“Kyoun bhi kehna jurm hai
Kaise bhi kehna jurm hai”
(To ask questions is a crime here, to ask why and how is also criminalised)
When the renowned Italian writer and survivor of the Holocaust, Primo Levi passed away, the Guardian paid tribute to him with the following words: “The death of Primo Levi robs Italy of one of its finest writers… One of the few survivors of the Holocaust to speak of his experiences with a gentle voice.”
Yes, indeed. Levi’s gentle voice is heard in If This Is A Man. The book is authentic and excruciatingly painful. Levi’s attention to detail and analytical sweep are impressive features. Levi, an Italian Jew, recorded the horrors of violence inside the death camps with honesty of purpose and, most importantly, without anger and bitterness.
At the dreaded Auschwitz he was even denied water to drink. This is how he described the scene: “Driven by thirst, I eyed a fine icicle outside the window within my hand’s reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large, heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. ‘Warum?’ I asked him in my poor German. ‘Hier ist kein warum’ (there is no why here), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove,” Primo Levi records in If This Is A Man.
Everyone familiar with Holocaust literature is aware of how the Jews were exterminated, tortured, made to die of hunger, and sent to gas chambers. The lessons to be learned from history is to avoid the repetition of horrific crimes against humanity — because the fear always is that what has happened before can happen again.
“There is no why here.’
In the case of Kashmir, the act of asking very basic questions about fundamental human rights including the right to movement, travel, free speech, information, communication, connectivity, education, trade, etc has been criminalised by the powers that be. For instance, you have no right to ask why over 10 million Kashmiris living in the Kashmir Valley, Pir Panjal, the Chenab Valley, Kargil and elsewhere have been denied the Internet for the last three months since the abrogation of Articles 35A and 370. The argument made by the ruling dispensation in New Delhi is that both articles were scrapped for the “overall good” and “economic development” of the local population in Kashmir. If that is the case, why aren’t the Kashmiris allowed to express their opinions through social media platforms using the Internet?
Yes, you cannot ask why over 23 lakh pre-paid mobile phone subscribers in Kashmir cannot use their mobile phones. And you cannot ask why kids, adults and researchers can’t go to schools, colleges and universities. Everyone else has an opinion on Kashmir, but this right is denied to the Kashmiris. Now a purported no fly list has been prepared by the Jammu and Kashmir administration which bars hundreds of lawyers, civil society actors, journalists, traders and influential people from travelling abroad. But in Kashmir you can’t ask why!
You cannot ask why three former chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti — and hundreds of political workers and sympathisers of various political formations are rotting in prisons if the scrapping of articles and stripping Kashmir’s autonomy and statehood is for the “benefit” of the people of Kashmir. Yes, you can’t ask why people working in the IT industry, according to moderate estimates, have suffered losses of over `5,000 crores in the absence of the Internet since August 5, 2019.
You cannot ask questions on why the local media in Kashmir is gagged. The fear is so palpable that leading English and Urdu dailies published from Srinagar either do not publish editorials and Op-eds or write about the health benefits of apricot, cucumber, carrot, radish and walnut, but do not dare to talk about the prevailing political situation in Kashmir. But you cannot ask why the media is muzzled in Kashmir or why there is an undeclared emergency in Kashmir.
One of the fundamental lessons that we, as journalists and writers, are taught in media houses and universities is to ask questions. The question words Why, What, Where, When, Who and How become essential weapons of a scribe to tell a story or dig an exclusive or a scoop. Sadly, all of these question-words are not allowed in Kashmir. There is an undeclared ban on asking questions.
The Hindu nationalist and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claims that “Kashmiris are happy with the scrapping of the region’s autonomy and statehood”.
But the BJP has to ensure that thousands of ordinary Kashmiris, including teenagers and top politicians, are put in prison, the Internet is stopped and communication lines are snapped because Kashmiris are apparently so “happy” with the BJP’s decision that their consent is neither required nor valued. Their consent is manufactured by the media houses based in Noida, New Delhi and Mumbai through sustained propaganda. You cannot ask why.
It is ironic that India’s civil society has not bothered to even give lip service to the plight of over 10 million dispossessed Kashmiris. In Kashmir, every single Kashmiri sees the scrapping of autonomy and stripping of statehood as a smash and grab operation. No one cares to know their opinion as if there is social sanctity to the idea of caging Kashmiris and shutting them down.
You cannot ask why Kashmiri teenagers are being picked up in nocturnal raids across the nook and crannies of the Kashmir Valley and allegedly tortured in custody. You cannot ask why there are more barricades and bunkers on the streets of Kashmir than the number of vehicles plying on them. You cannot challenge officials on their falsehood and concocted claims and their propagandist narratives — because the government has ensured that a Kashmiri is denied a voice in the mainstream or the social media thanks to the Internet ban.
I was taken aback when Rahati Begum, an octogenarian lady from uptown Srinagar, told me in the Kashmiri language on October 31, “Sorui maklovukh” (everything has been snatched from us) while tears streamed down her cheeks. The helplessness on her face was heart-wrenching.
Poet Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s immortal words aptly sum up the suffocating ground situation in Kashmir:
“Kyoun bhi kehna jurm hai
Kaise bhi kehna jurm hai
Zindagi ke naam par bus itni inayat chahiye
Mujh ko inn sare jaraim ki ijazat chahiye”