Lest we forget We can preserve memory as a weapon

Father of a youth who fell to BSF bullets on October 22, 1993 at Bijbehara in Islamabad (Anantnag) district talked to a visiting team of journalists on the occasion of 22nd anniversary of the massacre said:

“India has responded with its huge military might to crush the genuine struggle of the people of Kashmir. Our memory is our only weapon against them. As long as we remember the events and the martyrs, the sentiment shall survive. And, the moment we forget our past, the movement will die down as well.” 

A visit to a memorial for disappeared persons in the heart of Manila city reflected the importance of raising memorials. The relatives of the disappeared were no different from the Bijbehara father who lost his only son in the massacre. They too have been using remembrance as a weapon against tyranny. A visit to the memorial is always soothing and inspiring, they believe.

The human rights defenders in Kashmir are also aware of the importance of memorials. However, for various reasons, a memorial is yet to come up. A decade ago, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) raised a memorial in Eidgah grounds. The police in a nocturnal raid removed the plaque stone and also booked APDP activists under penal law of the land. 

The issue came up for discussion last year during Awami Action Committee’s Hafta-e-Shahadat (week long commemoration of the anniversary of Mirwaiz Farooq and around fifty-five persons who lost their lives near Islamia College when CRPF personnel opened fire on Moulana Farooq’s funeral procession). The APDP chief, Advocate Parvez Imroz while addressing a seminar said: “The people of Kashmir have to choose between forgetfulness and remembrance. Our memory is our only weapon to sustain the sentiment.”

Responding to Imroz’s suggestion, the Hurriyat (M) chairman, Dr Umer Farooq said all attempts to raise memorials had been foiled by the government. Imroz’s suggestion and Dr Umer Farooq’s response evoked a serious discussion among a group that listened to the speakers at the seminar.

This was followed by a series of write ups in local newspapers. A former trade union leader turned politician agreed to raise a memorial to honour the Zaldagar martyrs of April 29, 1865. However, to this day nothing has moved. 

Scores of massacres have taken place during the past twenty-five years across the state. Mander Bagh massacre of January 21, 1990, Zakura and Tengpora massacres of March 1, 1990, Kupwara massacre, Sopore carnage, Handwara massacre, Wandhama massacre, Chittisinghpora massacre are a few on the long list of massacres. As rightly pointed out by Imroz, remembrance is a strong weapon and forgetfulness is as good, rather as bad as surrender. The future generations, therefore, need to know what happened, when, where and why. Although major events of the past twenty-five years have been consigned to records, the memorials at various places or a single memorial at a specific place will go a long way in narrating the story effectively.

The graveyard at Naqashband Sahib shrine has become an important place. It is a reminder that the people resisted the Dogra onslaught and laid down their lives for a cause. Similarly, the martyrs’ graveyard at Eidgah grounds narrates the story of the past twenty-six years.

According to APDP, at least eight thousand people have been subjected to enforced disappearance since 1989 when the armed struggle commenced. They need a place where they can assemble at times, offer prayers for the disappeared, talk to each other and console their melancholy. A memorial having all the names of the disappeared persons will add new dimensions to their struggle for justice. 

It is not possible, rather desirable to have memorials at every place where something happened. For example it is not desirable to have a memorial at Tengpora, Zakura, Mandir Bagh, Wandhama, Chittingsinghpora and elsewhere. A single memorial at a centralised place can serve the purpose effectively.

Mirwaiz Umer Farooq is right when he says that the authorities will not allow raising of memorials. But that does not mean that the very idea shall be abandoned. There is a place where it can be done without interference from the government. It is also a centralised place and is historically important as well. Let the memorial come up somewhere in the historic Jamia Masjid. 

The memorial will not occupy much space. It can be raised along the outer wall of the compound away from the mosque. If it is done within the premises of the mosque, the authorities cannot interfere. The Mirwaiz can do it on his own. The funds for the memorial can be raised from the general public to ensure their participation and involvement.

Some people believe that memorials are raised after the conflict ends. Kashmir is still in conflict and, according to them, this is no time going for the memorials. However, there is no need of following the trend if at all it exists especially when we (Kashmiris) have the dubious distinction of destroying records. To escape the wrath of the army and para-military soldiers during search operations, people destroyed precious documents related to the freedom struggle. The memorials, therefore, become all the more necessary.