Status: Read from Oct 17 to Oct 21, 2017
My rating: /5
Author: Basharat Peer
Basharat Peer was a teenager when the separatist movement exploded in Kashmir in 1989. Over the following years countless young men, seduced by the romance of the militant, fueled by feelings of injustice, crossed over the Line of Control to train in Pakistani army camps. Peer was sent off to boarding school in Aligarh to keep out of trouble. He finished college and became a journalist in Delhi. But Kashmir—angrier, more violent, more hopeless—was never far away. In 2003, the young journalist left his job and returned to his homeland to search out the stories and the people which had haunted him. In Curfewed Night he draws a harrowing portrait of Kashmir and its people. Here are stories of a young man’s initiation into a Pakistani training camp; a mother who watches her son forced to hold an exploding bomb; a poet who finds religion when his entire family is killed. Of politicians living in refurbished torture chambers and former militants dreaming of discotheques; of idyllic villages rigged with landmines, temples which have become army bunkers, and ancient sufi shrines decapitated in bomb blasts. And here is finally the old story of the return home—and the discovery that there may not be any redemption in it.
I read Our Moon Has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita, where the plight of Kashmiri Pandits was narrated extensively. To get the story of both sides, I picked this book by Basharat Peer. If you notice, both the authors are Kashmiri, one is Kashmiri Pandit and the other a Muslim from Kashmir. Both authors have shared the stories as they saw it. Both the books capture the forgotten pain of Kashmiri’s we can’t even imagine. Injustice was done not only to the Pandits but also to the Muslims in Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits had to leave their land to save their lives, Muslims stayed back, but always in constant fear, both from the militants and the Indian Army. Kashmiris’ faced violence, irrespective of their religion.
I have come across few people who could not appreciate the book, for presenting a negative image of the Indian Army. Also, because the Author is known for voicing his support for Pakistan openly. But, lets accept the truth. Even today one can find many Kashmiri Muslims supporting Pakistan and are very vocal about it. When there is cricket match between India and Pakistan, the Muslims belonging to India supports Indian team, whereas the Kashmiri Muslims supports Pakistan. When India celebrates its Independence on 15th August, Kashmiri Muslims celebrate the Independence Day of Pakistan.
Kashmir was the largest of the approximately five hundred princely states under British sovereignty. It was predominately Muslim but ruled by a Hindu Maharaj, Hari Singh. When India was violently partitioned in 1947, Kashmir stayed neutral to remain independent, neither joining Pakistan or India. But when tribesman from North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, supported by the Pakistani army, invaded Kashmir, Hari Singh decided to join India. The fighting stopped in 1949, after the intervention of UN and endorsed a plebiscite for Kashmir to determine which country they wanted to belong to and created a ceasefire line. It still divides Kashmir into Pakistan-controlled and India-controlled parts, and is known as the Line of Control (LoC). Since, then Kashmir has remained as turbulent terrain. While Pakistan is still fighting to take control of parts of it, India holds that Kashmir is part of India and granted its autonomy. Amidst all this the Kashmiri’s want ‘Independence’. The books provide a clear picture of the ongoing violence in Kashmir through the author’s writing.
For a teenager, Basharat Peer, has seen his glorious days change into nightmare with the begin of insurgency in the state. Suddenly, he found his Hindu friends stopped coming to school. Later he found that they have left the valley for their safety. Basharat gives a clear account of the brutality by the Indian army raining bullets finding something amiss by the militants, killing many innocent lives including children. The children in Kashmir getting fascinated by the uniforms and the Kalashnikova carried by the militants, dream to fight for the freedom of Kashmir. Many teenagers cross the Line of Control, to train in Pakistani army camps. As a teenager, even Basharat had the similar dream. But he was sent to school in Aligarh, to stay away from the violence in Kashmir. After his graduation, he takes up a job at a local newspaper as a journalist. But his childhood memories and the ongoing violence keeps him pulling towards Srinagar. Finally, he quits his job to interview the people, who suffered by insurgent in Kashmir.
Basharat starts narrating the story from the memories of his childhood days in Kashmir and history of Kashmir. He interviewed many people, who either had lost someone to the militant attacks or army attacks, who survived those attacks and seen the militants and Indian army in action raining bullets, someone who lost their young son who crossed the LoC to join the militants, or those who surrendered to Indian Army after being with the militants for a short while. The stories from this war inflicted region shows the agony of the people staying in this beautiful valley. The stories picturing the enticing landscape of Kashmir valley slowly start to show the dark side of the valley filled with army bunkers, patrolling cars and army personnel guarding and checking the common Kashmiri folks disturbing the normalcy in their lives.
The stories in the book does not have normal flow. The stories jump from one incident to another. But, nonetheless, the books remain outstanding bringing the true state of matter in Kashmir, which we people staying outside, could never even fathom to imagine.
About the Author:
Basharat Peer was born in Kashmir in 1977. He studied political science at Aligarh Muslim University and journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has worked as an editor at Foreign Affairs and served as a correspondent at Tehelka, India’s leading English language weekly. His work has appeared in The Guardian, New Statesman, The Nation, Financial Times Magazine, N+1, and Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. Curfewed Night, his first book, won one of India’s top literary awards, the Vodafone Crossword Book Award for English Non Fiction. He has also written the screenplay for the bollywood movie Haider, along with Vishal Bhardwaj. Peer is a Fellow at Open Society Institute and lives in New York.