The word souvenir means “to remember” in French, and that’s why I still possess a copy of Jakarta Crackdown, a book published in Indonesia in 1997 by the country’s Alliance of Independent Journalists and Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information, about a momentous string of events that began in mid-1996.
The stream of history has flowed far downstream since then, but that’s precisely why such a book has long-term significance. Jakarta Crackdown is a hastily assembled collection of accounts and documents telling bits and pieces of factual and moral truth that otherwise would have been suppressed by the government of the longtime dictator Suharto. It’s worth noting that Suharto is no longer in power.
The Internet was not yet an effective publishing medium then, and the collection’s publication in book form was a clever and successful gambit, because at the time in Indonesia there was pre-censorship of periodicals but not of books. By the time the authorities got around to banning Jakarta Crackdown, thousands of copies were out there being read all around Indonesia.
I own another, similar book titled Getting Haiti Right This Time, which collects documents and interviews exposing the Bush regime’s lies about what everyone knows was a US-sponsored coup against Haiti’s elected president in February 2004. When I met one of the book’s compilers, Amy Goodman of the widely admired radio programme “Democracy Now!”, I told her
I thought it was a fantastic book. She demurred; she was embarrassed by editorial errors that she felt betrayed hastiness.
Until My Freedom Has Come is an important book in the same vein — as well as, to Penguin India’s credit, less slapdash than either of the books mentioned above. It collects, in a powerful and remarkably coherent arrangement, writings from a range of periodicals and websites covering events in Kashmir during and just after the summer of 2010, which the back-cover copy argues “will be remembered as a watershed”. Well, hopefully it will be remembered. If it is, this book will have helped.
But why bother? You can exhaust and endanger yourself proving the truth, and the powers that be will still brazenly deny it, and the great, smug middle-class public — in this case, primarily the Indian middle-class public — will still ignore it and/or explain it away and fail to understand. There’s not an easy answer to that question, but there is a hard answer: because it’s important to document and disseminate as much as possible of the nuance and variety of real truth, in order to resist the bulldozer effect of official — which is to say, false — truth. Hence, whatever the typos and such Amy Goodman might have felt marred the Haiti collection, those are really beside the point. The need that all such projects address is both perpetual and universal, which is why Kashmir matters to all of us. As Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian president ousted by that US-sponsored coup, says, hiding the truth is like trying to bury water; it seeps out everywhere.
Or as a Haitian proverb puts it: He who gives the blow forgets; he who bears the bruise remembers. Thus contributor Basharat Peer, addressing that great Indian middle-class public, writes: “Kashmir remembers what is done in your name, in the name of your democracy, whether its full import ever reaches your drawing rooms and offices or not. Your soldiers of reason carrying their press cards might dissuade you from seeing it, comfort you with their cynical use of academic categories and interpretations of Kashmir, they might rerun the carefully chosen, convenient images on TV, but Kashmir sees the unedited Kashmir.”
This book has been edited — well and sensitively, by Sanjay Kak — but its purpose is to bring a relatively unedited Kashmir to as many readers as might have the stomach for it. Kashmir usually gets edited to suit ideological agendas — doesn’t it? The most objectionable of these is the Indian one, because India has the geopolitical and military upper hand, and thus the moral obligation to refrain from exactly the kind of high-handedness that this book documents so devastatingly. But the Pakistani agenda is a close second because, truth be told, Kashmir belongs no more integrally to Pakistan than it does to India, and the jihadis who have wrought havoc there were sponsored by Pakistan — weren’t they? As an old man told me in Srinagar way back in 1994, when two elephants fight it’s the grass that gets trampled.
There’s much food for thought in this book, whether what you want to know is what specifically has been happening in the Valley or what it means. But you have to want to know. “There is a vast population here holding its collective breath,” writes Suvir Kaul, originally on the website of the Indian magazine Outlook, on 6 August 2010, “and I am sure many are wondering, as they have in the past, after such knowledge, what forgiveness? And that is what it means to be a Kashmiri in Kashmir today.”
Aaliya Anjum and Saiba Varma write, indisputably: “One of the less visible and longer-term effects of blaming the protesters is that it obscures the Indian state’s failure to find a long-lasting political solution to the Kashmir dispute.”
For failure, I would substitute refusal. What could be more cynical, more contemptuous of Kashmiris and of what they’ve literally been screaming for two decades that they want (“Hum kya chahte? Azaadi!”), than the anointing of Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson as the latest dynastic running-dog chief minister? Sheikh Abdullah, bosom buddy of Nehru, was himself compromised; his son Farooq more so. What to make of the feckless young Omar?
In “Kashmir’s Abu Ghraib?”, Shuddhabrata Sengupta describes an appalling YouTube video of the sort we’ve become far too accustomed to in recent years. Tagged “brothers watch, sisters please do not watch” and popularly known as the “Kashmir Naked Parade Video,” it was apparently shot by an offending Indian soldier himself with a cell phone. “At least in the pitched street battles, we see adversaries, albeit unequal adversaries, policemen, paramilitaries, soldiers one side, and the angry tide of stone-pelters on the other,” writes Sengupta. “Here, there are no adversaries. Prisoners are not in a position to be adversarial when surrounded by heavily armed men in uniform. What we see instead are unarmed captives, people who are in no position to threaten or endanger the security forces. That such people should be made to undergo a humiliation such as this is proof of the extent to which the forces of the Indian state in Kashmir have become brutalised by the experience of serving in Kashmir.”
But here’s something for Pakistanis to reflect on: a video of Pakistani soldiers killing captives in Swat was briefly circulated as one of Indians killing Kashmiris. The irony of this, Sengupta points out all too correctly, “only underscores the fact that when it comes to the everyday operationalisation of state terror, the security apparatuses of India and Pakistan aspire to the same low standards, which make it quite possible for those seeking to score a few cheap propaganda points on either side to — deliberately or otherwise — confuse one perpetrator for another.”
The reviewer is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan