The 12-year-old who looked angelic last spring has become an obstreperous teenager this winter. He still sits at the back of the room, but is confidently full of beans, not shy or red-faced. He speaks glibly, jokingly, not breathless with the effort of talking — the way he was in spring.
The room has changed too. In spring, I met a large group, including many of the same students, in a classroom in their school. Now, they squat on rugs in the home of one of their senior teachers, so that they might prepare for, and take, exams. The private school premises have been shut since July, but the teachers (backed by parents) insist on exams even though the state government has granted mass promotions.
The students, mainly teenagers, are in pherans — black-on-fawn checks seem to be in fashion. A few of them are in bright, thick anoraks. Last spring, they were neatly turned out in bright uniforms, and sat in orderly rows at desks.
The look is not the only thing that has changed. The youngsters’ mood seems generally more relaxed than it was last spring. Girls in particular appear less angry than they were back then. Perhaps the angst of that season has been eased by stone-pelting, barricading and other protests through the summer and autumn.
A couple of them mimic Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s talk of ‘kaasmeer.’ Another complains that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was travelling while people were being killed in Kashmir. Yet another says he requests Modi to check the breaking of white goods such as fridges during forces’ operations within homes. They do not specifically disparage democracy, as some of them did last spring.
One points out that there is no Kashmiri in the Indian cricket team, citing it as proof of discrimination. Another student says Kashmir is a piece of Pakistan in India. Others respond that they want to be independent from both countries.
Beef and Hindutva figures such as (believe it or not) Baba Ramdev, Kashmiris having to show identity cards to ‘outsiders,’ … — the teenagers’ reasons for wanting ‘azadi’ have not changed much, but the means have, their expressions are relaxed than last spring – when the same students were taut with tension.
There are angry complaints about sisters and mothers being vulnerable during searches and when forces swoop in to take ‘pelters’ into custody. Some talk of being treated like ‘animals’ at the police station. That turns out to be a complaint about the level of chillies in the food given to detainees. Indeed, one who forgets the value of courtesies, hospitality, and ‘izzat’ in Kashmir is doomed.
They specifically mention that Irfan, who lived down the road, was killed in the second week of July, rather than all the other scores of teenagers who were killed in forces’ action this year. That gives a glimpse of the great impact the killing of even one locally known youth makes in Kashmir.
One teenager seems more angry than the rest. He seems staunchly anti-India. It turns out that he suffered assault and humiliation when he was locked up by the police for ‘pelting.’ Another boy has visible signs of injury on his face, but he refuses to say anything despite repeated requests from me and his schoolmates sitting around him. They prod him physically, and I approach so that he need not be heard by the entire room, but he looks diffidently down, silent.
Since he seems bashful amid all the attention, I do not even ask if I may photograph his injuries. He, like the rest of this room full of teenagers, and the area, have been through a lot already this year. And they will, one fears, go through worse yet.
First Published On : Dec 10, 2016 12:32 IST