Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night

Book Review by Sumaira Samad

Curfewed Night is the memoir of young Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer, recounting his youth in the troubled valley during the ’80s and ’90s. A harrowing look at the political strife and armed conflict that has torn Kashmir apart over the last 30 years, Curfewed Night is nothing if not personal. The people, places and events Peer describes are ones he encountered and experienced first hand. They are his parents and neighbours and friends. Yet, despite this intimacy, essential to any good memoir, Peer’s narrative is refreshingly honest, frank and unbiased. His is no polemic, and sentimentality, self-pity and melodrama take a back seat.

Beginning in the years before the struggle, Curfewed Night invites the reader into a beautiful, peaceful mountain paradise where the regular, slow rhythms of village life make up one’s existence. Peer lives a happy, uneventful childhood, surrounded by a loving family and tight knit community. But this apparent serenity, as it turns out, is merely the glassy surface, hiding a quagmire beneath. The shadow of Kashmir’s turbulent history and unresolved conflicts never quite goes away, and even in Peer’s happy childhood, he knows that his home is one struggling for an identity. Kashmir, he tells us, is defined negatively, in terms of what its residents do not want it to be. That is, Kashmiris are certain that they do not want their home to be swallowed up by a larger India that has failed to give them the autonomy, rights and the self-respect that they expected at the time of independence. Kashmir has become the purgatory of the ghosts of Partition.

Curfewed Night takes readers on a journey exploring the hopes, aspirations and frustrations of the Muslims of Kashmir, focusing especially on the youth and the path of armed struggle that these youth took to throw the yoke of Indian hegemony. Peer shows us through the deeply touching stories of others, through mothers, sons, poets and militants, the complexities that are inevitably involved, refraining from presenting a Manichean picture of Muslims versus Hindus, or Islamic fundamentalists versus secularists. No, he insists, the Kashmiri Muslims were never orthodox, and they lived under the influence of such Sufi saints as Nuruddin Rishi, the valley’s patron. The initial movement for independence, led by JKLF, began as a struggle for an independent, secular Kashmir, neither part of India nor Pakistan. It was also partly a class struggle; the majority of its members came from the lower middle and peasant classes. It was the struggle of a people who had over the years felt alienated from mainstream India, neglected and takenfor granted. The problem, Peer argues, really began after the Indian government brutally sought to crush the independence movement, when it was taken over by fundamentalists.

Curfewed Night is neither purely political analysis nor journalistic vignettes. It tells the stories of ordinary people caught in politics. But, importantly, these stories are not journalistic “facts” they are lived experiences.

Indeed, Peer tells the story of all Kashmiris, whether Muslim or Hindu. He tells us about the misery and grief caused to human beings, regardless of their religion and class. He bluntly presents the brutalities of the Indian army and paramilitary, but also does not fail to show the brutality of the militants. The complacency of the bureaucracy, whether of the Indian state or the Kashmir state; the discrepancy between the leadership of the militants and political leaders; and the rending of ordinary lives due to military and militants alike are all touched upon in Curfewed Night. And the change in the mental landscape of a people now ruled by uncertainty and fear is reflected in the besieged landscape of this valley, once legendary for its beauty. As Peer writes, “The poet lied about its being paradise.”

This is the story of an agonised people whose lives have been torn asunder by factors beyond their control. These are a people who have been fighting for their legitimate rights and have been crushed by an iron hand, indiscriminating and unrelenting. For Pakistanis, battling strife within their borders due to various armed struggles, terrorist attacks and state aggression, the story told by Peer surely will provide insight into our own troubles. It takes us beyond media reportage to the people – to their homes, schools, colleges and universities, inside their daily lives, their festivals and funerals – to an existence that is not very different from yours or mine. Curfewed Night reveals the connections between what is happening in Kashmir and what is happening in Waziristan and Swat, and what is happening beyond Pakistan in Afghanistan. The terrain changes but the story can be stretched into countless homes.

Peer ends the book with a note of hope, closing with the introduction of a new bridge across the Line of Control. Kashmiris, from both sides of the divide, cross this physical and metaphorical bridge, greeting each other with rousing welcomes.

First published in The Friday Times

  • IMeMy

    Interestingly, I read a similar memoir by Avatar Nehru titled “Clouds on Fire” which presented a similar set of experiences except that they were through the eyes of a Kashmiri Hindu who had to give up home to never find another.

    Thanks for the heads up on this one; I would definitely want to read it.

  • Adnan majeed Qureshi

    Mr. Basharat has really done a great job.It is a must read book is full of facts n the inside story of kashmir. The author has shown the real dedication,determination and honesty in his work..It really needs a lot of courage to reveal these lived experiences…hats off Mr Basharat

  • John

    It is Pakistan who brought rusty Afghans and Lashkars into these valley and took all care to suppress people who wanted freedom like people of JKLF.

    I doubt kashmir muslims visions are similar to Pakistanis Deobandi view.

    All the problem are due to cross border terrorism.


  • Abid Hussain

    Being a kashmiri Chap, I Recommend this Book to every kasmiri nationalist…especially to those kashmiris who spent those years away from kashmir …..coz This Is the only way, we ll get the real view of the kashmir…
    For Mr. Basarat Peer, i believe that his dedication cant b described in Words…..

    Great Work Dear ……A kashmiri Youth

  • Dastagir

    J&K Issue will be over., IF (and the IF is crucial) India behaves in a statesmanly manner. RSS mindset and hatred for Islam/Muslims will be to India’s detriment. If India proceeds slowly and buys time.. another 10 years (1 generation), and the problem will be decided in India’s favour. This is a reality everybody knows., but Kashmir is a sentimental issue., and people can be fooled by it. Zia fooled for 12 yrs., Musharraf for 11. J&K issue died in 1965 itself. After that it has been crying (that too false tears) over split milk.

    Forget re-claiming J&K (“Sheh-ragg of Pakistan”., Unfinished Business of Partition argument)., it is getting difficult to HOLD and manage what is left of Pakistan. Baluchistan and Sind., can break more easily than Bangladesh 1971. Pakistan took birth amidst great turmoil and loss of life.

    The experiment is not working. Its a fact. That is the reality of geo-politics. Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan was formed on very HIGH IDEALISM. The Punjabi couldnt live up to it. Thats the harsh reality. Sind gave Jinnah and Bhutto to Pakistan.

    Punjab gave : Ayub Khan., Zia Ul Haq., etc.. etc.. the bureaucrats.. the Chaudhrys.. Ghulam Ishaq Khans… people of “coterie” character., who mastered only intrigues, and coups.

  • Noorul Qureshi

    from the review Book definitely is a must read.

  • Baba

    If you’ve ever wondered why kashmiri muslims want self determination, then you must definitely read the book.

  • Dastagir

    I am aware of the sweat, tears and blood which Kashmiri Muslims have given. I understand their desire “to be on their own”. I am aware of the injustices done unto them… historically… and more-so after 15 Aug 1947. The intrigues., the tricks., the dirty work done by RSS (and that preceded 15 Aug 1947., as Hari Singh Administration was encouraging RSS to do its dirty work since 1937 itself). I am aware that 80,000 Kashmiri youth have been killed by the Humane Indian Army – thousands have disappeared – thousands have been raped – and what not.

    However, one must understand from the geo-political plane., that J & Kashmir cannot sustain itself as a “Republic”. It would become a play-ground for super-power rivalry (like the big “Afghanistan Game”). So what to do now.

    Pakistan is crumbling (on its own). It is very hard to say this., but Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s vision is proving to be correct. Sheikh Abdullah’s vision proved far superior to Iqbal’s and even Jinnah ! Sheikh Abdullah was one of the select muslims of his time who were highly qualified. Sheikh was M. Sc from Aligarh ! and had quarelled with Iqbal – and disagreed with Jinnah.

    J&K’s demographics today is that it is 60% Muslim. There is no question of it being an Independent Republic (it cant sustain itself)… and Pakistan (to where it naturally belongs according to 3 June 1947 Plan) is crumbling. So, it must remain within India., and choose the path of “Local Development” and “Good Governance”. For God’s sake., let Kashmiris have a good life : Schools, Hospitals., Development.. and of course HONOUR. India has to understand this., otherwise J&K is already a flash-point.

    India-Pakistan relations are extremely fragile. India never showed STATESMANSHIP. Sorry to say, but the Nehru-Gandhi family’s behavior pattern has been below-the-mark. Morarji Desai understood this – and he downgraded the spy-agency RAW (which was Pak-centric). Thats the way to go about it. India has to show sagacity and wisdom (and not act childishly as it is acting now… the whole world is laughing at this “CRY BABY” going around with dossiers… asking the world to help. !).

    J&K must remain within India., and integrate with India. At least that is a safer option for Kashmiris., when compared to a disintegrating Pakistan..

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  • Dastagir

    Pakistan’s desire to sheild ISI (be-lagaam ghoda) will eventually lead to its destruction.

    India’s desire / love to sheild RSS (and its hydra-headed fangs) will eventually lead to its destruction.

    Safforn / Green hatred will lead to the largest pogroms this world has ever witnessed. Casualties of World War II will pale in shame.

    This is the result of feeding hatred for decades ! Who started it… who built it.. that is an academic issue… but this is the end result ! Continuous building-up of hatred needs a release. In this case a holocaust of epic proportions.

    Elections in India are 3 months away. Just a week before elections., RSS will indulge in the dirty work of planting bombs. Its volunteers wearing green kurtas and white pyjamas., with white skull caps., and grown beards., will do the dirty work., followed by communal riots (as the Police looks the other way).

    Average Citizen in India and Pakistan hardly matters. He is held hostage by the Trishul and the Turban.

  • sas

    Defnitely master piece indeed.Will through much light on Kshmir issues

  • awais wasi

    The writer is deeply inspired by the resistance literature and leaning towards left. The deconstruction of the text reveals this.

  • Pardeep

    Basharat i really like your book i am a sikh and from Srinagar but this books seems like a mirror for my past although we have not faced that much of difficulties in srinagar but i really cried when i read about the two brother where they have handed a mine to be exploded in the house during encounter.

    i wish to talk to you once i don’t why but yes we kashmeres have some emotional attachment although religions are different but i only know one thing we are kashmeres and we are one.

  • Mehak

    Amazing book sir…
    i never used to read books before but i seriously fell in love with dis one..
    great work..

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  • advocate mudasir naqshbandi

    i finished reading this book today its wonderful

  • naira

    Okay so i came across this book in our clg. library and did i cry like a baby throughout, its beautiful it makes u count ur blessings twice and pray for those who hav endured what a 20yr. like myself cant even imagine ,and the part about papa-2 made me want to kill indians; A-holes;( sorry for profanity). i grew up watching 9 o’clock news telling about the massacre in kashmir i would be sry for the minute and live on with my life however now after reading the book i cant believe my pigheaded -ness and that of other ppl it makes u wonder why is gov. not doing anything, =(

  • Dr. Sheikh

    Dear Dastagir,

    Please dont compare Alama Iqbal with Mr Sheikh Abdullaha, there is a lot of difference between them. If you these are the 2 different things. Just a advice to you, read the meaning of Quran and his peoitry, After reading both you will fine Alama Iqbal is a religious scholar. He had done so much for the Muslim people on his time.
    I hope you understand.
    With regards,
    wali kums salam

  • surya

    I would like to say that India must focus on Kashmir and need to go to the people and provide development to Kashmir.

  • jamsheed

    After sixty years of military occupation of Kashmir by India, india has failed to win hearts and minds of kashmiris.She has suppressed the legtimate rights of kashmiris especially Right to self determination . India has deployed ten lakh soldiers to control the people for granting freedom from india.At present india claims kashmir didpute as her internal matter and no third party is allowed to talk on behalf of kashmiris.Kasmiris have offered extreme sacrifices in terms of blood honour property for their cause.India is violating human rights and using mass rapes costodial killing, fake encounter as a weapon to suppress kashmiris . Now kashmiris have reached at a point of no return ,they are descovering new ways of protest , from mass protests to cyber protests. SHAME for india as being democracy and crushing genuine demands of inocent people in inhumane way. india … QUIT KASHMIR.