This article originally appeared on VICE India.
Ubaid Kana’s hands are raised in supplication. It is Eid today. The visual effects artist and a recent graduate from the prestigious Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia University, is offering prayers on August 12 in Chappar Wali Masjid in Okhla, New Delhi. This is a deviation from his annual plans which otherwise would have seen him offering his Eid-al-Adha prayers in Jamia Masjid in Sopore, a town in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Man plans, God laughs.
“Eid Mubarak! Eid Mubarak!” Kana greets people as he slowly saunters towards his apartment nearby. There is no jubilation in his voice though, no emotion even. It’s like he is going through the practised motions without feeling them. But then again, like many from the (once) state of J&K, Kana has had to cancel tickets to visit his family for Eid. Like many of us who are away from home that continues to be in a state of clampdown, he doesn’t know much about his family’s well-being and safety. “No one knows how things are in Sopore,” he tells me. I have been lucky enough to get an SMS from my family every two to three days, but Kana has not received even that. This Eid was going to be special for him, for he had booked tickets by saving up from his first salary. A backpack as a gift for his little brother lies unpacked in a corner of his room, where he is sipping tea post Eid prayers. “Even if I would have landed at Srinagar airport, how would I have reached Sopore, some 60 kilometers from there?”
After the Narendra Modi-led Indian government introduced a resolution in the Rajya Sabha or the Upper House of the Parliament of India to revoke Article 370, which confers special status to the state of J&K, the Valley has been in a state of shutdown, with an unprecedented lockdown keeping a lid on tensions. The scrapping of Article 370 stripped the state of the significant autonomy it had held for 70 years. It also bifurcated the state into two federally administered territories —Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh—to be ruled directly by New Delhi.
Even as Kashmir’s biggest festival went by yesterday, there has hardly been any news coming out from the Valley barring some reports emerging from Srinagar, where most of the media—national and international—is camped. With phone and internet usage cut off during the ongoing lockdown, authorities are allowing locals to use a mobile phone to briefly speak to their loved ones outside the Muslim-majority state. But nobody knows what is happening in North and South Kashmir, in particular. With this as a backdrop, this Eid, there was in fact no Eid in Kashmir. Even as people surpassed the armed security personnel, coils of barbed wire, and barricades to offer prayers inside mosques, it was far from a festival of celebration.
“There shall be no Eid till everything that has been stolen and snatched since 1947 is returned back,” lashed out Shah Faesal, a former Kashmiri bureaucrat on Twitter. “No Eid till the last bit of insult is avenged and undone.” Shah, the first Kashmiri to place first in the Indian Civil Services Examination, left his job to join ‘mainstream’ politics a few months back. If a pro-India mainstream politician feels no Eid can be celebrated till the last bit of insult is ‘avenged’, you can just imagine what the general population, which considers India as an oppressive, if not an occupying state, must be feeling at the moment.
But the government says the occasion was ‘celebrated’. “Eid prayers were offered at different mosques. After the prayers (at different places) the congregations dispersed peacefully,” Inspector General of Police SP Pani said in a press briefing. “There were a couple of minor localised incidents of law and order which have been handled very professionally. In these incidents, there have been a couple of injuries which have been reported.”
But Adil Ahmad, a journalist in Srinagar I could contact, had something else to say. “All claims of normalcy are lies,” he said to me over phone. “There were strict restrictions in place. Roads wore a deserted look. Prayers were not allowed in Jamia Masjid Srinagar. That is all I know.”
Like Muslims elsewhere, Eid-ul-Adha or Bakr Eid is a festival of sacrifice for people living in the Valley. Usually before Eid, one can see nomads and cattle traders with their herds on street corners, in playgrounds, near shopfronts and mosques selling their sheep and goats. Last year, animals worth Rs 350 crore were sacrificed in the Valley. This year though, the Jammu Kashmir Bureau Chief on TV news channels Wion News, Ieshan Wani, confirmed to VICE from the Valley that there were little festivities witnessed. “No prayers were allowed at major mosques and shrines. There were also only a few takers for sacrificial animals,” Wani said.
Various reports coming out from the Valley have been contradictory—with the government versions sitting at loggerheads with those reported by especially the foreign media. On Friday, 10,000 people reportedly took to the streets of Srinagar to protest against Delhi’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status. Government forces reportedly opened fire and used teargas at the demonstration that took place soon after Friday prayers. But the Indian ministry of home affairs denied that any protests of more than 20 people took place—though TV footage appeared to show very large crowds chanting: “Go back, go, India, go.”
Even yesterday, sporadic protests took place with stone-pelting across Hyderpora, Ram Bagh, Barzulla and other parts of old Srinagar, according to Mint and accounts shared by local police officials, with residents accusing the Centre of “gross injustice."
But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this is as much about the Kashmiris as it is about Kashmir—something many people overlook. Like Kana and me, many of us have celebrated the festival away from our family, probably for the first time ever. “For the first time in my entire life, I haven’t wished my parents on Eid. Is this Eid or Ashura, the day of mourning?” Kana asks me as I am about to leave his place. Meanwhile, as we part, there are primetime ‘special’ national TV shows being telecast, which boast about how Kashmiris merrily celebrated Eid, with some reporters doing ‘ground’ reporting from helicopters. Irony just died a thousand deaths.
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