By Nidhi Suresh
The internet is gone again. Only 2G is working. So I write from office, again.
As I start to write, I’m becoming increasingly conscious of my ‘classiest, casteist, privileged, sexist, misogynist, spoilt brat side’, as one of my professors put it.
I am in Kashmir, working as a journalist for a daily here. I’ve been here only a week now. Yesterday, my second story got published. Late at night, my friend called me to say it was a good story and that I must start worrying. Worrying, because my views on the Indian ‘occupation’ are apparent. This means, he says, I’m going to be watched.
Vigilance seems like a surreal word to me. It must be an exhausting word to the Kashmiris. Apparently, it’s more real than I’ll be able to comprehend.
I think today, or probably last night, is when I finally felt the weight of being in Kashmir. For a week now, I’ve spent my entire morning reading four Kashmiri newspapers. Every page reports some death, some violence. Until this morning, I kept mechanically reading it along with my colleagues. Today, I realised something. You will laugh at my realisation. My reading it and Kashmiris reading it are two different things. I’m an Indian, they are Kashmiri. I’m a woman, my colleagues are all men. I’m yet to quite understand what these distinctions mean but the beginnings of this comprehension hit me quite mercilessly.
In this week, I’ve been followed twice. The first time, two men followed me by car and the second time a man followed me by foot. A friend told me that the IB often does this just to intimidate people. I wondered if the IB would stoop to following me. Nobody is telling me that it is completely normal or that it happens a lot so it isn’t exactly reassuring. I don’t know what to make of it. I keep wondering if I should brush it aside as ‘eve teasing’ or if I should understand that I’m being warned.
Until I got here last week, I thought about work and the kind of work I want to do as just one part of my life. I never thought of it in terms of daily life, in terms of walking down and buying milk, or not finding band aids, or wondering how to translate coriander, or getting stared at so much that I voluntarily start to cover my head. It’s really making me question everything about being a woman — as if I hadn’t before.
But a week into this job, it seems easy to sit in Bangalore and talk about ‘women’s rights’. A week into this job, it seems easy to be delusional about having claimed my rights too when I walked out of a restaurant at midnight in Bangalore. In a week, it has already become harder to even hear my own thoughts on what being a woman means. Then again, I feel like I can also understand where anger in Kashmir comes from.
A friend called up today and asked me how it feels to be in a ‘war-zone’. I don’t know actually. I, in my naïve way, imagined war zones to be dusty, brownish coloured, with the far away sound of gunshots. Mountains, mist and delicious tea didn’t add up to the idea of a war zone. When I tell people back home that everything is fine here and I’m okay, they don’t want to believe it. They want to hear some kind of story that I don’t have to offer. Fine is not what they want to hear.
Then again, it isn’t fine. But it isn’t a kind of ‘isn’t fine’ that I can really explain. I live in a cantonment area. I walk by the army barracks every day and the men in the cage-like structures make sounds till I turn around and smile. I don’t know if I like it or not. I smile. I don’t know what my smile means to them or me.
Suspicion hangs heavy at the corner of every road and everybody’s eyes rest on you a second too long. Suspicion is stationed at the corner of every road and lurks behind every window. It looks like both beauty and rage share a blanket in the cold.
I’m almost done with work today. Tomorrow, my editor is finally going to start letting me do field work. On April 15 the women at the Pulwama Degree College came out to pelt stones at the security forces who had entered their campus. This is the first time in the recorded history of the Kashmir conflict that women have picked up a stone, I’m told. I asked my editor if I could talk to different women who are around my age to understand what all of this means to them. I’m nervous.
It’s Ramzan. The amount of faith people hold in God always stuns me. It stuns me afresh here. Every evening my landlady prays loudly to Allah and I keep feeling like I should go hold her. She cries aloud for her dead husband and the life she is living now. But after namaz, while she and I have dinner and watch TV, she looks so peaceful that I find myself jealous.