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Book Title: Curfewed Night|
The author of the book: Basharat Peer
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 660 KB
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Reader ratings: 7.8
Edition: Random House
Date of issue: January 1st 2009
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This book tells the story of Kashmir as seen through the eyes of the author, Basharat Peer. It is a wonderfully written and candid, if a bit biased, account of the beautiful state which is also called Bhuswarga – paradise on earth. Some people also call it the “Switzerland of India.” But the militancy, which started in 1980s, has made it one of the most dangerous and militarized places in the world.
The author was a teenager when the militancy started in his home state of Kashmir. Many young boys crossed the Line of Control that divides Indian Kashmir and the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and received training and arms from Pakistani terrorist groups. The blurb uses the word “idealistic” to refer to them, but I am not sure if that is the most appropriate word to describe them.
The Government of India responded by deploying the army and the paramilitary forces to deal with the militants. In such a scenario, it is always the common man who ends up suffering the most. They are caught between the militants on one hand and the security forces on the other. Willingly or unwillingly the common man has to help the militants. Even a mere suspicion of being pro-Indian would bring retribution from the militants. The security forces are also on the lookout for pro-militant people.
The author admits that he was fascinated by the militants and would have joined but for his father and maternal grandfather. The author’s maternal grandfather was an idealist school teacher while his father – Ghulam Ahmad Peer, a person from a humble background, had become bureaucrat by dint of his hard work. Ghulam Ahmad Peer had great respect for knowledge, loved books and inculcated the habit of reading in the author. Men liken him help maintain sanity in a world full of hatred and violence.
The author was sent off to study in Aligarh and eventually became a reporter in Delhi. But he would go back to Kashmir, write this book and then leave again.
The author has vividly portrayed the sufferings of the common Kashmiris. They have to undergo humiliating military checks every now and then. Some members of the security forces overstep their limits and indulge in torturing innocent people. Some of the victims die while others are left scarred for life. They live in fear of the security forces as well as the militants.
There are some opportunists who send others to death but keep their own children safe. Some individuals keep changing sides when it suits them.
One cannot help but sympathize with the innocent Kashmiris. How terrible it is to live in fear!
I have one criticism (for the lack of a better word) of the book. Since the book is about Kashmir, the author should have also elaborated more on the massacre of the Kashmiri Pandits and the violence meted out to pro-Indian Muslims. I admit that the author has mentioned about the “migration” of the Kashmiri Pandits (the Hindu minority of Kashmir) and attacks on the pro-Indian Muslims. There was an attempt on his father’s life by militants who considered him to be pro-Indian, and the author talks about visiting his Kashmiri Pandit teacher and friends who had to flee their home. But, the author should have talked about the brutalities inflicted on these people which made them refugees in their own state. They ended up in slum-like places in Jammu or some moved to other places in India.
The book is good, but it would have been great if talked about the perspective of the security forces also. State police, paramilitary or the army – all these people live under constant threat to their lives well. They can face bullets, bombs, or lynch mob anytime. The author himself admits in the book, that soldiers mostly come from the rural or urban poor and they do a “dangerous and absurdly low-paying job”. Some of the victims of torture by the security forces also admitted that all soldiers were not bad – there were decent men too. Many of these men would have preferred to be anywhere else but in Kashmir. But, they have mouths to feed at home.
Militancy inevitably leads to such a vicious environment where compatriots have nothing but suspicion, fear and hatred for each other. To the civilians, the security forces are the oppressors but to the soldiers, even the innocent Kashmiris are potential terrorist-sympathizers and anti-nationals.
The author has shared an anecdote about his interactions with a young paramilitary officer. Initially the man was arrogant and hostile. The author would recognize the officer’s “native” state from his surname and say that he had friends from the officer’s caste when he was living in Delhi.
“The power of the caste system was evident in his first smile. He showed signs of relaxation and turned towards me. I talked about my friends form my Delhi University days. He was from Delhi University too. ‘I was in the law faculty, where were you?’ I asked. He had been in a college next to mine. I talked about the university, about the college festivals, the hangouts, the rivalries, the girls’ hostel nearby, almost everything one misses about university life. He seemed to have transformed into a Delhi University alumnus and forgotten he was an Indian paramilitary officer posted in Kashmir. His language changed as he spoke……’Give me a fag, man! And get me some tea,’ he smiled. We had tea and smoked. He apologized; the room full of journalists apologized back. Peace was made. As he began to leave, he said, ‘I was a different man before I joined the force and came to Kashmir.’ “
This chance encounter made the author realize that this officer was not much different from his former militant friend who “wanted to know about discotheques and girls.” Yet young men fought and killed each other in hundreds. Those who survived became a very different individual.
The author ends with the hope that “ some day they could cease being part of processes that reduced individuals to suspects or military targets, shorn of all human complexity; processes that left them with bare nomenclatures like militants, soldiers, paramilitaries. I hoped that some day they could return to their homes..”
Noble thoughts but there are powerful vested interests who won’t let that happen that easily. But who knows? One day the state would return to normalcy. Brainwashed youths would realize that the way of the militant is only ruining their beautiful state. The mindless violence would stop, and the money spent on deploying and maintaining the security forces could be spent on social welfare such as healthcare, infrastructure and education.
This book reminded me of a letter a retired military officer had posted on social media. It was addressed to a young militant leader who had been killed by the security forces, and meant for people glorifying the late militant. The officer said, “You could have been an engineer, a doctor, an archeologist or a software programmer ...” but he chose the life of the militant and met his end.
I am not saying that India is perfect, but most people can sleep peacefully at night. Our country has been growing steadily. Many people have lifted themselves out of poverty, people from very humble backgrounds are making it to colleges and getting decent jobs, more youngsters are opening their own business and so on. While Indian scientists have been sending missions to the space, there are still people who are killing each other in the name of religion, ethnicity, ideology and what not. The question is - why not take part in the Indian growth story, and much better why not contribute to it. That way you can have a significant positive impact on the lives of the people who care about or claim to care about.
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Read information about the authorBasharat Peer was born in Kashmir in 1977. He studied journalism and politics at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has worked as an editor at Foreign Affairs and served as a correspondent at Tehelka, India's leading English language weekly. His work has appeared in The Guardian, New Statesman, The Nation, Financial Times Magazine, N+1, and Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. Curfewed Night, his first book, won one of India's top literary awards, the Vodafone Crossword Book Award for English Non Fiction. Peer is a Fellow at Open Society Institute and lives in New York.
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