I love 15th August because it's a holiday, a day off from the daily rush. Apart from the restrictions on movement on the days preceding it, having to stop for ID checks and having to open your backpack and explain the contents to a policeman, it's kind of okay. 15th August is also my neighbor's birthday and since it is always curfew that day, I don't have an excuse to not to attend the 'party'. I don't like my neighbor, honestly, I mean, yes, he's a nice person overall but can be one hell of a bully sometimes. Anyways, 15th August.
It is also India's Independence Day. Sometimes, when I wake up late and don't remember the date, the no signal icon on my phone reminds me that it is the Independence Day. You see, if you happen to live in Kashmir and wake up on the morning of 15th August, you'll notice that your phone has no network because you might use it for terrorism-related purposes, and the Internet is blocked because chat-rooms are one hell of a threat to national security. You can't go out because it's curfew outside. And it's best to celebrate freedom indoors, anyways. Three cheers for independence!
Downstairs, I often see my grandma glued to the TV set on this day. She doesn't like the soldiers on parade because she hates the army. A soldier had spoken very obscenely to her once. But she likes to see the part where different states of India each display a fleeting model of their respective cultures, all dressed up and performing their folk dance and all that other cultural stuff. She says her favorite is Punjab, I think she likes Bhangra dance with its beats and all. It's the telecast of the celebrations from New Delhi, everyone in the crowd looks happy.
I switch to the local Kasheer channel and I see nervous school-children marching. The Chief Minister is wearing a karakuli and staring into the distance. I almost chuckle when I recall last year's parade when someone threw a shoe at him as he gave a salute. By now India's tri-color flag has been unfurled. Salutes. Three cheers for independence!
For a passing moment, I realize that for this pompous celebration to take place, every Kashmiri was placed under house-arrest. I find that I can't quite relate to this idea of freedom. What is the celebration for? Maybe our Indian friends enjoy some amount of independence down in the Indian mainland, but not us, not Kashmiris. We don't have this thing called independence. We've got laws that grant the Indian Army the power to do anything as they will, including arresting people without trial, searching any house without a warrant and other related stuff. I mean, if that is independence, then we have plenty of it.
Tomorrow on 15th August 2014, India celebrates its 68th Independence day. While the spirit of independence takes over and pledges of democracy are renewed in ceremonies across India, here in Kashmir all human spirits shall be barricaded, all communication links - including internet and telephone services - terminated, all bolts fastened. An uneasy morbid silence shall take over, when the rolls of concertina wire on roads shall far outnumber the souls living here, when every window shall be securely fastened against every barrel pointed towards it, Kashmir shall celebrate its helplessness.
Be happy or else you are anti-national, and automatically, seditious.
From the ramparts of Red Fort, Indian politicians shall hold out promises of justice, equality and integrity to their nationals, and Kashmir will have continued with apathy, declination and retraction of the same. New promises towards Kashmir shall be made by the power offices of India from these parapets, Kashmir shall celebrate all earlier promises by India that were consigned to willful forgetfulness; of Nehru’s : “The fate of Kashmir will ultimately be decided by the people. We have given that pledge and Maharaja (Hari Singh) has supported it. It is not only a pledge to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it” (2nd Nov 1947 speech at Lal Chowk).
Kashmir shall celebrate the ridicule of P V Narsima Rao‘s : "Sky is the limit" and the jeer of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s : "Insaniyat ke daire mai" (Within the realm of humanity). Kashmir shall also celebrate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s : "Zero tolerance for human rights violations" and at the same time mourn its practiced paradox here. Indian politicians shall declare their "Love not lost for the atoot ang" (integral part). Kashmir shall be made to celebrate the practiced rule of "Get them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow."
I stare at the television screen until the celebration function ends and the politicians shake hands and exchange pleasantries, all smiles. They'll all probably leave in their Ambassador cars, accompanied by their bodyguards. The soldiers, too, will pack up their shiny uniforms and leave. Have a nice independence day, fellows! Both India and Kashmir shall celebrate 15th August in Kashmir — India in denial of the facts in Kashmir, in delusions of achievements here, of a fallacy forced by military might and Kashmir in realization of determination in self and towards the pursuit of justice.
Sometimes, I wonder if Kashmir will have its own independence day. It was, after all, independent until 1947. Over the years, this uncertainty has existed and grown. It has manifested in both violent and non-violent forms. On 16th, 17th and 18th August, and all other days that follow, until it is addressed, this uncertainty will still be there.
Until then, everyone on that TV screen is an actor. With a role. In a play — a play called Independence Day. By the time I switch the TV off and my grandma is in the kitchen, boiling some nun-chai tea for herself, I realize that celebrating your freedom is meaningless if you deny it to others.