Images. Front page news. Cover photos. And then, a quick recede from public memory. Daily lives under constant, gruesome threat from those entrusted with public safety. The irony.
On 14 June 2018, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights at the United Nations published a report on situation of human rights in Kashmir, from June 2016 – April 2018. The report details violations beginning with the death of Burhan Wani, the young commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a murder that sent the valley into shock, sadness and led to a fresh round of massive protests and state violence. The report explicitly states violations that have been perpetrated against the people of the Valley (in addition to documenting the state of Human rights on the Pakistan side of the LoC) and has, almost as par for the course, been rubbished by the government and certain prominent Pundits of eletronic media.
Kasturi began the evening with a presentation, taking the audience through a visual journey. Kashmir now. Three murdered teenagers. Young men and women, lives forever marred by the criminal firing of pellet guns by the armed forces. The use of which has been extensively documented in the UN report. She told the audience exactly what pellet guns are. What they can do. A young man strapped to the bonnet of a jeep. A young man used as a human shield. A gross violation of human rights as defined by the Geneva Convention. We saw a photograph of young girls in school uniforms coming to the fore. The forefront of the protest, the struggle. How during a so-called ceasefire in the month of Ramzan, people were run over by army jeeps.
The UN report has called into question the archaic, terrible laws that the people of Kashmir are still subjected to. What is the justification of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act? Or the Public Safety Act (PSA)? Acts that somehow, in a morbid horrific way allow the armed forces – the military, the police, the paramilitary to get away with acts like these.
She then spoke about the cycles of violence that the Valley has seen and the different ways that the people have responded to the atrocities they have been subjected to. The different forms of protest. The armed struggle that lead to the rise of the militant groups in the nineties, to those of the past decade – the Amarnath protests in 2008, the protests against Shopian rapes of 2009, the Machil forest killings-dressed-as-encounter protests of 2010, that lead to tear gas firings, killing of 112 children and youth, and emergence of a new form of mass struggle, reminiscent of Palestine. Stone pelters. Faced with bullets, tear gas shells, pain guns. Pellet guns.
‘The nineties was a zamaana of guns, now is the zamaana of stones. The true voice of the Kashmiri is being suppressed. We want Azadi’, says one of the young men in a video clip Kasturi then screened. This video was shot after 2010, when Kashmiris began to use social media, creating Facebook accounts (often under pseudonyms as a precaution against identification to escape the PSA). This was also the time that young Kashmiri journalists began writing about what was happening in their homes. Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night was one such account. She went on to show a clip from Soz, M.C. Kash speaking about his music. How rooted the youth of Kashmir are in their history. How, most poignantly he tells us that his music always talks of the suffering, because what, in the beautiful Kashmir valley has not seen suffering?
The mountains, the soil, the river Jhelum.
From Khoon Diy Baraav, Kasturi showed us a clip of the anger of the women, the rage against the lives lost and the indignity faced by the living. She then went onto show how Kashmir has been represented in mainstream Bollywood. From the ridiculous unreality of Kashmir ki Kali, the portrayal of Kashmiri women in Roja, to the chutzpah in Haider.
After a few words from director Sanjay Kak, speaking to us from Delhi over a recorded video, we moved onto the screening of his epic film Jashn-e-Azadi. A film that shows Kashmir over many decades, with the bloodshed, the post traumatic stress disorder, the loss, the happy smiles for the camera, the beautiful golf courses, the psychological warfare and the often spiritual resilience. The programme ended with a brief discussion with members of the audience on the politics and reality of the Kashmir valley. In one part the discussions referred to the various forms and strategies adopted in the Indian and Bangladeshi freedom struggles.
We study the Holocaust in our History textbooks. We study Mussolini. We study fascism. But where in those textbooks do we talk about state sponsored and state denied atrocities, ones that are happening in the country we call India, against innocent people who want their right to self determination? Where are we talking about this? As Kasturi said at the beginning of her presentation and Sanjay Kak said in his introduction, it needs to stay in the public consciousness. Kashmir cannot simply be something we know about. It has to be something that we talk about and in whatever way we can, do something about.
I listen to Tupac as I write this. I think of the beautiful Jhelum and the body bags. Andleeb’s eyes.
Azadi. Oh, the irony.
Report by Paroma Sengupta