The book brings together the conversational side of Kashmir’s history, of individual lives and their stories of what transpired, the daily happenings that may have seemed insignificant then that makes and shapes our history now, writes Natasha Rather.
Senior journalist Zahir ud Din’s book Bouquet, A Tribute to the Unsung Heroes of Kashmir was a book I couldn’t put down. One, it is full of captivating stories about people who put up a relentless resistance at different points in time against oppression in Kashmir. Secondly, it made me ponder over the state of oblivion my generation is living in. Many in my age group do not know such brave hearts had existed and fought with grace and determination.
I belong to a generation that grew up witnessing the armed insurgency during the nineties and we still continue to witness that era in killings, disappearances, torture, incarcerations and many other violations of human rights. I grew up in an environment where we normalized violence and bloodshed. In fact, the absence of violence seemed bizarre. I never asked questions although I always wondered. It never occurred that one should question the state of violence rather than the absence of it. I did not understand these ideas. When I was restricted to my home in 2008, during the civilian uprising caused by the Amarnath Land row, what started as an annoyance for those who were out on the streets protesting and also getting killed, swiftly turned into adoration for their courage. It was a time of political awakening for many youngsters. For a few years after 2008, I thought that this was the only time people protested with such vigour and determination. In 2016, something similar happened with those among the youngsters who were growing up. People like me were obviously ignorant and oblivious to what has transpired many years and decades back.
Today, after reading books and articles which shed light on the past resistance, youth like me are engrossed in this question, that why no one told us that our elders have created examples of courage and resilience. Perhaps due to our education system, we are taught the history of others and not our own. We are taught a compromised, distorted and confused version of our past history and identity. Now the question is how we can, as a society, counter this institutionalized obfuscation and confusion.
The obvious answer is that we write our own history and our own stories. As Kashmiris, we are fed with distortions every day and when a lie is repeated too often, it starts sounding like the truth. It is in these circumstances that it becomes our prerogative to preserve the truth by presenting an alternate and actual history – a history that truly represents what we have been through as a people, as a community and who we are. It is increasingly important because we are a people who are struggling and we need to chronicle our daily experiences of oppression and daily acts of resistance to it. And also because we need to know that the issues that we are facing now have been presenting themselves in varied forms and intensities in the past and are quite likely to present them in the future. It is important to preserve our true history so that our younger generations will learn from the experiences of our elders.
History is for posterity. It is important for future generations to understand the circumstances that have shaped our existence. But there is an obvious side of history – the one that talks about facts, dates, figures and events that shape the future of a people. Then there is also the other side of history that is often hidden and obscure. That is the conversational side of history, of individual lives and their stories of what transpired, the daily happenings that may have seemed insignificant then that makes and shapes our history now. In the reminiscing and writing about great events and happenings, we often forget about the individuals who existed in the middle of these events and whose individual ideas, conversations, decisions and actions shaped the course of the great events and influenced the future.
We are people who always resisted and our history is replete with individual stories of resistance, hard work, survival and sacrifice. Unfortunately, these people are anonymous and often forgotten. People who are anonymous are no less important than the ones whose names recur in our written and oral history. This book successfully brings to us, such forgotten heroes. The preface of this book says, “Our elders have fought and offered sacrifices”. Indeed Kashmiris have been brutalised, tortured, incarcerated, exiled and killed. But these were ordinary people who were resolute and determined. Their stories are extraordinary - not to be forgotten but to be remembered and celebrated by future generations.
During my own work with the mass rape and torture survivors of Kunan Poshpora, I have learned that preserving memory gives power to our struggle. Forgetting benefits the oppressor, not the oppressed. We must remember, speak up, and enlighten each other with endless tales of our struggle and survival. These memories, however agonizing or distressing they may be, must inspire and invigorate our struggle.
It is not just now that we are resisting. The present struggle is the inheritance of the struggle of our elders who in very difficult times when there was hardly any media or social media, carried forward the struggle. From Dogra rule to the present struggle, Kashmiris have consistently offered ethical resistance against aggressors. But unfortunately, the struggle has been compartmentalised in various eras and there is a disconnect between resistances of different times. There should have been a continuance in the discourse of resistance. We still have people who write or say without thinking that “when the movement started in 1989”. This book is an important piece of work which should be read by all those who care about the political struggle of Kashmir and correct their references for the start of the movement. The movement did not start in 1989. It started even before India emerged as an independent country and continued when India annexed Kashmir by force.
I am particularly inspired by the lives of Mohammed Yusuf Khan, Allah Rakha Sagar, Khawaja Saad ud din Shawl and Muhammed Subhan Hajam who led politically active lives and dreamed of a free Kashmir. As a woman, I am inspired to read about stories of women like Buhroo Begum of Baramulla, who used her Kangri as her weapon but was killed while participating in a rally against the excesses of the Dogra rulers after 13th July 1931. There is the story of Fatima from Islamabad, who was known in the town for participating in pro-freedom and anti-Dogra processions. She was killed during one the processions taken out during the Quit Kashmir movement of 1946.
We may have forgotten these people, but their lives have shaped the history and future of Kashmir. Reading this book made me realise that resistance is a legacy that we Kashmiris just carry forward. It is not something that we suddenly and magically imbibed. It is part of our collective conscious and we shall continue to be the same way probably for generations to come.
This effort is not small and our present and future generations will remain indebted to Zahir ud Din for bringing back to life the pioneering resistance of our elders. ♦