As I have mentioned earlier, prior to the branding of Jaffna Street, our area was notorious, constantly attracting search operations. In the summer of 1992 the security apparatus launched ‘Operation Tiger’, which achieved notoriety for allegedly bumping off insurgents rather than capturing them. The operation was initiated from our Noor Bagh area and its first casualty was a local lad, a big fish, a much-wanted insurgent leader of the Al Umar insurgent group that controlled the entire downtown area. Earlier that same night, our next-door neighbour, Yusuf, an affable and mild-mannered artisan, died in a concomitant raid by the Indian armed forces to trap a group of armed insurgents. Giving no heed to his or his parent’s protestations, the militants had forcibly entered his home to stay the night.
Weeks before, my sibling and I had finagled our way out of another army cordon using our exam slips. Allowed at first to leave, we were then detained along with a host of others at the Noor Bagh chowk. An autorickshaw driver who had inadvertently walked into the cordon had been forced to sit under a horse cart. Irate soldiers playfully made our release from the cordoned area conditional on our setting the range plates of their AK 47 rifles to the correct measure; a sure way of self-implicating. In the afternoon sun we watched in trepidation as the soldiers cursed and accused us of studying during the day and fighting them at night.
But afterwards, with the changing contours, even as foreign fighters started pouring into the Kashmir theatre of operations and Srinagar itself, the assassinations of former militants and people accused of snitching were regularly carried out by a new insurgent crop. Ironically, though, the spate of extortions and carjacking that had been the norm ceased. The racketeer insurgent lot steered clear of our area for fear of being shot in broad daylight.
The increase in insurgent activity again led to an increased level of cordon and search operations and arrests by the paramilitaries and the military. Their lack of hard intelligence led to indiscriminate and random arrests; many of my own friends and acquaintances were also taken in and had to weather vicious interrogation techniques in makeshift detention centres during the two- to three-day mopping operations. Many had to be carried home, so broken and battered, unable to even stand. Many a times I thanked my stars for never having to go through these ordeals.
In June 1995, I stood in the large crowd in the main square on Nalamaar Road. My previous attendances in the cordon and search operations had left me with a sunburnt face and arms so I was trying to find a place to perch and protect myself from the summer sun, which in a few hours would attain a furious face, enough to melt the surface of the tarmac road.
What I hadn’t considered was that my dandyish though worn-out attire, complete with Lacoste and Levi’s components, would mark me out in the crowd. Within moments, a young officer in cammies wigwagged his fingers, signalling me to come forward. Ever the cocky person I was in those days, I blurted, ‘What am I supposed to do,’ in English. The officer retorted in a serious tone, ‘I will let you know.’
I stood there, watching the terrifying but normalized rigmarole of identification parades with masked spotters in the military jeeps deciding the fate of the denizens. A dozen or so men were randomly picked and assigned to search parties. I was one of them. The officers leading the searches briefed us on our tasks; we were to enter the homes first and look for any insurgents and then come out and report to the soldiers. If fighting ensued because we did not inform them of insurgent presence, then we were firmly told that ‘we would end up as first corpses in the accreted body count’ of the ensuing clash. It was then that I realized that we were human shields, bait to draw out the foreign insurgents suspected to be ensconced in the locality, whose forbidding fighting reputations and suicidal zeal gave the other side nightmares. I prayed fervently to avoid being assigned to the area around Jaffna Street, as the probability of contact and fighting was far higher there. The searches went on and I was assigned to the first area of entry to the locality. After the searches, we were made to sit in the shade. A lone machine-gun wielding army man guarding us bragged of having shot down five Afghans in a firefight the previous week. Even as he spoke, gunfire and explosions raked the periphery, with militants trying to either frighten or target the soldiers from outside the cordon. We envisaged beatings from the troops, instead we were subjected to a lecture declaiming that the militants and the supporting populace were traitors to the nation-building project that had commenced with the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
Excerpted from ‘Jaffna Street’ written by Mir Khalid, published by Rupa Publications India.
In 1989, an adolescent schoolboy from downtown Srinagar watched as his elders extricated themselves from university campuses, high-school grounds, handloom machines and farms to bear arms and fight a war of attrition against the Indian state.
Twenty-two years on, Jaffna Street was born from his explorations of the human dimension of the conflict appositely termed the Kashmir tragedy. Combining anecdotes, personal memories and extended interviews, the author takes us behind the scenes and headlines into Srinagar city’s ‘notorious’ perpetually politically charged downtown as well as its upper cityside belt to create a panoramic portrait of recent Kashmir history. He profiles ordinary people—hitmen, insurgents, artisans, failed Marxist intellectuals, mystics, exiles, gangsters and ordinary individuals—who wouldn’t make it even to the footnotes of history but have been crucial first-hand witnesses, participants or victims of some of the important events that marked the tumultuous and violent years of the insurgency.
Jaffna Street attempts to trace these individual trajectories by exploring significant events in their lives within the wider adumbrate of history, without losing sight of the big picture.
About the Author:
Dr Mir Khalid was born in 1974 in a prominent civil services’ family from downtown Srinagar. He attended the city’s prestigious Irish Catholic Burn Hall School before training in medicine. His clinical research has appeared in the British Journal of Surgery.
Jaffna Street is his first foray into English non-fiction writing. Previously he has published an anthology of Urdu poetry, Asbaat Khudi (2011). He, along with his family, currently lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he is employed as a general surgeon. His next literary foray is a novel dealing with blighted human relationships.