Thermodynamics at midnight: The story of a cordon and search operation in Kashmir


By Faisal Rather

“What is the Zeroth law of thermodynamics?”

If two systems ‘A’ and ‘B’ are separately in thermal equilibrium with a third system ‘C’, then they are in equilibrium with each other as well.

The first idea that comes to one’s mind after reading this conversation is that it is a candid conversation going on between a teacher and a student. But such a conversation can have an altogether different connotation and context in Kashmir. Such a conversation can also imply oppression, humiliation, and occupation in our context.

After finishing talking to a friend on phone, I locked the phone and kept it by my side. About to sleep, I woke up to a wired noise, as if someone were talking, actually talking on walkie-talkies! That was the military here. I inferred at once that they were surrounding the house. It was around 12 am. Gradually the voice was becoming clear and I could hear people speaking in Hindi. Without turning on the light, I went to my brother’s room to inform that the military had surrounded our house. We remained calm and silent, waiting for them to engage. After a short while, they fixed lights around the house to have a clear view on all sides of the house. We were rattled about what was going on. Clueless, we remained indoors till they themselves engaged us.

At around 2 am, a boy, Yawer (name changed), from our neighborhood called upon us and asked us to open the main door to our house. As we were anticipating this, we quickly opened the door. The boy had a headset attached to his ear and it had a small microphone. We asked him about what was happening, but he put his index finger on his mouth (asking us to be quiet) and pointed to the headset and microphone. We understood! He asked us to come out from the house to our courtyard. We complied.

After taking only few steps out of the house, a military personal ordered all of us to line up. When we looked up to him, we saw about a group of them pointing their guns at us. While they covered themselves up to their neck behind the fencing, their guns stood on the fencing wall aimed at us. “Tell your full names,” said one of them. One by one, we told our names. After we were done with telling our names, they asked us to come one by one to the Officer-in-Charge.

Ameen (My brother) went first. The officer stood outside the fencing at some distance. Meanwhile a group of them was ready to enter the house. On the walkie-talkie, they received a green signal from the officer. The group lined up. The neighborhood boy Yawer whom they had sent to wake us up, was put in front of the first military personal (‘scout’). The scout put his rifle on Yawer’s shoulder and the group started to move inside the house.

Seeing Yawer walking in front of the military men, I immediately remembered Farooq Ahmed Dar of Budgam who was tied to the bonnet of a jeep by Major Gogoi as a Human shield. The incident was condemned by international human rights organizations but to no avail as Major Gogoi was subsequently rewarded by the Indian Military.

I realized that using human shields was not a stray incident but part of the ‘SOPs’ of Indian Military in combating insurgency in Kashmir. I understood the irrelevance of the Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions, 1977 “which forbids the use of human shields” at midnight in a place often referred to as the “Paradise on Earth.”

The search team entered the house. We were taken to the Officer-in-Charge.

“What do you do,” the officer said to me.

“I am a Physics student, pursuing Masters.”

“Oh, so you read Physics. Tell me what the radius of the earth is.”

Puzzled by the absurdity of the whole process, I reluctantly answered, “6400 kms.”

“What is the Zeroth law of thermodynamics?

“If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a third one, then they are in equilibrium with each other as well.”

I replied as I still wondered what he wanted. Perhaps he wanted to verify whether I was telling the truth about pursuing a Masters in Physics.

I wondered what if I wasn’t able to answer his questions. It was not a normal conversation between a teacher and student, wherein a teacher will at worst scold the student for not knowing answers. It was a chilling show, where we had to answer questions in the presence of live guns pointed at us at midnight. If I weren’t able to answer, perhaps they would have taken me to their base camp for interrogation (which is what they do on slight suspicion).

After finishing interrogating us, the officer ‘appreciated’ us for being students and reading well. “This is the real Kashmir,” he said to his subordinates. “Everything else is bakwas (Useless. He was referring to the Freedom struggle).”

“Do read well and make a good career,” he said!

After interrogating us, they directed us to a room of our house and kept us locked in till morning, when they finished the search operation in neighboring houses as well. In the room, we found everting thrown on the floor, the books from the library shelves were scattered on the ground, everything turned upside down, all in a mess! The soldiers of the world’s largest ‘democracy’ apparently have no respect for books. It is pertinent to mention here that we saw the Quran (The Holy Book) lying on the ground.

When I saw the Quran thrown on the floor with utter disrespect, it reminded me how the Indian state has changed the whole structure of the local government in Jammu and Kashmir by removing Muslims from the top government offices. The structure of local administration is filled with severe communal imbalance. The LG is non-Muslim; the chief secretary, a non-Muslim; the DGP, non-Muslim; both the divisional commissioners are non-Muslims; both the IGs of police are non-Muslims; the chief justice of J&K High Court is non-Muslim! Showing no respect to the Quran did resonate well with the larger ploy of the Indian government to target or weaken a certain community from representation in the top government offices.

At 8 AM, the Indian troops started to leave and unlocked us from the room. After some time, we noticed that the watch and some cash of my elder brother were missing. It was obvious what happened to them. A money bank of a 10-year-old girl in the neighborhood was also emptied.

The remark of the Army officer, “Do read well…”, made me ponder on the incident from different angles. What will our ‘reading well’ do? Will it take away our sentiments of a legitimate and pure struggle for right to self-determination? I did analyze the naivety of the officer at depth.

It is the same reading of history and literature which enables us to see the Occupier. The reading enables us to understand how the Indian military is violating our basic human rights by barging into our houses at midnight and then trying to HUMANISE the whole process by asking questions on Physics and uttering hollow appreciations about ‘reading well’. It enables us to understand how they violate the Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions, 1977 by taking our people as human shields. It is the same reading of resistance literatures which makes us recognize and understand the hypocrisy and irrelevance of apple-cheeked liberals on the Kashmir issue.

The growing body of scholarly literature on the Kashmir issue in the English language, written by Kashmiri authors, further bears witness to the flourishing of our sentiments through education or ‘reading’, so to speak.

So, yes, we will definitely read and study well, but that will merely cement our sentiments further. Not the other way around! This piece itself is a subtle reply to the army officer’s remarks.

Faisal Rather is pursuing M.Sc. Physics at a University in Chennai.


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