A STATE OF SIEGE
First Person: Following the hanging of Afzal Guru in Delhi’s Tihar Jail on February 9, the state government imposed a strict week long curfew in Kashmir. What happens in curfew when people are indefinitely imprisoned inside their homes?
Majid Maqbool Srinagar/ Delhi
Curfew is a state of siege. You’re forced to stay inside your home and you can do nothing about it, except wait for the curfew to be lifted. Days pass like that. The curfew is not lifted. Indefinitely imposed without your knowledge, the curfew becomes only harsher with every passing day. The enforced silence grows louder. Curfew becomes a state of mind. It enters your thoughts. You seethe from inside. Restless. Helpless. Powerless.
The city becomes a ghost town in curfew. Everywhere the streets are un-peopled. Your streets belong to the troops. Multiple coils of concertina wires block every entrance. The troops loom large during curfewed days and nights, standing guard against any civil movement. The only noise comes from the patrolling military vehicles. Even the dogs bark occasionally. You hear long and mournful barks in the curfewed nights.
You're faced with shortage of food items at home. And you cannot go out to the nearest store to buy them. You eat less food, trying to save some food for harsher curfewed days ahead. You take tea without milk because the milkman cannot risk his life in curfew. Like all of us, he does not want to be shot at. He has a family. You do not have vegetables at home because you cannot risk your life outside to fetch vegetables. In fact you become a vegetable in curfew. The stale food at home tastes of curfew. The milk-less tea tastes of curfew. The air reeks of curfew.
Friends and relatives call, if at all the phones are working, to know the curfew-situation from each other’s areas. You also need to recharge your phones. You talk less on pre-paid phones (the SMS ban on pre-paid connections continues since 2010 civil uprising). The Internet is blocked. The state believes, of course without asking you, that internet spreads rumours, not information. So they block emails and social networking sites like facebook and twitter. The chief minister, however, can tweet. And he tweets about the importance of imposing curfew, asking people to co-operate. Except for the state news channels, all other news channels are blocked. The state decides that no information is better than any information.
Local news channels in the valley continue to be banned since 2010 uprising. Instead of news, which they are banned from airing, they air songs after songs the whole day. The state news-bulletins on doordarshan emphasize in the evening: everything is normal, under control. They don’t say anything about the curfew. Instead, they air longer weather bulletins. You become angry, very angry, but you are not allowed to express your anger against the state, or its media. Everyone wants to know when will the state give some 'deal' and lift the curfew. You keep your ears towards the nearest mosque loudspeakers to know anything about that deal in curfew. The food items at home are running out.