I was born here. I grew up in these apple orchards, dreamed on the banks of
these freshwater streams. I went to school there, sitting on straw mats and
memorising tables by heart. After school my mates and I would rush halfway home,
tearing off our uniforms and diving into the cold water. Then we would quickly
dry our hair, so our parents would not find out what we had done. Sometimes,
when we felt especially daring, we would skip an entire day of school to play
I was here, too, when the first bomb was exploded in 1988. I remember my
father describing the blast as an opposition party plot to dislodge Farooq
Abdullah's government. I was seventeen. Then, that September, the killing in
Srinagar of Ajaz Dar, one of the first Kashmiri youths to become a militant
leader, changed everything. Bomb blasts and shootouts became frequent. As 1989
came, the situation worsened. For days the morning papers splashed photos of
five fugitives -- Ishfaq Majeed, Javeed Mir, Yasin Malik, Hameed Sheikh and
Shabir Shah-who were believed to be behind the rising unrest and violence. The
government offered a huge reward to anybody who gave information about them, but
nobody came forward. This was not a simple political game any more. It was war.
I had just completed Class XII then and was enrolled in college -- a perfect
potential recruit. Many of my close friends and classmates had begun to join the
militant movement. One day, half of our class in a Sopore college was missing.
They never returned to class again, but nobody even looked for them, because it
was understood. I too wanted to join, not knowing why or what it would lead to.
Perhaps the rebel image was subconsciously attracting all of us. I acquired the
standard militant's gear: I bought Duckback rubber shoes, prepared a polythene
jacket and trousers to wear over my warm clothes, and found some woollen cloth
to wrap around my calves as protection from frostbite. I stole five hundred
rupees from my mother's purse to pay the guide.
But I failed. Thrice we returned from the border. Each time something
happened that forced our guide to take us back. The third time, twenty-three of
us had started our journey on foot from Malangam, north of Bandipore, only to be
abandoned inside a dense jungle. It was night and the group scattered after
hearing gunshots nearby, sensing the presence of security forces. In the
morning, when we gathered again, the guide was missing. Most of the others
decided to try their luck and continue on their own, but a few of us turned
back. We had nothing to eat but leaves for three days. We followed the flights
of crows, hoping to reach a human settlement. We were lucky. We reached home and
As the days and months passed, and the routes the militants took to cross the
border became known to security forces, the bodies started arriving. Lines of
young men would disappear on a ridge as they tried to cross over or return home.
The stadiums where we had played cricket and soccer, the beautiful green parks
where we had gone on school excursions as small kids in white and grey uniforms,
were turned into martyrs' graveyards. One after another, those who used to play
there were buried there with huge marble epitaphs detailing their sacrifice.
Many had not even fired a single bullet from their Kalashnikovs.
When I started writing about the war in 1992, I felt I was part of this
tragic story from the beginning. I knew the mujahids, the makhbirs
(informers), those who surrendered and those who did not, those who faced death
because they had a dream and those who were sacrificed by mere chance, neither
knowing nor understanding the issues at stake, those who believed they were
fighting a holy war and those who joined for unholy reasons.
After eight years of reporting death and suffering, I felt I knew every bit
of the trauma of Kashmir. I had seen a thousand widows wailing over their sons'
graves, mothers of militants and mothers of policemen alike. I had seen villages
burnt to the ground by security forces, bodies blown to bloody bits by militant
bombs, bodies blackened by torture in interrogation centres. I had met families
with no children left, no food left, no hope left. I thought I had reported the
whole truth about Kashmir.
Then, one day, I travelled to a remote corner of north Kashmir, along the
Line of Control. I took my time, and wandered into two small villages, speaking
to everyone I met, and asking them to tell me their stories. What I discovered
was a tiny world of silent tragedy and invisible suffering -- suffering that no
headlines had reported, no government officials had compensated, and that
virtually no one knew about beyond the village boundaries.
While many other villages in Kashmir had been struck by violence, few had
experienced such extensive tragedy so early in the uprising, and few had borne
their grief in such isolation. Officials had visited the two villages, and
promises had been made and forgotten. But with time, as the real suffering sank
in and became part of the lore and emotions and fabric of these villages, there
was no one to console them. In both cases, anonymous people had died as cannon
fodder, not as heroes to either side of the cause.
As the incidents receded into the past, the villages, isolated 3 and
invisible, grieved alone. The rest of Kashmir, caught up in a whirlpool of
violence, seemed to have no time or energy to spare for them. To the India
beyond, the villages had never existed even before the massacres. Afterward,
they existed only as abstract symbols to be politically exploited by India-in
one case as evidence of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, and in the other as an
unavoidable consequence of militancy. Pakistan, in turn, kept silent on the
first massacre and capitalised on the second as proof of atrocities by the
Indian security forces.
But for the survivors in these remote villages, who knew little about the
politics being played over their dead, the enormity of what had happened haunted
their lives every day. Even now, virtually every house is a portrait of loss and
gloom; nearly every family hides a tragedy.
There is a girl who wanders the graveyard where her two brothers are buried,
muttering to herself. There is another who was raped by armymen, and the family
and the village kept it a secret. There is a man wracked by guilt because, in
trying to be loyal to India, he condemned his neighbours and relatives to death.
There is a woman who was forced to marry a boy she had once cradled in her arms,
after her own husband was killed. There is a mother who still curses herself for
keeping her son home for an extra day of holiday-it proved to be his last. There
was a boy who was killed by militants just seven days after his wedding, with
henna still on his palms. There is a widow who used to boil water in an empty
pot to give her children false hope of dinner. There is another who has to beg
to feed her children, who has no one to follow her slain husband's case and no
money to bribe the clerks.
The stories of these two forgotten villages, both situated in the frontier
district of Kupwara, are different from each other. In Warsun, the people had
resisted the tide of militancy and were punished by the militants for garlanding
a Union minister. And yet the authorities did not believe that a village so
close to the Line of Control could be entirely innocent, so they too punished
the people for what they assumed was a self-protective lie .
A man who lost twenty-two of his relatives to militant attacks had his own
son killed in the custody of the security forces. Another man who launched the
first ever indigenous counter-insurgent group to help the army, and escaped
death six times, saw his cousin's head chopped off by militants. He still bears
a scar from a militant attack on his shoulder, a badge of his Indianness, and
yet even that was not enough to keep a security force officer from plotting to
take his life. Today, he lives in fear from both sides.
The other hamlet, Pazipora, a dozen miles from Warsun, was the site of one of
the first, and biggest, massacres by the army in August 1990. So bloody and
massive was the attack that the armymen ran out of cartridges. Twenty-four
people died there that day as bullets rained from all sides. In the evening,
there was an announcement on the radio. General Zaki, the then security advisor
to the governor, claimed that the army had killed twelve militants. Later, after
the bodies were identified, the government's story too changed: Now it was
twelve young militants and twelve old villagers dead.
It took this village over three-and-a-half years and thousands of rupees to
prove that their dead were innocent civilians, killed by the army in retaliation
for a militant attack on their convoy on the main road outside the village. All
through that period, their cries of protest were not heard, their demand for
justice ignored. And till today, the most awful truth of the Pazipora massacre
has never been told: the rape of three unmarried girls after the armymen
segregated the men and women of the village. The villagers kept it a secret to
avoid problems in finding matches for these girls. But in silence, the families
still mourn for their lost honour.
One survivor of the Pazipora massacre has never spoken about it at all. Each
day, in the village graveyard, a young woman walks in circles around two of the
graves, murmuring to herself She had never been mentally well as a child, and
the shock of her brothers' violent deaths drove her deeper into madness, locking
away the tragedy inside her. In this invisible corner of India, her pain is the
most invisible of all.
Yes, I remember it,
the day I'll die, I broadcast the crimson,
so long ago of that Sky, its spread air,
its rushing dyes, and a piece of earth
bleeding, apart from the shore, as we went
on the day I'll die, past the guards, and he,
keeper of the world's last saffron, rowed me
on an island the size of a grave. On
two yards he rowed me into the sunset,
past all pain. On everyone's lips was news
of my death but only that beloved couplet,
broken, on his:
"If there is a paradise on earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this."
- From The Country Without a Post Office,
by Agha Shahid All
Warsun lies at the end of a steep, winding road, deep in V V a mountain range
known for its hidden treasure of marble and a variety of medicinal herbs. It is
a Gujjar village of some four hundred inhabitants, who live in small houses of
mud walls and thatched roofs, scattered across small hillocks.
Only a few miles north lies the Line of Control. The elders dare not venture
into the jungles because it is too dangerous-either militant territory, or an
area controlled by the army. Beyond the hilltops, the villagers say, nobody can
guarantee your life because bullets fly without warning from any direction. In a
way, death seems to stalk these mountains.
The village has a school, but the majority of children cannot afford to
study. Their job is to graze small herds of cows and goats. Forty-nine of them
were orphaned in these ten years of mayhem. Smeared with dirt, they walk through
corn fields on narrow footpaths, but there is no sound of their laughter or
games. In fact, there is almost no sound at all. The village seems completely
Before the emergence of militancy, people remember, the hills used to echo
with the sound of flutes played by the young shepherds. Now there are hardly any
young men left. The few who remain wield guns and belong to a small
counterinsurgency group, the Muslim Liberation Army of Choudhary Jalaluddin.
They are the only wealthy people in the village, and their houses are more
solidly built than the rest.
Many of the villagers died simply because they were related to the Choudharys
and stood by them, even though they had no politics of their own. In some cases
their widows were forced to marry their brothers, even those who already had
wives, so that the family fortunes would not be divided. Widows were even forced
to beg in the surrounding villages to feed their children. Today, the village is
still fighting to survive, and its people have little time to think about the
past. But every household in Warsun has a story to offer -- a sordid saga of
pain and loss.
Choudhary Jalaluddin is a tall, bearded man in his early forties-he is also
the villager with the heaviest cross to bear. For most of his life, he was a
shepherd and had nothing to do with politics. But after the emergence of
militancy in 1990, his life became a tortuous roller coaster of shifting
political demands and loyalties, physical hardships and betrayals, and survival
amid death-all leading him to the bitter conclusion that no cause was sacred and
no friend was permanent.
The first stage in his tumultuous path began when he crossed over to become a
militant. "I never wanted to cross over to Pakistan. I never wanted to
become a militant," he recalls. "There was a man, Farooq Molvi, who
was very powerful for he was close to both (Indian and Pakistani) intelligence
agencies. As a double agent, he was sending young men across for training. He
had political scores to settle with my elder brother Choudhary Salamuddin and my
cousin Alif Din, and I became his easy prey." Molvi had influence among
militant ranks, and had a hit-order issued in his name. "I got to know and
literally went underground to avoid certain death," he recalls. "This
is when the police also started looking for me, suspecting me to be an activist
of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)."
On the run, Jalaluddin was caught between the devil and the deep sea. His
cattle and sheep got scattered because there was nobody to take care of them.
The police raided his house and even took away the fodder he had stored for the
winter months. "I had no money to buy food or clothes for my family,"
he remembers. "I started selling off the cattle, partly for survival and
partly because I could not afford their fodder." Then Master Afzal, a
member of the JKLF from the neighbouring Trehgam village, was released from
jail. Afzal promised to take Jalaluddin across the border and guaranteed his
safety there. "I talked to my elder brother about it, but he was dead
against my joining militancy. He was a Congressy (activist of the Congress
party) and an Indian to the core of his heart."
Jalaluddin decided to go anyway. He had formed a group of two hundred and
fifty men and twelve guides, and they were planning to cross via Aawra village.
"All the guides were from Aawra and knew the entire border like the lines
on their hands," he said. "Even my nephew All Mohammad, who ran a
hotel in Kupwara, was there. Those days hundreds of young men would cross from
almost everywhere in this belt. It was safe and easy. After we crossed over, I
saw Farooq Molvi at Athmuqam. He had been waiting for me and tried to get me off
the bus and kidnap me, but my companions resisted."
The group remained in Muzzafarabad for seven months. At first, no one in the
training camp trusted them, thinking them to be Indian agents. "Nobody
believed us. Nobody helped us," he said. "My nephew and I had to eat
raw rice with water and molasses. We saw so much suffering that even today we
cry when we remember those days. Finally, when the people running the camps
decided we were not Indian agents, they gave us shelter." To earn some
money, Jalaluddin and his friends guided groups of newly trained militants to
the border posts, to infiltrate into the valley. "We used the money to buy
oil and salt and keep ourselves going. As time passed, trust started developing
and the next few months went well."
Then Jalaluddin heard that his cousin, Alif Din, had been killed by
unidentified gunmen back home. He was a sarpanch and had been killed by
militants, who were avenging some old slight. Jalaluddin was allowed to return
for a week.
I reached the village and saw my brother, Choudhary Salamuddin, half
dead from torture-this time by the security forces," he recalled. "His
son, Abdullah, had also been tortured to death by the Central Reserve Police
Force. The situation was confusing, and I felt everyone was against me and my
family. I heard that a group of fifty militants led by Farooq Molvi's brother
had raided my house. I tried to convince them to stop, arguing that this group
clash would take us nowhere. But they would not listen. I felt bitter. I had my
own militant group, the Muslim Liberation Army, and I decided to take them on.
It was 1991. The war between the two groups went on for six months.
Jalaluddin had only thirteen gunmen, but they managed to keep a group of three
hundred and fifty militants at bay. "At times I was frightened, but I never
allowed it to show," he says. "This was my village, my area, how could
I allow anybody to win here? It was a battlefield of my choice." But then
his enemies played a trick, and one of his men, Fareed Shah, turned out to be a
mole. "One day he guided the troops of 7 Assam Rifles to my hideout. The
only escape was to go up to the jungle, but there were seventy militants of that
rival group up on every ridge, waiting to shoot me," Jalaluddin recounts.
"Down below was the army. What could I do? I decided my only choice was to
It was a big catch. The first time that a commander-in chief of a militant
group had been nabbed. "They took me to the GOC. I had already decided to
go against the militants," he says. "I wanted to teach them a lesson.
I gave a plan to the army as to how to deal with the militants. They trusted me
and I helped them. I opened the way for others to surrender, and created an
opening for politics.I created the road, which nobody knew then, and now even
much bigger convoys than mine are travelling on it."
Jalaluddin claims to have been instrumental in creating a counter-militancy
movement, the first insider to challenge the might of the pro-Pakistan
militants. "My fight started bearing fruit when militants like Kuka Parrey,
Rasheed Khan and Azad Nabi followed suit to help the authorities control the
militancy," he says. In 1992, he boasts, he and his associates were the
first to hold a pro-India political rally in the area. 'We garlanded the then
Union internal security minister Rajesh Pilot in Warsunand organised a huge
gathering to listen to his speech right here.
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