[Reader-list] Kashmir’s Diwali gift...a day without fear - Randeep Singh & M Saleem Pandit,

Aditya Raj Kaul kauladityaraj at gmail.com
Sun Nov 7 20:32:14 IST 2010

Kashmir’s Diwali gift...a day without fearRandeep Singh & M Saleem Pandit,
TNN, Nov 7, 2010, 04.07am IST

After months, Srinagar was enjoying a holiday. The bazaars were bustling;
the parks were full; whole families spreading picnic rugs to eat a lazy
lunch; their children ran around laughing and playing. A gentle breeze
rustled the orange and yellow chinar trees. The poplars in Hazratbal waved

Syed Ali Shah Geelani appeared to have give Kashmiris a
they could barely have imagined or hoped for... a day without fear.
But, as the sun went down and millions of diyas lit up all over
Srinagar started to shut down too. Just how much became apparent by dark, as
we drove around. There was no aarti at the famous Ganpatyar temple in the
former Pandit locality of Habba Kadal.

The street is lined with eerily empty, ruined houses. The deserted temple
was pitch dark. It was clear that a supremely relaxed Diwali day had changed
mood and Srinagar was back in the mode to which it was used. We turned back,
wary of the stones routinely flung at vehicles in downtown Srinagar after

But at least the hotel had made an effort. The swimming pool was ringed
around by big chinar leaves, each bearing a lit diya. The lights cast
shadows on the water. In the coffee shop though, we found company that
reflected the dichotomy of Kashmir this autumn. Two young police officers,
let's call them Arif and Abbas, said they were winding down after a
strangely peaceful day. Both serve in downtown Srinagar - and have done for
five months now. Both have been on the frontline confronting mobs of
frenzied youth pelting stones to shouts of azadi.

In their mid-30s, the officers are particularly vulnerable because they are
Kashmiri and often have to strike positions seemingly at odds with their
people. They are flagbearers of the Indian state, but alienated from their
land and their country.

As they talk, it becomes obvious they are in the grip of an emotion not
often seen in policemen — anxiety. Who knows what will happen to me, says
Abbas. May be one of these days, I will have to go to jail. Arif nods. He is
here because he was posted out of the North Kashmir district after a
sustained campaign by separatists. This is an officer who has survived a
bullet injury fighting militants. It's this anxiety that gnaws at both men.

"If I wasn't Kashmiri, I would be a hero today," says Arif. Just a few weeks
ago, he led his team in tracking down and killing three foreign militants on
the outskirts of Srinagar. But when the time came to talk to the TV cameras
and face photographers, Abbas hid away. All the glory wouldn't compensate
for unwelcome attention as a Kashmiri who's upholding the Indian state's
rule of law.

So this is their life. As well as of thousands of policemen all over the
valley, facing danger and ostracism. Arif says college students near his
house — boys he once played carom or pool with on Sundays — no longer speak
to him. At family events, his relations accuse him of being a traitor. As
they stand up to leave, one of them exclaims, "There are thousands of Army
and paramilitary officers facing the same pressure. But, we live here, we
can't pack up after two years and get on with our lives."

As we leave, a member of the hotel staff is putting out the candles one by
one. Each is extinguished with a slight hiss and in a thin blue plume. It's
8.30 pm. Srinagar's Diwali was over.

Read more: Kashmir’s Diwali gift...a day without fear - The Times of

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