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A Week in Prison for a Walk in the Clouds

Posted in 2010 Summer Public Service Program, Aya by kashmircorps on July 12, 2010

I’ve spent the past week in prison. True that it’s more of a Martha Stewart-type prison, but it’s a prison nonetheless.

I’m surrounded by four walls and a labyrinth of insects appearing on my room’s beige walls, which I’ve bruised and stained with their remains. For someone who’s petrified of all things bugs, including but not exclusive to ladybugs, baby bugs and buggie bugs, I’ve become pretty good at ridding my room of the smallest ones. The rest I call in my brother for. Chivalry is alive and squishing.

In this prism of prisons, I’ve eaten the same food day after day, wishing unsuccessfully for a good night’s sleep to swallow for some respite.

But even during daylight, I am allowed no visitation rights, except with my fellow inmates, trapped in the two rooms adjacent to mine. We bond in our anguish and anger, seething at the injustice.

We weren’t even read our Miranda Rights.There was simply no warning.

The unspoken rules were told to me after I was locked in for the curfew.

The rules were simple: First, regardless of why this city was on lock down, so long as I’m here, I’m locked down. Second, I am not to allowed a text message, a pharmacy, a grocery store, a bank, a restaurant, a movie theater, a laundry service, but can have all the chai I want, provided I have enough milk, tea and sugar to hold me over.

Whereas the day before I was attempting to understand how, for days on end, an entire city could go on strike (or hartal as it’s called here), on this day I was trying to understand how I was suddenly under house arrest.

I wasn’t trying to be greedy and plan for weeks ahead. I just wanted to plan for tomorrow. Surely that’s not a crime.

Is there hartal or isn’t there hartal?  Is there an army curfew or isn’t there an army curfew? Is there a civil curfew or isn’t here a civil curfew?

I asked professors, businessmen, NGO leaders and journalists for answers. I used my lifeline to call the award-winning Muzamil Jaleel, the “big brother” of journalists here and the Srinagar bureau chief of the Indian Express. He would know the news before it breaks. But even he was trapped without a curfew pass.

Before we proceed, here’s a quick SVU: Srinagar Vocabulary Update

1. Hartal: Entire cities throughout the Kashmir Valley are shut down due to strikes called for by local separatist leaders. There are no schools nor stores open and services are not offered. Often these strikes can go on for weeks, with a brief 12 hour break every 6-8 days.

2. Army Curfew: A “black flag march”, whereby the Indian Army requires that everyone stay in their homes. If you venture out, you may be shot.

3. Civil Curfew: A self-imposed curfew, whereby separatist leaders call on the people to stay at home. If you venture out, you may be stone pelted.

4. Curfew pass: A government-issued pass that allows certain people to move around during curfewed days and nights.

This week, even curfew passes were revoked. Journalists instead reported- online or on TV- about their inability to report. For two days, local newspapers couldn’t go to print and even if they had, wouldn’t have been distributed.

Aya and Belal from 13,000 feet in Gulmarg

My brother and I spent our evenings with our third inmate Tabir, finding sweet, blissful refuge in 90 minutes of the World Cup’s matches.

We had to get out. Far away. A walk in the clouds, would do. Just as it was safe enough to venture out, we hopped in the Sumo and drove out of Srinagar. As any good fugitives would do, we left the city just before it wakes up, never looking back.

Getting to the top of the mountain in Gulmarg was the glorious finale that we had waited for, dreamt about, planned. Just like the Spaniards winning the World Cup, it was our first.

We were in the clouds, literally.

Even though Belal was just 50 feet to my right, I could barely see him because this was the world of clouds, not humans. Standing on the side of the green mountain, a river ran far below us. The clouds hung in suspension with us. This was our azadi, the Kashmiri word for freedom.

Aya graduated from the University of South Florida with with a double-major in history and broadcast journalism in 2004 and earned her MA in Middle East Politics/Media Studies from SOAS, University of London, in 2007. She currently freelances for radio programs from Cairo, Egypt. Currently, Aya also teaches journalism at the American University in Cairo (AUC) and is working as a Senior Program Specialist for Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership scholarship in Egypt. While in Kashmir, she will be developing and implementing media workshops for youth.

One Response

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  1. Mansoor said, on May 30, 2011 at 4:49 am

    You just lived for few days what we have to live, since known times to unknown times…

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