The photos associated with this piece are a part of a Pulitzer prize-winning series that can be found here. In the photo above, a deserted street is seen through barbwire set up as blockade during curfew in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Aug. 6, 2019. (by Dar Yasin)
The longest-standing territorial dispute in world history, the land of Jammu and Kashmir has been a cause of territorial conflict between Pakistan and India since independence in 1947. Amidst the dispute, there has been severe persecution of the native Kashmiris, who have been fighting in vain for their right to self-determination for centuries.
Structured as the diary of a young Muslim boy in Indian-occupied Kashmir, the following piece was written last year as a response to the Hindu nationalist Modi government’s decision in August to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy, annex the valley, and impose a severe lockdown by multiplying its military presence, shutting down all communication services (including internet) and arresting dissident public figures and politicians.
This piece does not intend to exacerbate the decades-long divide between Pakistan
and India by unfairly attributing blame to either side, but instead aims to highlight
how, in the midst of this contentious, seemingly never-ending conflict between the
two nuclear powers, the voice of the indigenous Kashmiri people, who are the
biggest yet most ignored stakeholder in this conflict, has been drowned out.
The personal diary below, through its emotional outbursts, anecdotal accounts and
concluding soliloquy where a young boy starts to question divine will, dwindling
between belief and disbelief, aims to humanize the Kashmir dispute by drawing
attention to the raw feelings of a native Kashmiri who, by virtue of his ethnicity, has
been robbed of his voice and, consequently, his right to self-determination and to an
unfettered pursuit of happiness.
In its essence, the primary purpose of the writing lies in emphasizing the
humanitarian – rather than the political – nature of the Kashmir conflict.
Today that land of Kashmir, under the heels of the enemy, has become weak, helpless and poor
Once known among the wise as Little Iran1
July 18, 2019
As the deafening silence of the night sky casts a shadow over the valley, as guns go
off, some distant, some near, as the eerie summer breeze brushes against my ears,
and as my pen strokes whatever paper I’ve been left with, it thumps. And it thumps
fast. I can feel it in the blood gushing through my vessels, the adrenaline, the fury,
the unsettling feeling of wanting to hit back.
July 28, 2019
O home, I would sacrifice a thousand houses on you, and would never step out of
And I never went out… but what else could I have possibly done?
They had come. Five of them. In their camo uniforms and black boots. With their
dirty faces dripping with arrogance, might and entitlement. If there had even been so
much as a minute’s notice before their arrival, it would have been their corpses
which would have exited this house. The arms, the ammunition, it was there, and so
was the ardor to use it.
But little could I do now about the waves of filth which penetrated the virginities of my women, as they panted for breath and I, watching helplessly through the slit in the darva:zi 3 3 of my cupboard, almost suffocated at the abhorrence that filled the air.
July 30, 2019
It flashes… again and again and again. I cannot forget. I will not forget. I will hit back.
I will not rest.
August 3, 2019
Amidst the smoke and dust in the street, the loud shrieks of our women and children
and the piercing sound of their rifles firing at us as we fought back with stones and
roars, I saw what I might never be able to erase from my memory. The look on
Abdullah’s face as his soul slowly and painfully escaped his body and as the crimson
stream of blood from his wounds flooded the street, and of the sheer helplessness
with which he succumbed to them. Could it get worse?
August 5, 2019
Congratulations Kashmir! Today is the day the largest democracy in the world has
officially stripped you of the remnants of whatever so-called “autonomy” they
pretended to have granted you, and guarantee that every act of violence by their
plaguing forces goes unaccounted for… as if it wasn’t already. Any and every form of
communication has been cut off, and so my pen remains my only voice, a voice they
August 12, 2019
A week and counting.
You were wrong, Jamal. You were so, so wrong. For having thought that it could not
get worse. In your defense, when 600,000 troops infest the valley you once called
home, march up and down the streets you grew up in, blind with pellets he who
wishes to make his voice heard, and fire, rape, kidnap and execute whoever they
wish, whenever they wish, it gets a little bit hard to imagine even dire circumstances.
But God has never failed to amaze you, has He?
August 20, 2019
O, the Lord of all Men, I testify to your divinity, I bow my head before you in the
darkness of the night, I sacrifice my desires and pleasures for your will, I submit my
body and my soul to you, I glorify your name in the face of evil, and I do everything I
can… and more. Then O Protector, why me? Why do you make it so difficult for me?
O the Watchful one, have you cast a blind eye towards my suffering?
Hopelessness is infidelity, you say.
But I ask you, O Righteous one, where do I find hope amidst this perpetual and bestial cycle of suffering, torture and abuse? O the Answerer, when will you answer my hues and cries?
Do I ask for too much, my Creator?
I ask not for you to bestow me with treasure-chests laden with Neelam, I ask not for a mount I can call my own, I ask not for frail lips or fair skin. I ask but only for a land where the ground is covered, not with fired pellets, but with the grace of the blossoming po:s4 4 and the majestic shade of the radiant bu:n’5 5, a silent witness and faithful companion. For the vigilant nomad to freely trail his wild cattle, for the impatience of the pregnant woman during her nine months so she can witness the first tears of her much-awaited baby, and not for the guilt of having swallowed the tablets that sank into her bloodstream and murdered that what lay inside her but wasn’t hers, the embryo that had developed from the sperm of the thrusting rapist, and which she could not have allowed to be called a bastard every second from the cutting of the umbilical cord to the last drop of blood his heart pumped to his body.
I ask but only for freedom
More than a year later, the repressive lockdown is still in place. Kashmir continues to
bleed. The world looks on silently.
To learn more about the Kashmir conflict, here is a repository of non-partisan
information from international non-governmental organizations, news outlets and
1 Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Armaghan-e-Hijaz (Urdu) (Lahore: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 2002)
2 Omkar N. Koul, A Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs, (Delhi: Indian Institute of Language Studies, 2012)
3 “Door” , translated into Kashmir’s local language: Koshur
4 “Flowers”, translated to Koshur
5 “Chinar tree”, translated to Koshur; a notable part of Kashmir’s literature, politics, religion and romance
Singing with the heat of what he imagines and foresees, Muhammad Ammar is the nightingale of the garden that is yet to be created. That said, he’s also a first-year Bennington student hailing from Pakistan whose passions include Politics, Public Action, Theatre, Music, and Literature/Writing, with an especially soft spot for the soulful Urdu language. Expect to see him fervently opposing the political influence of extra-institutional actors (hello Military and Mullahs!) or chanting (and simultaneously breaking down) Urdu poetry to stir up love, heartbreak, and revolution! The photos associated with this piece are a part of a Pulitzer Prize winning series that can be found here.