No More Fridays in the Old City…

Perspective Greater Kashmir 2009
No More Fridays in the Old City

A wounded psyche is a tough thing to tackle, but seeking solace in street violence and by joining fight clubs cannot be part of any constructive group therapy, says Carin Jodha Fischer.

The other day, while my vehicle was cautiously snaking around the far side of Dal Lake, so as not to get drenched in a downpour of rocks near the old city, I was thinking of why my sense of kinship with the stone pelting crowds was fading, and why I was now avoiding an area of Srinagar I had frequented on Fridays so many times over the last year.  The last Friday I went to the Jamia Masjid with a journalist friend, I barely escaped being hit by a stray brick aimed at someone – anyone –, and was then tear gassed by paramilitary troops while trying to seek shelter. And both of us were there because we were friends of the people, not foes.  Call me a coward or turncoat, but I don’t find it useful to risk my life over uncontrollable expressions of anger that hardly solve the fundamental problems that are prompting the young of this city to find  a sense of solidarity in the bombardment of a neighborhood that I consider the soul of Kashmir. Undoubtedly, a wounded psyche is a tough thing to tackle, but seeking solace in street violence and by joining fight clubs cannot be part of any constructive group therapy. Then I thought about some of the sources of my own anger that had in the past created a sense of kinship with the pelting crowds. Truth is that besides the usual curbs on one’s personal freedoms and the associated sense of injustice one inevitably suffers while living here, there are many other potential targets that could easily be included in one’s metaphorical shooting range, if one believed that this counterproductive mode of dissent were to lead anything to its logical conclusion. Admittedly, in the past, I myself had often thought about aiming my personal outrage at those who are continuously and quite successfully taking advantage of a situation that makes Kashmir too cloistered a place for transparent administration and effective enforcement of its own laws. Luckily, my belief that two wrongs don’t make a right always prevailed. After all, any type of violent expression only reinforces the barbed wire that closes off neighborhoods and very effectively prevents the opening of more sympathetic minds.

The main sources of my own frustration, and I am sure of many others here, include many things besides the curbing of personal freedoms: smug bureaucrats who have the power to endlessly delay developmental or any projects, making us squirm while trying to push them along; friends who seem to lack truthfulness and commitment to an idea; acquaintances who appear to be one thing but turn out to be another; politicians who promise economic salvation in low level governmental jobs instead of encouraging people to take their fate into their own hands; the young who seek but cannot find hope in a future that they don’t believe will be determined by themselves; divided local communities who fight each other instead of the various  outside forces that are keeping them down; widows and orphans who attract media coverage but little other attention; timber smugglers who loot the forests in connivance with greedy government officials; authorities who lack the will to protect the precious resources of a place that could move towards economic self-sufficiency, instead of environmental disaster, if those resources were managed with greater transparency, sincerity and skill; and last but not least the sometimes seemingly empty pursuit of achieving nationhood in a nation that has yet to be built  or else may one day become only a wasteland of the free. In the summer of 2008, I witnessed an energetic mass movement that much inspired me by its total absence of violence. Lakhs of people gathered in unity to demand change without a single rock in their hands. Images of peaceful dissent filled television screens across India and the world.  I was not alone in recognizing that by rejecting all non-peaceful means of uprising the contours of a true revolution had shaped, one that had first and foremost begun in the minds of the people and not in the drawing rooms of their leaders. I was also not alone in my disappointment and outrage when this new type of revolution was brutally crushed as though it had never changed its previous form.  
Sadly, not even one year later, the familiar images of stone pelting hordes are back on prime time, once again conveniently reinforcing the comforting image of the dangerously delinquent Kashmiri. And when, out of fear of getting injured, sympathetic friends avoid areas where raw anger is acted out  and where the selection of targets has also become less discriminating, then one can’t help but wonder if it has not become them versus all of us, instead of them versus those.  Undoubtedly, there is much to be angry about, especially in the minds of the young. Nothing fuels hatred as much as a feeling of total powerlessness. But somehow the negative energy we are witnessing now in the old city on Fridays will have to be channeled into activities that catch the world’s attention instead of fear and repulsion. Will the leader who can do that please stand up and come forward so we can return to the old city on Fridays?

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