No one to weep for the Kashmiris

The manner in which the Uttar Pradesh-based scribe, Pawan Jaiswal, is getting harassed to the extent of getting booked by the Uttar Pradesh government for exposing the roti-salt ‘meal’ served to school kids in a Mirzapur district school, is provoking one to quip: Is it time we get back to the Avadh Punch days? Well… well, the Avadh Punch, came into circulation in the Avadh belt during the Raj days, when the then British rulers booked all those Indians who dared to write against their misdeeds, against their atrocities, against their governing tactics! Its then that a group of poets and writers and activists and artists came up with this novel idea to expose the British masters through verse or subtle prose - where all possible basic facts were relayed and yet the lampooning not too very direct! Founded and edited by Munshi Sajjad Hussain, this satirical Urdu weekly was published from Lucknow, from 1877 to 1936. Said to be modelled on the London-based weekly magazine The Punch (from which it probably derived its name), some of its contributors included the then who’s-who in the literary world like Ratan Nath Dhar Sarshar and Akbar Elahabadi …

I got to read details of this weekly in Professor Mushirul Hasan’s volume,The Avadh Punch: Wit and Humour in Colonial North India (Niyogi Books) where he writes that so heady was the outcome and response of the Avadh Punch that within a short span 70 Punches were published in several cities of this country… Well, now that journalists and writers and authors and activists are facing the risk of getting hounded by the sarkar of the day for baring the stark ground realities, isn’t it the time that more and more forums and platforms come up, so that the vital truth isn’t crushed. For if that happens, then what’s left!

Going through the literature of the decades past by, I am sitting wondering where are the rebel poets whose verse dripped with intense passion and raw emotions …those poets of yesteryears seemed to have dipped each one of their words in their own blood and sweat. Whilst on poets, I must write that historical texts and literature on the Kashmir region carry verse after verse of the poets and poetesses who held sway in that region…through their verse they had reached out to the masses.

What if those poets were alive and around today, wouldn’t they have cried out through their verse; asking about the whereabouts of the over ten thousand ‘missing men’ of the Valley, about the hundreds of the unmarked graves dotted in and around the Valley, about the living human forms, surviving in great agony and utter despair.

In fact, it saddens one to realize that in recent years very few non-Kashmiris have focused on the ongoing human tragedies taking place in the Valley . I think we ever somewhat ‘better off‘ in the bygones when in the 1950s , it was freedom fighter Mridula Sarabhai (paternal aunt of Mallika Sarabhai) who took up the cause of the democratic rights of the Kashmiris .

In these recent years two of the prominent non-Kashmiris women who had been focusing on the human tragedies hitting the Valley are Uma Chakravarti and Angana Chatterji ….Uma Chakravarti is the well-known New Delhi based academic who had, in 2005, decided to form a support group for the Srinagar-based APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) to help trace the missing men of the Valley. In fact, in 2000 she was part of a joint fact-finding team on human rights violations and had met Parveena Ahangar of APDP, whose moving account of the enforced disappearance of her son and her struggle since then of trying to find out what happened to him and for justice, made a lasting impact upon Uma. Later, as part of a campaign for justice and accountability, she was part of a support group that tried to mobilise opinion in Delhi about enforced disappearances in Kashmir.

The US-based anthropologist Dr Angana Chatterji’s detailed study, Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves, brought focus on the unmarked graves unearthed in and around the Kashmir Valley...In an earlier given interview she had detailed the crucial details of the unmarked graves of Kashmir:

“The first time unmarked graves were investigated in the Valley was in March 2008, by members of our groups… Since then, we have documented the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing 2,943+ bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. Of these, 87.9 percent were unnamed, 154 contained two bodies each and 23 contained between three to 17 bodies. Exhumation and identification have not occurred in sizeable cases. We examined 50 alleged “encounter” killings by Indian security forces in numerous districts in Kashmir. Of these, 39 persons were of Muslim descent; four were of Hindu descent; seven unidentified. Of these, 49 were labelled militants/foreign insurgents by security forces and one body was drowned. Following investigations, 47 were found killed in fake encounters and one was identifiable as a local militant. None were foreign insurgents…. These graves are unmarked as their identities are unknown… If independent investigations were to be undertaken in all 10 districts, it is reasonable to assume that the 8,000+ enforced disappearances since 1989 would correlate with the number of bodies in unknown, unmarked, and mass graves….” She had also detailed, “Grave-diggers and community members tell us that the bodies buried in the 2,700 graves were routinely delivered at night, some bearing marks of torture and burns. In certain instances of fake encounter killings, where the bodies of victims have been identified, it was found that civilians resident in one geographic area in Kashmir were killed in another area. At times, these bodies were transferred to yet another area, then buried. In one instance, we learned that the killings took place outside Kashmir, for example, in Gujarat. Some local security personnel and state employees testified to us in confidence. We also attempted to formally contact senior government and security forces officials, requesting explanations. Our requests were declined.”

As an anthropologist, she said commenting on the condition of the graves and those buried:

“We were able to identify graves within selected districts and inquire into instances where photographic verifications and/or exhumations had taken place. Our findings do not include the forensic study of the exhumations. The graves, we were able to ascertain, hold bodies of men with few exceptions. Violence against civilian men has expanded spaces for enacting violence against women in Kashmir. The graveyards have been placed next to fields, schools, and homes, largely on community land, and their effect on the local community is daunting…” 

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