Nineteen Forty Seven Amnesia & Kashmir

Kashmir has historically since Nineteen Forty-Seven been a site of territorial claims between the two nations, India and Pakistan; in such contested claims history in itself has become a site marking these contestations. The history of Forty Seven has been written from a certain vantage point constructing a particular kind of history and memory associated with it. The story of Forty-Seven told and retold over the years with tribal invasion being ‘The Event’ has shaped the history with almost a complete erasure of what happened earlier and what followed next. As a student of history I feel a dire need to free Forty Seven from the baggage of the ‘Tribal Invasion’ story which has more of less sabotaged the history of the state, question the politics of silencing the ‘unfamiliar histories and memories’ associated with it. Outside this domain of the dominat/official narrativization lies the domain of the folk memory bearing testimony to the presence of contesting memories that are often ommitted from these dominant discourses. The histories that came to be written about Forty-Seven reiterate certain kind of difficulties in reconciling with the sharply different contours of every event and incident. I do not attempt to undermine the effects of the so called invasion, but my interest lies in studying the politics of representation of the events and in mapping memories and histories of an alternate kind.mapjustafter

The contestations over the past and the representations of Forty-Seven in the ‘master narratives’ speak volumes about buttressing the claims of both the countries to Kashmir. ‘Defending Kashmir’, issued by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, constructs the image of Srinagar for the ‘tribal invaders’, as that of a ‘coveted objective’, Baramula becomes emblematic of the rapaciousness of Pakistan’s desire for Kashmir. Through its usage of imagery, the text for instance describes the raid as, “The raiders had run amuck in the town,burning,pillaging,looting and murdering…Muslims suffered as much as non-Muslims at their hands.” Such a narrativization feeding on the images of destruction, marauding, loot etc seeks to give experiences a visual shape, it ‘images’ them. The langage is often garbed in the religious rhetoric, if it was a holy war for the so called tribal invaders, free India’s first military campaign was to be guided by the ‘code of dharma’ that the Lord preached to the warrior Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Pakistani narratives are also marked with certain dissonances and ruptures. There is an utter silence on the extent of rape and robbery committed by the ‘tribal invaders’. Blaming the tribal indiscipline, they disavow any official Pakistani role in instigating or directing the attack. What is intrinsic to both these narratives is the construction of an image of the tribal as an ‘indicplined motley’, ‘hordes of hostiles’, ‘wild forces let loose on the State’. The newspapers (which I have been able to look at) like Times of India and The Daily Ranbir too create such images of tribals and the invasion creating a memory bound up with the rituals of national identification and becoming a symbolic reportiore for binding people into a collective national identity. In these narratives perhaps the fear of the ‘tribal people’ seems to have been, in some way or the other, shaped by the earlier colonial constructions of the tribal people, designated as wild, plundering or predatory. The colonial constructions of tribes, as Ajay Skaria notes, ‘tribes as primitives are outside of the civilization or more precisely before the civilisation and therefore their acts of violence are seen as not barbaric but savage’, feed into them and create a fear phsycosis.

I see a tendency of homogenizing the events of Forty-Seven in the dominant narratives (Indian) and constructing a ‘collective memory’ of Nineteen Forty Seven in a set frame. Forty Seven in the history of the state is equated with the Tribal Invasion resulting in the accession of the State by Maharaja Hari Singh to Indian Union, reducing other happenings into nothingness. Perhaps the representation of the events becomes that of a triumphal one, a victory of the good over bad. What becomes evident is that these narratives are powerfully inclined to silence the alternative memory discourse; they tend to define what is to be remembered and what is to be forgotten about the past. Some experiences of the past do remain minor visa vis the dominant understanding of what constitutes fact and evidence. But one must ask this question to ourselves, Is then the past that does not figure in the master narratives essentially, to use Dipesh Chakrabarty’s phrase, ‘minority history’? Isn’t it more likely that these master narratives tend to normalise and naturalize what they construct as the most genuine picture of the past pushing the ‘minor histories’ and memories into obscurity.

Let us now turn to the memories of ‘Jammu Massacre’ which becomes one of the alternate sites representing a struggle between the histories of Forty Seven as a ‘history of triumphal events’ and the history of Forty-Seven as that of history of traumic events (which mostly remains in oblivion) in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. In a ‘post-partition frenzy’, since the communal clashes in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though began in August, picked pace in the months of October and continued till November, scores of Muslims are believed to have been massacred with official connivance. The memories of the massacre in Jammu are shaped by popular beliefs and the responsibility is shifted to multiple players; the ‘sanghis’, the Dogra army, Maharaja Hari Singh as well as Sheikh Abdullah for his incompetence as an emergency administrator to stop the violence perpetrated upon the Muslim community and later his silence over bringing those involved to book. The Jammu massacre remains a misplaced massacre, metaphorically, in the sense of being misplaced due to the (unfortunate) absence of archival material, due to the outright denial of such happenings, downplaying the violence and further being pushed into obscurity by the silence maintained in the master narratives.image004

In my experience of meeting some of the Muslims of Jammu last winter, it became clear to me that there is persistence of memory whether personal or collective and a failure to push the memories of Jammu massacre into obscurity. The trope of memory keeps appearing and reappearing within the everyday conversations. The massacre as the traumatic event became stamped in people’s memory bank and has become a lens which gives one access to how the Muslims of Jammu thought of themselves. The collection of essays called, Memory Lane to Jammu recounts the memories of the massacre and is a representation of the trauma and nostalgia, of the varied notions of home and the forced migration, of the play of power in memory and meanings of silence and denial. The collection images the loss of homeland and in certain ways becomes a collective articulation of Muslim identity of Jammu. Exploring such stories that people narrate and the meanings attached thereby allows one to reconstruct the struggle over memory, not per se of the massacre only but of the larger historical narratives framed for Forty-Seven itself. These stories become the resource for counter stories, resisting and undermining the silencing of alternate historical and memory discourses.

The dominant narratives are no naïve narratives, they are often used and misused to legitimize the territorial claims to Kashmir. As Shahid Amin writes in his famous book, Event Metaphor Memory: Chauri Chaura 1922-1992, “…the significance of the nationalist narratives lies in their elaborate and heroic setting down, or ‘figurating’, ‘the triumph of good over evil’…The triumph of such histories lies not only in making people remember events from a shared past: the nationalist master narrative also induces a selective national amnesia in relation to specified events which would fit awkwardly, even seriously inconvenience, the neatly woven patter.” The dominant narrative of Forty-Seven has been able to successfully induce a similar kind of selective amnesia. This ‘successful’ perpetuation of one version of history of Forty-Seven needs to be questioned, therefore, it remains important to ‘un-familiarize’ the familiar and familiarize the un-familiarize. We must all strive to question the collective erasure of the ‘other collective histories and memories’ across time and place.

Understanding the politics of representation of the past has become doubly important for me as a student of history, as Kashmir continues to witness another summer of turmoil. In light of the recent events that have unfolded in the Valley, the representation of events has taken an important turn. True to the spirit of nationalist history writing project, selective amnesia goes all along in representing what is happening in Kashmir. Even in present day Kashmir, not only are certain events erased from the official narratives, but also the events are cast in altogether different terminologies, and often delegitimized as valid popular struggles, camouflaging the role of the actual actors while highlighting the role of the instigators. However, at least, the Kashmiri historical and memory discourses exist in continuation with and independent of the recent overt nationalist narrative that the State is trying to impose. In terms of the stories that the State feeds the public mind, reminds me what anthropologist Bruce Jackson’s writes of stories, ‘that the stories generate their own boundaries of acceptable reality; nothing worth mentioning happens before the stories begin and nothing happens after that end’. The audience (especially outside of the Valley) should take such official narratives with a pinch of salt.


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Iffat Rashid Written by:

I am a student of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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