5 June 2017

No tears for Ummer Fayaz

by Srijana Mitra Das

Recently, two Kashmiri men were assaulted. One man was tied to an army jeep and paraded about villages, labelled — via a placard — a stone-pelter. The other man lost his life. The first man, understandably traumatised, received an outpouring of support, angry editorials, incensed articles, TV outrage, online fury. The other man received barely a tweet. There hangs a tale.

By now, the story of Budgam’s shawl weaver, Farooq Ahmed Dar, who stepped out to vote on April 9 and found himself strapped to an army jeep, is well-known. Anyone with a halfway-decent armchair has expressed a vociferous opinion on Dar. Many of us, whose combat is not much deadlier than choosing between the cream bandhgala or the herringbone tweed, huffily pronounced that Army Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, who used Dar as a human shield, was unconstitutional, violent, violating, condemnable for deciding, in the split-second he had, to use Dar and not fire at the hundreds of stone-pelters surrounding his troops, and the election officials they were protecting. One critic remarked, the human shield was unnecessary since Gogoi’s troops could shoot in self-defence. Apparently, in this strange moral world, where good and bad slide and elide, killing people is ok.

Perhaps that explains the resounding silence over the murder of Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz. The young Kashmiri — just 22, his birthday on June 8 — was inducted into the Rajputana Rifles last December. He was home on May 9, his first leave, to attend his cousin’s wedding. He was abducted by suspected militants from his Shopian house — picked up as he sat beside the bride — his body, riddled with bullets, dumped at a chowk. Ummer, like Dar, was unarmed: Just a person passing through, a brother, a nephew, a child of an apple farmer.

But, in contrast to the wringing of erudite hands for Dar, the opinion pages, the TV channels stayed strangely silent for Ummer. Of course Farooq Dar has human rights. Did Ummer have none? Is the Kashmiri acceptable only as victim, never as a citizen with an alternate view, one that possibly doesn’t suit those who, in ecstacies of bourgeois morality (which simultaneously enjoys, and laments, the modern state), tomtom the cruelties of the forces, but never probe those of its opponents?

Additionally, does joining the army mean that soldiers forfeit the right to their own rights — including the right to empathy? Perhaps, amidst the surfeit of services we now live with, we imagine the army as overblown security guards. The fact that many join up for more than a cheque and cheap rum escapes some. But the truth, possibly discomfitting to those who like theirs in fifty fashionable shades of grey, is that people like Ummer Fayaz join the army because they love their country — and, amazingly, do so with clarity, complex-free.

For this love, Ummer paid with his life, killed by another lynch mob, one evading cameras that record their cowardice. The names of his killers may rustle in Srinagar’s winds, but some of our profound find it cosier to shut troubling windows, settling for kahwa-pe-charcha with sulkily glamorous separatists instead. But even if condemnation is too much to ask, surely a word of sympathy for a boy who loved playing hockey, who idolised Virat Kohli, who tucked his sunglasses at jaunty angles into V-neck T-shirts, whose warm smile tilted widely over an interestingly bony face?

But it is almost as if the angry yells about Victim Dar are meant to erase the memory of citizen Ummer Fayaz. It is important to mark this for, as Friedrich Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil, “Clever people are never pointed out their follies; what a deprivation of human rights”. Interestingly, among the clever, those who’ve been in charge of Kashmir, and its violations, over decades, yelled the loudest. In this paper (‘Major Gogoi is wrong’, IE, May 24), former J&K CM Omar Abdullah — whose father ran Kashmir as its theatres turned into torture centres — wrote of how the Dar episode left him shuddering at the “carte blanche” this gave security forces. Was there similar horror during the forced exit — another “carte blanche” parade — of the Kashmiri Pandits, whose rights, apparently, aren’t fundamental, just incidental ones?

However, given his shudders now, Abdullah could show moral noblesse oblige and consider giving up all security, protesting for a citizen as another citizen who can, say, buy vegetables without khaki-clad cops or black cats hovering about. Protesting the security forces by refusing their services is showing real solidarity with Farooq Ahmed Dar.

Meanwhile, amidst the wall-to-wall outrage, Ummer Fayaz will likely remain unlamented by the elegantly incensed. But he will be remembered elsewhere, perhaps in a camp, in a trench, in an orchard of saddened apples.

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