Safwat Zargar

From Himal Southasian: Housed in History

During a trip to North Kashmir’s Kupwara district in late March this year, I, along with some friends, decided to pay a visit to Shahmala Begum, who lives in the sombre village of Trehgam, some 93 kilometres away from the summer capital city of Srinagar in India-administered-Kashmir. The incessant rainfall since morning, the potholes, and puddles of water on the road compelled us to brake regularly in order to prevent drenching people walking on the road with muddy water. Excited but severely restricted by our speed, we set out to meet the aged stepmother of Mohammad Maqbool Bhat. 

Relying on directions given to us by passersby, we took a snaky road flanked by vast open fields on either side from the main town of Kupwara. At one point, the blaring speaker of the car’s stereo system was put to a sudden pause, and silence filled the car. “We are passing through Kunan-Poshpora,” my friend remarked. She works with a human-rights support group that seeks justice for the victims of the mass rape of more than 40 women in two villages, during the night of 23 February 1991, by soldiers of the battalion of the Fourth Rajputana Rifles (RR) of Indian Army stationed at Kunan-Poshpora. We passed the twin villages in silence. As if in unsaid mutual agreement, all of us knew that we were driving through one of the most haunted corridors of India’s military occupation of Jammu and Kashmir – a region disputed since the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. After crossing the villages, a short old lady huddled under a big black umbrella pointed us towards the road that meets the Kupwara-Chowkibal highway at the Trehgam taxi stand. 

To avoid getting wet in the rain, most people were lined up in front of shops, some waited it out in cars and passenger sheds, while others braved the rain openly. On reaching the taxi stand, I asked a driver, “Where is Mohammad Maqbool Bhat’s home?” “He was hanged!” I blurted out awkwardly, to provide him context.

“You mean shaheed Maqbool Bhat?”


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