As a 9-year-old, I often used to walk the distance alone – from my home to tuition classes. Halfway through, I’d cross the busy road of Rani Bagh market to get on to the other side and continue my long walk to didi who would teach me for the next two hours. Off late, my mother had started to company me on the long walk. Today, I have strict instructions from her, “You will not wander anywhere around on your own. From home to Sunita’s house and from there to home. I’m going to market with grandma for shopping.” She was worried to let me walk in busy places alone in light of recent bombings in Delhi. Diwali in the next two weeks, everywhere there are decorations and my friends are lighting fireworks and here I am, walking to tuition. Why wouldn’t I see the market on return? I will. Diwali is here, only once a year!
My mother was out shopping, not only for Diwali but gifts for my future sister-in-law. As a ritual, they were to exchange the presents with the new family in the alliance. This was my day of freedom, to walk in the market and see the lighting, on my own after a long time. After finishing my classes, I reach the market and what happens next? I crash into my mother who hands me the presents and goes – “take it home, we’re coming soon.” Dejected, I start walking back home. A few seconds later, I hear a loud blast. That was a strong cracker, wonder which one was that. Was it the green one? I thought to myself. As I turned in reflex to see where the sound came from, I see smoke and people running. It’s chaos. They are screaming. I don’t know where my mother is. I don’t know where grandma is. They were right there, next to me a few seconds ago. Scared, I decide to run to the home.
Before I could even lift the first foot, I hear the second blast – this time from my left. Three more followed as I ran home, screaming. I tell my cousins what happened, “mother and grandma were there in the market and something happened like a blast and all were running, I don’t know anything. I don’t know where they are” as tears continue to shred and my sister wrap me in her arms. The gifts drop on the ground with little care as my elder cousin run to the market in their search. A few minutes later, scared, he arrived with mom and grandma and ran to the hospital as our neighbour was severely injured in the blast. Everyone else we knew, was safe. Otherwise, 25 were injured and one died.
This was my first introduction to terrorism, living in Delhi, on the evening of October 18, 1997. Delhi was rocked at least 4 times in a span of 4 weeks, 6 times within two months and 9 times within a span of one year. I don’t know who was responsible for the blasts that killed many and injured hundreds – including my extended family – all I learned was terrorism is evil and so are those, who support it.
Even till today, every time when I hear about bombings, terror attack, mass shooting, or anything similar, in no time I am thrown back into this memory and relive that experience – scared. I am not saying I’m suffering from some stress disorder or anything, but I acknowledge the pain families go through who witness the disasters and recover from the loss no human can bear. This is what being human is, right? Empathy, compassion, support, love, kindness – that’s what makes us humans.
In January 2016, at least six heavily armed people dressed in Indian Army uniforms breached the high-security perimeter of the airbase in Pathankot with some 50 kilograms of ammunition, 30 kg of grenades, and assault weapons. At least 7 security personnel died, 25 were injured in the battle that lasted for days. Just 9 months later, 4 more militants sneaked in killing 19 more soldiers in the town of Uri in Kashmir, injuring 30 others. These are not just numbers, but dreams of as many families.
Three years later, militants executed one of the deadliest terror attacks when they have ended up killing at least 45 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in the bombing as an RDX loaded car self-immolated while charging on the convoy bus near Pulwama in Kashmir. As more technical details will uncover in near future about exactly how this was executed, there are far too many questions to answer for everyone.
Amid the lust that both the nations have for the beautiful landmass, I am sometimes forced to wonder – does the life of people living there matter at all to either of them? It’s always active on military grounds, mostly for good. At least one militant is brought down in Kashmir every day. Thus being the World’s highest battleground that features relentless firing from both the sides of the border of India and Pakistan, the province plays a key role in determining the political battles within both nations. Amid all the terror attacks India has endured from separatists who have infiltered in Kashmir in past decades, Pulwama attack was special for many reasons in my opinion. First, a local boy turned terrorist was involved in the execution. Second, the current political dynamics of Kashmir. Third, the timing – months before the general election in India where India will vote for their new Prime Minister. Fourth, the falling relation of India with Kashmir. Fifth, it has fueled the already existing polarization and the Hindu-Muslim divide.
Kashmir is very complex demography with an even more complex history that has many narratives that I am not sufficiently educated to make an informed in-depth discussion or even a case about. However, what has made sure this divide, chaos, disharmony and communal hatred is not going to die out soon, is the unchecked social media and India’s mainstream media.
In the light of Pulwama attack, I see hundreds of thousands of people stand exposed exhibiting the extent to which they are brainwashed, polarized and desensitized to life and humanity. And they are educated. Within no time of the attack, TV anchors started brainwashing and agitating masses, demanding an immediate military attack on Pakistan. A few hours later, the Muslim community of Kashmir was targetted. And a day later, an entire army was ready to slay anyone who would talk of peace. The extent of verbal abuse, language, the intensity of message being spread quicker than forest fire within the country is beyond imagination and is alarming, to say the least.
People who stand against war and violence have been severely targetted, including those who made a case for 8-year-old Asifa Bano from Kathua, Kashmir who was allegedly abducted, raped, and then brutally murdered. Right-wing Hindu groups staged protests against the arrests of the accused individuals, who are all Hindus. Two ministers of the ruling party, Forest Minister and Industries Minister stood shoulder to shoulder with the protesters. The incident got a global coverage, incited communal tensions with widespread outrage and eventually, the case has nearly died out before verdict with no progress.
Kashmir has been home to stone-pelters as well, who are part of the separatist group with an aim to leave India and join hands with Pakistan. Indian Army has been on the receiving end of the public outrage on multiple occasions when some of the stone pelters were shot dead and many were attacked with pellet guns, largely in self-defence as claimed by the personnel. Protests were staged throughout the country against the army, defending the human rights of pelters that began another topic of Prime Time debate for media sources to munch more money by playing a mockery of Kashmir’s miseries on TV sets every night.
These media houses have been playing a dangerous game of enforced psychology where they continue to paint an image hijacking your cognitive psychology to create an implicit bias. Driven by this bias, people now attribute certain qualities or characteristics to all members of a particular group, a phenomenon known as stereotyping, in this case, painting Kashmir and the entire nation of Pakistan as a terrorist. Since this manufactured bias operates at an unconscious level, you will not find even one person who would admit to this, and they will continue to recite false narratives bombarded at them from all media sources, as that has a become their false memory, where a person recalls something that did not happen or differently from the way it happened.
It is important to understand that implicit bias is not the same thing as racism, although the two concepts are related. Overt racism involves conscious prejudice against members of a particular racial group and can be influenced by both explicit and implicit biases.
However, when such troops of internet trolls or people who are subconsciously behaving in that manner encounter a different thought, it leads to cognitive dissonance. They feel threatened, discomforted as result of new beliefs. People tend to seek consistency in their attitudes and perceptions, so when what they hold true is challenged or what they do doesn’t jibe with what they think, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance (lack of agreement), and that leads to the violence – physical, psychological, or emotional.
Third, what mainstream media does best is oversimplification. It is making a matter more simplistic than it is, so much, so that it leads to misunderstanding and error. It is about trying to describe or explain something in such a simple way that it is no longer correct or true. Oversimplification leads us away from truthful understanding toward a distorted view of things. So, many people think they know and understand the entire history and dynamics of Kashmir, the relations between the communities, the art of war, the critical diplomatic decision making.
Oversimplification has made everything a matter of ‘us vs them’. There is the good and right side (which also happens to be my side), and there is the wrong and bad side that I am against. However, the reality is much different. It leads to the fallacy of the excluded middle, which does not permit any position between the two extremes and we then are left with having to choose one of the extreme options. It denies the possibility that when two sides disagree (and the disagreement is real) they might still have more in common based on what they share and agree on than what divides them. Oversimplification based on ‘us vs them’ side-lines and delegitimizes the views of those who dissent from the simplistic binary narrative.
If you’re from India and reading, you yourself must be involved in hate and war mongering or must have seen hundreds of such people in your social media network doing it. There is a lot more to be said, I wish I had more time and resources. However, I will sum up with – look what you are doing. Take responsibility for your actions. Stop if you see your loved ones falling for it. The questions that we are asking today are – When are we going to remove Pakistan from the map of the world? When is army going to execute another surgical strike? Where are all those liberals, seculars who were standing holding placards in Kathua rape case and also for human rights of people of Kashmir who were pelting stones, expressing their distrust on Indian constitution and governance? When are we going to kill everyone who throws a stone? When are we going to kill everyone who speaks against the power of the state? When are we going to kill anyone who expresses dissent in Kashmir?
Are these the real questions? The real question is – How did this happen? Who is responsible for the security and policy lapse? What are we doing to assist the families of deceased CRPF personnel? What are we doing to help them meet their needs of OROP? What have the governments over the years done to restore the faith of people in the constitution, governance? Why the youth of Kashmir is progressively getting more violent and farther away from the nation? Why is it so easy for separatists to influence them? Why do they feel alienated? Why do they end up throwing stones on those who were sent for their security? Why does our army in Kashmir behave the way they do? What nationalism mean to you? There are too many important WHYs to answer than those that media houses want you to think. It is their business – to feed on your hatred. Politicians will make an agenda out of every incident. It is our responsibility to look inside of us and ask ” what are we really doing?”
… to be continued
Feature Image: Channi Anand/The Washington Post