By Mahtab Alam,
The year 2008 was a turning point in the history of Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination, better known as azadi. Unlike the armed struggle by the passionate youth of the 1980s and early 1990s, Kashmir witnessed a series of mass uprisings in the wake of the Amarnath land row, forcing the state government to revoke its earlier order of transferring 800 kanals of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. Within a few months of these protests, more than 80 people were killed. In the following years, similar protests were held in which several teenagers, women and old people were killed.
“Since the 2008 civil uprisings, the world has seen the new face of Kashmir’s resistance movement,” says Fahad Shah, a young journalist from the Valley and founder-editor of online magazine The Kashmir Walla. “The 2008 civil uprising resistance movement has successfully established the shift from the older to the younger generation.” He himself represents the later generation that chose other forms of resistance — over guns. And these new forms of resistance include protest through music, art and culture, literature, social networking sites and, of course, stone pelting.
The book under review is an anthology on Kashmir which ably chronicles the multiple and complex forms and layers of resistance, written mostly by Kashmiris living inside and outside the Valley. The volume is a bold attempt: a lucid documentary and storytelling of resistance and the relentless defiance of ‘occupation’.
Contributors to the first part of the volume use memoirs to tell their stories of growing up in troubled times, evoking Milan Kundera’s phrase, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” For Uzma Falak, who was born in Srinagar and studied journalism in Delhi, “In the absence of a free homeland, memories have become the homeland — unoccupied, free, unassailable,” she says. “In oppressed societies, memory becomes a political tool. The memory of the oppressed is a form of collective consciousness — a means of resisting oppression.” The second section on resistance documents outstanding stories: ‘Why Am I a Stone Thrower’, ‘How I understood Kashmir’s Resistance’ and ‘The Portrait of a Stone Thrower as a Blind Man’.
The next section is devoted to ‘longings’. Take the story of Fateh Jan, narrated by anthropologist Ather Zia. Jan’s story speaks of hundreds of women who came to be known as half-widows — a unique term used to categorise wives of disappeared persons. Jan’s husband, Naseeb Khan, is ‘missing’ for 10 years and her life is strung between crumbling hope and abject despair.
In all these years, she has no clue if her husband is alive or dead. “On June 11, 2012,” writes Zia, “which was the 10th anniversary of Naseeb’s disappearance, Jan’s children spent most of the hot day waiting and talking about ‘Papa’s return’.” Indeed, hers is not the only family living under such circumstances. According to a modest estimate, there are at least 1,500 such women in the Valley.
On the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, there is a narrative by a Kashmiri Pandit, Siddhartha Gigoo. He empathetically notes, “The expression of the Kashmiri Pandit identity in various forms of writing is revivalist in nature and seeks solace in the celebration of rituals and practices….”
The volume demolishes the highly publicized half-truth about the ‘Kashmiri movement’ that Kashmiris want merger with Pakistan. Shah, in his introduction, writes, “Several Kashmiris might want Kashmir to merge with Pakistan, but on the whole they accept that there should be a referendum and the people should decide the course of events.” He quotes a report by journalist Jyoti Malhotra in Mint (August 25, 2008): “For the first time, the movement has come out of the Pakistani frame,” says Malhotra; unlike the 1980s, “no sane mind can call it a Pakistan-run movement”.
A chapter titled, ‘Pak: Ethnicity, Democracy and Islam’, written by a citizen of the ‘Pakistan-administered Kashmir’ (PaK), Mazhar Iqbal, is highly critical; “The theory of accession to Pakistan is mother of all loyalties. Those who adhere to this theory are granted prominence, acceptance and reward; those who differ are considered potentially dangerous and dealt with using an iron hand,” he writes.
The book helps us to rethink and redefine both the political unconscious and the aesthetic currents around the Kashmiri ‘occupation’ and its infinite resistance.
Reproduced from September 2013 issue of Hard News Magazine