Once upon a time in 2008 which seems like a distant memory but at the same time feels like yesterday. The first uprising of the 21st century took birth in Kashmir after acres of land were illegally transferred to non-state-actors. Land which is the root of the dispute lies in the heart of self determination for Kashmiris.
As the days of protests turned into weeks of demonstrations and months of uprising, Kashmir was burning. At each march in any corner of the city or towns and in the villages that form the geography of this contested land. Each family volunteered with food, juice or even water, as they encouraged the men and women to march on. The roadsides were lined up with buckets of juices, kande’sharbat or water for the marchers to refresh. During curfew weeks, when the city was under siege, people from villages came with food supplies sometimes free.
This sight was unprecedented in the recent memory especially for the youngsters who were born in the 1990s. It was a back-to-the-future-of-sorts of the stories that would be told in every home during the dark and bloody 90s.
As the uprising was brutally crushed by the Indian state, 66 people were killed, thousands injured and many more thousands detained or arrested. The costs were high.
The wounds were fresh, the memories were being lived everyday until June 11, 2010. An uprising that had shattered the enforced calm ensured by the arrest spree of the young protesters. Here too the culture of resistance was similar.
During this time 128 people mostly teenagers were shot dead, Kashmir had turned into Karbala. The air smelt of gun-powder, tear-gas and eternal vengeance. As the bullets were being fired upon, the injuries kept piling up every day. The hospital in Soura would seem like it were in Gaza.
During this time, a single mention of “blood needed” would become viral on the Social Media, kitchens sprouted in the catchment areas. The food was on continuous supply from all over the city and towns nearby.
The spirit of Kashmir was again tested during the catastrophic floods that hit Kashmir in September. It was unimaginable, with people caught unawares. The administration and the help from the Indian state was insufficient and selective which could have made it worse.
Once again, the spirit of volunteerism that is enshrined in the genetic constitution of Kashmiris came to the rescue. Youngsters risking their lives while saving families after families in make-shift boats. Some dying after rescuing hundreds caught in the deluge.
The images from Kashmir haunted the expatriates thousands of miles away. The sheer-helplessness that was encountered by people on the ground mobilised the people outside the country who brought in rescue boats and other essential supplies. Volunteers who sacrificed their studies and jobs took the first flight home to take part in the rescue operations led by the local heroic youth. Many others remained sleepless for days doing their bit on social media, asking for current needs and updating about the situation.
In Kashmir, dignity has more value than bread. It was shown to the world that they could run the country on their own. For a week, the Indian administration had vanished from its existence. Traffic was managed by people, supplies were stored and logistics were taken care of. It says the tragedies bring out the character in the people, and it is quite evident in the way Kashmir rose.
A Kashmiri Blogger says, “In Kashmir, it is always the people who come to the rescue for others. The nameless volunteers who came for rescue of others quietly dissolved in the crowds afterwards. No laurels, no brouhaha.”
The memories of September, it fills you with mixed emotions. Sometimes sad and sometimes proud. The stone pelters who had been outcasted by state as ‘enemies’ would rescue the administration officials’ and their families’ barehanded. The jazba-e-insaniyat should be institutionalised devoid of any personalities but strong bond of community at large.
It will take years to rebuild Kashmir from what it has lost. Not just from the floods but from the ongoing conflict, but one thing is assured that the unknown volunteer will step up every single time.
This is why the unknown volunteer is my person of the year.