some of the factors listed to show why the silent majority is silent. It is impossible to describe the sense of terror, repression, fear or paranoia that prevails in the Valley from our own, this Orwellian kind of Stasi-esque atmosphere with no trust, or confidence, or faith in the fellow Kashmiri. This is just a modest attempt to expose the minions of the Intifada factory thought police who control our dissent, our resistance, and our protests. 

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