Riding a scooter n the jam-packed streets that lead to the clock tower in Lal Chowk the buzzing shopping centre of Srinagar. The streets are very small by width (due to the obvious horrible planning) so it causes huge traffic jams. Plus the occasional bouts of tremors that hit your stomach as the wheels ram into potholes. Add to the fact that the relentless honking of cars, bikes, and buses, who like aspiring music-composers can’t stop themselves from indulging into this art. Also with occasional fights that break now and then, after vehicles hit or scrape each other. Above all, the massive parking problem ends up cars being jacked by Traffic Police, sometimes leaving tyre-marks on the roads lest the driver pulled the handbrake lever. if you are going through a rough day, you will be having the luxury of a catnap if an Indian Occupational Army Convoy passes by or a burly bureaucrat who is hungry for kebabs at the Ahdoos. Such a painful predicament.
I wasn’t supposed to write about the traffic chaos in Lal Chowk. I got carried away, I have seen too much of this, which later ended up in a tea sojourn at the legendary Lala Sheikh.
So I was looking for books on my reading list and if anything else interested me. On my white scooter I left looking for them. Crossing military camps, erstwhile checkpoints and an occasional Indian Troop Patrol while a black dog gave them a mouthful. I some how found myself in the book store while riding through the traffic in Lal Chowk (actually it was more pavements than the roads). I went to my good ol’ friend Khan Sahab who has a small shop near the Lambert Lane. He’s a pretty famous newsstand. You might actually end up bumping into journalists who talk…a lot…about everything.
So I see History Books of Kashmir written by various authors stacked up against the IAS/KAS preparation books. I asked Khan Sahab what are people currently reading, he replied, “Mostly History books on Kashmir”. So I got this Urdu book by Peerzada called ‘Vaadi’e Khoon’aab’ (The Valley of Bloodshed) and a couple of other books.
Then to the Gulshan Book Store, the oldest one around who were stocking books on Kashmir and I witnessed the same thing at the Password.
Stocking up books on Kashmir means that people in Kashmir, especially the youngsters are reading. Reading is an important step in resistance of the world. If you go to the University of Kashmir or in a bus, you might see a guy or a girl holding on to a book. Or if somebody reading it from the smartphones. Youngsters who emblazoned with passion during the Uprisings of 2008 and 2010, pelted stones and sang songs until their throats turned raw, are turning to books and resistance literature. Some have even started writing blogs and columns for Kashmiri Newspapers. Some turn to poetry and others to ‘revolutionary rap’.
Paulo Freire in his The PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED quotes, “The oppressed, who have been shaped by the death-affirming climate of oppression, must find through their struggle the way to life-affirming humanization, which does not lie simply in having more to eat (although it does involve having more to eat and cannot fail to include this aspect). The oppressed have been destroyed precisely because their situation has reduced them to things. In order to regain their humanity they must cease to be things and fight as men and women. This is a radical requirement. They cannot enter the struggle as objects in order later to become human beings.”
From the last so many decades since the Indian Invasion of Kashmir, and the subsequent occupation has created a vacuum of intellectual resistance in the Kashmiri society. The intellectuals have always been on the payrolls of the state thus becoming the tools of the occupation. Or those who refused to be sell outs, have been either assassinated, threatened or forcibly exiled. The larger Kashmiri society has been alien to the various facets of this brutalized occupation, though they have experienced it themselves but have not defined it. For example, the concept of ‘cultural imperialism’ has been effectively used by the Indian State to dent the identity of being a ‘Kashmiri’. It started with the little things like making Santoor, the ancient Kashmiri string musical instrument into an ‘Indian Instrument’ and projecting it worldwide. Thus fulfilling the agenda of ‘Kashmir is Integral Part of India’. Or during the 90s, when the brutalisation of Kashmiri society was at its peak, they renamed villages to names like ‘Victorypora’ thus robbing the villages of their identity.
Identity is one of the bases of any society that is struggling for its liberation. We identify ourselves as Kashmiris, or as a people of a country who were robbed of their independence. Thus Identity becomes a crucial target for the occupation to take that away from us. These subtle elements which were alien to Kashmiris, but used in rhetoric have been flagged by the new generation of Kashmiris.
Since 2008 Uprising, more than 20,000 Kashmiris mostly youth have been sent to jail or detained or put under Public Safety Act (which means no trial for two years). The methods of torture like plucking of nails by pliers, moving a roller over a body, pushing rats into the pants etc have been used to effectively break the will of this new generation, who were born in the age of concertina wires, crackdowns and a funeral every day. But with passage of time, the same generation has learnt to speak out. You’ll see Young Kashmiris quoting Kafka, Che Guevara, Ibn Taymmiyah, Edward Said et al or drawing parallels with the struggles of the Algerian Revolution, The Cuban Revolution, The Palestinian Conflict etc.
The reading has started a process of intellectual revolution in Kashmiri Society, who can take the state head on with their words and wits. These youngsters have started to tell their own stories, remembering what they have seen and translating it into resistance, and knowing the subtleties of the occupation and how it plays in their lives.
The more these bookshops make profits, the more advanced and compact our struggle becomes. But their is one thing. If you end up in Khan Sahab’s News Agency or any other bookstore and you witness two stacks of books, the IAS/KAS preparation courses or the books on History and Resistance, you have to make a choice.