Bonded labour and silent tears: memories of a crackdown

It was the summer of 1997; another sunny day in August was coming to an end during the school break. As a thirteen-year-old who lived in a boarding school, I valued home more than anything else. I stood quietly by the window of my room and gazed at the flock of birds hovering in the blue skies before moving to their nests.  The sight of birds flying high and free often made me to think of my own life and how I strongly wished to fly. The thought that others could only watch me fly and will never be able to lay their hands on me gave me a feeling of immense joy. In retrospect, I think my dream was of absolute freedom and ideal liberty. I was lost somewhere, perhaps half slept, when a suddenly knock on my door alerted me. I rushed downstairs to open the door and saw an army officer from the nearby army camp, standing there in a perfect upright posture. With oiled moustache, he stood silent and I greeted him but he just nodded and slightly moved his head and asked: are you Sohail? Yes…yes, I replied with fear. Without speaking anymore, he swiftly moved his hand and I saw an AK 47 rifle in his hands. I started trembling with fear. My mind drew blank. Before I could get back my nerves, the Indian army officer struck my head with the butt of the gun; suddenly there was darkness all around before my eyes. In a kneejerk reaction I firmly held the door and tried to hold it tight, but I fell on the floor and was unable to open my eyes. I, however, heard faint sounds, sobs, cries, but couldn’t understand a single word. It felt like bad dream. The officer kneeled and whispered in to my ear; do you still want to argue? You little Kashmiri terrorist, today we are going to teach you a lesson. The Officer and his men started beating me. Some punched me, few kicked me while some pounded me with gun butts. The assault in a way brought me back to my senses and I could open my eyes. I thought it was end of my life, till I saw my parents rushing to save me. They made hue and cry, and entire neighborhood gathered on the scene. The troopers then left but not before threatening my parents of dire consequences if I argued with them again. I was nursed for days and my parents wondered about the reason behind the assault.

Why I had argued with troopers? Why were they furious and hell bent on perhaps killing me?

A few days before the incident, I had returned from my boarding school to spend a week of holidays with my parents. One evening, I sat with my parents and we were talking about my school. I chattered nonstop; talked about my new English teacher, my friends. I even told my parents in a gloating manner that how one of my teachers refers me as ‘shining star’. My father had smiled and warned me of complacency. I remember him saying: work hard, you have miles to go. But, it was when my father promised to get me a bicycle if I topped the class that my joy new no bounds. I was really elated. I couldn’t believe my ears when the sound of an explosion deafened my ears. We looked at each other quietly and after a little pause we could hear the sounds of intense gun shots and explosions. My parents in a worried tone told me to lie down on ground. I failed to comprehend the situation as the gun fire became more intense and fierce. I was deadly scared. This continued for hours together and I kept holding hands of mother and tried to sleep as the night hours descended. The exchange of fire continued and that night nobody in our house eat or slept; everybody waited for the firing to end and dawn to break, so that people could run away from the village to escape the wrath of armed forces. Having been away in a boarding school, I had only heard stories of brutality of forces but I always took these claims with a pinch of salt. It was dawn, the firing had stopped now. But there was no adhann (call for prayer) from any local mosque and after an hour or so announcements were made on loudspeakers of mosque that there was a crackdown. My mother asked me to have a cup of tea and in the meanwhile I was peeping through the window to see what was happening outside, people were running towards nearby play ground, they were being followed by troopers armed with assault rifles and large bamboo sticks. They drove people from their houses, beating them with sticks and gun butts, people were pleading with them. I could hear the screams of people who were being beaten mercilessly. I was scared as I thought of my father. But my mother assured me that he will be fine. After sometime I heard screams near my house and my mother rushed outside and I followed her. We ran to the nearby ground where all men of our small village had been assembled. There were numerous troopers; they had encircled entire play ground. People were sitting helplessly on ground, nervous and in terror. A group of five army men periodically picked young boys and middle aged men from among the people, assembled and forced them in to a wrecked school building, a temporary torture cell. From outside, we could only hear cries and screams. I was holding the hand of my mother and quite innocently asked her why are they beating our boys? She replied: because we are slaves.

The memories of my history teacher claiming that slavery was a thing of past ran of the kaleidoscope of my mind. The events that were unfolding before my eyes made me to pity the teacher. As I was in these thoughts, my mother’s wailing brought me back to the scene. I saw my father being picked up. My mother cried and wailed and I joined her. We tried to rush to the spot to plead with troopers to spare my father but army men beat me and mother with bamboo sticks. The troopers made my father to remove his shirt and then beat him with bamboo sticks on his bare body. It was a heart wrenching and in utter helplessness I looked towards the sky; sitting on my knees. I was asking God, why doesn’t he come down to help us? Why was he silently watching this brutality?

Strangely, my father wasn’t crying. He was silent. The relatives of other people who were picked up had also assembled. After some time the troopers forced all the men assembled to build a sand bunker for them. While Men carried sand bags on their back, troopers standing guard beat them with sticks, and yelled “move fast”. This savagery and forced labour continued for hours till dawn, when finally army let people go. I was beaten in my house as I had pleaded vigorously for the release of my father.

In the evening on the day of crackdown, without speaking to anybody my father made ablutions and stood up for his prayer. While standing, I saw tears trickling down his cheeks. These were the silent tears: lifeblood of revolution, of rebellion and of resistance. These silent tears even today keep alive the rebel inside me.

Previous post Dipping mercury worsens worries of flood victims
Next post HC notice to private schools on charging September fee