Bhavneet Kaur writes about the unfinished narratives of memory in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“From another year, another day, I remember when we had a waer—when electricity was cut off for the night, so it was very quiet. We were sitting together having dinner. Suddenly, there arose a shrill cry that seemed to emerge from the darkest corner of the Earth, that tore apart the stillness of the dark unlit night. ‘Allah-u Akbar!’ And then the sound of two bullets. The next morning we found on the wall of that house the telltale signs of the night. Two small holes in the brick. His funeral perhaps done and the area cleaned, we walked on without mourning, only to make another addition to the leaves of memory, to one day re-tell the story.
“Why did we not mourn? It is difficult to say, but perhaps there is a point beyond which we thought they can’t hurt us anymore. Perhaps there is a point beyond which we become immune to our own pain. Perhaps there is a point beyond which we get ‘used’ to it.
“I remember when I was a kid, it was okay to tune into news and keep a score of how many had died. How and when and where. It was okay not to mourn, and accept, instead, the daily dose of ‘reality’. It was as normal as having the daily evening tea, or reading the newspaper, or going to work. It was a part of our life. It was normal. It was routine.”How do people survive/resist violence, and how are their memories of loss drawn out in the everyday, ordinary life in Kashmir? Or, to borrow from de Certeau (1984), how do people try to survive (in conflict situations) while retaining a fundamental sense of themselves? This vignette becomes a compelling story to be traced in this essay, which embeds the political struggle in Kashmir as a part of an everyday quotidian life.
‘The Voice In The Everyday’To answer this question, of how people assimilate their experiences or how resistance emerges, it becomes critical to zoom into what de Certeau calls the “metanymic details of everyday life”, and examine the scattered, ordinary and anonymous ways in which people challenge the dominant narrative of the state. But how do we understand the everyday, the ordinary? I argue that the everyday contains/embodies a structure of affect.
I find references in the work of Kathleen Stewart, where she suggests that the signification of the everyday, the ordinary,
lies in the intensities they build and in what thoughts and feelings they make possible. The question they beg is not what they might mean in an order of representations, or whether they are good or bad in an overarching scheme of things, but where they might go and what potential modes of knowing, relating and attending to things are already somehow present in them in a state of potentiality and resonance.
Thus, everyday life is a life lived on the level of surging affects, it picks up density and texture as it moves. It cannot be laid out on a single, static plane of analysis.
In Kashmir, which is a historically and politically complex quagmire of violent protests, morbid silence and killable lives, it is through the barbed spaces of the everyday that we see varied surging affects—of loss, of sorrow, of pain, of anger, of hatred, of rage, of fear and of silence.
In looking at the simmering conflict in Indian Administered Kashmir, I understood that there was something spectacular in the everydayness of lives embedded in violence, that the everyday was ruptured and layered like the memory of its people, that it was the everyday that embodies a structure of affect (Chatterjee and Mehta, 2007). This takes us to an interesting ethnographic position: people’s resistance is intricately connected to their memory and to their everyday stories. In Kashmir, which is a historically and politically complex quagmire of violent protests, morbid silence and killable lives, it is through the barbed spaces of the everyday that we see varied surging affects—of loss, of sorrow, of pain, of anger, of hatred, of rage, of fear and of silence. In this paper, I am using stories as a medium to illustrate these affects.
(De)Constructing ResistanceCentral to this is the idea of resistance as people’s struggle and method to “endure and cope with the fundamental ruptures in their lives and identities”. This section is entirely premised on one primary question—how do people assimilate their experiences (memories) into their everyday lives? And is it this assimilation, then, what we call resistance? In a conflict situation, resistance most simply is the shape taken by people’s memories, or as Anne Heimo and Ullu-Maya Pettonen say in the context of the Finnish Civil War, “the way in which people remember and speak those memories”. However, I attempt to problematise and deconstruct the meaning of resistance and locate it in the cultural and political context of the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination. Therefore, I must ask, what are the conditions out of which resistance emerges in Kashmir?
It is here that the everydayness of the struggle is emphasised. Haynes and Prakash suggest that “focusing on movements that involve a direct, violent, often conscious challenge to colonial/elite power generally precludes a complete appreciation of the everydayness of the struggle”. Therefore, in this paper, I rethink the notion of resistance and open it up to its varying complexities and intensities.
A bunker is a structure of sandbags and concrete usually spilling into the streets of Kashmir, from where a trigger-happy machine gun traces the lives of the people through its nozzle.
The idea of “everyday resistance” was first encountered in the work of James Scott who argued that “certain ‘innocuous behavior’ or what he mostly refers to as “the hidden transcripts” keep the idea of social rebellion alive till it manifests itself; that the dominated have constantly critiqued the condition of their subordination. However, what becomes contentious here is his idea that the subordinate can break away from the hegemonic structures of domination (have ‘an autonomous consciousness’) and perform the ‘acts of resistance’. On the contrary, we have to recognise that they cannot; that “such struggles of resistance commonly occur not outside but inside the field of power”. His work, although a significant site of transformation, largely examines and considers everyday forms of resistance that are conscious and autonomous. Gayatri Spivak in the her essay, ‘The subaltern cannot speak’, counters the idealist view of the oppressed as full subjects capable of making their voices heard in the world and instead “directs our attention to the fragile and complex textual effects of these marginalized subject-positions in dominant discourses”.
In contrast to James Scott, who invests too much on the conscious “acts” of everyday resistance, I attempt to interpret the everyday as a category of anthropological relevance and argue that the narratives and meta-narratives (not only the ‘acts’) of the everyday can be constitutive of what I broadly call resistance. In this chapter, I draw on two such aspects of resistance.
- Resistance is not autonomous.
Borrowing from Haynes and Prakash, I suggest that the narratives of resistance are simultaneously conditioned by, and condition, the structures of domination. This is to say that in the context of Kashmir, people’s everyday practices are constantly shaped by and in turn shape the ultra-Panopticon power relations they are steeped in.
- Resistance can make itself manifest in the densities and textures of the everyday.
This implies that resistance can be a vast and complex continuum of open protest/rebellion, ordinary tricks and ruses of the everyday, language subversion, impotent anger, unconscious acts of avoidance, and maybe even silence and fear. What might seem as a lack of a precise definition of resistance is in fact a deliberate absence. Resistance in the context of Kashmir (or any conflict zone) is not definitive; it “takes on, performs and asserts not a flat and finished truth but possibilities”.
Here, I would pitch in a short story, ‘In the Shadow of Bunkers’, to substantiate this meaning of resistance. I will cite the example of a “bunker”, through which everyday transactions of fear and violence play out, to illustrate how resistance and structures of power collide in the ordinary everyday experiences of the people. A bunker is a structure of sandbags and concrete usually spilling into the streets of Kashmir, from where a trigger-happy machine gun traces the lives of the people through its nozzle.
There is an old sandbag bunker in our neighborhood in the outskirts of Srinagar. It’s been there since I was a kid. Despite having acquired an inverted conical roof made of green sheets designed to make it more attractive, the bunker is ugly. And threatening. The nozzle of a gun still points out onto the street […] On my way to school each day I felt the searching eyes of the trooper following me from the dark slit of the bunker…It was terrifying. Walking briskly past the bunker as the barrel of a soldier’s gun briefly trained on my body, I thought the same thing each morning: “what if the bullet triggers out?” […]
After school, I would play cricket with other local boys. We knew we couldn’t afford to hit the ball in that direction (of the bunker)…One day I was guilty of sending the ball in that direction. Play stopped…I started walking up towards the bunker in slow, hesitant steps. The ball had luckily stopped some meters short of the bunker. Still, I quickly grabbed the ball and hurriedly walked back to the field. Ball in hand, feeling triumphant, I joined my friends. The look on their faces suggested as if I had committed some exceptional act of bravery. The mere presence of the bunker affected our play […] I try not to look at it much, or even acknowledge its presence. I avoid it when I can. But you can’t ignore the bunker. Nobody can in Kashmir.
When constantly living in this state of siege and fear, there is a necessary and unavoidable blurring of the distinction between what is cowardice and what is bravery; what is submission and what is resistance. The two are entangled, and it becomes difficult to discuss one without the other.
The way in which we would conditionally read resistance, this banal act of “quickly grabbing the ball and hurriedly walking back”, would not “qualify” as an act of resistance. But when constantly living in this state of siege and fear, there is a necessary and unavoidable blurring of the distinction between what is cowardice and what is bravery; what is submission and what is resistance. The two are entangled, and it becomes difficult to discuss one without the other. If this narrative is of fear, then the meta-narrative is of resistance. One necessitates the other. One silences the other. But they remain paired.
(Un)finished Narratives of MemoryIn the context of the civil war in Zimbabwe, Werbner extrapolates the relationship between people’s mode of remembrance (which is referred to as “buried memory”) and resistance. He observes that “people try to commemorate what the state deliberately suppresses in buried memory”. In his analysis, it is buried memory that produces what is referred to as unfinished narratives of memory, wherein the past is perceived to be unfinished, festering in the present. One way of interpreting this is that the unfinished narratives are what delineate resistance, “motivate people to call again and again for a public resolution of their predicament subjected to ‘buried memory’, because people do not so much forget as recognize that they have not been allowed to remember […] they feel compelled to unbury the memory and reject their past submission”.
The dominant discourse on Kashmir systematically silences and pauses people’s telling of their everyday lives inflicted with violence, suffering and trauma. However, Veena Das, in her writing on the Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, asserts that although the memories of people could be molded into silence, these are not of “the nature of something gone underground, repressed, hidden away, that would have to be excavated. In a way, these memories were very much on the surface, yet there were fences created around them”. The unfolding of these memories, buried or on the surface; finished or unfinished, triggered the emergence of new forms of political consciousness and inches us towards understanding how profoundly ordinary lives and spaces are transformed by the violence of war/ongoing conflict. It is here that I locate stories as memory narratives, or what Aretxaga refers to as “interpellations” in the context of Northern Ireland resistance struggle, interpellations that challenge and break the state’s grand narrative which excludes people from their records.
The dominant discourse on Kashmir systematically silences and pauses people’s telling of their everyday lives inflicted with violence, suffering and trauma.
But what do stories do? They nurture identities, motivate people to narrate stories that contradict, complicate and undermine state’s legitimacy and gives rise to counter-narratives of social reality. For instance, the image of a water tap as a monument of memory generates an alternative national imagery. In Kashmir, water taps were constructed to commemorate the death of a militant during the armed movement in 1990s. Consequently, two simultaneous processes were operating on these taps: being uprooted by the “legitimating forces” of the state (army/CRPF/police) and being re-constructed by the people who supported the armed movement for freedom and for dignity. In this dual process of dissolution and preservation, obliteration and reconstruction, some of these water taps still stand, bearing testimony of the past upon the present. In their presence along the landscape of Kashmir, especially the old city (Downtown) in Srinagar, there is a profound resonance or what James Young calls the “vivification” of sight and memory.
The question that seems crucial here is: how do people strive to make meaning from this artifact which is ordinary and spectacular, simultaneously? To answer this, I cite a narrative from a short story ‘A Prologue to Memory’. The protagonist, Muzaffar, was a powerful militant who had been killed by the Indian soldiers.
After his death, a public ‘tap’, housed within a brick and tile structure about four feet high, was set up in his name, bearing the name, ‘Yaadgaaray Shaheed Muzaffar’ (‘in the memory of martyr Muzaffar’). A public ‘tap’ at the busy crossing was a good idea. People battered by occupations of life would come to quench their mild as well as terrible thirst. They would read the epitaph. They would ‘remember’. Those who did not know would enquire and then ‘remember’. The silent water swelled in their blood. It could flood.
One summer afternoon, the sun being angrier than usual for some unknown reason, soldiers arrived with weapons of a different kind. The dull thud of their sledgehammers was followed by the swoosh of pent-up water suddenly set free. They put a few rags on the pipe to stop the flow, scattered the remains of the smashed tiles and bricks and left, satisfied with their work.
Somebody had the good sense of mending the pipe and reinstalling a ‘tap’, although without the brick and tile structure. People still continued to visit the watering-hole. ‘Memory’ continued to resonate.
So in the bleak light of one late autumn evening, the ‘tap’ was once more surrounded by soldiers. They broke off the ‘tap’ and sealed the water-pipe, beat all the neighboring shopkeepers and passers-by, smashed a few fragile things in various shops and warned that if they ever saw a ‘tap’ in that place again, they would let all hell loose.
Of course the soldiers could not notice everything. Of course, they could not annihilate everything. Even a void is just an image of the thing which existed.
In this story, a water tap as a narrative of memory very significantly points the way in which everyday life in Kashmir absorbs traumatic collective violence, and through these stories, they become “testimony to the power of popular memory in sustaining a conflict whose complex historical roots often seem to be forgotten”.
Two simultaneous processes were operating on these taps: being uprooted by the “legitimating forces” of the state (army/CRPF/police) and being re-constructed by the people who supported the armed movement for freedom and for dignity. In this dual process of dissolution and preservation, obliteration and reconstruction, some of these water taps still stand, bearing testimony of the past upon the present.
Even in forms such as poetry, we see the fragmented images of conflict and of occupation: ordinary objects that were “stranded, strewn about and torn” symbolically bespeak the pain and suffering of the people. Agha Shahid Ali, uses, what some might call a banal, ordinary image of ‘pair of shoes’ in his poem ‘I see Kashmir from New Delhi at midnight’. He uses this image to re-create the site of a massacre through the travails of the dead protagonist, Rizwan. In his poem, he writes,
“Don’t tell my father I have died,” he [Rizwan] says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of ‘pairs of shoes’ the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the firing
Why the image of the shoe becomes significant is because, as Haskin says, “it conjures up the iconographic dossier of crimes against humanity…and it challenges the sanitized discourse of ‘collateral damage’”. This symbolic image of heaped shoes manifests itself as a representation of violence that seems banal and everyday. It suggests that the storyline of conflict and of occupation is not only understood, as Veena Das would say, “through some grand gestures in the realm of transcendental but through a descent into the ordinary”.
Narrating the Everyday: Stories and SilencesIn this section, I will cite stories from Kashmir that attach themselves to spaces and sites of the everyday. An inscription along history’s silent edge, they attempt to displace the official histories and representations of the past. Told and retold, nevertheless, these stories open for us an unfinished process of remembrance and resilience.
Even in forms such as poetry, we see the fragmented images of conflict and of occupation: ordinary objects that were “stranded, strewn about and torn” symbolically bespeak the pain and suffering of the people.
In ‘Mausoleum of Memory, Portrait of Resistance’, one encounters fear and resistance simultaneously. The author narrates her first experiences of a “crackdown” in the summer of 1996 (she was in Class II) when the forces had cordoned off the area where her home was located and the shriek of a soldier, “wapis jao, wapis” (Go back), terrified her. She recollects:
That night I kept thinking about my home in captivity. Perhaps this was when I first understood occupation—when hatred for the occupier, the urge to insult him, make fun of him, and the dream of seeing an unoccupied home, of walking without being followed by the bloodshot eyes, translated itself into resistance.
“Wapis jao, wapis” (go back, go), I wanted to tell him.
This narrative succinctly puts together the meanings that I intended to ascribe to resistance, meanings that are embedded in the everyday—hatred and anger—the spectrum of practices that are perhaps too mundane or insignificant but emerge from the interstices of the everyday. In fact these are the most common and immediate responses of people to violations, humiliations and occupations. And here I attempt to consider them as the signifiers: forms that contributed to the architecture of a larger, collective, people’s movement for freedom.
Certain artifacts of the everyday assume a significant meaning in people’s negotiation with the dominant order, they assume a newer semantic of resistance. One such would be an identification card. And to illustrate this, I cite one of the poems where the poet traces the uncertainties and fear in the everyday through an artifact of identity.
“Card chukha seath thavaan?”
(“Do you carry the ID card with you?”)
Mother worries over frequent phone calls
Away from home, home enters questions
‘Identity’ printed on a piece of paper
cuts through her voice; a discomforting lullaby:
“Card gaseha mashe seath thavun”
(“Always carry the ID card with you”)
At the door, before endless blessings, she always asked
That question mothers have for their sons—
“Card tultha seath?”
(“Are you carrying your ID card?”)
Certain artifacts of the everyday assume a significant meaning in people’s negotiation with the dominant order, they assume a newer semantic of resistance. One such would be an identification card.
Here, the ID card embodies multiple meanings; it seems to be an unalterable document of existence in a region where frisking and checkpoints are routinised in permanency and visibility. A mother’s insistence for the ID card suggests how profoundly everyday lives have been transformed by the conflict. However, another layer to this is when for the son, the poet, “that frisked ID card remains, like a festering wound, pocketed pain. I carry everywhere”.
These stories act as interpellations or as Ghosh puts it, “the intervening gaps between spectacular protests are not as barren as they seem; infact they provide crucial succor and agenda to succeeding upheavals […] Even if resistance in this case does not contribute to anything real, discernible or immediate social change, we believe it constantly realigns power relations. It establishes that dominant power structures far from being autonomous and monolithic, are being constantly fractured and re-arranged by people’s struggles and stories”.
Therefore, I explicate this resistance through the medium of literary writings—stories and poetry—from Kashmir because the everyday inscribed in literature becomes a ‘category of witness’ (Harriet Davidson reference to poetry) for working through traumatic memories and for social and cultural resistance. Nora Strejilevich, who works on Holocaust testimonies, writes: “having witnessed the abyss of atrocity, survivors can no longer rely on knowledge/facts as basis of thinking. It is mostly in the realm of literature where recounting becomes an elaboration of language so that it can invoke the true nature of the ‘event’”. She explains that a testimony should allow for disruptive memories, discontinuities, blanks, silences and ambiguities; and asks: how do you translate the language of the concentration camp into the language of the ‘outside’ world? It is through these unfinished narratives, “incomplete stories that are often imprecise and shaped by fear” (2006, 709), that the authors cited here recreate and piece together the memories and fragments of their lives and also open ‘the key to their own despair’.
Even Feldman says that “sites of legitimation/authorization suppress historicity through linear, teleological, eschatological or progressive temporalities”; how does then one record people’s dispersed stories which have been hegemonically subsumed under a singular narrative of the disciplinary power apparatus(es)? Or for that matter, how do we even document the multiplicity of people’s realities vis-à-vis the violence and suffering they have been subjected to? What is the alternative to narrativity? To stories? To memory?
The local dialect in which ‘war’ is enunciated.
 Burhan Qureshi, “Kashmir, of dreams and nightmares”,Pulsemedia, December 18, 2011, accessed January 2, 2012.
Richard Werbner, Memory and the Post-colony: African Anthropology and the Critique of Power (London: Zed Books, 1998), 25.
Arthur Kleinman et al., Social Suffering (California: University of California Press, 1998), 85.
 Anne Heimo and Ullu-Maya Pettonen, “Memories and Histories, Public and Private: After Finnish Civil War”, in Contesting Power: The Politics of Memory, Katherine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone, (London: Routledge, 2003), 43.
Douglas Haynes and GyanPrakash, Contesting Power: Resistance and Everyday Social Relations in South Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 11.
Gayatri Spivak in Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial theory: Strategies of language and resistance, Celia M. Britton, (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1999), 4.
Britton points out that for both Spivak and Glissant subaltern consciousness is opaque and cannot be ‘read’ by the ruling groups. But Glissant interprets this as a form of resistance, however, for Spivak it is merely a form of disempowerment. To sum up, Spivak focuses more on the subaltern’s inability to ‘speak’ the dominant discourse whereas Glissant focuses more on the dominant discourse’s inability to ‘understand’ the subaltern.
 Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects, (United States of America: Duke University Press, 2007), 5.
 Majid Maqbool, “In the shadow of bunkers”, Warscapes, April 2013, accessed January 16, 2014,
 I borrow this phrase from Richard Werbner but to explicate the meaning of this phrase I take help from VeenaDas’s use of the word. ‘Buried memory’ here “does not have to be exumed: it is dispersed in the text, like the background pattern in a weave, ever present and yet not fully visible” (Das, 2006, 226).
 Richard Werbner, Memory and the Post-colony: African Anthropology and the Critique of Power (London: Zed Books, 1998), 8.
Veena Das, Life and Words: Violence and the descent into the Ordinary (London: Oxford University Press, 2006), 11.
BegonaAretxaga, Shattering Silence: Women, Nationalism and Political Subjectivity in Northern Ireland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 5.
 Arif Ayaz Parray, A prologue to memory,Kafila, October 30, 2011, accessed on October 31, 2011,
 Carrie Hamilton, “Memories of violence in interviews with Basque Nationalist Women” in Contested Pasts: The Politics of Memory, (London, Routledge, 2003), 132.
Veena Das, Life and Words: Violence and the descent into the Ordinary (London: Oxford University Press, 2006), 13.
 I would briefly cite some of the massacres that have taken place in Kashmir since the armed movement in 1989 and perhaps Ali is fictionally, poetically alluding to a scene from one such massacre amongst others such as Gawkadal, Sopore, Bijbehara.
 Agha Shahid Ali, The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems, (New York: W.W.Norton,2009), 179.
 Ekaterina V. Haskins,“Ephemeral vis]bility and the art of mourning: ‘Eyes wide open travelling exhibit’”in Rhetoric, Remembrance and Visual Form: Sighting Memory’, Anne Teresa Demo and Bradford Vivian, (New York: Routledge, 2012), 95.
Veena Das, Life and Words: Violence and the descent into the Ordinary (London: Oxford University Press, 2006), 7.
 Uzma Falak, “Mausolem of Memory, Portrait of Resistance”, in Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir’, Fahad Shah, (New Delhi: Tranquebar Press, 2013), 78.
 Majid Maqbool, “A call from Home” in Paper Text Messages from Kashmir: December 2009- January 2010, Alana Hunt, (Creative Commons Attribution, 2011), 41, accessed on December 22, 2013,
Alana Hunt, Paper Text Messages from Kashmir: December 2009- January 2010 (Creative Commons Attribution, 2011), 41, accessed on December 22, 2013, http://alanahunt.net/work/paper_txt_msgs_from_kashmir.html
Anindita Ghosh, Behind the Veil: Resistance, Women and the Everyday in Colonial South Asia (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2007), 13-15.
Harriet Davidson, “Poetry, Witness and Feminism” inWitness and Memory: The discourse of trauma, Ana Douglas and Thomas A. Vogler, (New York:Routledge, 2003), 158.
NoraStrejilevich, “Testimony: Beyond the language of truth”. Human Rights Quarterly 28 (2006):701.
 Allen Feldman, Formations of Violence: The narrative of the body and political terror in Northern Ireland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 2.