New Year flushed with promise world over, but Kashmir stares at another period of gloom amid gunfights and clashes

Editor’s Note: As another turbulent year comes to an end in Jammu and Kashmir, Firstpost will run a series of reports on how the state changed in 2018 and how these changes will translate on the ground. This series will focus on new-age militancy and the changing political landscape in the Valley, as well as the ever-increasing gap between the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

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As curtains are drawn over 2018 and Tuesday marks the beginning of a new year, the clichéd talk of peace, prosperity and happiness has begun the world over again. But today, Jammu and Kashmir is as gloomy as it was on the eve of 2018, and the year before that, and the year before that. The Valley has witnessed 30 years of death and destruction, but 2018 has been the bloodiest year in a decade. There is no hope in Kashmir, where coffin makers have been the only ones with steady business throughout the year.

The first week of 2018 began with a gunfight between Kashmiri militants and security forces, and the last week also witnessed killings in the same pattern. Both gunfights and deaths were followed by clashes between security forces and protesters.

Kashmir’s young are dying and, tragically enough, death has become a wish. There is no light at the end of this dark tunnel. With relentless killings across the Valley, the only places that show signs of expansion are its graveyards, which are turning into new Sufi shrines for people seeking blessing of the “martyrs”.

A woman protests civilian killings in Srinagar. Image courtesy: Muzamil Mattoo

A woman protests civilian killings in Srinagar. Image courtesy: Muzamil Mattoo

It was the year of the dead, of funerals, of chest-beating and hair-pulling, of unanswered prayers and dashed hopes. Every year, I try to convince myself to flee this cursed place and move to a safer world, but Kashmir is the text and subtext of our of lives. You can live in Singapore, Tokyo, New York or Manila; you can take Kashmiris out of Kashmir, but you can’t take Kashmir out of their hearts.

I maintain an Excel sheet of the list of casualties in the Valley from the last two years and update it nearly every day, barring the casualties reported from the Line of Control with Pakistan and International Border in Jammu, which, too, have witnessed bloodshed this year. The sheet has the number of militants killed in a day, the date, place and time, as well as the number of civilians, policemen, CRPF soldiers and Indian Army jawans killed in insurgency-related incidents.

Over the weekend, I opened and reopened this document several times, staring at every column and trying to figure out whether I had missed anything. Maybe I did. I have lost myself in the numbers because I can’t keep pace. My legs are tired and my hands refuse to write. I struggle as the toll rises. I am a broken man.

In the hinterlands of the Valley, 257 militants, 91 security forces and around 102 civilians died this year. I am sure I missed something because human rights groups claim a much higher toll.

For the outer world, these are just numbers. But when I look at them, I see a mother in pitch dark raising her hand for her son, thinking he is alive. It doesn’t matter whether she is mother of a policemen, an army soldier, a militant, or a civilian. I also see a father, who was hoping his son would become his walking stick in old age and shoulder his coffin. Instead, fathers and grandfathers are now burying their dead in graveyards. There are fathers who hoped their sons would light the pyre or throw their ashes into the Ganga, but that can’t happen now.

In Kashmir, conflict makes you apathetic to the sufferings, to the killings, to the destruction, to the families being ravaged, and to the life-long collection of poetry destroyed in a 30-minute gunfight. This year, over a hundred houses were razed to the ground in gunbattles. But life has not stopped. The camaraderie is remarkable. Young boys collect money to perform the last rites of family members. Sometimes women lay their scarves on roads to collect money for people who lose their houses in an encounter.

In any other society, people would petition government offices to seek help. But in Kashmir, few approach the administration; they hardly bother because they know the outcome.

“I will build the house again, but my home is gone,” Madhosh Balhami, a poet who lost 29 years of work, told me early this year after his house was destroyed in a gunfight between security forces and militants.

My wish for the new year is that I don’t want to report on these gory scenes in 2019. I wish no mother loses her son in Kashmir. I wish no son, who takes up an army job to support his family, loses his life. I wish militants are brought back from the woods and integrated into society with respect and dignity. I wish no journalist is killed because of his desire for peace in Kashmir. I wish no civilian is killed while trying to save militants during encounters. I wish teenagers don’t play with toy guns, and instead, make books their friends.

I know none of my wishes will be fulfilled, but hey, life is full of optimism.

Take this quiz to test your knowledge of events in 2018:

Updated Date: Dec 31, 2018 21:54 PM

Updated: January 2, 2019 — 1:32 am