Mirza Mohammed Ali Khan ali.khan@thehindu.co.in

Senior reporter. Areas of interest include Indian politics and international affairs.

Eid under the guns and grenades

Kashmiri muslim protestors clash with police on Eid during curfew in Srinagar on Tuesday. For the first time in many years, the authorities have imposed curfew in all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley on Eid even as helicopters and drones have been pressed into service for surveillance. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Srinagar,13/9/2016:Kashmiri muslim protestors clash with police on eid day during curfew in Srinagar on Tuesday. For the first time in many years, authorities today imposed curfew in all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley on Eid even as helicopters and drones have been pressed into service for surveillance. PHOTO/NISSAR AHMAD.

It’s another Eid. This one, Bakreid, celebrates the spirit of sacrifice. However, in Kashmir, the focus has shifted from festivities to suffering and mourning.

Unfortunately, this is not new to the Islamic community. Different Eids over the years have transformed into metaphors for strife and conflict involving the community. If it is Gaza one year, it is Baghdad the next. This time, it is the 'Heaven on Earth’ that is being tormented by hell’s fury.

Comfortably seated in peaceful surroundings at the opposite end of our country, looking forward to the festivities and the rich food that is about to come my way, it is definitely not easy attempting to write on Kashmir. The internet helps, though, and it took me just a few clicks to know that the Valley wears a deserted look on the eve of Bakreid. The quiet markets and sombre expressions say it all. Reports also claim that a curfew will be imposed in all 10 districts of Kashmir on Eid. Casualties are mounting, and separatist leaders have called for a march to the United Nations office in Srinagar on the day of Eid.

Protests in the Valley have centred around mosques and Friday prayers for a long time now. This is where I wonder if it would be right for me to ask if Islam has been ‘hijacked’ by a few who seek to forward their cause in Kashmir. A recent report in The Guardian quoted a Kashmiri youth speaking in support of the slain militant Burhan Wani (whose death triggered a giant wave of unrest and violence).

“He fought for a noble cause,” the 16-year-old, from Pulwama district, said of Wani. “He wanted to establish Allah’s law, the law of Qur’an in this land. The protests should continue till we get freedom, the freedom for the sake of Islam,” he said.

What Wani stood for may have been completely different, but the fact that impressionable young people in the Valley have juxtaposed Islam and Islamic law next to secessionist cause begs many questions. Since when did ‘Kashmiriyat’ begin to mean ‘Islamic law and land’ in entirety? Further, there have been instances of the Islamic State flag surfacing in protests in Kashmir. Separatist leaders, however, have disassociated themselves from the Islamic State, but don’t shy away from invoking Islam in their ‘Azaadi’ discourse. What then, what kind of ‘Azaadi’ do they seek?

Writing for The Mint in 2010, Aakaar Patel, now with Amnesty International India, talks about how the discourse in Kashmir has been hijacked by the ‘Sunni idea’ of Azaadi. The sectarian angle in Kashmir has been relatively ignored by the mainstream media, but the perception that Shia Muslims in the Valley have been sidelined does exist, with a 2013 article in Tehelka going as far as to ask if Shias in Kashmir are the next Pandits.

Being a Muslim myself, I often wonder if making Islam the focal point of all things is indeed fair. Yes, the Valley has a Muslim majority, but in making the separatist dialogue mostly about Islam, some leaders forget that Kashmiriyat, which has been a clarion call for separatism, is being pushed to the side. The problem? People start associating Islam alone with the militancy in Kashmir, and in no time at all, the Islamophobia takes centre-stage. This is definitely not what the religion deserves.

Let's recall memories of Bakreid 2014. Things were relatively more peaceful, and the Kashmir-dominated discussion in public forums was mostly because of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider, which released around Bakreid. The movie, that dealt with the insurgency in the Valley in the 1990s, had this iconic scene where a mentally deranged Haider, played by Shahid Kapoor, demands Azaadi. His first ever such demand in the movie, and it came after he lost his mind. But wait, according to the movie’s narrative, he loses his mind after he finds out his father has been killed after a ‘disappearance’, thus highlighting the vicious cycle of events the Valley experiences.

Repeating myself, it is definitely not my place to write about what I think the people in Kashmir may be facing. I am as detached and oblivious to what is happening in Kashmir as you may be. But as somebody living under the Tricolour, the same Tricolour that flutters over Kashmir, I yearn to understand how things could be untangled. I yearn for a day when peace would descend on the Valley. I yearn to see the day when Eid is just Eid, where there is happiness, brotherhood, love and celebration...even in Kashmir. Eid Mubarak!

Published on September 13, 2016

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