A leaf from Kashmir
By Farhana Fayaz
Sometimes, violence of horrors past becomes explosions in the river of time and their debris floats into the present. The two world wars, struggles against colonialism by enslaved nations, ethnic strife are prime examples. Another example is the Partition of India. While the independent countries of India and Pakistan are constantly at loggerheads – be it through border skirmishes or on the cricket field – the state of Jammu and Kashmir stands in a horrific limbo. This article aims to examine the woes of Kashmiris who have had to live, struggle, suffer and die amidst tension throughout the valley. Over the decades, the perception of Indian army for the Kashmiris has completely changed, and for the worse. Soldiers of Indian army would naturally arouse feelings of awe and pride in Indians but for Kashmiris they arouse a feeling of unease and even dread. A friend of mine from Kashmir acknowledged as much, when she said that the perpetual sight of tanks, soldiers with guns in the valley is a cause of unease for us. It is easy to understand what she implied. An atmosphere of fear hangs like a shroud on this so-called most idyllic of places on earth. Kashmir once known for its beauty has now made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for being the most heavily militarised area in the world.
One of the students narrates how the daily insurgency and military swoops are a living nightmare for millions. Amidst curfew students had to sit for Board exams. As the students passed through deadly quiet streets under the disconcerting eyes of the soldiers they did not know what scared them more – exam phobia or the war like scenario. Speaking of exam phobia, these students were appearing for exams on the basis of only fifty percent of syllabus being completed as schools had remained shut for long. As a respite, the students were asked to attempt only 60% of the paper. But is that a solution? What would be the fate of students who wanted to sit for JEE or MBBS. They were in a stark state of unpreparedness and would compete with students who had enjoyed uninterrupted year of scholastic endeavour. Is it fair? The crisis does not end here. Students from primary to class 9 were promoted. What’s the point of promoting students in academia if they don’t have the knowledge of the subject they are studying?
The schools presented a different picture altogether. The school building housed the soldiers with army tanks in the assembly ground. The soldiers had been none too gentle with the school resources and it was a shame for the students to see the schools being reduced to army barracks.
While the army should inspire confidence, news of gang rape by soldiers, indiscriminate firing and attack on people protesting against the law and order situation in Kashmir does make us think of the role army has been reduced to playing in the valley. This does not mean that the army is out and out a negative force, but it does mean that the government needs to assess and redefine its political and ideological position vis-à-vis Kashmir. Not every Kashmiri is a collaborator.
Media too has been playing truant when it comes to representing the situation in Kashmir. Recently, Frenny Manecksha’s book, Behold I Shine, Narratives of Women and Children from Kashmir, has been published. The text is one document that has striven to represent the voice of Kashmiris who are becoming a scapegoat, as the army behaves in an autocratic manner. It can’t be denied that media has represented Kashmiris as hand-in-glove with insurgents which is neither the complete nor the correct picture. Not all Kashmiris are supportive of insurgency or terrorism; the media completely overlooks the sufferings of innocent Kashmiris. Compelled to leave their home in the face of adverse situations, Kashmiris become the butt of suspicion and ridicule. This is discriminatory and unfair.
For instance, my friend dresses in traditional kurtis and wears a hijab. Due to which she has often been seen with disdain. It is proof of the prejudice people harbour against Muslims. One of the boys accosted her and asked that why she wore hijab, which is in sync with the fashionable attires of the day. When my friend responded that hijab for her was not a compulsion but a statement of her choice, the boy asked how it would appear if he were to wear a dhoti, shave his head and wear a tika as his religion ordains. To this my friend had the magnamity and tolerance to reply that if he chooses to do that it is his will and no one should have the right to condemn, challenge or ridicule him.
Even more appalling was when one day my friend was accosted with a statement that spewed resentment and hatred, “All Kashmiris are terrorists”. I was aghast. This happened once more until my friend accosted the hate-spewing person and said, “I am a Kashmiri, I am a Muslim and I am NOT a terrorist.” It surprises me that evolved, urbane and educated people can be so rude, shallow and even cruel. Media too is responsible for creating a stereotype of Kashmiri as a terrorist. Indians from other parts of the country tend to alienate and exoticize Kashmiris. Kashmiris are neither at home in Kashmir nor other parts of the country. As bewildered parents send their children out of Kashmir, they categorically warn them not to discuss Kashmir and its hardships as it might cause a ‘mysterious disappearance’. If Kashmir is to be an idyllic place again, we need to foster an atmosphere of trust and bonding. Army and Kashmiris will have to go hand in hand.
I would end by referring to two works. One is Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajjad which is a graphic novel, poignantly relating the story from a child’s perspective of growing up in troubled times in Kashmir. The other is a work by contemporary artist, Shilpa Gupta. Her work, Untitled 2005-2006, explores how post-partition Kashmir has become the arena for enactment of consistent hostilities between India and Pakistan. In this video installation, a sequence of images contrast the utopic beauty of Gulmargh with the presence of military figures that keep towns and villages under siege. In another screen, one hears a child’s learning his alphabet. The child’s utterance of the alphabet voices the contestation Partition has generated in Kashmir. A for Army. B for bomb. C for curfew. D for death. E for explosion. F for fear. G for grave. H for hospital…M for militant… O for obituary. P for Papa. Q for questioning. R for rape… W for widow-half widow… Thus, we are given an insight into the continuing hold of Partition-spawned hostilities in a militancy ridden Kashmir and also how a child with his limited understanding of the notion of nationalism and ethnicity tries to cope with a dystopic reality.
I hope there is a silver lining in this dark cloud which threatens to engulf Kashmir.
Farhana Fayaz pursues graduation and shares her concern regarding her personal experience in the context of a close friend from Kashmir.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.