“Dear Mary & Shabnam

I hope you are well.

I am writing from Indian Occupied Kashmir. I am sure you will understand that I am unable to share my name because I am a Kashmiri residing in India and l will be arrested and charged for speaking against the occupation of my homeland by the world’s biggest democracy. I ask that you share this on any platform that you can.

On 5 August, when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by abrogating Article 370, the entire Kashmiri population was jailed and their internet and mobile connections were disconnected. At that time I was away from my hometown and therefore lost contact with my family and friends. Days passed in a state of terrified waiting. Without any news of home, the knowledge of more and more Indian troops moving into Kashmir and all my dear ones caged and disconnected from the outside world, I could only imagine the worst.

Finally on 31 August I could not take the silence or the waiting any longer booked my ticket home. So there I was at an Indian airport, with a friend wondering why there were only 40 people on an entire flight. We were told to keep the window shutters closed during landing for security reasons. Usually window shutters have to remain open during descent, so this was the opposite of every flight I had ever taken. It felt like even the sky at home was under curfew. I managed to keep the window shutter half open… I wanted desperately to see if my Kashmir looked different now.

As we landed, I saw military choppers and tens of thousands of armed men parading in camouflage uniforms, this was a first in all my years of retuning home. As we disembarked hundreds of military personnel in both uniform and plain clothes were arriving as well, having been brought in from all over India.

With the communication blockade, my cell phone was disconnected along with the internet connection.I walked out of the airport into an eerie silence. A few private cars passed me on the road and I eventually managed to get a lift towards the city. I kept my flight ticket with me, as I had heard that it would be treated as a curfew pass. After 4 hours on a trip that usually takes 50 minutes, I reached my hometown. Home felt like it was burning, there was a complete curfew in place and thousands of armed soldiers on the ground. Sometimes they can bring the prison to you.

I Spent 8 days in Srinagar. I tried to visit both the old city (Rajouri kadal, Gojwara, Nowhatta, Khanyar, Safa kadal, kawdara) and the outskirts. I saw armed men, including Jammu Kashmir Police, stationed every 10 meteres, pellet guns, large-calibre guns, camouflage suits, concertina wires and barricades were deployed to every corner. Kashmiris were invisible, rare sightings on our own streets. People were being warned against gathering for Friday prayers in Jamia Masjid, Hazrat Bal and in the other shrines of Srinagar city.

I was sure to be home by 8 pm daily, as this was when the military temporarily lifted the curfew so the next battalion could start their daily curfew imposition routine. One night as I rode home in complete darkness, I looked up only to find that the road side lights of entire city had been broken. I kept thinking who would do this, my cousin told me that the police and armed forces keep breaking the lights during their night patrols in order to scare us.

I met many people and had many painful conversations about our situation. For the first time in India’s occupation we are numb. We have been betrayed. We are unwilling to accept India’s unilateral revocation of Kashmir’s special status and the house arrest of every mainstream politician under under the guise of security. In this age of super communication and 5G, India has forced us to share our grief the old fashioned way, by letters and landlines.

I spent a week at home. My cousin took me to the airport on his bike, we were stopped 4 times. At one check-point the officer said,”whether you are going to the airport or hospital, we won’t allow you”. An ambulance arrived after us and I saw a patient lying inside. The police officer mocked the patient, saying that he had been paid to lie in the ambulance. The Indian government puts whatever happens in Kashmir on the Pakistani payroll, regardless of whether it is a peaceful protest or stone pelting.

I would have rowed my Shikara to you,
My beloved
But I hope you know,
Our Jehlum is curfewed.

Your Kashmiri Friend”