Hair-razing Tales From the Valley

It is said that those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first turn mad. This is precisely what seems to be happening in the Valley. The latest in the series of ‘Conspiracy Theories’ is the Braid-Chopping frenzy where everybody, from security personnel to the mentally unsound and even foreign tourists are being branded and targeted as clandestine ‘Hair-thieves’!
Many incidents have been reported from the terrorist-infested districts of South Kashmir, could it be a deliberate ploy to create intense fear in the minds of locals? So much fear that they would remain confined to their houses guarding the ‘precious’ hair of their women and leaving the terrorists free to carry on their activities! Fearful minds are easier to control and manipulate.
Kashmir has always been the kind of place where rumours spread fast, people with no other avenues of distraction thrive on gossip and maligning others. Deliberately malicious rumours can be concocted within hours and transmitted even faster via the good old grapevine. Now with WhatsApp, the dissemination process has become even faster.
In 1963, there was an attempt to create communal tension when the Moi-e-Muqqadas or Holy Relic mysteriously vanished from the Hazratbal Shrine. Kashmiris rioted for 17 days until the sacred strand of hair was recovered, just as mysteriously as it had disappeared! At that time too, propaganda was created against GOI and it took skilful handling by the CM of that time before the Holy Relic was restored to its rightful place by the custodian who is said to have filched it. Again, in 1993 Intelligence Agencies foiled the Separatists’ plan to create trouble by using the same modus operandi.
Years later, not much has changed. In fact now that Kashmir is more of a closed society with a single-minded focus on religion, it’s probably easier to mislead people by spreading rumours. It’s like a virtual tinderbox where a rumour acts as the matchstick. Paranoia and fear seem to have gripped simple minds and those who claim to be ‘educated’ have made no attempt to explain away these fears.
Any rational mind would see this ‘Braid-cutting’ phenomenon for what it is, the creation of a diabolically fertile imagination that seeks to make political capital out of a fragile situation. That people can actually be driven to mercilessly beating and killing others over ‘mysterious’ haircuts, would be hilarious but for the loss of innocent lives!
Many of these female ‘victims’ are said to have a history of mental illness which could explain the paranoia and hallucinations. The Rumour Mill is in overdrive and unofficial reports from the Valley claim that these women, who claim to be ‘victims’ of ‘Mysterious Choppers’ apparently lusting for that coveted lock, are actually being paid hefty amounts for cutting their own hair. If this is true, then it is obviously a repeat of the Stone-pelting story.
Several political outfits, including the Separatists, were beginning to feel isolated ever since NIA rounded up the ‘organisers’ of the ‘Stone-Pelting Industry.’ After lying low for a few months, they began scouting for an alternative and came up with the present drama. The script for this ‘Braid-chopping’ story is not even original, it’s a straight lift from what had already been played out in several North Indian States. The Kashmiri Scriptwriters added local masala by bringing in the Security forces as ‘Villains’ and incited local mobs to enact the role of passionate ‘Braid-Rakshaks’, who brashly kill/maim and thrash those suspected of eyeing the crowning glory of Kashmiri damsels! The ‘damsels in distress’ added to the suspense by feigning hallucinations of a mysterious black figure that sprays an unknown substance on them, causing them to swoon and thus be ‘unaware’ of how they lost those precious locks of hair. Meanwhile the Rumour Mill spread details of the ‘Knockout Spray’ being manufactured by no less than DRDO and the ‘Braid-Stealer’ having been sent by ‘Indian Agencies’!
Ever since this sordid saga started, there have been daily instances of people being mercilessly thrashed and lynched. Several tourists have had a providential escape, being saved by the police in the nick of time. Invariably, a frenzied mob zeroes in on a weak, defenceless target egged on by the Ringleaders who instruct them to show no mercy. A 70 year old has been lynched, a mentally-unsound person immolated, an early-morning worshipper who went to a mosque was almost drowned and several foreigners and non-Kashmiris have been heckled and threatened by menacing mobs.
Why is this happening? The finger of suspicion points at those who’ve brought Kashmir to it’s present state while nurturing their personal fortunes and ambitions. Feeling the squeeze after frequent Exposes and drying up of funds, these politicians are desperately trying to claw their way back to significance and will not stop short of anything to achieve their political ends. What is more frighteningly horrifying is that the cycle of violence that began with the killing and hounding out of the Minorities is now making Kashmiris turn upon their fellow-Muslims.

The people in the Valley, deprived of healthy outlets or modes of catharsis,  seem to be turning bloodthirsty ‘mob-hunting’  into a game that satisfies their baser instincts. Like in the past, Civil Society has failed to rise to the occasion. Instead of analysing and explaining these incidents rationally, the Elite have chosen to stay mum even while innocent people are being lynched. The journalists, activists and writers who lose no opportunity to jeer at ‘lynchings by Gau-Rakshaks’ are strangely silent when Kashmiri Braid-Rakshaks are fast turning the Valley into a ‘Lynchistan’. Let’s hope they remember that:

First they came for the Kashmiri Pandits and no one spoke up.    

Then they came for all the artists & musicians and no one spoke up. 

Finally they came for their own And still people looked around and pointed fingers.

Till it was their turn!


Kashmir: Where Time Seems To Stand Still!

The #NITSrinagar episode brought back some unpleasant memories that I’d managed to push right to the back of my mind. Memories of those growing up years in Srinagar when life was not as rosy as we like to think, it did have shades of gray often threatening to turn black! Those were simpler times when all that mattered was friends and the thrill of finally being in college. These simpler pleasures were marred occasionally when a cricket match involving either India or Pakistan happened to be played in some part of the world. And woe betide if the two countries happened to be playing against each other!

Thanks to the Irish nuns, school had been a cocoon sheltering us from the harsh realities that the Government College for Women, with it’s mix of girls from various backgrounds, brought us face to face with. Suddenly, there were whole groups of girls vociferously rooting for Pakistan whenever a Cricket Match was played. The worst shock was when, Muhammad Ali the American Boxing Champion won a title, my best friend from school, a sane and totally non-religious girl transformed the college Common Room into a ‘Shrine’ for the Champ and announced that no non-Muslim would be allowed to enter! Girls who’d been perfectly normal till then, transformed into ferocious Viragos, delivering shrill Islamic sermons! Gradually, this became a regular feature, with each episode getting more blatant. Incidentally, a lady lawyer who frequents TV Debates these days, was one such ‘leader’ organizing these bouts of fanatic displays!

That was what took place within the cloistered walls of our college on Srinagar’s tony MA Road; the streets outside frequently erupted in loud demonstrations and cries of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, stone-pelting and crackers the whole night, to celebrate Paki victories. Menacing slogans in the distance meant a day off and the sudden familiar sound of hastily downed shop shutters. The years went by and by the time we entered the gates of Kashmir University, the ‘Protests’ became more regular and the reasons more random and far-fetched. A killing in distant Iran, some ‘fatwa’ somewhere in the Muslim world or trouble in neighboring Pakistan were enough for the streets to empty out, shops close down and buses to go on strike! Getting home from distant Hazratbal, where the University is situated, was always a daunting task in such situations! Panic-stricken parents waiting at home, we’d try and find some means of getting home.

Fast forward to 30 years later, in the present, nothing seems to have changed! Kashmir still gets vicarious pleasure from unrelated victories and losses, educational institutions still become hate-filled, forbidding places and friends turn into hostile strangers, ostensibly for Cricket Matches! We, who have lived in Kashmir, know that the NIT Srinagar students celebrating the defeat of the Indian Cricket team and taunting their non-Kashmiri counterparts is not a unique incident but, actually a continuation of the blatantly religious displays that have been seen in Kashmir through the decades. These are essentially anti-India in nature and therefore capable of inspiring fear and insecurity in any non-Muslim! It’s like a testosterone-shedding spree for these young men who are deprived of better forms of entertainment!

All this talk about Kashmiri students being ‘outnumbered and attacked’ is laughable! Anyone familiar with the ground reality in the Valley knows how close NIT Srinagar is to Kashmir University, how quickly these students hop from one campus to another and how easy it is for local people from surrounding Hazratbal to join the anti-national chorus! It is ridiculous to even imagine that Kashmiris are capable of being ‘outnumbered’ in Kashmir!
For Kashmiris to gloss over the matter by attributing the situation to ‘academic issues’ and playing down the gravity, is shameful! The far-fetched effort to connect and compare this incident with grievances of Kashmiri students studying in other Indian States, is a very petty effort to justify the lack of hospitality ( for lack of a better word) displayed by Kashmiri students! Several, rather unsavory tweets by Kashmiris, regarding this incident reveal a resentment against non-Kashmiri students being allowed in an educational institution in Kashmir. These students, who have been living in self-imposed isolation for far too long, need to learn to live with others! They must shed their ‘Victim’ mentality and mingle with people from other cultures and religions, only then will this age-old status quo change!

As for the non-Kashmiri students studying in NIT Srinagar, three cheers for these Brave hearts who marched through the NIT Campus with the Tricolour held high! Watching them do this right in the heart of Separatist territory: Kashmir University was an amazing experience. It somehow made up for all those years of silent humiliation that we Kashmiri Pandits had to tolerate for so many years!

An Open Letter To Umar Khalid

Dear Umar Khalid,

There are several issues that need to be clarified by you, if you care to do so. First of all, I’d like to ask why you used the title of a beautiful poem by Agha Shahid Ali for such a controversial event? Who gave you the right to link that poem which speaks of the universal sufferings of ALL Kashmiris with the dubious Cause of ‘Azadi’? Take a look at the 2nd stanza of ‘The Country Without a Post Office’:

“Empty? Because so many fled, ran away

and became refugees there, in the plains

where they must now will a final dewfall

to turn the mountains to glass,”

Do you understand the reference to the Kashmiri Pandits who do not seem to exist for you!The poet was more inclusive than you seem to be, he had friends from both Communities of Kashmiri society and obviously the poem bemoans the loss of the secular Kashmir he knew!

Comrade Khalid or should I call you Jenaab Umar Khalid, please do clarify which ‘ideology’ you follow. You cannot work actively with a leftist-Students Union and then suddenly claim to be a ‘persecuted Muslim’! This is certainly a personal battle you are fighting and to involve the whole of JNU in this ugly incident is a clever but unfair ploy! You were the main Organiser of the anti-India event and you must explain what happened and why you allowed it to happen. To bring in the RSS and sundry other unrelated factors is childish! You do know that it is INDIANS whom you are answerable to, not any political Party!!

As for your reference to a ‘media trial’, you have named only one Channel, why did you conveniently forget to add that other journalists are actually acting as your lawyers in their eagerness to defend your actions! You object to the ‘Bhaisahab’, what about the ‘Behenji’ who jumps to your defense!

Your deliberate reference to Kandhamal and the Christian nuns was a politically clever move but irrelevant to your case. Since you feel so deeply for a section of the people of Kashmir, it would be relevant to remind you of the horrific massacre at Wandhama where dozens of innocent Kashmiri Pandit men, women and children, including toddlers, were murdered in cold blood!

You allowed your friends/supporters to shout abusive slogans against Bharat in the JNU Campus on Feb 9, yet you remain unapologetic with the rather derogatory reference to ‘your Bharat Mata’ in your latest ‘speech’!

If in the ‘last seven years’ you did not think of yourself as a Muslim, why now? And for heaven’s sake, don’t bring in ‘other oppressed classes’ in your impassioned defense of yourself as a ‘Victim’! I’d also advise you to watch your words, Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru were executed after due process of law and to term their conviction as ‘judicial killings’ or Rohith Vemula’s suicide as a ‘murder’ is carrying your personal opinion a bit too far!

Kindly stop tarnishing the image of a premier Indian University by using it to attain your own narrow ends! Whether you seek ‘azadi’ for Kashmir or ‘freedom’ to abuse the nation, please take responsibility for the shameful events of Feb 9 and also your hate-filled FB posts where you defiantly voiced your true intentions before quietly deleting the said account?

Stop pretending to be what you are not, your name is Umar Khalid and you have actively propagated a Separatist agenda, threatened Bharat with ‘barbadi’, then gone underground like a ‘wanted criminal’ and attempted to emerge as a  defiant and unapologetic ‘Victim’ which you most certainly are not!