Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer was born in 1977 in Seer village and grew up during the height of the insurgency that has left about 70,000 Kashmiris dead. Curfewed Night is his memoir of this turbulent period, when the rural, peaceful homeland of his childhood was transformed into a violent hotbed of militancy and state oppression.
A moving and candid narrative, it begins with stories of Peer’s “fairy-tale childhood of the eighties” which gave way to “the horror of the nineties”. Peer was a teenager when the insurgency exploded in Srinagar and writes of how the brutal response by Indian troops radicalized large segments of the population and gave an impetus to militant groups who recruited thousands of frustrated Kashmiri youths. He describes the crushing occupation of the valley and the unending ordeal of checkpoints, arbitrary detentions and disappearances – the ”frisking, crackdown, bunker, search, identity card, arrest and torture”-that Kashmiris have to live with. Kashmiri Islam was Sufi-inspired rather than fundamentalist, and Kashmir was a peaceful home to Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Peer reports how he returns to school after the insurgency begins and his schoolroom is half empty, with the Hindu students having fled the village as part of the mass exodus of Pandits from Kashmir.
What makes this book so remarkable is the fact that Peer shares the experiences of ordinary Kashmiris like himself, giving voice to those who have been rendered voiceless, creating a people’s narrative of the conflict. The stories told here are deeply touching, whether about his parents narrowly escaping a blast intended to kill his father or about the widespread use of torture by Indian security forces, some of which has caused cases of impotence amongst young Kashmiri men. But Peer does not write the selective story of Kashmiri Muslims alone. He shares with readers the brutality of the Indian troops but also that of the militants and describes how ordinary Kashmiris are caught between the two. Despite the personal nature of the topic, Peer’s writing is not accusatory or polemical; he writes with clarity and a dedication to Kashmir and its demand for justice.
Curfewed Night is an extraordinary book, where memoir and reportage seamlessly come together to provide a refreshing account of the Kashmir conflict, from the brave perspective of a young Kashmiri who grew up amidst the political strife and armed conflict that has torn Kashmir apart.