Curfewed Night: Basharat Peer

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Pandita’s Our Moon Has Blood Clots and Peer’s Curfewed Nights are two sides of the same story, and that is why I read them back to back.

Peer writes about his childhood growing up in Anantnag near Srinagar, just as the violence was beginning in the Valley. He talks of militants and then armymen visiting his school, how he almost joined the JKLF, the stories of people who actually did and what befell them. Growing up, he moves to Delhi to study but comes back, to write about the Kashmir he left behind, the Kashmir of half-widows and rapes and Army atrocities in camps like Papa-2.

It is certainly interesting to read this book just after Pandita’s, and you see the same event from two different eyes. The sloganeering of “Hum kya chahte? Azadi!” which terrified the young Pandita, the young Peer participated in. The India-Pak cricket match, where Javed Miandad’s last-ball sixer off Chetan Sharma’s delivery left Pandita in tears, was a moment of celebration for Peer and his village. But like Pandita says in his book, their stories diverged after 1990, and that is where Peer’s book becomes difficult to read.

“Srinagar is being in a coffee shop, in an office, outside a college, crossing a bridge and feeling, touching, breathing history, politics and war, in unmarked signs and landmarks. It is seeing a bridge, a clearing, a nondescript building and knowing that men fell here, that a boy was tortured there.”

It is indeed difficult for me as an Indian brought up to believe that what was done in Kashmir was right for the country, to read about how the Army actions affected the people in the state. Peer has collected stories across Kashmir, of those beatings and burnings and physical disfigurement in Army interrogation camps, of rapes like those of Mubeena Ghani, who was raped by paramilitary forces on her wedding night, of soldiers sending children into militant hideouts holding bombs. Some of the stories made me sick; I cannot imagine how it must have been for the ordinary people, to live with these stories around them, continually under the shadow of daily violence and death.

Peer’s book is also not without its problems. He never really explains the motivation behind the deep hatred Kashmiris nursed for India, even before the conflict began in the Valley. Traces of that antagonism seem to remain in Peer, and though he tries to present matters in a reporter’s voice, the book is much less critical of the militants than it is of the Indian Army. The violence in Kashmir was a two-way street, instigated by militants, and I cannot accept the view of them being freedom fighters as Peer would like us to believe. He does soften up at the end, sounding hopeful at the launch of the Srinagar-Muzzaffarabad bus service. I do believe, though, the book does an important task in shining light on the Army’s role in the 25-year old saga of violence, and giving a Kashmiri’s opinion on the events that occurred.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which I think summarizes the idea of the book.

“The Line of Control did not run through 576km of militarised mountains. It ran through our souls, our hearts, our minds. It ran through everything a Kashmiri, an Indian, and a Pakistani said, wrote and did.”

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