The Silence has Become the Scream

Do you insulate yourself from the tragedy and un-freedoms of your own geographical location, your landmarks of memory, your nightmares and dreams, asks Amit Sengupta.

Twenty three dead, including at least one cop, almost more than 800 injured, most of them hit by bullet injuries, several shot in the eyes and abdomen, women, children and young men, many of them critical. Was shoot to kill the first and last option for the security forces in Kashmir?

Hospitals in Anantnag, South Kashmir, are overflowing with those hit by bullets, or with sick throats and lungs due to teargas; emergency has been declared in the hospitals in curfew-hit Srinagar, equally clogged with injured patients. The number of dead might increase across the barbed wires, as reports from the nooks and corners, of the mass uprising and retaliatory armed action by the government, comes through. Reports confirm that according to doctors, about 150 injured from Anantnag district and certain areas of nearby Kulgam are being treated at the Anantnag district hospital. “More than 120 have bullet, pellet and tear-gas injuries,” said a doctor. Doctors have complained of atrocities by security forces even inside hospitals.

This is like a mass genocide that was just about to happen. So why did the unarmed, ordinary people of Kashmir rise in such collective angst and anger, replete with resistance, ready to die? What is their eternal tragedy and what is their daily suffering? Why did the clueless security forces go berserk in their militarised and sanitised zones? And why did the forever chest-thumping jingoists in Delhi and Srinagar’s power corridors lose their plot?

Why did the unarmed, ordinary people of Kashmir rise in such collective angst and anger, replete with resistance, ready to die? What is their eternal tragedy and what is their daily suffering? Why did the clueless security forces go berserk in their militarised and sanitised zones? And why did the forever chest-thumping jingoists in Delhi and Srinagar’s power corridors lose their plot?

Observers point out that this was predictable, inevitable, waiting to happen; even certain intelligence reports suggested a major turmoil and boil on the ground. That all ground reports suggested mass disgust, distrust, anger and alienation from the current regime in Kashmir and Delhi, even if it is not a return to the 1990s or 2010. So, how did the Mighty Indian State, with its Great Wandering Prophet calling the shots, allow the bloody bubble to burst and let the bloodbath happen in the first instance?

Several police stations and checkposts have been attacked. Police stations have been looted. Little boys in masks ran their own checkposts. People created new barricades, while stones were pelted by mostly unarmed protestors. Thousands attacked police and violated curfew orders, across Kashmir, even while many more thousands, mothers, daughters and neighbours, remained awake all night, cried and mourned for the dead, participated in umpteen funeral prayers, for the dead, and for the young 22-year old militant, now an icon, shot by the security forces. Unable to handle the crowd, their intelligence systems a total failure, completely at a loss to explain or understand this mass people’s unarmed uprising, using guns and bullets as “first standard operating procedure”, the Indian security forces, and their mentors and masters in Kashmir and Delhi, have proved to be totally short, nasty and brutish, if not completely inefficient, stupid and ruthless.

A discredited Mehbooba Mufti, who played with fire with the protestors when Omar Abdullah was under siege as chief minister, even as 120 youngsters throwing stones were killed in cold blood, has blood on her hands now. This will not wash away so easily. The company she keeps to hold onto power makes the circumstances only more grotesque. Indeed, she must be wondering, how come an ocean of mourners from across Kashmir joined a young boy’s funeral, when just a motley little crowd landed up for her father’s funeral? Why? And, did she really hear the slogans of Azadi and choose to ignore it?

 

Young Souzeina Mushtaq came from Kashmir to do an internship in a Delhi magazine. She worked with me for some years and immediately stood out for her scholarship, sensitivity, rigour and the will to succeed. One of the first articles she wrote, partly on my suggestion, was called ‘Ideas can’t be occupied’. She wrote about a new youthful generation, after 2010, which wanted to create new rainbows out of the infinite ruins of suffocation, suffering and the silences of despair. The young had gone through the “stone-pelting” phase when Omar Abdullah, a young man himself, betrayed his mandate and thereby betrayed both the young and the people of Kashmir, as is the normal protocol of most politicians who seek to “rule” and “occupy” Kashmir backed by the guns and one-dimensional “nationalism” and military power of New Delhi. Almost 120 young boys were shot dead since they were pelting stones, even while Omar Abdullah merely watched the young die, shot by his police, from his pedestal of a chief minister, his promises buried with the graves of the young.

So Souzeina, from an educated family, wrote about Sara Shabir in February 2013. She wrote that Sara was born when the “armed struggle” started in Kashmir two decades ago:

The guns may have fallen silent, but the young carry the wounds of the past—raw, open, simmering and fresh. Indeed, amidst the infinite twilight zones of conflict, the contours of expression have changed: they have learnt and unlearnt the art in different layers. “We don’t want to take up arms; we want to fight the occupation with our intellect,” says Sara, who is studying journalism in Delhi. “Ideas cannot be occupied.”

Her counterpart in Kashmir, Riffat Rathore, who completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism, says she writes to resist. “I write because I don’t want to burden my heart with grief. I write to give space to this grief—to make it a remembrance. I write to tell my story, the story of my people.”…

Says Showkat Nanda, an award-winning Kashmiri photojournalist, who is currently pursuing documentary photojournalism at the Missourri School of Journalism in the US: “There is a strong urge to tell the stories of our land and people to a larger audience.”

“I was 12 when the conflict in Kashmir escalated into a full-blown small-scale war. Everything became so uncertain. I stopped dreaming about my future. Survival became the topmost priority, even for children like me,” says Nanda, who grew up with the dream of becoming a doctor. His passion for visuals turned him to photojournalism.

“Being a Kashmiri means having grown up with experiences which not only shaped my perception about the world but also gave a new dimension to the way I expressed myself. My photographs on Kashmir, most of which are revelations of the conflict, are not only about the people I have photographed; it’s also about myself.” His picture depicting three widowed Kashmiri sisters won The Picture of the Year award in the prestigious National Press Photo contest in 2011.

 

There were others who spoke out, who travelled outside the conflict zone holding their memories steadfast, unable to forget the rattling of the guns, the barbed wires, the raids by security forces, the imprisoned public spaces, the fake encounters and police torture, the gang rapes, the disappearances, the graveyards, the eternal dead and the dying. They were not “militants” or sympathisers of “militants”; they had little to do with fundamentalist ideologies/religion or ISI or “terrorism”. When army jawans and officers were killed by militants (“terrorists/jihadis”), and there was widespread mourning in India, they too were disturbed and pained, like the rest of India. When the army and security forces committed atrocities, they found themselves trapped, between a draconian law like AFSPA and the idea of being “occupied”, almost like Palestine.

In many ways, it was like a twilight zone for a large number of the young, many of them educated, wanting to study and learn skills, wanting to fly on the wings of freedom and aspirations, like all young, deeply affected by the bitter realism of their lives.

In many ways, it was like a twilight zone for a large number of the young, many of them educated, wanting to study and learn skills, wanting to fly on the wings of freedom and aspirations, like all young, deeply affected by the bitter realism of their lives. So how can you insulate yourself from the tragedy and un-freedoms of your own geographical location, your landmarks of memory, your nightmares and dreams, though you might have nothing to do with militants or militancy?

Surely, people can want to experience a different kind of political unconscious, individual and collective freedom and autonomy, which is multi-cultural, pluralist and feminist, a different liberating aesthetic, without being trapped in this ism or that? Certainly, there can be zigzag journeys not determined by one-dimensional jingoism, even while the love of your homeland is like a blurred map drawn in your little sketchbook? Surely, there can be poetry and prose about exile, imagined communities, imaginary homelands, meadows and valleys, snow and saffron, and post offices without an address?

So Souzeinna continued her feature on ideas and freedom. She wrote about Musa Syeed, a Kashmiri-American filmmaker, who made the acclaimed film, Valley of Saints.

“While there has been news coverage of the conflict, there hasn’t been much of anything about everyday Kashmiris and their culture, loves, hopes, desires, and relationships,” says Musa. Making the film was the perfect way to get back to his roots.

Valley of Saints, which won many awards, including the Sundance Film Festival World Dramatic Audience Award in 2012, is a romantic tale. “Kashmiris are romantic people,” say Musa. “They fall in love like everyone else. They cry with broken hearts like everyone else. They experience unrequited love like everyone else. I thought it was important to have a universal, human desire at the centre of the film, so that audiences everywhere could appreciate and relate with the characters.”

Surely, people can want to experience a different kind of political unconscious, individual and collective freedom and autonomy, which is multi-cultural, pluralist and feminist, a different liberating aesthetic, without being trapped in this ism or that? Certainly, there can be zigzag journeys not determined by one-dimensional jingoism, even while the love of your homeland is like a blurred map drawn in your little sketchbook?

Hence, once again, in the current circumstances, I presume modern forms of communication are banned in Kashmir, especially internet and social media. Social and geographical mobility has been curtailed by guns and checkposts. The young journalist who came to Delhi looking for new thresholds to break the barriers of imprisoned sunshine on streets with discarded barbed wires and guns pointing at her face, did not choose hatred or violence. Many like her have been choosing the complexities of modernity and freedoms of women’s empowerment to negotiate their independent and creative spaces in the world; in no manner will they succumb to the crude male domination of religious/feudal dogmatism of any kind, or patriarchy, just like most educated girls of the new generation in India and elsewhere.

What was unnerving was, now that she is doing a PhD in the US, and also teaching, how deeply she is still suffering the tragedy of Kashmir. She wrote a post after the recent killings which was deeply disturbing:

Nineteen young people. They are not numbers as the media would fool you to believe. They are humans, like our loved ones. They had aspirations as we have. They had dreams as we have. They are not statistics; 18, 19, 20, and counting. They are human beings who breathed their last as bullets pierced their bodies. Remember their names. Never forget.

Ajaz, Safeer, Saqib, Danish, Adil, Hameed, Jehangir, Showkat, Ashraf, Mashooq, Haseeb, Imtiyaz, Zubair, Khurshid, Altaf, Irfan, Azad, Gulzar, Fayaz…

She also put up another post:

What has become of our lives? Every day, one or the other killing. And our mournings of those killings. My timeline has become a living elegy. In Kashmir, more than 18 people have been killed and over 200 shot at. Kashmir is burning, dealing with this bloodbath. Where are PrayforKashmir hashtags? Where are JesiusKashmir profile picture changers? Is anyone lending an ear to the miseries of people unleashed by one of the largest democracy in the world? How much more blood will your ‘security forces’ need to quench their bloody thirst?

 

On Indian television channels, the same pompous and predictable ones were going after their latest new obsession: Zakir Naik. The killings in Kashmir and the uprising is only yet another reason for cacophonous jingoism—there is not an iota of objective or ground reporting. The Dear Leader was “live” in Nairobi, Reality TV at its uncanny best, the Grandstanding Prophet in his most magical role of routine ritualism, entertaining the drooling diaspora.

A leading TV anchor has written that how difficult it is to report the many versions of what is happening in Kashmir; just in case you report the “people’s version”, you can be branded “anti-national”, even “terrorist”, by the bhakts, trolls and propagandists who camouflage themselves as journalists. He quotes the Falklands War where the BBC refused to toe the “we versus them” nationalist line, arguing that as journalists we must report the truth.

Ironically, the majority of western TV channels chose to toe the “nationalist” line during the “invasion and occupation of Iraq”, including the BBC. With no WMDs found in this war of mass deception led by George Bush, Tony Blair and NATO forces, this was “embedded journalism” at its finest. Many of our jingoistic TV channels are still toeing a similar “embedded” line on Kashmir and conflict zones, often based on only “shouting matches”, and without an iota of depth, objectivity or impartiality. Ground reporting? Well, let’s not even mention that.

A leading TV anchor has written that how difficult it is to report the many versions of what is happening in Kashmir; just in case you report the “people’s version”, you can be branded “anti-national”, even “terrorist”, by the bhakts, trolls and propagandists who camouflage themselves as journalists.

As a journalism teacher, and as a reporter and editor, week after week, I would drum it inside the heads of my students as I taught them ‘Reporting from Conflict Zones’ that there is no one version that you can call truth. There is a quagmire out there, and you will sink if you trust only one version of truth. So, enter the complexity with subtle intelligence and tact, rediscover the layers and multi-dimensions of the constantly changing reality, unfold the masks of lies and deception, do not get trapped by this or that emotion, follow your instincts and rely on your intelligence and your sources. The government or police or army version is just about one version; so is the version of militants or factions or the political class, even locals. There are so many other narratives and counter-narratives which we must record from the conflict zones, including from Kashmir; and truth is only just about impartial and objective.

So when they killed a young under-19 cricketer, talented like any other cricketer representing India, in Handwara, and elsewhere when they killed others, including a woman, as  journalists and editors, it is our duty to report the truth without getting into hyperbole, unafraid of being branded this or that. They were killed for no rhyme or reason, because “shoot to kill” has become a standard operating procedure for the security forces in Kashmir, even while they use water cannons, teargas and lathi charge in other parts of India, especially when they encounter the young.

In other conflict zones, such as “Maoist” areas, they “shoot to kill”, even while murder (and rape) of Adivasis and indigenous people is routine, as it happened in Kandhamal last week. Most of the Adivasis killed in cold-blood were actually coming back after picking up their NREGA cash deposits. They were not Maoists, even the cops have agreed in retrospect. So why were they shot dead in the first instance? Will the chief minister resign or the killers be punished?

 

This used to be a pattern in the Northeast at one time, until there was a mass uprising against AFSPA, especially in Imphal, where the mothers of Manipur stripped themselves naked outside the Assam Rifles headquarters in protest against the gang rape and murder of Manorama Devi by Assam Rifles men. And what did they shout, what placards did they lift up that shocked the “collective conscience” of the nation? “Indian Army, Rape Us.”

Well, reminds us of Shopian, and the told and untold series of rapes and murders in the forests of Chhattisgarh. So, while reporters dutifully report about Maoists attacking the security forces, killing police informers and others, should they stop reporting about the state-sponsored brutalisation of Adivasis?

It is clear that Kashmir has now reached a flashpoint that is neither 1990 nor 2010. Reports from the ground are still unclear, and there is still no clarity to show that the azadi slogans are also pro-militant slogans. There have been no pro-Pakistan slogans either. However, there is clarity on certain dimensions, and these are signs of the times:

  1. The PDP-BJP regime is totally discredited, especially in the Valley. The alienation is collective and irrefutable. The unholy marriage has not been accepted.
  1. There have been outpouring of support for militants, especially during funerals and when there is an encounter with the army. So much so, locals try to thwart army action during an “encounter”. These are new developments of the recent past. Does it also reflect a shift in political ideology? No one knows.
  1. There have been increased militant attacks on security forces since the new regime has come in Delhi and in Srinagar. There has been widespread failure of the intelligence agencies, as well as the union home ministry. This was best reflected in the Pathankot fiasco (not in Kashmir), which, to this day, remains an unresolved mystery.
  1. The discontent in the Valley and elsewhere is deep, simmering, and was waiting to explode. The huge outpouring after the killing of a 22-year-old militant, Burhan Wani, all across the valley, and the hundreds of funeral prayers as public spectacles, even while children, women, young and the old have come out in open defiance, means that this is a volatile threshold which cannot be eliminated by guns or tanks. There has to be a political solution. Militarisation will only escalate matters.
  1. Surely, even the militants have stated clearly that they will not harm the Amarnath Yatris; locals have said that they will be protected at all costs. In a state where there is little consensus, it is clear that there is an urge to share cultural, religious and social spaces with the Kashmiri Pandits who have suffered immensely in the hands of a section of jihadis and fundamentalists in the The big picture in Kashmir is that most ordinary folk want to live in peaceful co-existence with the Pandits. This also requires a political solution. Indeed, it is the Muslims who carry the Hindu pilgrims across to Amarnath all these years, something the Hindutva trolls will not like to mention.
  1. There have been violent attacks on police and army checkposts, unprecedented in recent times. And these attacks have been done by ordinary, unarmed people, not militants, according to reports. Surely, the entire state is in a boil and militarisation is hated by the people of Kashmir. Indeed, AFSPA should go, and the process of healing should begin, with consensus, dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms. In the recent ruling on AFSPA, the Supreme Court has said, that it “does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the State. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both…This is the requirement of a democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties”. Rejecting the government’s submission that any arms-bearing person in the “disturbed area” was to be defined as an enemy under section 3(x) of the Army Act, the Supreme Court held that “each instance of an alleged extra-judicial killing of even such a person would have to be examined or thoroughly enquired into to ascertain and determine the facts”.

Indeed, do we want to make Kashmir another Palestine? Or, Syria, Libya and Yemen? History is testimony to the fact that a bloodbath, or a solution with guns, will only create a million silences of the graveyards. In Kashmir, in contrast, the funeral prayers have become twilight zones of mass protests. The silence has become The Scream, that 1893 painting by Edvard Munch. Surely, the Indian State and its chest-thumping, jingoistic followers can see the painting, if not hear it.

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students' Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people's movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. Till recently he has been a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

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  • […] from the Anantnag District of South Kashmir, I, like other fellow Kashmiris living in Delhi, carry memories of violence and prejudice.  The violence in Delhi may not necessarily be physical, but […]

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