In 2008, when the first of a hat-trick of summer uprisings broke out leaving more than 60 dead and over a 100 injured, the resistance vocabulary of Kashmiris got richer by one more word: ragda. Ragda went on to become the Kashmiri equivalent to the Palestinian intifada and has made its way into many news stories, articles and opinion pieces on Kashmir carried by various newspapers and periodicals ever since. A rebel transgender behind the epic coinage and a series of slogans has been the mascot of resistance in and around the volatile Maisuma.
Javaid Ahmad, fondly called as Jave Maam – Jave uncle – by the youngsters and the elderly alike, opens the gate he had secured by a tiny lock. The gate opens into a lawn where a few derelict, rusting vehicles have been dumped.
A narrow wooden staircase leads to Jave Maam’s one-room dwelling. In contrast to the bleakness of the lawn and the cramped alleys of Maisuma, the apartment is well groomed.
The space demarcated as the kitchen has linoleum flooring. Utensils are stacked somewhat precariously on the shelves of two steel bookcases. Crowded in the space are buckets and other kitchen items.
The walls of the room are painted blue, cushion covers are bright coloured, there is an artfully done bed, a dressing table teeming with make-up paraphernalia, a TV set, lots of trunks, a locker and a few dolls and teddy bears.
Jave Maam, 43, a transgender, is clad in a long blue shirt, light orange shalwar and a black scarf. In demeanor too, he is feminine. But unlike a typical Kashmiri transgender, he has never been a matchmaker all his life or a singer at weddings. He calls himself a rebel. The neighbourhood testifies to this description. “He once emptied a bowl of daal on the head of a superintendent of police,” said Mohammad Rafiq, a Maisuma resident.
“He is one gutsy individual,” vouched Babloo, now in his forties and once known for his brutal street-fights. “He is ever-ready. He can shut down Lal Chowk within a matter of minutes.”
Exploits of Jave Maam’s rebelliousness are part of the folklore of Maisuma, one of the most defiant strongholds of the resistance movement in the Valley.
“He has done what very few among us could do. He has always been a sore in the eye of the forces,” said Guddi, who has been a part of many processions led by Jave Maam. Guddi recalls how she and many other women of Maisuma would rally around him and fight pitched battles with police and paramilitary forces.
“Even now, if we need to take out a rally, it is Jave Maam who will have to lead it besides creating new slogans,” said Guddi.
In 2012, the government had imposed curfew in the city. While having his lunch, Jave Maam thought of spreading some subversion into air—unleash balloons that had Pakistani flags attached to them into the sky.
But where will you get balloons in a curfewed city? Jave Maam was determined to hunt them and had an ingenious plan to embark on the search.
“I asked a neighbourhood woman to get me her pregnancy reports. I then stuffed a small cushion underneath my clothes to appear like a pregnant lady. I took a couple of boys along. When paramilitary troopers stopped us, I told them I had to go for a checkup,” said Jave.
Luckily, there was a lone balloon seller not far from the place. In excitement, for each balloon, Jave paid him five times the normal price.
“The seller looked surprised. I told him we had an important function at home,” he said.
The balloons were filled with cooking gas that was sourced from a neighbour, and released into air. Paramilitary troopers deployed on the streets went into a tizzy.
“The balloons were driving them crazy. A chopper was pressed into action to find out where those balloons were coming from. They beat up the little daughter of the balloon seller. I dumped the gas cylinder in another neighbour’s courtyard,” said Jave.
The balloon seller was given a harsh beating. When the troopers asked him to whom he sold the balloons, he replied, “Pata nahi, koi aurat aayi thi (I don’t know, a woman bought them).”
Being familiar with Jave’s past actions, the station house officer of Maisuma police station is said to have remarked, “Yi chhu javun kaar (this is Jave’s handiwork).”
Jave went into hiding for a month.
The gutsy Jave Maam, however, melts when he recounts the life of hardships he has lived so far. His father was mentally retarded. Therefore, the mother brought him and his siblings up. She worked in a school for Rs 25 a month. She would supplement income by sifting rice in people’s homes.
“We often had boiled potatoes for dinner,” Jave said and broke down.
“Our relatives grabbed the property that was legally ours. The maternal relatives, although well off, did not help. Neither did we ask for it. Self-respect is everything,” he said.
“I also started to go with my mother to work in the neighborhood. I would work in the homes of Pandits. They would pay me two and a half rupees. That was a decent amount for a boy during the eighties.”
Soon, Jave’s brother started earning too and the family’s lot improved a bit. Two of his sisters were married off. Jave became the family head after his mother passed away. After the death of her husband, one of the sisters returned home. Jave took care of her.
“I started working for a prominent person of Maisuma for Rs 3000 a month. One day I requested him to help me in buying some construction material for home. He flatly refused. I quit. I had worked hard for that man,” he said. But that did not stop Jave from constructing a house for his sister.
“Although I have seen poverty all my life I have never begged for anything. I can’t imagine how one can live off the resistance,” he said.
Jave Maam works as a peon in a nearby school. He also takes care of the property that belongs to Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq for a meagre salary.
When the armed uprising started in 89-90, Jave was 15. The first man who died in the tehreek in Maisuma was one Ashiq Hussain. A grenade intended for a police officer named Muzaffar missed its target and instead killed Ashiq.
“I still have his socks. The poor guy had gone to give his mother tehri (rice cooked in turmeric with mustard oil and fried shallots added to it). His martyrdom made me passionate about tehreek (the movement). I was mad with rage. I damaged goods of some shopkeepers, kicked shutters,” said Jave.
Exploits of Jave Maam's rebelliousness are part of the folklore of Maisuma, one of the most defiant strongholds of the resistance movement in the Valley.
If any Maisuma boy was arrested, Jave would be the first to organise and hold protest. His protests gradually extended for electricity and other amenities.
“He can’t stand injustice,” said Ubaid, a neihbourhood teenager who has grown up seeing a resolute Jave take on the symbols of power. “He is a real hero and we all love him.”
Rebellion came at a cost, like it does for every dissenter in Kashmir. One day, when he was out buying milk, the troopers caught him after a chase.
“They stripped me naked, beat me up ruthlessly and denailed a couple of fingers. They were asking me to reveal the whereabouts of militants. Suddenly I heard someone telling them ‘ye Javaid hai, hijra. Iss ke paas mine hai. Iss ke paas bahut saamaan hai. (This is Javaid, a eunuch. He has a (land) mine and a lot of ammo). The voice was of an informer,” Jave said.
“The mukhbirs (informers) were called ‘cats’ those days. He told me to name anyone if I wanted to escape torture. But I thought that naming someone for the heck of it was going to entangle me further. So I endured the torture but didn’t name anyone,” he said.
Jave was dejected when he learnt that the informer was a resident of Maisuma. But he was more concerned about something else. He feared being seen as a transgender ‘sodomized’ by the troopers in custody.
“I didn’t go home. I asked the people to take me to the hospital for medical tests. I was sure that they would talk nonsense behind my back if I didn’t dispel this notion once and for all,” he said.
The reports were shown to almost everyone in the locality. People in the locality respect him, hence the honorific ‘uncle’.
During the 2008 uprising, a style of sloganeering became very popular. In fact, it became the hallmark of the uprising. The slogan was accompanied by the protesters stomping their feet on the imaginary Indian flag painted on the road.
Ragda Ragda, Bharat Ragda (Stamp out India).
Another slogan, Bhookha Nanga Hindustan, Bhookha Rahe Hindustan…Nanga Rahe Hindustan (Starving, naked India. Let it stay starving, naked)
The slogans were Jave’s creation.
“I was cleaning the room when these lines came to my mind. They were a rage then. Paramilitary personnel were really pissed off by these slogans,” he said.
During the 2010 uprising, Jave sprinkled petrol on a CRPF bunker. He even snatched the gun from a trooper and dropped it only after a brief chase by other troopers. He was spared a bullet probably because they mistook him for a woman.
Jave’s fame had reached downtown, the hub of the perennial stone-throwing wars between young protesters and the government forces. A few intransigent stone throwers had inquired about “this woman’s marital status.”
“They came here and asked the locals to show them ‘this brave girl’. My identity surprised them a bit but they encouraged me to carry on resisting the occupation,” Jave said and smiled.