Resumption of notorious identity card checking of natives caught in perennial conflict has evoked the not-so-old memories in Kashmir. Some 13 years back, when the author of this piece faced military inspection for the first time as student, he made it sure to forever carry his identity in his pocket.
By Tanveer Magrey
As Agha Shahid Ali’s couplet “Everyone carries his address in his pocket so that at least his body will reach home” came to my mind, a fear inducing incident of yore unspooled before my eyes.
Today, my worn-out wallet, having three identity cards, guarantees—nay—assures me of the safe consignment of my body to my home if, God forbids, I become another “number” in dogged conflict Kashmir is entangled in.
Back in the day, however, my pocket had none.
It was a sweltering summer day in 2006, when my happy-go-lucky ride was cut short. Fun and frolic came to a grinding halt. The protracted conflict left its first imprints on my mind. It showed its true colours. Tentacles of military might entangled me. First lessons of “Kashmir conflict” were drilled into me in a hard way. The word “Freedom” became a misnomer. Reality dawned upon me. I was oppressed. He was my oppressor.
Still I thank him, for he didn’t use his fully loaded magazine to empty it out on me. A little push which made me about to fall and an open warning in an angry tone were enough to send shivers down my spine. He let his facial expression do the talking; his bloodshot eyes locked at me. I conform to my dictator.
That day, as usual, I boarded a Srinagar-bound private bus in the main bustling town square, a picturesque spot, nestled in the backdrop of one of the lofty peaks girdling the valley. Conductor was belting out his signature call “Shahar, Shahar, Shahar” on the way, while picking up passengers. Casting aspersions and invectives at me and scores of other students, who hopped on his bus, for paying student fare, the conductor spat out a mouthful towards the government for floating the “concession scheme”.
As government ordinance grants 50 per cent concession in the fare to the students, drivers and conductors often lost their cool. Conductors argued that they would entertain student fare to only 6 to 7 students in a single bus; rest had to pay full fare. The students would contest this argument and keep on paying “student fare”. It would trigger a deadlock—often ending with the coarse language of conductors. It would also ensue a fierce manhandling.
But that day, as I quietly paid my one-and-a-half rupees fare, eight kilometers away, on the highway, a posse of army men beckoned the driver to halt. Driver made sure to pull over his bus where he was commanded, in a bid to keep the olive clad troopers in good mood. Passengers would ascend at the drop of the hat to save their skin, without risk enraging the troopers who were commissioned to frisk every vehicle passed by that way.
Frisking, checking identity cards, coming down from vehicles in a single-queue, eschewing fuss and murmur when your fellow passenger would be sidelined for not carrying identity card, awaiting across the barricades [after thorough frisking and checking of identity cards] for your fellow passengers without an iota of anger, indicated the besieged population was tamed well.
The local populace had internalized and accepted this de-facto military modus operandi. It was the “normal” of citizens living in conflict ridden zone.
A whistle and an order ensued, “Sabhi gadhi sae neechae aaw (Everyone, come down from bus).” All conformed to the order, but women passengers stayed put. Army personnel hopped into the vehicle to check whether any one carried any explosive devices or firearms.
Outside in the long queue, everyone fished out their Identity cards but me. It had never come across my mind to have a student identity card. I was living in my own world and doing all those antics and fun under the sun which boys of my age were supposed to do. With rucksack slung on my shoulders and hands resting in the side pockets of my blue pants, I unintentionally defied the “unsaid rule” of not leaving the barricaded area without getting frisked. Shortly, a loud call derailed my carefree walk.
It was a burly army man, with AK-47 slung on his shoulder, calling me out, “Hey, ruk ja (Hey, you, stop)!”
Irked, he hollered in his raged voice, quite enough to give me cold sweats, “Card dekhao (Show me you Identity Card)?”
Replied in negative evoked a torrent of abuses. I felt a lump in my throat. A push, which almost made me to fall, was enough to flood my eyes. Tears clouded my sight. Things looked blank and hazy. Everything seemed to have stopped for a moment.
After having my share of abuse from someone who was an alien to my land but still calling shots and played his part to keep the yoke of subjugation intact in this beautiful valley hammered by conflict, I straightaway went to my school.
That day, I made it a point to have an identity card in my pocket to keep the assault armour of that gun-wielding man at bay.
Pasting a weathered-old passport-size photograph on a rectangular card where I submit all my particulars after stamping a sign from principal, I became an identity card holder.
Since that day, I’ve been carrying my address in my pocket, so that, “at least his body will reach home”, as Agha would’ve said it.