One of the book clubs I meet up with once a month in Abu Dhabi, UAE is getting together next week to discuss the book 'Curfewed Night' by Basharat Peer. One of the members, Kubra Mubashir, is a Kashmiri who grew up during the events that Basharat talks about in his book. So, instead of my regular review of a book, Kubra has kindly agreed to post a review on BookFabulous.
Review by Kubra Mubashir
'Curfewed Night' by Basharat Peer is a story very close to my heart. Having been born in Kashmir during the period that’s described in the book I could identify with various situations narrated. To me this story has layers of a common Kashmiri’s existence. Without any International agency to witness and the local media parroting the words of the oppressor's we Kashmiris have learnt to live in grief with our misery and baggage of the past.
Kashmir is the parting gift that the British Raj left for the Indian sub-continent to deal with. In 1947 when Hindustan was partitioned, Jammu & Kashmir were under a Dogra ruler (who ruled over a predominantly Muslim population) who chose to stay independent. Kashmir could have become the bridge of peace between the two newly formed nations but that was not to be.
When the Pakistani tribals invaded Kashmir, the Maharaja was forced to sign the Instrument of Accession with India whereby only Defense, Foreign Affairs and Telecommunication came under the Indian Jurisdiction. Kashmir had its own constitution and flag with those heading the government being referred to as President and Prime Minister.
It was at Lal chowk that the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the national flag in 1948 and promised Kashmiris a referendum to choose their political future; sadly the first amongst the myriad of false promises/allusions that the central government doled out to an unsuspecting Kashmiri public.
In the 1970s the defeat that Pakistan had to face on the liberation of Bangladesh triggered revenge which they envisaged in destabilising Kashmir from Indian Control. In Kashmir, the dearth of democratic reforms and absence of non violent channels for expressing discontent catalysed the urge for breaking free from the shackles of Indian dominance. When the 1987 state elections were rigged most of the youth took to arms to voice their aggression, hatred and angst. India dealt with it by sending shrewd administrators (like Jagmohan) whose role in the Pandit migration and Gawkadal massacre is a moot issue till date
While reading the book I realised that my yearning for Azaadi (Freedom) was a gradual process. It started when 7-year-old me and my friends would be writing anti-India graffiti on the walls –it was our way of venting out. When the militants would move around with their ammunition, there would be blessings shouted at them by the elders, wishful eyes of the teens who wanted to join them and loads of excitement from kids like us who found all this too filmy. I remember how the army convoys would enter a casual convoy of public buses just to prevent militants from attacking them and people carried their gold and certificates in an attaché ready to evacuate in a moment’s notice. In the 90s everybody lived in the moment.
As school girls we would have pictures of our parents in our school bags. We would huddle together at lunchtime and show them to each other. We were 8-year-olds but we had understood death. Till date I never understand if we carried them to let people know whom to call if something happened to us/our bus or whether it was because we wanted to feel our parents were with us if something happened.
Because of the war-like situation in Kashmir many parents sent their kids outside Kashmir to study and to prevent them from crossing the border to Pakistan for arms training. Like Basharat mentioned, many Kashmiri students traveling by train would be singled out by their name on the passenger list or by their “Kashmiri” looks and beaten ruthlessly by maniac/fanatic Indians; robbed/assaulted and sometimes thrown out of the speeding train.
The girls had taken to flying to stay safe while the guys had learnt to travel with false names. If that wasn’t enough Kashmiri’s weren’t given accommodation in many places all over India but also if a terrorist attack took place, all Kashmiris living nearby were bundled up and interrogated. This in part still exists. Around Independence/Republic Day it’s hard getting accommodation in Delhi and if there were an attack anywhere and a Kashmiri happened to be nearby, he becomes the primary target whose motive apparently doesn’t need any logic—he is a Kashmiri after all!
In the late 90s what we feared the most was hearing knocks on our doors/windows after 7 pm. We used to remove the battery of our door bell, close all lights, draw the curtains, place a black sheet over the windows and keep the TV/ land line volume on minimum just to avoid having to host militants and risking the possibility of the army finding out and razing the house to ground
People close to militants used their contacts to aggrandise their fortunes. People who looked for quick money joined the militancy but when life seemed hard they changed sides to become Ikhwanis/informers. Basharat describes the journey of Parveena Ahanger who was offered $2500 by the government in lieu of accepting that her son (who had disappeared in police custody) had died in unknown situations. This shows how insensitive the government is to its own people. The government doesn’t recognise disappeared people of Kashmir as it reckons that the disappeared have joined the militants and are hence a possible threat to the state. Every year on the Day of the Disappeared we see people line up in Iqbal Park and try to share their woeful tales. Some waiting for their fathers, some for their sons, some for husbands and brothers. They seem to have vanished into thin air and those left behind seem to grab for the remnants of what was.
'Papa-2' spelled doom for many people. As Basharat mentioned it killed many, maimed many and destroyed the lives of many. For those who haven’t lived through the terror it might look too filmy to be true but having seen such people I couldn’t stop my tears. People like Basharat have done a commendable job of talking about Kashmir from an insider’s perspective. Till recently all the books written about Kashmir were either from a western perspective or Indian viewpoint but now the generation which grew up in conflict has come forward to share all that they have been a witness to.
Basharat talks about issues which are common knowledge in kashmir but unheard of beyond the Jawahar Tunnel. Kunan Poshpora mass rapes will surely give you haunting nightmares. Having read the victims' accounts and seen the dismissal of the Indian establishment rubbishing the claims of the women, I have been filled with rage and helplessness just like the story of how Mubeena was gang raped multiple times on her wedding day fills me with despair.
This book is a drop in the ocean of stories that are hidden deep inside each Kashmiri. It’s an honest account of what transpired in the 90s in the world’s most beautiful prison.