“I don’t like enjoyment. Where one lakh people have been killed, what peace will Tulip Garden or Gulmarg give you? Can one just live in a palace and enjoy when so much blood has been spilled?” he asked me. I met him in a bakery shop at Khwajabagh, some four kilometres from the main town of Baramulla in North Kashmir. I got to know from the shopkeeper that he’d also been a victim of torture, one among thousands in the valley. I started asking him questions, and by the time he finished narrating the events from his tortured past, over an hour had passed. Yes, all this conversation was taking place inside a shop, but I had to listen. And listen I did.
He was affiliated to Muslim Janbaz Force once the armed conflict erupted in the valley. On 12 December 1991, aged 21, he was picked by the Border Security Force in Littar, Pulwama. At that time, he was working on an ad-hoc basis in the health department, earning 525 rupees per month. “I was taken to the BSF I46 Battalion camp there and tortured non-stop for six days. From being beaten with rods to being given electric shocks even in my private parts, the kind of torture I suffered was quite common among those who were picked up. They’d even call the ‘source’ in and ask him to beat me. He broke my nose and I had to be hospitalised”. He remembers every detail vividly: “Even if I am mumbling incoherently in my sleep, I am sure I’d narrate the events exactly as they happened. How can I ever forget it?
These short pieces locate the places in different areas of Kashmir that are under military occupation. The aim of this small endeavor is to illuminate the physical density of the infrastructure of militarization in Kashmir, to make visible what is being invisibalized in the discourses of normality. Zahid Rafiq’s piece is not written for this project, but his report on torture centers in Srinagar clearly takes the project forward in adding another layer to the project of locating the military occupation, by shedding light on these horrifying places camouflaged deep inside military camps. His piece highlights how some of these places which have bloody pasts are being transformed into residences of pro-India politicians in efforts to mop their trails off from the landscape of military terror.
“One sodden evening in April 2010, an Indian army major from the 4 Rajputana Rifles arrived at a remote police post where the mountains gather in a half-hitch around Kashmir, India‘s northernmost state. Major Opinder Singh “seemed in a hurry”, a duty policeman recalled. Up in the heights of the Pir Panjal range, down through which the major had descended, it was snowing and his boots let in water. “The officer reported that the previous night his men had killed three Pakistani terrorists who had crossed over into our Machil sector,” the policeman recalled. “Where are the bodies?” the policeman had asked, filling in a First Information Report that started a criminal enquiry. “They were buried where they were shot,” the major retorted, before taking off in his jeep.
“It was not unusual,” the policeman later told investigators, when questioned as to why he had not insisted on viewing the corpses or checking the identities. Kashmir had been in turmoil since Partition in 1947 and on a virtual war footing for the past two decades, with some estimates placing the dead at 70,000. Strung with razor wire and anti-missile netting, the state had been transformed into one of the most militarised places on earth, with one Indian paramilitary or soldier stationed for every 17 residents. The Pakistani intelligence services and military trained and funded a legion of irregulars, who infiltrated over the mountains to kick-start a full-blown insurgency in 1989, keeping the Indian-ruled portion of the Muslim-majority state permanently alight. (more…)
Recently, I came across the work of Slovenian poet Tomaz Salamun and found myself unexpectedly distressed, even outraged, after reading his short poem Not the War. In the words “Not the murder, silence brings one back to the scene of the crime”, Salamun is perhaps talking of love. But I am thinking war, and am transported back home, to Kashmir, to scenes of nameless burials and sites of extra-judicial killings.
I was angry at the silence of the Indian State, and more crucially perhaps, the hushedness of the country’s vibrant civil society, at the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves in troubled Jammu & Kashmir. It has been nearly a year since the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a human rights body appointed by the state government, released an extensive report on the presence of 2,156 bullet-ridden bodies in unmarked graves in the border districts. It confirmed what a local rights group, the International People’s Tribunal of Kashmir, had revealed in a landmark investigation in 2008. Hundreds of the bodies were of men described as “unidentified militants”, killed in fighting with the armed forces during the armed insurrection of the 1990s. But, according to the report, at least 574 of them were of those “identified as local Kashmiri residents”. (more…)
In the summer of 2010, the response to Kashmir’s anger erupting onto the streets was not just brutality but also an Indian nationalistic narrative claiming that the stone pelting mobs were sponsored by militants. In 2012, as Kashmir braces for another summer, in the intervening period marked by the invisibility of anger, a fresh narrative has taken over – that Kashmir is moving on or must move on. The source of the 2010 narrative was official circles; the 2012 narrative emanates from Indian intelligentsia who are busy manufacturing consent about ‘anger transforming into optimism’. The arguments may sound new but are a morphed version of the traditional paradigms of ‘normalcy’ and ‘peace’ used in the past. Even during the peak militancy years, when local Doordarshan channels would broadcast news, the scorecard of daily violence and casualties always ended with the one-liner: ‘However, there was complete normalcy across the rest of Jammu & Kashmir.’
Now, as the government decides to maintain a cryptic silence, after vain attempts by parliamentarian groups and Kashmir interlocutors to feel the pulse of the youth, it is the jargon of intellectuals that has taken over. Everybody is keen to reinforce two points – that Kashmiris must move on and that they are happy – trying to drive home a theory of ‘the existence of peace’. The official exercises after the 2010 agitation, it is now clear, were not meant to address Kashmiris, but were for the purpose of creating camouflage and constructing an image of Kashmir that may not be agreeable to its people. Among the supporters of such theories are former RAW chief A.S. Dulat and former chief information commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, both drawing their conclusions from the prevailing calm and flourishing tourism, inferring that people of Kashmir have a stake in this ‘existing peace’ and thus that ‘they must move on’. Dulat even claimed that Kashmir in this backdrop of ‘normalcy’ can be solved ‘overnight.’ (more…)
IN THE SUMMER OF 1995, six trekkers were abducted by armed gunmen in the mountains of Kashmir, a few hours walk from the tourist town of Pahalgam. Just days after the kidnapping, one of the men, an American, had managed a daring solo escape, raising hope all around. Five weeks later, it all took a grotesque turn when the headless torso of Hans Christian Ostrø, a young Norwegian, turned up in a forest glade, the words “al-Faran” carved on his chest in letters 10 inches high. The search for the other four carried on for most of a year, but the two Britons, the American and the German were never found.
From the start, this was a story that gripped the imagination of the Western press. This shocking—and rare—brutality against foreign tourists played a critical part in shaping the international perception that Kashmir was in the grip of ‘Islamic terrorism’, a broad brushstroke that would soon be deployed to smear a range of diverse, complex issues.