Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
Kashmir, once known as paradise on earth, is now shadowed by decades of blood, tears and suppression. Although the scenic beauty continues to exist, it is marred by the presence of bunkers, camps and demolished remains of what used to be Kashmiri Pandit neighbourhoods. There are approximately 500,000 armed security forces currently in Kashmir. The most disturbing aspect of this type of military rule is the draconian legislation of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 (AFSPA). The AFSPA gives the armed forces and even non- commissioned officers unrestricted and unaccounted powers to shoot, arrest, search and even kill on the basis of mere suspicion, all in the name of “aiding civil power and maintaining public order”. The enforcement of the AFSPA has caused incidents of arbitrary detention, torture of innocent civilians based on mere speculation (and in occasions even without that) of their association to militant groups, rape of many women and indiscriminate looting.
Curfewed Night is a book which gives the first hand account of a youth growing up in Kashmir during the peak of the insurgency. He leaves the valley to pursue higher education and later to make a career but eventually finds himself drawn back to his home. Upon his return to Kashmir as a journalist, he described the lives of others whos were scarred by brutal experiences that becomes a part of the deal of living in Kashmir. Peer describes the turbulent times, the atrocities and injustices that Kashmir witnessed and suffered.
Peer talks about how the adolescents and the teenagers in Kashmir are attracted towards militancy. During the 90s especially, militants were considered to be extremely cool. Whatever they wore, became the latest style statement. They were idolized by many of the boys who dreamt of owning their own Kalashnikovs ( AK-47) one day. Consequently, many young boys crossed the border to Pakistan and became militants by acquiring training in arms. But the reality was militants did not live long, they either died on a mission or were tracked down by the army and killed. Many Kashmiri boys lost their lives in such a manner.
Peer shares with his readers portions of his life, his fear of the well-being of his family after a devastating attack on them, the escalating scale of militancy in his home town but also his inability to stay away from Kashmir despite these odds. He returns to Kashmir leaving behind his career in Delhi to tell the story of Kashmir. He meets various people whose lives have been devastated by the conditions there. From innocent men who were ruthlessly tortured for information they did not have to women who still believed that their lost family members were still alive somewhere and are still ceaselessly fighting to locate them. Many shared with him the devastating stories of how they lost their loved ones and how a single peaceful and lawful demonstration by the people for basic needs could result in hundreds dead. The book contains experiences of people who survived traumatizing experiences like the Gawakadal massacre and survivors of the torture house Papa 2.
Basharat Peer beautifully merges reportage with story telling. It is evident that this book has been written from the heart. It is an extremely intimate account of surviving Kashmir by an author who comes from a generation which has lost so much in the war. The book paints a haunting picture of arguably the most beautiful place in the world yet an image which is true. The book shows the day to day problems Kashmiris face, types of problems we can’t begin to imagine.On one level the book maybe profoundly disturbing but I would highly recommend this memoir as it captures the cry of collective anguish from a community who are largely misunderstood for their simplicity. The reader embarks upon an emotional voyage and really connects with the author on a personal level. In the words of Khushwant Singh it is ‘beautifully written, brutally honest and deeply hurtful.’