Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer

I almost didn’t order this book because I thought it might be too morbid and serious for my currently frothy mood. But I’m so glad I did.

Every Indian should read this book. Because the author is not just a Kashmiri but one who grew up in a village and thus had a very grassroots experience of the conflict, it reads as a very true account of what life in Kashmir has been like for the past decade. Peer is very entrenched in Kashmir – it remains home for him – and yet able to distance himself from it, having gone to Delhi to study and work as a journalist so there is room for reflection even if the events are clearly very close to his heart.

I am aware that there are many truths in Kashmir. There is the truth of the Indian state and the army. There is the truth of the militant who chooses to defy the state. (Peer makes a distinction between Kashimiri miltants and Pakistani militants). And there is the truth of the ordinary Kashmiri and I think it’s the latter perspective that Peer represents, a perspective that I’ve always wondered about. Again, I’m aware that there would be variations even within the category of ‘ordinary Kashmiri’ but I think a good cross-section of experiences is represented in the book.

I also think that we, as Indians, need to take responsibility for such horrors as young Kashmiri boys being forced by the army to approach houses in which militants are holed in with grenades in their hands, ending in being blown up themselves while their mothers look on, or hospitals full of young men who have had electric shocks delivered to their penises. We have to take responsibility for generations of Kashmiris being forced to flash identity cards as a reflex or to get off public transport and walk a mile with their hands in the air before alighting again. We have to take responsibility because we are mostly silent, we consume news of crackdowns and encounters and even maps that lie without being moved.

I think all of us need to read this book and acknowledge to ourselves that this is what we are sanctioning with our silence.

Kashmir a lesson in what happens when one chooses to defy the state. It reminds me why India is so very much like China, the Other we are so fond of congratulating ourselves that we are not. It is fine to live in India if you don’t question the foundations of the state. If you do, you’re not so safe.

One of the questions Peer asks is what would have happened had the Indian state chosen to let the Kashmiris peacefully protest instead of cracking down on these demonstrations. The critical event, in his mind, that hardened what had earlier been more of a sense of distance and distaste towards the Indian state into hatred was the massacre of peaceful protester at Gowkadal Bridge in 1990. Such a simple solution – let people express their displeasure, talk to them, don’t shoot them dead.