Calendar of the Disappeared keeps memory alive in Kashmir

Calendar

“Primarily, it is the parents who keep waiting for their children. There was a threat that the issue of the enforced disappearance will fade out from the collective memory as older parents of the victims were dying,” - Parveena Ahanger.

Since January 2016, Association of Parents of Disappeared Parents (APDP) has been publishing its annual calendar, which APDP calls a ‘memory document’. The calendar is a montage of the sketches—made from the surviving photographs of the disappeared men—details of the circumstances of disappearance, accompanied by poetry, mostly by young Kashmiri poets, on the themes of loss and memory. Also included is the poetry of Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish.

“Every page of calendar tells the story of the disappeared person. The calendar is a testimony that we haven’t forgotten them and they continue to live in the collective memory and in the memory of their dear ones,” says Immad Nazir of APDP.

The idea for coming up with the yearly calendar was to “evade forgetfulness”, as during the last decade many close family members of the disappeared person died, especially parents of the victims.

“Primarily, it is the parents who keep waiting for their children. There was a threat that the issue of the enforced disappearance will fade out from the collective memory as older parents of the victims were dying,” says Parveena Ahanger, chairperson of APDP.

Parveena says that after realizing it they came up with the idea to publish the calendar to not let “forgetfulness pervade”.

Parveena further says that by publishing the calendar, APDP wants to make people aware of the issue of enforced disappearances and have people’s attention.

“It is published in a bid to creating larger community awareness through the idea of suffering; suffering has the power to move,” says Immad Nazir.

Immad added that when the calendars enter private space of people, it creates some sort of check against the enforced disappearance.

“These calendars frame suffering in the way that enforced disappearance is not the exception but systemic. It connects the issue of enforced disappearance with the larger political reality of Kashmir,” says Immad.

The 2016 APDP calendar was designed by Iffat Fatima, an independent filmmaker, whose documentary ‘Khoon Deye Barov (The Blood Leaves its Trail)’ commemorates the memory and struggles of the families of the victims of enforced disappearances. Iffat says that the calendar is an “act of remembrance” in the face of the state-imposed forgetfulness on the enforced disappearance.

“The state, which is responsible for the systemic disappearance of Kashmiris, does not acknowledge it; instead it wants that no one should speak about this issue. This calendar is a way to resist that,” says Iffat.

She says that the calendar, by entering the private space of the people has the power to blur the space between private and public.

APDP in its first year—2016—published 500 copies of the calendar. Due to increased demand from the people, it published 1000 and 1200 copies in the years 2017 and 2018 respectively. 

Many political commentators think that in Kashmir the state is at war with the memory of the people. And to obliterate the memory of the human rights violations committed by the state forces, the state has been trying, for a long time, to overhaul its image and “hiding and imposing its fabricated narratives of normalcy”.

Dr. Farrukh-Faheem, Assistant Professor at the department of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir says that the state has been projecting the ‘beautiful’ picture of Kashmir, which is contrary to what Kashmir is all about. He says that state tries to homogenize the picture of Kashmir and has been promoting it through various means; the Jammu Kashmir Bank Calendar, which is a montage of the picturesque landscape of Kashmir and which the state promotes to ‘erase the memory of suffering’.

Farrukh-Faheem says that it is in this backdrop that the APDP calendar becomes a more important intervention.

“The APDP calendar questions the homogeneous narratives of the state. Kashmir may be beautiful but what the state wants to hide is the real Kashmir—the Kashmir which has suffered the political violence of the state”, adds Dr. Farrukh-Faheem.

“These calendars frame the suffering. In Kashmir, where there is always a fight between the state-imposed narratives and people’s narrative, this calendar has succeeded in presenting the suffering,” he says.

Mohammad Junaid, US-based Kashmiri anthropologist believes that dominant states want to organize and impose their own sense of temporality on the dominated subjects.

Through calendars, says Junaid, states seek to achieve hegemony as the subjects begin to internalize the meaning and significance of dates that are officially significant. Through calendars, events and figures that are a prominent part of official history gradually become part of the subjective universe of people, even though these events and figures may have been catastrophic for the subjects.

“Nehru’s (first prime minister of India) birthday or 15th August (Independence day of India) are two such examples. What do these mean in the context of Kashmir? It is no surprise that Kashmiris largely protest or adopt a critical disposition toward the “independence” day, as the celebration of freedom would be totally opposed to their lived experience of a lack of it”, says Junaid.

Junaid says that APDP uses its own calendar as a visual practice of remembrance. However, it not only disrupts the official calendar, but also produces an alternative time which is marked by struggle, loss, and sacrifice.

“APDP calendar, however, remains at the level of remembrance. It needs to be inventive and become part of a broader resistance culture which produces new symbols for consciousness to draw upon. Otherwise, over time people will grow numb to the memory these calendars seek to evoke,” he adds.

APDP is a movement of the families of those whose dear ones were subjected to enforced disappearance—since the beginning of the armed rebellion against Indian rule, more than 10,000 Kashmiris have been disappeared allegedly by the Indian forces. The families have lodged complaints and given testimonies against the perpetrators. However, the Indian state denies any involvement in the disappearances, which the families contest.

Amit Kumar, who teaches history at Amar Singh College, Srinagar says that in a conflict-ridden place like Kashmir, the truth is the first causality. Apart from snapping life out of people, truth/reality dies a hundred deaths.

“State and most of the mainstream parties are supposedly speaking truth all the time, but people have been continuously resisting this state manufactured truth”, he says.

Amit says that apart from being a ‘memory document’, the APDP calendar is counter-narrative to challenge the truth (falsehood) of the state and its institutions.

“The best thing about the various publications of APDP (which they have been doing for many years now) is that their publications find resonance with people. And this to me is the biggest contribution of APDP publication: beyond the statist narrative, they are speaking people's language, they are voicing people's truth" he adds. ♦



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