WHISPERS OF HOPELESSNESS AND DISTRESS AMIDST KASHMIR’S THEATRE OF POLITICS

The lockdown since the de-operationalisation of Article 370 that granted Jammu and Kashmir its special status has pushed Kashmir into an unprecedented mess. The Centre’s move on August 5 in many ways has no continuity with the manner in which New Delhi has handled Kashmir for seven decades and yet it is a new phase of the unending series of manipulative politics and politics of remote control. The situation that has unfolded ever since is both unique and maintains some congruity with the past.

Militancy remains a constant factor. State repression has taken a new form. More militarization. More barricades. The last decade of bullets and pellets is replaced by raids, arrests and newer forms of torture – what is now officially called a “dynamic process” of arrests and release – punctuated with psychological and physical harassment. In the backdrop is a complete lockdown to ensure a complete silence through an absolute communication blockade with not even the telephone facility functioning. Connectivity to most landline phones was restored last month. But mobiles and internet are still not operational, two months on. The present scenario finds no precedence in Kashmir’s history. Apart from the ideological moorings of the party in power at the Centre, it also stems from the situational pattern in the last few decades in Kashmir, particularly since 2010. While the Centre’s move necessitates a reading of the inspirational fountainhead of BJP’s idea of India and imagination of Kashmir, any fair assessment of how the Kashmiris would respond to this new phenomenon and how the future would evolve could be aided by a reading of Kashmir’s recent history.

Humra Quraishi’s ‘Kashmir The Unending tragedy: Reports from the frontlines’ – a compilation of some of the narratives that have been a part and parcel of Kashmir in the last two decades is a handy toolbook to brush up that bit of history. Released few weeks before the historic abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, it comes at an appropriate time. Humra Quraishi is a noted journalist and writer who has spent years researching on Kashmir. This is her third book on Kashmir, one of which is a novel called ‘Meer’.

The book offers brief glimpses of the trajectory of Kashmir’s political and conflict ridden landscape in the last two decades – starting from the years of comparative calm coinciding with the peace process and the gradual ascent into violence and chaos post 2008. It speaks of the ground realities through incidents, narratives and conversations that offer important insights into the humanitarian crises that unfolded in 2010, post 2014 floods, post-Burhan Wani killing and ends with the Pulwama attack of February 2019.

The book brings in an odd blend of politics, socio-economic life and the psychological trauma that the population of Kashmir have grappled with and responded to in multiple ways. It thus brings forth the important point of how every day life is linked to the larger societal norms, politics and economy. The essence of the book is in bringing out the core of the landscape fraught with daily violence and human rights abuse, viewing the theatre of politics as a major factor shaping this trajectory of conflict, also of the lack of development. These various themes that the writer tackles with reveal the interplay of the society, economy, politics and the conflict; and how various aspects of individual and collective lives create a domino effect on each other. She writes in the very first chapter, “When decay and deterioration start, they rarely fail to spread far and wide. They hit structures, concrete and otherwise. During these turbulent years ‘missing’ are not just the humans in the Kashmir Valley but even those lofty Chinars.”

The author goes back and forth through the last decade to talk about human suffering a great deal, adding images from eye-witness accounts, news reports, assessments of human rights activists and conversations of ordinary humans. Like, for instance, she quotes the case of postgraduate Imran Ahmad, who was haunted by the bitter memory of being beaten by cops when he was studying in class 6th and that has fed into his collective memory of situation of human rights peaking in 2010 when young boys were shot on the roads during the summer unrest. She quotes him as saying that stone pelting is “nothing but unleashing one’s anger.”
In the same chapter, where she speaks of the violent resistance, she talks about youngsters taking to pen and words as a new form of resistance. She quotes a young student poet Anees Amin Zargar:
I’m a man lost in time
All I need is a time machine
Time and tide wait for none
Need to come out of this hopelessness…..
Travel to the great beyond
Raise me dead from the graveyard
Lose my sanity until she comes
All I need is a time machine……
There are multiple stories and multiple colours in Kashmir. There are also multiple responses of the people to their situation – silence, violence and creative.
A total of 280 pages, the book has ten chapters and a section of with 25 odd interviews of scholars, Kashmiris and those who have been connected with Kashmir in some way or the other. Among the ten chapters, one is devoted to the minorities of Kashmir including the Sikhs, Pandits, Christians and Tibetans. In this chapter, the author tries to locate the grey areas of the relations between the Pandits and the Muslims, the displacement of the former and the complex dynamics of animosity, mutual suspicions and bonding at the same time.
The book also places into focus the changing political texture post 2014, when PDP entered into an unholy alliance with the BJP and shows how this phenomenon enhanced the existing levels of helplessness of the Kashmiris and their hopelessness. It also makes the valid point that the political climate in the country has helped to worsen the atmosphere in Kashmir.
At the same time it traces the link between Kashmir and the global politics and shows how each has a bearing on the other, warning that a continuing conflict in Kashmir can have ramifications for global politics, just as what happens from America to the Middle East has a bearing on Kashmir.
The book lets you eavesdrop through the many conversations, interviews and incidents, weaving events and experiences into a holistic perspective that makes a passionate plea for peace, justice and human rights. It may not be a rich scholarly work, nonetheless an important one through its compilation of tit-bits of everyday life while locating them in the larger socio-economic and political context. A significant addition to literature on Kashmir as it makes one ponder and makes one reflect as one delves into the kaleidoscope of narratives it sketches. And, one that is timely!