Throughout the evening of Wednesday, as news of the tragic death of a six-year-old girl by a 'stray' bullet spread, I timidly clicked on the thumbnail of her picture saved on my computer. In rage, I kept opening and closing the window of my room, looking at the half open eyes of Kaneeza, but thinking about my five-year-old niece, who too prefers to sleep near the window, just like Kaneeza and her sibling were when the gunfight broke in a remote village near the Line of Control in north Kashmir’s Kupwara area.
'Stray' bullets are killing one too many children in Kashmir these days. They have a villainous name, a murderous character, yet manage to remain anonymous. We Kashmiris — like the people around the world whose children are killed every now and then in an active conflict — don’t know how this could be stopped and what possibly we could do to stop it. We are hapless and in this helplessness, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. To raise our kids and see them killed by bullets which have no known origins is devastating. They just come from nowhere and pierce the tender chests of our beloved.
In normal places, children like Kaneeza and my niece Isha, crave for ice creams and outings, and ours are stuck inside homes getting used to automatic rifle-slinging soldiers and other stories of conflict: martyrs, funerals, guns, bullets, teargas. They don't listen to fairy tales of Rapunzel but the stories of valour, defiance and bravery. So, their imagination is caught in the vortex of conflict and its lingua franca. Tragically, that becomes the fortitude of their living.
I don’t want to even remotely think about whose bullet this could have been. What matters is an innocent child, who could be anyone's tomorrow, got killed. It does not matter who you are, your heart will cry and melt after looking at the silent face of a lifeless Kaneeza.
Like in the aftermath of every killing, this time too, the picture of a dead child has gone viral. As a symbol, it will now be used for every political interpretation and ideological moorings possible under the sun. Every time there is an unrest or whenever New Delhi tries to win the “hearts and minds” — a failed project — this picture will define the brutality that has been unleashed on the people of Kashmir. It will be used for juxtaposition whenever a Kashmiri tops an all-India exam, and it will be posted parallel to the picture of some upcoming sporting star. It will remind us, all of us who fight every day to remain alive, what might happen to our children when caught in the crossfire of separatism and nationhood.
And like my niece, who saw the picture on my phone, our children will ask that innocent but politically-loaded question: Why are we being killed? No one, and I say this with much emphasis, will understand the pain of a mother or even, for that matter, a father, whose children die in this never-ending saga in the valley. No money, job or comfort or a press statement will remove that ache from their hearts. Their wounds are open to bleed again and again. They create consciousness, bitterness, and hate and an unbridgeable divide among a population which wants to be rebellious but genetically is peaceful.
And what complicates and often enrages us is the criminal but conscious silence of our media, particularly electronic, to debate and discuss, with equal zeal and noise the killings of innocents in Kashmir like they do when a soldier is killed.
On Thursday night, I flipped through the news channels to search for a rumbling debate on why a flower was nipped in the bud before blooming. There was none.
Perhaps Kaneeza's death is not worth a talk show because she is not a soldier with a tri-colour tied to her head.
The morass thinking and the criminal silence of the mainland Indian society is the reason why the killing of blooming buds like Kaneeza goes unnoticed. The television media, particularly the noisy ones, have not helped either. They are creating an unbridgeable divide that would, for sure, take decades to bridge.
In places of conflict like Kashmir where forces enjoy sweeping powers, you can expect them to come up with a fancy term like 'stray' bullet to wash their hands of the tragedy. Those who understand conflict and the jargon fed to us by the State know that these are the cheap tactics employed to make things appear less monstrous than they are.
There was hope, just a few years back, that accountability will supersede the banal nationalist fervour, but except for a few examples, there has been none. Back home, in Kashmir, the fury will die down until one more 'stray' bullet riddles another head, another chest for every bullet has a name written on it.
This story of the pointless death of six-year-old Kaneeza is in complete contrast with another story of an Indian Army soldier striking a chord with civilians in the terror bed of Tral. Together, they represent the realities of a complex situation on the ground. Read the story of an officer and a gentleman here.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article had a picture of a child, which was changed because that was not Kaneeza's image. We apologise for the mistake.
Updated Date: Mar 19, 2017 09:42 AM