Traffic had snarled up a little before Rainawari and, as I turned my head up I sighted the flag. A 100-ft high Tricolour that had been hoisted just the day before atop Hari Parbat, the hill that dominates many parts of the Srinagar skyline.
Author: Freny Manecksha
Freny Manecksha worked as a journalist for publications like The Daily, BLITZ, The Times of India, Indian Express and Mid-day. She has been an independent journalist and has focused on Kashmir and particularly women’s narratives from there.
Her recent book "Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir's Women and Children" was published in 2017
It is a night that Kamla Kaka will perhaps never forget. A mitanin (health care provider) trainer she had returned to her village in Bastar, Chhatisgarh, after a visit to Bijapur, some 52 km away where she had gone for a delivery case. “I had eaten my meal and was listening to songs when the loud burst of firing startled me. Many of us rushed out from our homes. We wondered why the forces had entered our village and were firing continually. It went on and on and later there were flare bombs that illuminated the area. A vehicle arrived later and picked up our dead but many of the armed personnel stayed on,” she told me when I met her earlier this year.
Among the dead were three relatives and her nephew Rahul Kaka, the 15-year-old-son of her father’s brother (chacha). “A class nine student he was so special to me,” she added.
“We are guyoor log” (Proud and honourable people).
“We do not beg. We are merely demanding our rights_ those that had been promised to us on the floors of Parliament. Where is this people’s mandate?” These were some of the questions posed to me by Hayat Ahmed Butt, the pro freedom leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim league, in a conversation I had just two days before he was picked up by police from Anchar, adjoining Soura in Srinagar on Wednesday, October 16.
On Friday August 2, confusion and panic hit the people of Kashmir, in the wake of several orders claiming there is a serious situation in Kashmir, urging yatris and tourists to return and the deployment of thousands of additional troops. But, on my social media feed, there were voices of humour and resilience reminding Kashmiris of what they collectively as a people have suffered and endured through the years, of how the Indian state has persistently viewed Kashmiris as the “other” and sought ways of repression. Scrolling down one searing image went through my mind. It is that of Mir Suhail’s illustration of a man in checked headgear and greying beard that accompanies the report, Torture: State’s Instrument of Control in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. I recognise it as that of Qalandar Khatana of Kalaros, Kupwara.
Conspiracy cases to quell dissent is now new to India’s political history. As a former judge wrote recently it was the British who, so cleverly, made it a crime in 1913 and used it widely.
Soft winter light bathes the fields in a glow. But the pastoral idyll of Pandu padda, Sameli, Dantewada district in Chhatisgarh is deceptive. Dark shadows lurk. I am shown the tree from which a 17-year-old Adivasi girl hung herself on the intervening night of 29/30 December, some four months after she had charged security forces of sexual violence.
In a country where more than 91 per cent of news coverage on the Maoist conflict in Chhatisgarh is state-driven, particularly in the national English media, there were no accounts or voices of the Adivasi inhabitants of Nalkatong in whose village the encounter took place. Nor was there any follow-through or accounts of the women who ran behind the tractor that was carrying the dead bodies, unceremoniously stuffed into black plastic bags. The women went first to Konta and then to Sukma where the post mortems took place. Who were the dead and who were these grieving families who milled around the roads of Sukma?
A day before Eid, a Twitter storm with the hashtag #InquireKashmirKillings erupted. Notwithstanding the pall of gloom caused by the killing of respected editor- in-chief of Rising Kashmir, Shujat Bukhari by unknown gunmen on the very day that the report by the UN on the situation in Kashmir vis-a-vis human rights was released, Kashmiris hurled themselves into battle.
The image she shows me on her laptop shows smears of blood on the floor, discarded clothing and prayer mats at one corner of the corridor. No action. No people. But Sanna Irshad Mattoo, one of Kashmir’s growing bunch of women photo-journalists, conveys the potential of objects and belongings to bear “witness”. The inanimate speaks out of the terrible violence that stains, not just the hospital floor, but, as the hashtgag suggests one that has permeated the soul of Kashmir.
On a cold day, some 27 years ago, Juma Sheikh, chowkidar of the twin hamlets of Kunan and Poshpora, Kupwara district in Kashmir, approached tehsildar Sikandar Malik with a letter written in Urdu signed and supported by thumb prints of the villagers. In elaborate and formal language the letter detailed the horrific ordeal of sexual violence and torture that they had suffered on the intervening night of February 23 and 24 at the hands of 4 Rajputana Rifles that had come in for a cordon and search. The victims reportedly ranged from a 60 year old woman to a 14 year old girl and a pregnant woman nearing full term. The men were not spared. Herded outside in the snow to makeshift interrogation centres they were subjected to various forms of torture like having chilli powder rubbed on the genitals or subjected to electric shocks in their private parts.