The essay by Amrita Sharma and Peerzada Raouf is a compilation of some everyday practices and thoughts that make the Kashmiri resistance today. A selection of a few encounters and events, this effort is part of an ethnographic project in progress. It is a product of deliberations sparked off after massive street protests by women in the valley earlier last year and the public reprimand issued to them by a section of the militant movement, led at the time by the erstwhile commander-in-chief, Zakir Musa. It speaks to and of the movement and its soldiers (women and men) about the changing nature of the Kashmiri ecosystem-the maturing of the movement in its next phase of retaliation. It is simultaneously an attempt to correct the tourist scholars’ myopia about the valley and an appeal to move away from the security (human or national) and rights framework often used to study it. In doing so, it aims to offer insights for sympathetic ruminations about the presence/absence of women in the Kashmiri struggle. It is our hope that the women’s question becomes one of the movement rather than one for it.
The essay is part of a larger ongoing work by the authors, likely to culminate in a book form. A part of this essay was published by The Caravan.
The use of singular first-person pronouns in the text refer to the observations of the author Amrita Sharma.
Writing about the ordinary-ness of resistance brings one closer to the exceptionality of routine expressions. The grit of routines betrays devotion that actualizes the momentous and the spectacular. It is in particular struggles for defining self, that societies chance upon meanings. Lives very often are childhoods struggling for expression, validation, culmination, closure. How might resistance be far from the guts of the minds it energizes? Articulations of freedom are shaped by the mechanics of slavery and un-freedom. Life cannot be destroyed. It amalgamates, alloys, crystallizes into elements of everydayness- sweat, tears, bruises, memories, headaches, allergies, adrenaline, dreams, desires, rage, guns and stones.
How does one witness murder of self by the other, yet invite other-ness home for tea? If one is such an adversary, what comrade would she make? How might we arrive at any future that is not an extension of the games children play, or how they hide their nakedness? Living the moment of resistance is an attempt that seeks the death of memory or its resurrection. This work is part of our ongoing attempts to co-live the routines of resistance, in the hope that it might lead us to the memories which may help us find our way to the streets full of stones.
* * *
Chillai Kalan in Kashmir is the apogee of winter. The mood of the valley turns white and frosty. It snowed heavily last winter, ending a drought of three years. The day after we reached the valley, I woke up to a film of white that spread softly on everything visible and perceived. The perfect calm of the morning was broken only by the sounds of birds. It was easy to ease grasp on memories. To forget, for the moment. I walked out to the tiny kitchen garden and pots, following the sound of shoes and sticks.
Areeba was squatting, etching her name in Urdu on the snow-covered floor with a small wooden handle. She raised her head to look at me and greeted me with a shy smile. She’d met me for the first time and was visibly excited and reserved. Soon enough, she began moving around to collect snow, to make a figurine, I suppose. Samreena, stood watching close by, playing with her at times and striking light conversations, speaking mostly to tease Areeba about her friends and when she was punished in school. Samreena was the neighbours’ daughter, much older to Areeba. She prodded Areeba for attending private tuitions during her winter vacations. To which Areeba replied with a vehement “no”, raising and shaking her head with a raised right hand. Prodding further Samreena quizzed, “boed gaseth kya chui banun?” (what do you want to be when you grow up?). Areeba gave a tight-lipped smile and continued moving around collecting snow. Keen on an answer Samreena tried again, with possible answers. “Doctor cha banun?” (will you be a doctor?) Areeba shook her head in disapproval. “A teacher? Like papa”. She replied with a “nav” (no). Egging further, Samreena suggested, “engineer?”. Areeba carefully looked up and said “awa” (yes!), smiling. We both laughed, I at the predictability of that answer and Samreena at the unique-ness of it. In a coy, yet determined way Areeba interrupted to add, “telli hakhneh beh mujahid baneth” (that’s how I can become a mujahid). I stood perplexed. Samreena guffawed, pressed her index finger between her incisors and let out a bewildered laugh. “Since many militants in the valley today are engineers or were students at engineering colleges, she feels that it’s a natural transition from one to the other”, Samreena explained, coming closer and expressing amazement that Areeba had dwelt on this at all, considering she was just seven.
Areeba, her thoughts on future, her games and aspirations blended harmoniously with snow on the ground, with the quiet-ness around, and the growing hum of maolud shareef from the mosque. Snow-induced forgetfulness in me, even if momentary, was poignantly out-of-context. Beauty and ugliness of Kashmir is intimately woven into the skins of its people, their holidays, their schools, their torture camps, their friskers, rapists and killers.
* * *
Negotiating by-lanes in Kashmiri villages during rains is challenging. Loamy, muddy roads embrace one’s shoes with a characteristic determination of most things Kashmiri. Walking demanded all of one’s attention. My awkwardness came alive when children negotiated snow and mud with sarcastic ease and grace. During one such focused walk across villages in south Kashmir, around Arwani near Bijbehara, we were distracted by a loud banter from an adjoining patch of land. Just as we walked towards it, we heard of “the most exquisite throw, the most perfect aim” (“aai kya chu amis, trath heu. Khatarnag aai!”). Eleven years old Masrat, in a muddy green firan, stood with both arms stretched above her, jubilant while others lunged towards her clapping, cheering, dancing. Little ones stood on the peripheries, watching, with excitement and curiosity. The boy in yellow sneakers exclaimed loudly “hum kya chahte?”. But they weren’t listening. He repeated himself, more forcefully, this time with a contorted face, eyebrows coming together and fist in the air, “hum kya chahte?”. Swiftly, the cries of “Azadi” picked up. Followed by “go India, go back”.
Masrat, evidently is a popular girl among her peers. When we met her, she and her friends were practicing to be “sang baaz” (stone-pelters). Some referred to her as kann-e-machine (the stone machine), a reference to her excellence at pelting stones. They practice every day when they go out to play or swim in the river. At the other end of the field, an inverted, broken bucket supported a log of wood which balanced on its head a stone as big as a fist. It is the “target”, “army wael sund buth” (face of the guy in uniform). “If one hits the stone on the top, one hits the bulls eye!”, explained Rizwan. He added that Shahid and Masrat have most number of hits to their credit. “For a good throw and aim, the right aai (stance) is very crucial”, Masrat explained, flaunting a superior knowledge of the art of stone pelting. She later shared that her elder brothers teach her to throw at varying angles and how to take cover during retaliation. Even though she’s too young to be allowed in the frontlines during protests, she and her gang of friends help with procuring, piling and delivering stones to the ones in front. Talking to us about events was making them re-live cherished, proud moments when they ‘mattered’ and ‘contributed’. “Guel channah asseh te sadan” (bullets hit us too) was Masrat’s reply to a query about her age. She added, “Hindustan chu asseh choab dewan, azaab karan. Aes te chekeh aalaj karan” (“Indians beat us, punish us. So we give them a ‘suitable treatment’”). Her friends chuckled and spoke in agreement. With a keen, unambiguous sense of right and justice. To an impartial and neutral observer, these were possible faces of “indoctrination”, the “hapless victims” of Kashmir’s conflict. To one who wishes to breathe in the air of the ecosystem that’s Kashmir, childhood seems akin to the propensity of molecules seeking affinity to stabilize, for lending meaning to the chaos and finding strength to survive it. There was nothing artificial, unnatural, or illogical about it. These childhoods dissolve and multiply into a society where Masrat hurls stones towards bullets.
A popular game that children in Kashmir love to play is ‘military-mujahid’ or as children call it “mintry-mujahid”. It involves an elaborate ‘war’ between the two sides. Each side designates an end of the village as its territory. There are often bitter quarrels over which side is forced to play the role of Indian army- military. The game lasts an entire day or at times spreads over to an entire week. In the next game, the winning team claims the right to be mujahid. Masrat proudly proclaimed that she’s never had to play military in any of the games she’s played. We watched them play, divide into camps, fight over teams. They brandished their wooden AK-47s, slung on their shoulders, brightly painted green, some professionally prepared by local carpenters, others carved at home. Some of them carried toy stein guns with disco lights that went on and off sparking off sirens and sounds of real gun shots. Mujahids led a small march in the village from gooaer waan (an open space for cattle in the village) to the battle-site, raising slogans of azadi, Burhan wali-azadi, and naara e taqbeer, allahuakbar! Masrat’s weapon was named Burhan Azadi. Other names included Pakistan Zindabad, Hizb, HM, Freedom, with tiny Pakistani flags painted all over. Masrat was chosen the commander of her team. “ba chas area commander” (“I am the area commander”), she told us authoritatively. Shahid was the military commander for Indian forces. They quickly tucked their shirts into their pyjamas and track pants, like the army soldiers. Soon, they all took positions. We split ourselves too, taking sides. What unfolded next was an incredible contest that sliced open the fissures and fault lines of India’s relationship with Kashmir. An ‘armed’ combat erupted between the two parties from across the lane that ran through the village. Projectiles were fired from both ends. Water balloons, followed by mud cakes. Mujahids pelted stones, so did the military. As regards the passersby- some changed their routes, some stood watching/enjoying/cheering, some others took sides, one or two commanded them to stop and threatened to complain, while a few requested safe passage. Between duty and duty, passion and passion, mud and water balloons, guns and guns lay the street. The proverbial no-mans-land. But to those hurling mud and taking shelter from air-borne water balloons, the lane seemed to have evaporated from visual and mental horizons. Middle paths often display such qualities/peculiarities. They appear only when they vanish. Or vice-versa.
Shrill firing sounds of dah-dah-dah-dah, dsh-dsh-dsh-dsh were made by each side. The battle-field had come alive. It seemed like an even contest. Slogans were the choicest weapons of mujahids while the other side seemed devoid of such artillery. They struggled to improvise their urdu, hurling abuses they’re familiar with, steaking it with half-baked hindi: “maaro saale ko”, “mas pakdo”, “calling karo”, “yed main maaro”, “bahenchod Kashmiri”, “urgarvaadi”, “tum kutte ho”. Mujahids retaliated with “Indian dogs go back”, “pakdo/maaro bihari ko”, “bharat teri maut aayi, lashkar aayi, lashkar aayi”.
Contest escalated to use of kosh-bombs (prepared with saw dust wrapped in polythenes) which led to a temporary dust storm causing much commotion in the army camp. They retaliated like-wise. One of them slipped and fell onto the street, the no-mans-land. Masrat, Shahid, Rafia, Nuzhat and Rizwan lunged to drag him into their camp. He was a ‘prisoner of war’. They thrashed him as he tried to run, poking him with their AK-47s and asking him to surrender. They tied him to a tree, while one mujahid kept watch. After an arduous hour, he wriggled out of there, by cutting the thin string that tied him to the tree, barely keeping his clothes but lost a sock and shoe!
Intriguingly, just as the sound of prayers from the mosque grew, there was a ceasefire. A mutually agreed thaw. Both sides regrouped. Mujahids formed a queue and marched through the village to an elevated land they called teng. They sat in a file, with one in front, leading the prayers. They offered nimaz, but couldn’t remember the suras, or the number of rakus, sajdas, or qiyaams. The younger ones were poorly synchronized, struggling to keep up, looking to the bigger ones for guidance. Four mujahids stood guard at the foot of the platform, brandishing their weapons, to ward off any attack from the army. They pushed away onlookers and requested them to not disrupt their prayers. Villagers laughed at their pretensions and joked about the way Shaista (the youngest of them) sat in nimaz. As they stood up and marched back, the contest resumed. Military men took positions and gave commands to attack. Just then, Shahid commanded, “thahar! goel mat chalav!” (hold fire!), so mujahids could take positions too. A righteous military commander, invoking an ethics of war considered most dangerous and disastrous by those who know all, little or nothing about military and commanding. That ethics can get one killed is one abiding lesson from Karbala and Mahabharat, among other stories/treatises, that we’ve all learnt well.
Yet here they were, the rules-abiding citizens of Kashmir, playing what might well be their national game. Playing by the rules, the game without rules. Games of nations, like games of children, must follow rules. At least the ones that can not/must not be broken. For if they don’t, the game never ends.
The battle went on for many hours. After the nimaz break, they took a lunch break, tea break, tuition break, and finally retired into the night after a last, late evening stand-off. One of the mujahids was attacked while on his way to the tuition teacher’s home. He fought valiantly, but his face, hair and firan got plastered with mud brought in polythenes and hidden in pockets. Two from the military camp were captured by the other side. They were beaten, made to prostrate on their haunches, and their weapons seized. Mujahids had won the game. The team lifted their commander on their shoulders and took out a victory jaloos (procession). Masrat waved to a visibly cheerful, indulgent neighbourhood. Fayaz soab, who had been a keen onlooker during the day, invited us to his house for the night. He told us that some years ago, while playing this game, children had hung a local boy by a drawstring to the tree (“yazar doer-e-seth dechehes faes”). He was the commander of the army camp. Luckily, villagers caught glimpse of it and rescued the boy. “They play with such passion!”, he laughed with an unmistakable sense of pride. We watched Masrat’s video on youtube, performing ragda, with her characteristic fervor. We were told it had gone viral. It wasn’t hard to imagine why.
* * *
Last July, while we sat around dastaar khwan sipping nun chai, clapping to little Eram jaan’s rendition of partho gilass kul ni tal and breaking into locally baked-on-order kandi kulcha, it was as transcendent an evening as any other. Towards sun down we received a call from a friend in Yaripora (Kulgam), that Burhan Wani had been killed in an encounter in Bemdoora, near Kokernaag, “your area” (tuhendis aalakas manz), he said. He continued to add “mukhbirao! Nav devev kued kahn, na neev kued kahn, yaad theizev” (“You informers! Remember, neither will we offer a hand in marriage, nor take one from you all”) We were all shocked to know this. Not least because we didn’t know that militants these days didn’t last a year. But because Burhan had ceased to be a person long time ago. We were only about ten kilometers away from there. All the faces in the room became grim and soon grew pale. We could feel the air grow cold and lights go out as the sun set on the valley. Baaji (being the eldest in the house), moved around slowly, gathering wares for making dinner arrangements, working hard to lend a semblance of normalcy to the household. Anyone who knew anything about Kashmir and its people, knew Burhan well. Videos of Burhan were often flaunted by Kashmiri youth. He was an entity of pride, faith and hope for Kashmiris. The ‘rock-star’ who had the jigar to show his face to the world and deliver their message in unambiguous words. Many eyes welled up as we sat in the kitchen in silence that was broken only by the frequent calls coming in and going out to ascertain the event and circumstances of his death. An absolute communication blackout followed for days after. Protests erupted instantly.
Next day we were on our way out to join a group of women and men walking towards the nearest town to be part of a protest march and eventually move towards Tral, Burhan’s hometown. Since curfew was in place, it was obvious that all roads to Tral had been blocked. But when have curfews deterred protests in this valley where death is rarely the end of anything? While heading out, we were confronted by our twelve years old neighbor we called Filory, who we found weeping by the gate. As we went up to her, she demanded to know how she can join the militants. She wanted to “kill them all” and take revenge (“Meh te chu gasun mujahiden saeth. Beh maarakh yem sarei”). “I too want to become a militant, please tell me how to”. Sobbing, she murmured, “meaine burhaanow behaw lagai balai” (“My Burhan! My life for you!”). Without waiting for an answer, she wiped her tears and walked along towards the protest.
If you kill someone in your mind, how would you meet them outside of it?
As we walked, she shouted slogans, yelled abuses towards gunmen in uniforms and punched the air above with anger and exasperation. The roads were blockaded after a juncture and state’s-men stood in riot gear. Young boys ran towards the barricade to break it, Filory ran too. Her father ran after her. She found a stick and hit two personnel with it. One of them ran after her. She was quick, but he was overbearing. He hit her with his lathi. Her father grabbed her, a woman and a boy joined in arguing and pushing the CRPF jawan back. Filory was brought back, where the rest of the crowd stood sloganeering.
What happens if you do carry a gun in your mind and if you are a militant in your head?
How much do the minds of Kashmiri people matter? If they do, then India is dead many times over in Kashmir. If they don’t, how can their being ‘militants in their minds’ provoke lethal state response?
At night, we returned, exhausted and enthused. Anantnag saw protests like never before. “Khabar ket peth aes lukh aameth” (“Wonder where so many people came from”), said Bashir soab, Filory’s father. “Nov zu chaav tehreekas” (“new life was breathed into the movement today”). She affirmed to her father, “waen rukao aes teli yeli aazadei yiyeh” (“this time we’ll not stop until we get freedom”).
* * *
“There was a time when militants used to march around in the streets and women would sing wanwun, showering flowers while walking along with them. I have seen such times, even though I was very young then”. Nazia spoke reflecting on memories that sometimes make her scream with horror in her dreams. She struggled to shape it into sentences: “as I grew up, we saw the terror that engulfed our lives. Numerous army camps came up all across the valley. Each nurtured a reputation of terror and impunity. Medals and rewards were showered on officers who killed. It was a competition. I can’t wipe off sights of mutilated bodies dumped in our village. Such barbarity, such terror. What can I say about it now? How do I describe what we went through? Tohe kya chu wuchmuth, yeti aes aanegaet (you’ll never understand. It’s never happened to you, the way it happened to us).”
She kept thinking of ways to let us smell the stench of rotten flesh or hear the cries of the tortured and the wailing of their mothers. She decided instead to speak of what stench and cries could do. “My cousin’s son, Adil, was so petrified of mid-night raids, all the beating and burning that he stopped sleeping at night since he was fourteen. To this day, he’s never slept at night. His friend had been taken by the army, brutally tortured and his body dumped in the forest. Adil saw his body, three weeks after he was taken, rotting in the forest. His skull was cracked, nails pulled out, bruised and mutilated body. He was just a schoolboy, studying in class ten. Adil was traumatized for months. He stopped eating, going to school or meeting with friends. Since then, he hasn’t slept at night.” She withdrew to adjust the stole over her head, her face still shaking with images of fear and her eyes vivid with recollections. She got up to check on her younger son Yasir who sat towards the other end of the L-shaped kitchen, working his way through mathematics. She asked him to fetch lavas for tea. He left immediately, almost gleefully.
“Those days many men left to join the militants and crossed LoC to get weapons and training”, Nazia continued. “I joined too” (“be te drayas, kalas chenirekh kareth”), she said with a subdued laugh, as she picked up crumbs from the carpet beneath.
Nazia lives with her husband and two sons in a village near Sopore. She had joined the Hizb-ul-Mujahiddin (HM) even before her college days. “Like many others, I was moved by the call for Azadi” she said with a clear, penetrating gaze that reflected the natural-ness of her response. “Those days were different, optimistic. There was such passion for freedom. We felt as if independence was just around the corner. I too joined the upsurge” (“algei waqhtah ous, junoon ous. Basan ous az ya pagah gasse aazaedi. Be baethe drayas”). With typical paternalism and livedlessness of an outsider, I asked if she was ever scared. “Yes, of course. We were all scared. Fear was all around us, all the time. But I was doing something to fight”, she said, revealing the myopia of popular visions of Kashmir. Fear in Kashmir isn’t a moment or feeling, or even a consequence of one’s actions, it’s like time. You don’t live in or out of it. You are, and It is. It is one’s shallow breath, twitching nerves, bilious insides, tingling skin, eyes that stay open at night and ears that hear sounds of silence. Drowning this silence in the beats of a heart that’s heard in the throat becomes a way to survive. A natural way.
Joining HM was part of the process, “it wasn’t like I was clear about working with them. I didn’t know much about the organization. But they were the only ones fighting in our area” Nazia spoke with an alertness that helped me visualize what she might have been. She wasn’t interested in advancing up the ranks. “I simply wanted to help. To contribute”. She knew her cousin was in contact with the area commander of the outfit. She approached him and expressed her urge to work. He reprimanded her and told her that women are not suited for this kind of work. “He told me you’ll be jeopardizing their cover since you’re silly and too young” explained Nazia. “It wasn’t because women weren’t doing that sort of work, there were numerous such women. He said so because I was his cousin and it would earn our family a bad name in the village” she added since she had the social math worked out. “Women are not desired in certain kinds of work. If your father is alive, he shouldn’t let his daughter get into this” (“kodeh ma che lagan, ath kaane. Lukh kya wannen. Mol jannatgar agar zinde aasheh sumah dehee che ye karneh”). Her father kept trying to stop her, when he did get to know about it. “I was always difficult, even as a child. I couldn’t tolerate injustice. My mother would tell you that her hair greyed because of me…I would always pick up fights”, she said, smiling at that memory. So when parents, relatives, siblings demanded that she stop, Nazia didn’t. “It was a duty call” (“ban heh ti, be naerhanh, ye ous aalaw, saarnei”), she explained, as a matter of fact, common sense.
She didn’t seem upset or revolted by her cousin’s assessment. Instead, she appeared sympathetic. “I understand what he meant. It was for my good. Nonetheless, I persisted. I was young and stubborn”. There was a reflection in her voice that answered injustice with thoughtfulness. She said she understood. The battles within and without. Her fights with her family increased and she almost stopped visiting her relatives. “It was tough, to work without much acknowledgement and rewards. My friends who worked with me praised my skills and encouraged me often. That was enough.” Fighting the terror/monster one meets every day seeks salience over lurching injustices. She didn’t choose one over the other. Between life, dignity and justice it’s an impossible choice. What is striking about being a woman is that our bodies/acts/thoughts are the fulcrum where massive structures of family, society, cultures, nations and states stay hinged. The source, the conduit and the destination. Each act/thought is the life force for all of these structures. Conversely, each battle bruises all of them. One might be choosing one’s battles, but winning one and losing the others is not an option. Not a real one. Even though that’s the one we exercise every day.
Nazia approached HM through a friend of her friend’s who ran a shaal kaem (shawl weaving) centre in the neighbouring village. She joined her as an apprentice and gradually began helping her with delivery work. She would deliver letters, coded messages, fake identity cards, and information of various kinds. Gradually she began being approached for managing hideouts for militants in the locality, corroborating identities of individuals, voicing her suspicion of particular individuals who could be possible informers. She felt proud at being reliable, honest and courageous. They recognized it and she was satisfied. Amid fears and frenzy of her routines, she felt calm and rested. Delivering AK-47s, hand grenades and Kalashnikovs to desired locations were her regular assignments. “I used to carry weapons in my burqa and once had to use a basket full of cow dung to smuggle out weapons”, Nazia recalled with a smile. “I had to be quick, they were coming to search the house. So I hid them in cow dung and walked out to the fields”. She did this successfully for three years.
Nazia began knotting her stole as she re-visited the night that still brings back horrific memories. At that moment, I loathed myself for asking her to share with us those memories she’s been evading/neglecting for over a decade. I asked her to stop, requesting her to continue only if she wanted to. She replied “kath gasse wannen saerei” (“a story must be told in its entirety”) with humbling honesty. She embraced the consequences of her valor with the dignity of a martyr. The God of Azadi must be a proud one.
“One winter, I had arranged shelter for four militants in a nearby village. I stayed on in the same house that night since it got late and very cold. I couldn’t sleep well, had a fever and cough. Around 3 a.m. I sensed some movement and quickly alerted everyone. Army (Rashtriya Rifles) surrounded the entire village and cordoned off the house they were in. Fortunately, militants managed to escape but one got shot in the leg. Army men later killed him and burnt the entire house down. They took me by my hair, dragged me into the van and drove away”. Villagers gathered and ran after the vehicle to rescue her. She was taken to the nearby army camp and was “mercilessly and repeatedly beaten, molested, tortured”. “My clothes were torn and I became unconscious after a couple of hours”. In the evening, because of the intervention by locals, she was released. They questioned her repeatedly and asked for locations, hideouts, identifications of certain militants, etc. She mentioned proudly and repeatedly that she didn’t tell them anything. “A woman gave her firan to me when they came to take me away”, said Nazia with her gaze fixed on mine. She didn’t betray her comrades.
Nazia’s life has been difficult since. A different kind of difficult. Ever since she’d decided to fight, the battles kept multiplying. “Police and army used to frequently barge into our house, threaten my younger sisters and brother, harass my parents and keep a close watch on my family” and “they would also frequently threaten her parents if they didn’t cooperate”. The everydayness of such harassment, suspicion and surveillance that her family went through because of her “broke her back” (“zanneh futum kam. Sakkath ruz neh path kehn”). She spoke with a lump in her voice, looked up, gazed far through the window and fiddled with her toenails. Her family drifted away from her, since her siblings, especially her younger sister blamed her. Her father passed away two years later. She faced immense difficulty finding a husband. Her sisters too. “Here it is difficult for a woman to find a good match if it’s known that she was picked up”, she explained. “I knew it then, but I didn’t care. Who knows what that means until you face it? I was young and burning up from inside”. “After what happened with me, I didn’t think anyone would marry me”. “Earlier lots of men used to propose to me and had expressed their desire to marry me. I turned them down”. Six years later she married her cousin, who was kind enough to accept her as his wife. “He’s a religious man. He has never discussed any of this with me after we married”. She says she has no regrets and still supports the movement in her heart. “Kashmir must be free. They don’t belong here. It’s our home”. She has to work hard to feed her family since her husband doesn’t have a steady job. She says there were many such women who gave up normal lives and risked so much to be part of the movement.
“My khuda knows what I have in my heart (“khuda chu zaanan dillan hend haal”), and he has rewarded me. I have two sons and an honest husband. I have always done what I thought was right and just. We have little but we live with dignity”. The silent dignity of a tombstone, standing guard at the grave of a she-soldier. An adult she-soldier, not a little one like Areeba, or Masrat, or Filory. Not slain, not vanquished, but shamed. A-shamed-she-soldier.
Would she be willing to participate in the same way again? “I’m a married woman now. There are other younger ones out there. I have responsibilities towards my children and husband. I’ve done my part.”
What place do martyrs hold for a movement? The living ones. Nazia doesn’t deserve a burial, but an Urs. How must Kashmir sing for its liberation, the songs Lal Ded left behind? A new generation of women fanafilas is humming to put together another hymn for our times. Hope their movement and people are ready when they are. Hope between Nazia and Areeba enough would have changed.
* * *
Social movements are rarely, if ever, neat processes. Resistance is a social churning that can not/must not be pruned. It’s wild. Of all shapes, shades and motivations. It thrives among masses and is sculpted through constant chiselling. Kashmiris know well how to speak truth to power. So when Farooqa baaji heckled the area commander of the Hizbul Mujhaddin in her village and dragged him out by his collars, she displayed a commitment to the movement that many of its flag bearers forget to mention.
HM by 1993 was a popular force, supported by many. People helped them in all the ways they could. “They would often come, groups of five, at times even ten or twelve, and we would feed them, give them shelter and keep them safe. They were like my sons. Some as young as fifteen years, younger than my son was then”, says Farooqa baaji, who is now fifty-eight years old. This was common. Most families in the village were supportive and cooperative. “They are fighting for us after all, why wouldn’t we”.
“But when we are risking our lives every day to save theirs, they must not cross certain boundaries”, she affirmed with a sure tone of righteousness. “One night they came into Mushtaq soab’s house. He lives down the lane. One of them made unwelcome advances towards one of his daughters. She resisted and next day told her mother about it. She was understandably upset and scared. Those days were terrifying. Incidents of militants killing for petty reasons weren’t few. People were too petrified to refuse them anything. Some of them were kind, genuine but some few were rowdy (“mawael”), aiming to settle scores or looking for instant power. One had to be careful. How does one just question men with guns? Temow dabow masslei (They suppressed the entire issue). They hoped it wouldn’t happen again. But he started stalking her, sending messages, threatening her with consequences if she didn’t agree for marriage. He did unspeakable things to our young daughter. The family was distraught and going through much trauma. This was outrageous and unacceptable.” Farooqa baaji revealed a face of militancy many are uncomfortable talking about. The loose ends of the movement. They need to be identified, corrected, purged. They could lend coherence to the movement and its ideals by laying bare the perfectly unwanted. By drawing the lines.
“When a group of militants came to my house, with the area commander, I picked him up by the collar, hit him, and dragged him out of my house (“meh dech temis naalas thaph, tongur tulum athas keth wael maes ze preth, te kodum garre neber”) I didn’t care if they shot me, I had daughters in the house and even though I supported the militants always, I wasn’t willing to risk my daughters’ lives”. He was furious, but wanted to know what made her angry. “By then the neighbours had gathered. I told them they are not welcome in our village since one of their men was responsible for harassing a girl who was like a daughter to me. I threatened him to never return to our village”. She did it with the hope that they would see it as a genuine criticism of the movement she has always supported. As an insider. “But I was scared. What if he shoots me in anger?”, she confessed. She convinced the entire village and the nearby villages to do the same. To not offer help, sanctuary and support to the militants if and when they came. They complied. Three days later, they found the dead and mutilated body of that militant in the local market. His penis had been chopped off and he was shot in the head. “HM announced public apology from the mosques and sought forgiveness. They assured that their organization does not support such behaviour and would deal with such acts in the strictest possible manner”. That went a long way in cementing HM’s position in the area and its popularity remains unparalleled. Farooqa baaji stood up to HM long before Kashmiri youth questioned Hurriyat and its almighties.
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Shanida baaji has been waiting twelve years for her son to return home. She lives with her ailing husband in Dooru, Shahbad. “It was Eid time when he went missing (“Eiz aes, ze duh rudmeth”). He had gone out with friends to Anantnag market for Eid shopping and was going to be back by evening. There was army deployment on the way at the checkpoint near the notorious army camp at Larkipora. It was the most dreaded camp of this entire area. They were making passengers get down from the buses and asking them to crawl. A truck driver didn’t stop his vehicle and charged through the cordon. They shot at him and killed him on the spot. In the chaos that followed, they lashed out at others and hit them with rifle butts, kicked and spat on them. They picked up my son Zaheer and one of his friends Younus and dragged them inside the camp. That’s all that I know about what happened to my son. Since that day, I have been to several camps, petitioned the army, police, and everyone who I thought might have an idea. But nobody told me anything. The camp officials said he was never here! But his friends and other villagers saw them being dragged inside”. Shanida baaji spoke with tears and resignation as she held out Zaheer’s photograph. A young and smiling Zaheer with his sister at the nearby spring.
“It was known about that camp, anyone who went inside never got out. Never alive. Our two daughters are married. We miss our son every moment. Our life is a shame, a curse (“laanat, zillat”). He was in class twelve and wanted to be a doctor. Meun jiger, Meun gubur”, she kisses his photograph. “I can’t sleep for nights if I imagine what he must have gone through”, she adds wiping off tears with one end of her stole.
There are more than twenty thousand such mothers in Kashmir waiting to hear about their sons. Shanida baaji told us that they have heard of girls too who have disappeared, but most often their parents don’t like to pursue it since missing daughters can be cause for infamy for the family. A girl in their locality was taken inside the camp, but she was returned when locals refused to burn the corpse of a man killed inside the camp, until they let her off. “Many families are suffering like ours. Many women (mothers, wives, sisters, daughters) have taken cases to the court. I’ve fought legal battles for information about my son. You must have heard of Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP), they have shamed Indian army in Kashmir. Mother’s like me, our heartaches, our curses will mark the end of this cruel, oppressive rule in Kashmir. You’ll see.” “Zaheer soab will return some day, I’m sure. His mother will be waiting for him right here”. “Zulm chuneh zyadeh kalas challan kehn” (“oppression doesn’t have a long life”). She spoke with well-researched belief, summoning all the stories she knew that made up history. She was certain her anguish, curses, prayers would count for something. After all, she’d spent all her waking hours and numerous nimaz hours focusing her sadness and anger towards the camp that consumed her son. The constant pain at the back of her head was proof of her telepathic/mystic accomplishments. “Each time army suffers a setback”, she affirmed, “she has a part to play in it”. The mystic she-soldier of Kashmir. The resistance of a nation that still believes that hearts and minds matter. They could hurt, just as well as they healed. The mind-guns (not Pakistan sponsored) of a nation of broken hearts. Many mothers in Kashmir believe these are the ‘frontlines of resistance’.
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Farooqa baaji spoke of the past decades rather poetically, “Aes chu wuchmuth taaf te bae shuhul te” (“we’ve stood witness to the sun and the shade”). Those women we encounter in popular media, young school girls, faces covered and defiantly bare, hurling stones and abuses, tell stories of the ways in which generations in Kashmir live in/as resistance. A matter of three generations, three nations and three ravenous decades. Decades that ensured Nazia, Farooqa and Shanida baaji grow to be young Areeba, Masrat and Filory. The routines of their resistance lend meanings and worth to the spectacular. Not that one need always refer to the ordinary to write about women, but it’s only in the lived-ness of resistance that one can begin to surmise about its health and longevity. The vocabulary and imaginations of Kashmiri resistance must reflect its routines which have kept it alive in ways only lovers know to survive. The routines of gendered nations’ gendered violence, gendered fear, and gendered dreams, including the ones for Azadi cannot propel gender blind ideas. The questions have already been posed, many times over. Yet again, another generation chooses their battles. Or maybe they’ll redraw the battle lines this time. For definitely there’s an essential unity that fuses jihad-e-asghar and jihad-e-akbar. In fact, one might be meaningless without the other. These aren’t questions of presence, recognition or representation, they are attempts and demands to state the obvious and perceive the visible. That a tehreek that’s nourished by the life, death and dreams of its people, must strive to be better than what it fights. Better than all that exists.♦