Words in between
AUGUST 4, 2020 9.24 AM, central India
I woke up early in the morning – earlier than usual – because of the social media posts I saw on Twitter and Instagram. I was texting with Shirin, who lives in Srinagar, Kashmir to check how the Eid celebrations were. She said, “Same. Barbed wires, checkpoints and what not.”
Minutes later I checked with Bazila too. She lives in North Kashmir where spatial occupation and the military presence is denser than in the city.
“I read about the curfew. I hope you are safe,” I said.
“Thank you. Haan today there was military right outside our gate. I just hope protests don’t happen because they’ll for sure kill people. They look very angry. Like they are ready and trained for the 5th. Dekhte hain kya hota hai (let us see what happens),” she replied.
On August 5, 2019, the Parliament of India had unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s nominal autonomy effectively putting an entire population under siege to facilitate a militarised and masculinist annexation. “It’s for their own good”, “it’s just a temporary lockdown”, “they are an integral part of us now”, “their land and women are ours now” were some of the things said by so-called leaders.
AUGUST 4, 2020 8.30 PM
Disintegration at Gunpoint, an exhaustive report and witness to the siege by the Kashmir Reading Room was launched today. At their launch event, an eminent professor in Kashmir says what they – They, the fascist state – did “was inexpressible, unspeakable, made me almost mad. We could not stop the mutilation of our motherland, our mauj kasheer (mother Kashmir).” She tears up during her concluding thoughts. I don’t think I have ever seen a professor cry in a panel discussion.
AUGUST 5, 2020 7.47 AM, still in central India
No communication with interlocutors. I did not want to intrude in these heavy moments and perhaps the internet too is either slow or shut down in some parts of Kashmir.
I simply could not sleep all night. I must have slept after 2 AM and woke up around 6.30 AM. I sense these bodily tensions are August 5 anxieties building up. I am in contact with so many Kashmiri friends and research interlocutors, and listening to what they are going through. Research as feeling and a form of affective intimacy perhaps. And then, today They – in the middle of the pandemic, perhaps because it is a pandemic – are laying the foundation stone of the contentious Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. On the day of the first year since They put an entire kaum (a nation, its people) under siege.
I really cannot get myself to watch the news today (like most other days) or be on social media. Moment after moment, it feels like a total erasure of this country we were told was our home.
AUGUST 6, 2020 12.18 PM, central India
Yesterday marked a year since the complete annexation of Kashmir, even as They laid the foundation of the temple. A nation built on dead bodies of its inhabitants. There is so much pent up in me, it’s hard to explain. A large part of yesterday was spent on social media ranting, posting and then crying. It is in over six months that I have cried so much. It relieved the heaviness in my body but I do not think I can cultivate any hope for this land now. Perhaps just run away? Every moment here today feels suffocating. How do you write a eulogy for a dead country?
Some of my interlocutors were very active on social media, sharing whatever they could about contextualising and historicising Kashmir and the subsequent military occupation. Such important and courageous work, and maybe only justice and rallying together for a just world can truly liberate us.
I hung a black dupatta as a sign of protest yesterday in my balcony, facing the main street. This is all I could do because my mother is already scared of being socially ostracised. We didn’t bang pots and pans, light lamps or participate in half-hour blackout to shoo corona away as They told us to. So the black dupatta is all I have.
Really though, how do you write a eulogy for a dead country?
SEPTEMBER 15, 2020 3.17 PM, Baramulla, Kashmir
I spent the day with Tara roaming around in Baramulla town in North Kashmir. Tara is my age and works in the media. She is an independent woman and nominated head of her household. It was by chance that Tara and I met but our friendship has evolved generously in a short period of time. Today, we met a middle-aged woman, an acquaintance who invited us over for a cup of chai. We are looking at the mountains from her house when she says, “sab hai yahaan, bas sukoon hi nahi” (there is everything here but calm).
Before heading back to Srinagar, Tara and I decide to stop at a corner shop for tea. It is a small wagon being managed by a young man with a glass eye. After checking about the halaat (roughly translated to: conditions) in town, Tara asks him, what happened to his eye? “I was hit by a rubber bullet. I was just caught in a middle of a protest some years ago.” On the other side of the road I see an armoured vehicle full of soldiers, their prying eyes and guns, going around for a routine round-up.
On our way back, we pass big military camps sheltered behind concertina wires which casually spill onto the road, creating temporary blockade. Only the dogs can go near the wire spools or attempt to move them from blocking. Graffitied on one of the camp walls: “mazhab nahi sikhata aap mein bair rakhna” (religions don’t teach enmity). These are lines from Allama Iqbal’s ode to pre-Partition Hindustan. Urdu lines by a poet of Kashmiri descent who is widely revered in Pakistan, outside an Indian military camp in Kashmir under occupation. Political oppression and its myriad ironies! Perhaps here lies the space for subversion?
Tara is dejected throughout our journey. At one point she tears up thinking of the young man with a glass eye and the thousands of people who have been murdered or maimed in this conflict. Maiming and slow death as a method of protracting a military occupation and its bodily effects? It was just two days ago when a friend recalled his experiences of tiptoeing around issues of blinding and political violence with his best friend who was blinded in one eye after a pellet injury. “We have been best friends for long but what the occupation has done is it’s also taken away our ability to talk freely about what concerns us most,” he said, followed by a lingering silence.
I hold Tara’s hand. For the rest of the journey, we sit in silence in this transient space of shared intimacy and solidarity.
SEPTEMBER 20, 2020 8.00 PM, Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir
Tara and I are on the bank of the Dal gazing at the gorgeous moon in a dark sky, despite the distracting paramilitary camp lights on Shankarcharya hill. Tara and I are talking about god. It’s mostly Tara talking and me listening because I have never had much to say about god. Says Tara, “zulm hamesha nahi rehta lekin ye hai ki zaalim ka zulm sehna is a sin” (violence does not remain forever but to bear the violence of those violating is a sin). “It is also a sin because you have to stand for your right. Whatever is your right, ok? But here in Kashmir when you stand for your right, you either get killed or nothing happens because no one will listen to you. So we have this hope that one day, there will be something and we’ll have what we believe in, of course we believe in Allah and we just believe that Allah will show us a miraculous day when we will get freedom,” she says.
“Insha Allah,” both of us remark.
“What keeps you going?” I ask.
“Love. Humanity’s capacity to love and experience joy despite the struggles,” she says.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 12.28 AM, somewhere in central Kashmir
It is past midnight but Tara and I are still talking about life, living, violence and carrying on. I try to pick up our discussion on love and struggle that we engaged in three days ago. Before I can say anything, she interjects, “Do you remember the powerful lines of a poem by Rahat Indori, who passed away recently? Those lines were shared a lot on social media. Inn lines mein na sab kuch inhone sameta hai (he has gathered everything in those lines).”
“Yes, he and I come from the same town. I have read his work,” I respond and pick up my phone to look up the lines that Tara is referring to. I find them and hand over my phone to Tara for her to read aloud. “I can’t read Hindi, so you read and the verses will come back to me,” she says. I offer to look for the poem in Urdu but she insists they will come back to her.
It is past midnight and pindrop silence outside, except for a bark or two from the stray dogs in this locality. Nevertheless, we recite aloud:
अगर ख़िलाफ़ हैं होने दो, जान थोड़ी है (if they are against it let them be, it’s not life)
ये सब धुआँ है कोई आसमान थोड़ी है (this is all smoke, and not the sky)
लगेगी आग तो आएँगे घर कई ज़द में (when there is fire, many houses will burn together)
यहाँ पे सिर्फ़ हमारा मकान थोड़ी है … (it is not simply our house that is here)
सभी का ख़ून है शामिल यहाँ की मिट्टी में (everyone’s blood is part of this earth)
किसी के बाप का हिन्दोस्तान थोड़ी है (Hindustan is not something they own)
All names used are pseudonyms to uphold confidentiality
Niharika Pandit is a PhD researcher at LSE Department of Gender Studies and an editorial collective member of Engenderings. Niharika’s research is an anticolonial feminist inquiry into everyday politics of living under military occupation in the Kashmir Valley where she delves into questions of space, time, embodiment and counterpolitics in relation to coloniality and militarism. She enjoys narrative writing and storytelling.