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The Attack and Kashmir

‘It’s a natural progression when you’re the child of a suffering people. There’s no happiness without dignity, and no dream is possible without freedom.’ - The Attack, Yasmina Khadra

While the two countries, India and Pakistan, are busy in preparations to celebrate their 72nd independence day – to exemplify their proud existence, their muscular might, grand achievements and so on – Kashmiris are looking on with bitterness. Displaying what new tools have been added to their mighty space to demonstrate that they don’t lag behind: the same story they repeat every respective Independence day – 14th and 15th August.  

Reading The Attack, published originally in French in ‎2005 and translated in English by John Cullen in 2006, took me to my homeland Kashmir. The novel is by the Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul – a retiree from the Algerian army, who hid under the pen name Yasmina Khadra to avoid military censorship. The narrator and the central character of the novel Dr Amin Jaafari is apolitical and irreligious. Amin is a naturalised Israeli Arab, a successful surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. His life is shattered when he discovers that it was his wife, Sihem, who blew herself up in a restaurant, killing 19 people including a group of schoolchildren. Amin retraces Sihem's last journey from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem and back again to figure out what turned his beloved wife into a suicide bomber. I could relate to certain situations and characters described in the novel: like the Shin Bet; Palestinian militants; Bethlehem and Jenin; the lectures by imams and would-be martyrs.

Tensions are boiling in the Valley. A petition filed against Article 35 A of the constitution by ‘We, the Citizens’ – a Delhi based NGO associated with Sangh Parivar, of which the BJP is a political face, whose solution to the Kashmir problem lies in altering the demography of the state – calls for the abrogation of Article 35 A of the Indian constitution. Article 35 A is the constitutional provision that allows the Jammu and Kashmir state legislature to define the ‘classes of persons who are or who shall be the state subjects (permanent residents) of the state and conferring on such residents any special rights and privileges or imposing upon other persons any restrictions as regards employment under the state government, acquisition of immovable property in the state, settlement in the state or right to scholarship and such other forms of aid as the state government may provide’. The threat and fear of losing our identity and existence is hovering around the residents of the State.

Anyone would feel exactly the same way about violence as the novel’s central character Dr Amin Jaafari does: ‘I hate wars and revolutions and these dramas of redemptive violence that turn upon themselves like endlessly long screws and haul entire generations through the same murderous absurdities, apparently without ERROR signals going off in anybody’s head’. However, it’s different when you yourself are caught in it, like those who are fighting and sacrificing their lives to get rid of the occupation, even when they try to look at the Kashmir problem objectively and realise that at the end it’s us who stand to lose. There are, though, the people in the Valley who are against any sort of violence, and the answer they receive is similar to the one that Amin is given: ‘Simply because you’re nice and warm in your golden cage, you refuse to see the inferno consuming us’.

There could be mass agitations in the state that could fuel more and more destruction if they fiddle with this Article. The only positivity about this is that the people of the state have a united stand over this issue. They are fighting collectively for it – be it the Joint Resistance Leadership, traders or the mainstream political leaders. There was a complete shutdown on the 5th and 6th of this month and there are new protest calls. A hearing was scheduled on 6th of August which was then postponed to the 27th of this month.

Chapter 14 of the book describes an anguish and outrage similar to what we feel in Kashmir. Adel, who is working for the Intifada, tries to define logically the Cause and the life they are living. The above mentioned lines by Adel stand true for everyone growing up under occupation. Kashmiris are also fighting for their dignity and for them ‘no dream is possible without freedom’. Living under continuous threat and humiliation has exorcised the angels of peace from the valley. ‘There is no worse cataclysm than humiliation. It is an evil beyond measure … it takes away your taste for life. And until you die, you’ve only one idea in your head: How can I come to a worthy end after having lived miserable, and blind, and naked?’ Freedom is our right. ‘Freedom isn’t a passport issued by the authorities. Going where you want to go isn’t freedom …. Freedom is a deep conviction, the mother of all certitudes.’ And yes: ‘For the greatest, the most just, the noblest cause on earth is the right to live’.

Adel remarks: ‘Sacrifice isn’t a duty just for other people. If we accept that other people’s children die for ours, we must accept that our children die for other people; otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair’. Mohammed Moulessehoul tries to refute this choice of sacrifice through the character of an old Jewish man: ‘A man’s life is worth much more than any sacrifice, no matter how great’. Like Jerusalem, Kashmir ‘remains proud and unbowed’, and ‘Although cruelly outraged by injustice and suffering, the city continues to keep faith’.