A bloody year for Kashmir: Through the eyes of a reporter
2016 left hundreds of hearts pained, scores of lives bruised and many minds scarred.
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Is there a specific term for a period of time that has made you experience some of the most important moments of your life delivered in the most difficult circumstances? That is how I would describe the year 2016.
As a journalist, my diary is full of events, some of them very ugly. And understandably so, after-all around five months of this year went into a violent phase of unrest for Kashmir.
Up to 85 civilians were killed, around 13,000 injured and many of them tragically lost their sight. As the year comes to an end, what I am penning down here is a collage of personal and professional experiences, emotions, occurrences all put together.
And in the process I hope to provide a glimpse of what people like me have lived through this year in Kashmir.
It was the month of January when I decided to take the big step, tie the nuptial knot. The perfect lady was in sight. So the year certainly began on an exciting note. Professionally also, the first month showed just how it was going to be, CM and PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed away in January itself.
And this triggered a long period of uncertainty over the continuation of the PDP-BJP alliance in the state. Close to two months of playing hard-to-get, Mehbooba Mufti gave nightmares to MLAs, some of them first-timers.
I remember a BJP legislator (first-timer) telling me "kya yaar, abhi toh shuru kiya tha" in utter disdain. Till the last minute, it looked like the woman leader was having a change of heart about the alliance.
But things transformed after she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The north and south poles were again back together. However, this triggered a barrage of criticism against her.
Most Valley-based commentators analysed this as yet another disaster. Columns were written on how this was akin to PDP betraying its voters. Many already spoke of unrest in the minds of people.
But those in power seemed confident. They rode the initial storms, such as the debates on Sainik colonies, Pandit colonies, and even the potentially phosphorus situation that arose after an incident of alleged misbehaviour with a school girl by an army jawan in Handwara. Five individuals lost their lives in the days to come. But it wasn’t allowed to flare up much.
However, the real test started on July 8. That evening, a call from a source said something big had happened in an encounter in Kokernag of South Kashmir. The journalist in me went into a huddle and just a few phone calls confirmed that Burhan Wani, the Kashmir commander of Hizb, was killed.
Breaking news it was. Not many in Delhi studios realised how big it was on the ground. Back home, that night every mobile phone had pictures of Wani’s body being widely circulated. He was a young man who had become the poster boy for Hizb by using social media to his advantage.
The most prominent account of how he landed up in the lap of militancy suggests that it was the harassment of him and his brother (both teenagers) at the hands of some securitymen. Wani's encounter brought the entire Valley to a standstill.CM Mehbooba Mufti.
Reports of protests and violent clashes started pouring in from many parts of south Kashmir the very next day. Till evening it was clear that around 10 people were killed. This meant bad news for the entire establishment.
Peak summer in the Valley had already gone cold. From bustling tourism to the onset of the marriage season - all had become collateral damage. Everyday hundreds of desperate advertisements in local dailies informed people about wedding receptions being cancelled.
Our wedding date was August 7 and we hoped against hope that things would get better. But that wasn’t to be. We still decided to go ahead. Only the closest people came home. Most of them arrived just before dawn because nothing would move post the break of light.
During the day, streets were curfewed by thousands of men in uniform and in the evenings, when the military would pull out, the same spaces would be occupied by protesters. Somehow we managed to tie the knot. Friends still call it a curfewed wedding. I however take pleasure in the thought that eventually love won.
Just a few days later, I was back to work. For journalists in conflict, the time when nothing moves is the time when work is at the highest. People were dying every single day, the number of injured mounting; hospitals were crowded by patients with serious pellet injuries.
One afternoon in the ophthalmology ward of SMHS hospital of Srinagar, I witnessed a wailing mother pointing towards her left eye. She was pleading with a bunch of doctors to take it out and give it to her son.
The iron pellets fired by forces as "non-lethal" ammunition had ruptured the inside of the 16-year-old boy’s left eye. The anger among people was brimming.
While government presence was lacking, bruised locals would vent their anger on anything remotely symbolising authority. And that included media crew as well. Their grudge against us was also about the imbalance in reportage of their plight by some media outlets. Our professional lives were made all the more difficult. But these challenges seemed little compared with the amount and pace of the pain unfolding around.
These months of unrest threw peculiar situations to report. Towards the end of October, when the government, in a bid to restore a semblance of normalcy, decided they would go ahead and hold the annual Board examinations, a sudden spurt in incidents of school burning started.
Close to 30 schools were consumed in the melee. Every right thinking individual including the separatist voices were condemning it. The pain of witnessing institutions of learning being torn apart was evident.
What shattered me personally was a news flash from Anantnag. An SMS read that JNV school Ashmuqam had been set on fire. It was my childhood school. The place that had shaped me up during the difficult times of the 1990s.
I had to go to the spot. I saw my school's walls covered with black soot, burnt furniture and charred academic records. It almost made me cry, but I managed to hold myself back since a television report had to be made and broadcasted.
As we step into the New Year, forgetting the pain of the past would be unfair. The year 2016 has been tough to the Valley. It has left hundreds of hearts pained, scores of lives bruised and many minds scarred.
Turning the pages of my dairy backwards was an attempt to recollect what we have gone through. While I hope my experiences have encased all the emotions of a common man, I also know that it is time to start a new chapter, a new diary with confidence that its pages this year will be full of stories of goodness, grins, light, better times and above all, life.