Witness

ALI USMAN

November 1995; everyone was eagerly waiting for his arrival. Children had collected flower petals, candies, coins and what not. Father had gone to receive him, while mother was serving Noon Chai (Salt Tea) to guests who were swelling in number with every passing moment.  We were decorating the road with colourful saw dust. Everyone was jubilant and why not, after all he was returning home after 18 long months.

16 May 1994, the last day of holy Ramadaan.  It was a hot afternoon barely two hours before Iftar. I was returning from my tuitions, eager to reach home. The satchel on my shoulders swung to and fro as I came in running through the narrow allies of a typical Srinagar locality. I hurriedly climbed the steep staircase leading to my room; a beautiful world within the world. It had lovely light green coloured walls with a white wooden ceiling. Just opposite to the main entrance on the west side was a big window with clear panes. For me this one little room was the dearest place on the earth. I had often heard Mom saying that father got it constructed just before their marriage. 

As soon as entered the room I couldn’t believe what I saw. The room was jam packed.  Women from almost all neighbouring houses stood standing looking through the big window. Their faces were pale and a sense of chaos writ hanging on their faces; among them were my mother and younger aunt. I was only seven then, a chubby chap with dark black hair. Struggling, I pushed my way to the window to look what the matter actually was. Barely, some seven hundred yards away I could see military-men who stood between 10 to 15 in number. They were all looking at a banished single story mud house. It belonged to a Pandit, a baker who had left it after the Pandit community migrated from Kashmir. On its thatched roof stood four men all in military uniform. Anxious eyes, keen looks and then, “It’s him… Yes it’s him” cried my aunt. She was referring to her brother “Gasha” (One with light). A healthy broad guy with a little beard he was only twenty one then. He was the youngest of all my uncles and darling of every eye. She had recognized him by his ‘blue Force 10 shoes’. “I washed them this morning only” she said. The scene within the room changed from worse to worst. Wails sobs and tears was all what I could see. He, my uncle was a tied by a rope. His face was covered with black cloth.  Behind him stood three military men, each holding a gun in their hand. I could make out from their actions that they were looking for something under the damaged roof. It continued for not more than 10 minutes which to me seemed likes ages. Finally they got up and started beating my uncle with butts and kicks. He was brought down and they all left. The mud house stood between the view to the main road, we could not make out what happened thereafter. Father and my other uncles had already rushed to the spot and I heard that they were following the gypsies to ascertain where he was being taken. Back at home everybody was crying, women were wailing, beating their chests. My younger aunt fainted, I clung to mothers hand who herself stood awestricken.

Uncle says he was picked up by BSF around Bari Nambal . “They bundled me in a gpsy and took me to Karan Nagar”, a place named after the erstwhile Prince of Jammu and Kashmir Dr Karan Singh. He doesn’t want to divulge details but says “torture forces you confess anything”.  After spending six months in detention he was booked under TADA and then shifted first to Papa 1 Gogoo and then to Papa 2 Gupkar. These were two most brutal torture camps of the time. Today the former is an airfield and later a Chief Ministerial residencene. Once

He was not only one to be arrested like this, the number was countless. Those were turbulent times, crackdowns, checking, search operations were the order of day. Crackdowns brought terror; the whole area was sealed within no time. Men of all age groups except children were asked to gather in the Sports Stadium. Hungry and thirsty there they were paraded one by one before an armoured vehicle. The vehicle I heard housed a person often called “Cat” who would hoot on any suspect during the parade. The suspect was thereupon bundled in a gypsy and taken for the interrogation. Often the person confessed what he was forced to. If so happened he was brought back for further identification.

Elderly women witnessed the parade and brought news back home from time to time. A pall of gloom descended as soon as the news of somebody being arrested would trickle in. Women went to the camps wailing, sloganeering and asking for the release. I myself never witnessed any such parade but only heard off. Back at home things were no different. Women eagerly waited for the turn to get their house searched by the military personnel. For children like me this meant nothing more than a day off at school.

But hardships had a lighter side to them. Blackouts usually were the times of gatherings. Mother usually used to feed us before the lights were to be turned off. We then slipped to the house our fathers uncle. He was a generous man with white-grey hair. We would all sit together under the gas lamp and he narrated his experiences until it was the time to sleep. The world outside was unknown to us perhaps we were too young to understand what actually was transpiring. The only things we could hear were slogans on loudspeakers and the sound of stones against the roofs of those who seized to turn off their lights. Once, I and brother somehow managed our way to the main link road.  It was pitch dark we only heard slogans on loudspeakers that grew clearer as we moved on. Father was not at home; one of our neighbours took us by hand and guided us to a abandoned Pandit house. On the second floor we found ourselves suddenly stood upto the mic. All I could see were the faces of young men whom I all knew. We were asked to shout slogans. My heart pounced like never before, my throat became dry and I could feel sweat on my palms. The mic was lowered. Initially, I hesitated but everybody kept on insisting. Then there was a sudden rush of adrenaline; I raised my hand and shouted “God is Greatest… We want freedom,” and then brother followed.  Until now father had already got wind of what was happening, by the time we could escape he stood there waiting for us. He scolded us and told us to go home. We feared a beating but nothing happened afterwards.

Slogans in those days were similar to those of today except for those patriotic songs(Jago Jago Subeh Huvi…Kunay Shaheeda Rang Laya…Fateh Ka Parcham Lehraya…Jago Jago  Subeh Huvi). Wake up…wake up the dawn has come, the blood of martyrs has shown off its colour, the flag of victory has been hoisted, Wake up…wake up the dawn has come. Women often sang songs as a tribute to brave militant commanders Ishfaq Majeed, Hameed Sheikh and Fayaz Dar. Often sung on marriages and other gatherings they brought admiration to hearts and tears to eyes.
There was a sense of ultra nationalism in those days. In the lanes and by lanes young men in their mid teens often stood chatting about their superficial plans. One of them a wiry tall guy with light green eyes and brown hair always used to talk of eliminating Governor, but then their heroics would evaporate. They ran to disappear in the narrow allies on sensing the arrival of military. Perhaps they understood the repercussions of being arrested.  Torture, disabilities, detention without trial, custodial disappearance or perhaps a fake encounter is what they might have been subjected to.

Though my uncle had to bear the torture, trauma and detention for 18 long months, but in a sense we were fortunate, for now he was returning to home safe and sound.  When he finally arrived I was too short to see anything.  I jostled between the legs to reach him. Here he stood, garlanded, wearing a grey Khan Suit. He sported a beard a longer than ever before. As he walked through the lane leading towards our house women on the both sides showered petals, candies, almonds and coins. Children in their usual fashion began collecting them struggling between legs. I and my brother collected some one hundred and twenty rupees. We then exchanged them for the notes. I kept in the wallet that father had gifted me; it belonged to my late grandfather. That night was murky. Long after the guests had left; all of us, the full family sat under the dim light of a candle, but the dimness, the murky darkness did not matter then for our “Gasha” was back at home.

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About theparallelpost
The language of words is more heavenly than the language of tongues and lips. The Parallel Post is a forum to offer a space for people who dare to speak through their words. The intention is to create an environment to share in words what we perceive in our minds...

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