Kashmir, of dreams and nightmares

by Burhan Qureshi

Blurred Memories.  photo credit: Huma Dar, 2006
Blurred Memories. photo credit: Huma Dar, 2006

My mother comes from a sleepy village in north Kashmir.  It is, indeed, picturesque.  At times when she sits me down and tells me the stories of her childhood, she takes me into a dreamland.  Her house there is on a hillock, a gushing clear stream runs at its foothills.  There are vast fields on either side of the road.  She tells me of the orchard where the finest apples grow, of the walnut trees in her garden that she used to climb (in fact, she taught me how to eat the raw, green colored walnuts, which if you know the trick, taste even better).  And when she tells me that she used to swim in that stream, my heart skips a beat.  I fall in love with her all over again.

I picture my mother: a little girl, climbing a tree, comforting herself into its extended arms and relishing those walnuts.  Or running around the trees in the orchard, joyfully wasting all the time at her disposal.  At times I picture her with her sisters, running down, the hillock, which used to be her haunt.  Amidst the rain, her tiny feet, without slippers, move at lightning speed.

Just then she unleashes on me the most heartbreaking, even if seemingly innocuous, sequence of words she ever invented. The words run through my heart like a dagger and squeeze out every last drop of blood from it.  No matter how many times I hear those words from her, they always have the same impact. “Waih! tuhe kya wuchuv!” [“Oh! What has your generation had to go through!”]  This is when the Kashmir of dreams disappears and the Kashmir of nightmares, the Kashmir I saw and grew-up and lived in, comes back with a vengeance, comes back like a haunting, choking the space for dreams, filling the space of the ephemeral with the choking existence of reality.  Dreaming becomes a luxury.

So, what did we go through?

It’s impossible to sum it all up here, however, I’ll inscribe a few memories that have been consuming me…

So, for one, we heard of cousins who showed up only in conversations.  Conversations that took place to the tune of a constant sobbing in the background.  When the conversations were over we would be left with task of conjuring up the cousins’ faces.  Memory in such cases is of no use, but our imagination was, and is, free.  That is how I knowhave always known, my cousin, Asim.

From another year, another day, I remember when we had a “waer” — when electricity was cut off for the night — so it was very quiet.  We were sitting together having dinner.  Suddenly there arose a shrill cry that seemed to emerge from the darkest corner of the Earth, that tore apart the stillness of the dark unlit-night.  ”Allah-u Akbar.”  And then the sound of two bullets.  The next morning we found on the wall of that house the telltale signs of the night.  Two small holes in the brick.  His funeral perhaps done and the area cleaned, we walked on without mourning, only to make another addition to the leaves of memory, to one day re-tell the story.

Why did we not mourn?  It is difficult to say, but perhaps there is a point beyond which we thought they can’t hurt us anymore.  Perhaps there is a point beyond which we become immune to our own pain.  Perhaps there is a point beyond which life becomes meaningless.  Perhaps there is a point beyond which we get “used” to it.

I remember when I was a kid, it was okay to tune into news and keep a score of how many had died.  How and when and where.  It was okay not to mourn, and accept, instead, the daily dose of “reality.”  It was as normal as having the daily evening tea, or reading the newspaper, or going to work.  It was a part of our life.  It was normal.  It was routine.

Once, during a ‘crack-down’ raid on our house, the security forces took away all our family photographs.  But there is this one photograph of my mother, among only a few others, which they couldn’t find.  Mummy looks right into the camera; she is young and incredibly beautiful.  Perhaps just as beautiful as the Kashmir of her memories.  I wonder when she goes to her grave, will she have the choice of carrying that Kashmir with her.  I, however, will have no such luxuries.

Even then there is a yearning for peace, a yearning for closure.  There is a yearning to seek a sliver of joy from the moon.  The last time I went to her village, I made sure to go to that orchard.  I made sure of forgetting everything for a while, and waste all the time I had at my disposal.  I plucked an apple from the tree, and ate it.  It was the finest apple I have ever eaten — just as tasty as she has always described.  It only enhanced my appetite, my curiosity.  How beautiful, one day, some day in the future, would it be to live in the Kashmir of her memory?

naheeN nigaah meN manzil to justaju hi sahi
naheeN wisaal muyassar to aarzu hi sahi……..
 
dayaar-e-Ghair meN mehram agar naheeN koyi
toh Faiz zikr-e-watan apne ru-ba-ru hi sahi
                                               — Faiz Ahmad Faiz
 
 
 
 
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27 thoughts on “Kashmir, of dreams and nightmares”

  1. This is a very moving piece. Thank you Burhan for writing it.

    I am no sure if it is good judgement to put it under the category of Genocide.

    Genocide is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”. I don’t think that has been attempted by the Indian state in Kashmir. I find the use of the word here problematic and exaggerated in much the same. It reminds me of the sensationalist use of such terms by Kashmiri Pandits. While much of what India has done in tackling Kashmir amounts to “collective punishment”, as amply demonstrated by Sumantra Bose and others, I think the exaggerated use of the word Genocide cheapens the suffering and trauma that millions of Kashmiris live every day.

    best,
    shivam

    1. @Shivam, I disagree when you say that the Kashmiris have been subjected to a ‘collective punishment’. Punishment for what? Kashmir has rebelled and fought for the right to determine the future. The right to oppose the invasion and hijacking of our free nation.

      If the killings of Jammu in 1947, by the Punjabis supported by RSS and Indian State, which amounts to 237,000 (THE TIMES LONDON) is not a genocide, then what is?

      If the killings since 20 years isn’t a genocide then what is? It may not be a genocide, it over runs it. It undermines not exaggerates the word genocide.

      In the end, death is a mere statistic in Kashmir.

  2. Dear “Kashmiri”, regardless of the number of people killed in Jammu in 1947 – and I don’t know who it was supported by, I must do some research on it, I do know it was the Maharaja’s doing – that does sound like a Genocide. However, the article above is not about the Jammu killings.

    The entire words sees the post-1989 conflict in Kashmir as a two-sided conflict. You ask, “If the killings since 20 years isn’t a genocide then what is?” I suggest a look at the Wikipedia entry of the term Genocide.

    best
    shivam

  3. My mother comes from a sleepy village in north Kashmir. It is, indeed, picturesque. At times when she sits me down and tells me the stories of her childhood, she takes me into a dreamland. Her house there is on a hillock, a gushing clear stream runs at its foothills. There are vast fields on either side of the road. She tells me of the orchard where the finest apples grow, of the walnut trees in her garden that she used to climb (in fact, she taught me how to eat the raw, green colored walnuts, which if you know the trick, taste even better). And when she tells me that she used to swim in that stream, my heart skips a beat. I fall in love with her all over again.
    I picture my mother: a little girl, climbing a tree, comforting herself into its extended arms and relishing those walnuts. Or running around the trees in the orchard, joyfully wasting all the time at her disposal. At times I picture her with her sisters, running down, the hillock, which used to be her haunt. Amidst the rain, her tiny feet, without slippers, move at lightning speed.
    Just then she unleashes on me the most heartbreaking, even if seemingly innocuous, sequence of words she ever invented. The words run through my heart like a dagger and squeeze out every last drop of blood from it. No matter how many times I hear those words from her, they always have the same impact. “Waih! tuhe kya wuchuv!” [“Oh! What has your generation had to go through!”] This is when the Kashmir of dreams disappears and the Kashmir of nightmares, the Kashmir I saw and grew-up and lived in, comes back with a vengeance, comes back like a haunting, choking the space for dreams, filling the space of the ephemeral with the choking existence of reality. Dreaming becomes a luxury.
    So, what did we go through?
    It’s impossible to sum it all up here, however, I’ll inscribe a few memories that have been consuming me…
    So, for one, we heard of cousins who showed up only in conversations. Conversations that took place to the tune of a constant sobbing in the background. When the conversations were over we would be left with task of conjuring up the cousins’ faces. Memory in such cases is of no use, but our imagination was, and is, free. That is how I know, have always known, my cousin, Asim.
    From another year, another day, I remember when we had a “waer” — when electricity was cut off for the night — so it was very quiet. We were sitting together having dinner. Suddenly there arose a shrill cry that seemed to emerge from the darkest corner of the Earth, that tore apart the stillness of the dark unlit-night. ”Allah-u Akbar.” And then the sound of two bullets. The next morning we found on the wall of that house the telltale signs of the night. Two small holes in the brick. His funeral perhaps done and the area cleaned, we walked on without mourning, only to make another addition to the leaves of memory, to one day re-tell the story.
    Why did we not mourn? It is difficult to say, but perhaps there is a point beyond which we thought they can’t hurt us anymore. Perhaps there is a point beyond which we become immune to our own pain. Perhaps there is a point beyond which life becomes meaningless. Perhaps there is a point beyond which we get “used” to it.
    I remember when I was a kid, it was okay to tune into news and keep a score of how many had died. How and when and where. It was okay not to mourn, and accept, instead, the daily dose of “reality.” It was as normal as having the daily evening tea, or reading the newspaper, or going to work. It was a part of our life. It was normal. It was routine.
    Once, during a ‘crack-down’ raid on our house, the security forces took away all our family photographs. But there is this one photograph of my mother, among only a few others, which they couldn’t find. Mummy looks right into the camera; she is young and incredibly beautiful. Perhaps just as beautiful as the Kashmir of her memories. I wonder when she goes to her grave, will she have the choice of carrying that Kashmir with her. I, however, will have no such luxuries.
    Even then there is a yearning for peace, a yearning for closure. There is a yearning to seek a sliver of joy from the moon. The last time I went to her village, I made sure to go to that orchard. I made sure of forgetting everything for a while, and waste all the time I had at my disposal. I plucked an apple from the tree, and ate it. It was the finest apple I have ever eaten — just as tasty as she has always described. It only enhanced my appetite, my curiosity. How beautiful, one day, some day in the future, would it be to live in the Kashmir of her memory?
    naheeN nigaah meN manzil to justaju hi sahi
    naheeN wisaal muyassar to aarzu hi sahi……..

    dayaar-e-Ghair meN mehram agar naheeN koyi
    toh Faiz zikr-e-watan apne ru-ba-ru hi sahi
    – Faiz Ahmad Faiz

  4. Beautifully written rather expressed.
    We should not expect from the perpetrators of genocide to accept their wrong doings. Hitler never accepted he was wrong. Their denial of facts is proof enough.

  5. Brought tears to my eyes. This is how our generation has seen Kashmir. Thank you for writing this peice and stirring those emotions that we have learnt to crush and walk over – for they dont help.

    There is a place in my heart that I had hidden from myself, and your writeup made me go there.

    Thank you.

  6. Shivam, why did you presume that there was some sort of an overt revolt, which resulted in the death in Burhan’s writeup? From your understanding of Kashmir, what with AFSPA and all, do you really think it is necessary for the troops in Kashmir to have a valid and legally tenable reason to kill? Are they not free to kill on mere suspicion?

    Also, why is it necessary that reasons for the brutality of the forces be mentioned anyway? How would the reasons justify what they do to the Kashmiri Muslims?

    And what do those reasons do to the narrative of anguish and horror that a writer is trying to describe? Burhan was not doing cold political analysis. How does the contextualizing of the sequence of a particular ‘zaalim’ event matter in the overall attempt of the author to describe how his dreams got turned into nightmares and the extreme loss that he was feeling?

    Anyway, I think It would be naive to say that Kashmiris do not know that the actions of the Indians are not mindless. Kashmiris are perhaps the most politicized people around today and they understand well that there is a definite method behind the Indian madness, that a definite political and nationalistic agenda is driving it or that it is a warped extension of that other madness that the Maharaja used to inflict using his own justifications?

    Regards.

  7. I have to say that its a poignantly written piece, I actually got goosebumps while reading it.

    But I have to agree with Shivam here because labels can be problematic. Labels stick, they become stereotypes and soon enough part of our collective memory and history of the event. And most importantly labels often create a false or ‘exaggerated’ image.

    But not deviating from what I grasp is the point of your story, know that, I feel for you and many others like you who were denied by some inane sense of nationalism a right to a ‘normal’ childhood.

  8. Dear All,

    Thanks for your comments on Burhan Qureshi’s poignant piece!

    I am surprised though to see the sheer energy spent in the debate around the tag “genocide” — a categorization that has nothing to do with Burhan and everything to do with me (yes, mea culpa!) — rather than the finer points of the writing itself. For example questions about how else can we read the mother? Could she also be “Mauj Kashir” [Mother Kashmir]? What might it mean to “fall in love” with this mother “all over again”? What might be some possible consequences of such a construction of the homeland? Could there be any Edenic connection between the legendary apple (of knowledge) and the one the narrator takes a bite off of at the end — a “knowledge,” so to speak, of memories of the past, and dreams of the future? What if it were also an apple of existent-before-existence, al-astu bi-rabbakum, azali memories that Adam and Eve succumb to in Paradise? What happens when “dreaming becomes a luxury” to an entire generation? What soul-numbing has been inflicted on a populace to make it “immune to its own pain”? How do deaths of neighbors go unmourned, marked only by two bullet holes in a brick (strangely reminiscent of Jallianwala Bagh monument)? What burden does this “ungrievability” and “unmournability” place on the weft and weave of a society, its relationships of love and trust? How does “reality” choke out “ephemerality”? What dies a little bit every time a numerical score is kept of the “number of deaths” — what faces, histories, loves and longings are denied and violated in this cold calculus? What happens to masculinities and femininities in this atmosphere poisoned with slow death, when everyone becomes so used to being vulnerable that the “shock of vulnerability” dies and one becomes invulnerable? Or does one ever become invulnerable? What is the cost in terms of increased precarity of life in Kashmir, and how does the healing begin?

    That said, the interrogation of the tag “genocide” is not without value. So thank you, Shivam, Utpal, and Alisha! It gives me the chance to wrestle with the angel, like Jacob, and submit to a visceral entanglement with my thoughts around “genocidal violence” — a term that wasn’t one of the choices available — and articulate it further. As you all probably know Raphael Lemkin’s coinage of the term “genocide” (1944) was much deeper and broader than the one finally accepted by the UN, and specifically included “occupational policies” that would entail “‘coordinated plan of different actions’ intended to promote such goals as … the destruction of the ‘culture, language, national feelings, religion’…” [from Raphael Lemkin’s “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Analysis, Proposals for Redress” (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), available at: http://www.preventgenocide.org/lemkin/AxisRule1944-1.htm)%5D Lemkin also identified various strategies of genocides in fields as various as political, cultural, social, economic, moral, and religious, along with the expected biological and physical. (http://www.preventgenocide.org/lemkin/AxisRule1944-2.htm) The definition of genocide was constricted at the UN specifically at the urging of USSR, and let’s all take a shot at why that would have been so!

    So here, in the context of Kashmir, I am thinking not just of the humongous death toll (BTW how high does a number have to be before earning the qualifier of a “genocide”?), rapes of entire villages, torture of tens of thousands, and rampant criminalization of Kashmiris as “terrorists,” but also thinking of the “spectacularity” of cases like the one where “the army kept a 60-year-old man in solitary confinement for one month. During that time, he wasn’t given anything to eat, but his own flesh. They cut the flesh from his body and served it to him. This was all he was given to eat for a month,” as recorded by Khurram Parvaiz of IPTK (http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/kashmir-the-untold-story-of-indian-occupation/). Or of the frequent cases where the Indian Occupation Forces cleave dead bodies of Kashmirs into two and put them in separate body bags (http://dl.dropbox.com/u/22866824/Hilal_Ahmad_Khanate_of_the_Slain.pdf).

    The dead have died. Physically cutting a corpse into two, I will argue here, is meant to serve a purpose other than merely doling out death to the already dead. The spectacle encapsulates a desire to domesticate those left behind, those whose hearts, minds, and souls are sought to be numbed through, and beyond, fear, shock, and horror. You know that old strategy, “Get them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow” (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-07-08/news/29751900_1_kashmir-political-reality-normalcy). [Of course, I really should not have had to recount any of this here as you all have seen and read it all. Haven’t you, Shivam, Utpal, and Alisha? As right-bearing citizens of India, which holds the Valley of Kashmir in its vicious occupation, I hold you responsible for keeping up with what your state is doing in your name.] *This* is what I mean by “genocidal violence” (or “genocide” in the tag) — a systemic, thought out plan to attempt to bring down an entire populace to its knees, and make it forget about its dreams of justice and dignity, in short: Azadi. Would this not qualify as political, social, moral genocide? This is anything but “mindless.” Shivam, you suggest “Kashmiris sometimes try to suggest that state repression in Kashmir is mindless” and suggest this article by Burhan Qureshi as an example of that! Here, I completely agree with Gauhar Siraj’s comments above. I seriously suggest that you, Shivam, relax a bit, and let go of the contrarian, habitually polemical framework that is not allowing you to read with compassion, a literary piece for what it is.

    As for “collective punishment” — “Kashmiri” asked well in her/his comment above: “Punishment for what?” The strategies of state-engineered violence that I have recounted above do very often happen regardless of any “militant” activity in the vicinity, and exceed beyond any conceivable form of “collective punishment.”

    Finally, Shivam, you write, “It reminds me of the sensationalist use of such terms by Kashmiri Pandits… I think the exaggerated use of the word Genocide cheapens the suffering and trauma that millions of Kashmiris live every day.” Ironically it is precisely your diversionary tactic of quibbling over the “tag,” above and beyond Burhan Qureshi’s piece, that reminds me of a tried and tested strategy of some of the Panun Kashmir folks who hijack every conversation, every lecture, every conference on Kashmir to a shouting match about the sad exodus of the Pandits. As for “exaggeration” and “cheapening the suffering and trauma that millions of Kashmiris live every day” — I will lay my case before my Kashmiri compatriots and let them decide the case. Any day. And you, Shivam, simply do not come in between. Thanks!

    All best,
    Huma

  9. Beautifully weaved Burhan. I am not a Kashmiri, but I happened to visit one such north Kashmir village and met a mother there whose house was on a hillock and there was a gushing water stream next to it=) She is a dream, an inspiration and all her four sons are martyrs. I could see the nightmare in her eyes, but I know when she will go to her grave, she will take the Kasheer of her dreams along.
    This piece really is very touching. Keep writing.
    And Huma, you are an insight!! I personally believe that all that has been done in Kashmir by the Indian state forces, is an out and out genocide, the most grotesque one. Thanks for sharing.

    Best
    bhavneet

    1. Dear Bhavneet,

      Thanks for your very generous response! It means a whole lot to me, as I’m sure it will to Burhan when he reads it! Thanks again!

      Remain blessed!
      Huma

  10. This is to request the moderator(s) to delete my earlier comment and publish a slightly modified version of it, pasted below. My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.
    best regards
    shivam

    —–

    Huma, I do not seek to come ‘in between’ you and your Kashmiri compatriots, but I assert my right to free speech, and to express my opinion, whether or not the Kashmiris agree. I am not beholden to you or the Kashmiri community in general, and I seek to engage in the spirit of free enquiry that everyone is entitled to, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality or other markers of identity. If it is your case that only Kashmiris can talk about Kashmir, then I am afraid I do not submit myself to such censorship. If you seek to disallow non-Kashmiris from commenting on Kashmir, don’t turn around and say silence is complicity. And if people are going to think and comment, they will do so as they like, not as you dictate them.

    You say, “that reminds me of a tried and tested strategy of some of the Panun Kashmir folks who hijack every conversation, every lecture, every conference on Kashmir to a shouting match about the sad exodus of the Pandits.” You are trying to do the same to me here, which is, enforcing censorship by asserting your ethnic identity.

    So please save your attempts at shutting up people for others. And I think the misuse of the word genocide is cheapening not only for the victims of the Kashmir conflict (be they Hindu or Muslim, armed combatants or civilians, killed by armed rebels or the state) but more so, it cheapens the what victims of genocide have gone through, it cheapens the memory of communities that have ben sought to be exterminated, which is what genocide is.

    You write: “I am surprised though to see the sheer energy spent in the debate around the tag “genocide”. And then you later write, “That said, the interrogation of the tag “genocide” is not without value.” And then go on to a long discussion on genocide. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Please decide whether or not your usage of the word genocide to describe this article by Burhan Qureshi is important or not. If it is not, then don’t discuss it. I think the debate is important because tags on websites are a way of indexing, and if you are indexing an article on Kashmir as genocide, I think it’s a serious issue because it gets counted in an archive on genocide. And if the website does not have a category called “genocidal violence” – please don’t tell me a category cannot be created. Not that I agree with that term either.

    This is also problematic because Burhan Qureshi’s article itself does not talk about genocide, and it is you who has diverted it in that direction by categorising and archiving it as one. Burhan’s article is about the pain of the Kashmir conflict and a “yearning for peace”. Except for the word crackdown it does not even talk about state repression – for instance, a reader cannot presume that the disappeared cousin was one of the thousands of innocents killed by Indian security forces. He could well have been an armed combatant who lost his life as a martyr of his people, trying to liberate Indian-held Kashmir from India with Pakistan’s help.

    You have given me various links about human rights violations by Indian security forces in Kashmir. I am aware of these violations, of the work of IPTK, having posted every release by them in the past few years on Kafila.org, a team blog I am part of.

    You quote from an Economic Times article, “Get them by their balls, hearts and minds will follow”. I am aware of this quote, having described it as India’s Kashmir Policy three months before the ET article appeared. If you take this quote for example, taken from a camp of Kashmiri renegades, what do you think is the meaning of “hearts and minds will follow”? Genocide is about exterminating a whole population, and no, I don’t think India has tried to do that in Kashmir, because then it would not be trying militarily and otherwise, to make “hearts and minds follow”. If India’s attempt in Kashmir was to finish off the people, the population of India-administered Kashmir would not have grown from 5.5 million in 2001 to 7 million in 2011.

    You write, “As right-bearing citizens of India, which holds the Valley of Kashmir in its vicious occupation, I hold you responsible for keeping up with what your state is doing in your name.”

    It sounds to me an insidious attempt by you to misrepresent my position on the Kashmir dispute between India, China and Pakistan, who have denied the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to self-determination. It is possible, however, that you are not aware of my position.

    Please let me know if you want links to several articles I have written expressing my view that Kashmir is under an occupation, that as an Indian I do not support this occupation, that I admit it is in my name as an Indian, and that I support the right of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to self-determination. Having stated as much, over and over again, and having continuously questioned the Indian occupation of Kashmir and supported and defended “Azadi”, I don’t see how I am “keeping up” with the occupation. Many Kashmiri friends recognise, appreciate and know my position, and as I said, if you want to read about my position on Kashmir in greater detail, I will be happy to share with you my writings from Kafila.org and elsewhere, and perhaps also dozens of articles by Kashmiris on Kafila.org that have in one way or another reflected the Azadi perspective.

    The citizens of a nation-state are not to be seen as the nation-state itself. For this reason I don’t hold every Chinese responsible for the Chinese nation-state’s occupation of East Turkistan, or every Pakistani responsible for the occupation of Balochistan. I do recognise however that public opinion matters, and when there are those who dissent against their nation-state’s occupation of a territory, I don’t accuse them of “keeping up” with the vicious occupation, because they have made their position clear. I instead express solidarity with them, in the hope that our tribe will grow, and one day everyone who wants their nation-state will have one, to the extent that nation-states will start looking like the absurdities they are to every nationalist. I am not in the business of demonising entire populations.

    You clarify what you mean by genocide and genocidal violence. You write,

    “*This* is what I mean by “genocidal violence” (or “genocide” in the tag) — a systemic, thought out plan to attempt to bring down an entire populace to its knees, and make it forget about its dreams of justice and dignity, in short: Azadi. Would this not qualify as political, social, moral genocide?”

    No, I don’t consider it genocide. A plan to bring down a population to its knees is not the same as a plan to finish a population. A plan to bring down a population to its knees to deny them political, social or moral rights is a repression, an occupation, an attempt to militarily suppress a rebellion.

    Which brings me to the word “mindless”. When I say, “Kashmiris sometimes try to suggest that state repression in Kashmir is mindless,” what I mean to say is that the repression and human rights violations are not without a plan. There is a method in the madness. So when an entire market is burnt or the women of an entire village are raped, when innocents are picked up, tortured and killed (for military rewards or other reasons), or, as in 2010, when troopers go around breaking window panes of entire colonies, or when stone-pelters are shot dead, the state is trying to instill fear amongst a population of its might with the aim of breaking the back of a rebellion. So the despicable crackdowns were with the presumption, quite right in my opinion, that it is not only that ten armed rebels are hiding here, but that this entire population supports those ten armed combatants both materially and ideologically. The Indian repression of Kashmir in this way is not unique (not that that makes it any less reprehensible) but the pattern is similar in the French occupation of Algeria, or if you follow news about Balochistan, it is remarkable how Balochistan today sounds like Kashmir in the early ’90s – political killings, enforced disappearances, military occupation, denial of the right to self-determination, and so on.

    Such responses to armed rebellions that are caused by the denial of the right to self determination are a shame for the modern world, but do *not* amount to genocide. Raphael Lemkin, in coining the word genocide, combined a Greek and a Latin word – geno (race or tribe) and cide (killing). I am not aware of the history of its adoption by the UN, but it is the UN definition that is widely accepted today.

    You rhetorically ask, “how high does a number have to be before earning the qualifier of a “genocide””? Here’s an answer:

    Theoretically, then, the murder of a single person could constitute an attempt at genocide if the aggressor’s intent was to kill that person as part of larger plan to destroy a group. [Source]

    And no, the “spectacularity” of murder or massacre does not prove the intent of destroying Kashmir’s population.

    Genocide is defined not by numbers alone but by intent. “The term “genocide” did not exist before 1944. It is a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.” [Source]

    I also want to quote from a BBC article that discusses the debate around genocide:

    In his book Rwanda and Genocide in the 20th Century, former secretary-general of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Alain Destexhe, says: “Genocide is distinguishable from all other crimes by the motivation behind it.

    “Genocide is a crime on a different scale to all other crimes against humanity and implies an intention to completely exterminate the chosen group.

    “Genocide is therefore both the gravest and greatest of the crimes against humanity.”

    Loss of meaning

    Mr Destexhe believes the word genocide has fallen victim to “a sort of verbal inflation, in much the same way as happened with the word fascist”.

    Mr Ignatieff says the Atlantic slave trade was not genocide and that the word is losing its meaning. Because of that, he says, the term has progressively lost its initial meaning and is becoming “dangerously commonplace”. [Source]

    Now we come to the issue of “collective punishment”. You write:

    As for “collective punishment” — “Kashmiri” asked well in her/his comment above: “Punishment for what?” The strategies of state-engineered violence that I have recounted above do very often happen regardless of any “militant” activity in the vicinity, and exceed beyond any conceivable form of “collective punishment.”

    Firstly, would you like to answer your own question considering that along with Genocide you also categorised Burhan Qureshi’s article under “Collective punishment”? Or did you mean something else but that category was not available?

    When I use the term collective punishment, I mean to say that the state seeks to collectively punish a population for rebellion and revolt. I first encountered the term in Sumantra Bose’s book, “The Challenge in Kashmir: Democracy, Self-Determination and a Just Peace”. Bose writes, at the risk of coming between you and your Kashmiri compatriots, that the Indian state’s response in Kashmir to an armed revolt is ‘collective punishment’ of a ‘disloyal population’.

    When I say, “Kashmiris sometimes try to suggest that state repression in Kashmir is mindless”, what I mean is that there is (sometimes) selective amnesia that there was an armed revolt to which the Indian state responded by seeking to crush it. I do not think the Indian state sought to exterminate the Kashmiri population, and though you will not believe me, I don’t say so because I’m Indian. And that is not to ‘justify’ the Indian response, as I believe the occupation of Kashmir by India is to begin with illegitimate.

    Lastly, you write: “I seriously suggest that you, Shivam, relax a bit, and let go of the contrarian, habitually polemical framework that is not allowing you to read with compassion, a literary piece for what it is.” I will refrain from offering you a similar exhortations about your polemical frameworks, as I have already come too much in between you and your Kashmiri compatriots.

    I know that you are a very busy person, and may not have the time to respond to this rather long comment, but I shall not hold that against you.

    best
    shivam

  11. I finally got round to reading this most moving and beautiful piece which so evocatively posits individual grief along with the collective pain and yearning for a homeland. Huma Dar’s explanatory comments on expanding the idea to include a Mauj Kashir were illuminating.Yes we need to read such pieces with poetic imagination and compassion and not with “cold calculus” of numbers. What I find “mindless” is the hairsplitting over tags and labels………………….

  12. Hi, Shivam,

    You have posted your reply as a note on your FB page. I posted my comment on that string to which you have not replied yet; I am pasting that same comment here too, maybe you will read it. It is a long one so bear with me.

    Your response to Huma in the above note starts and ends with a very restricted understanding of the definition of Genocide. As a result all your answers to her too get restricted to that rather limited frame. Let me start by how I see your understanding of genocide problematic.

    In all the statements that you have made in the note above and on the other string where I was present you have always insisted in defining genocide as thus:
    – “Genocide is about exterminating a whole population”, and no, I don’t think India has tried to do that in Kashmir, because in that case it would not be trying various ways, violent and non-violent, carrot and stick, to make “hearts and minds follow.
    – No, I don’t consider it genocide.”A plan to bring down a population” to its knees is not the same as “a plan to finish a population”. A plan to bring down a population to its knees to deny them political, social or moral rights is a repression, an occupation, an attempt to militarily suppress a rebellion.
    – “Such responses” to armed rebellions that are caused by the denial of the right to self determination are a shame for the modern world, but do *not* amount to genocide.

    That is an incomplete understanding of genocide. Here is what the official definition of genocide is:

    In the present Convention, Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, “in whole or in part”, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction “in whole or in part”;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    [Article II of Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the U.N. General Assembly on 9 December 1948. In 1998, the exact same definition was also adopted by the International Court of Justice’s International Criminal Court in its Article 6].

    If you pay attention you will notice that “in whole or in part” has been repeatedly mentioned. Please also note that killing the entire population is not the only criteria for an event to be classified as genocide. The sub-article (b) also considers “Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” also as genocide, among other things. The actual wipe out of the entire population is not a prerequisite.

    If the state kills even part of the population or commits other acts (listed in other clauses) in tandem it too can be considered as genocide. Even the individual act of one person can also be considered as a genocidal act. “Theoretically, the murder of a single person could constitute an attempt at genocide if the aggressor’s intent was to kill that person as part of larger plan to destroy a group”. You too mentioned this once, yet for some reason you seem to have become repetitive and fixated on insisting that genocide has to be “about exterminating a whole population”, which it is not.

    The massacre of men and boys in Bosnia at Serberinca is now considered genocide. The total number killed there was only about 12000 – far fewer than those killed in Kashmir. The leading intellectuals in this field have also openly called the killing of over 5000 Sikhs in 1984 as genocidal along with the Gujarat killings of Muslims in 2002, the killings of Muslims in Kashmir as well as the killings of the Tribals in India by the govt (see Adam Jones in his book Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction).

    The problem with the existing official definition of genocide is that it demands that two conditions be met where both actus reus (the guilty act) and mens rea (guilty mind) be present for genocide to have been committed. When there is no intent to destroy a group, just an action that kills hordes of people it is called crimes against humanity. In my opinion this narrow distinction between the two is a cop-out meant to provide a back door escape mechanism for the big governments so that they can cover their ass and not get judged for genocide. The governments thus get to kill huge masses of humans and not get accused of genocide. All that the governments indulging in genocide (and their descendents) have to do, in order to escape the odium attached to genocide, is to destroy all paper trail that can prove intent to commit it. Doing that is easy – and is done by governments – which is why prosecuting them is so difficult. India too knows this. Is it any wonder then that India is one of the few nations in the world that actually continues to officially declare ‘reservation’ (read refusal) to an automatic referral to the International Court of Justice in matters of genocide? It dubiously demands that the consent of all the parties, including that of the accused, be required for the matter to be submitted to the Court . Does this ‘reservation’ not look so much like its own requirement on AFSPA wherein too the consent of the Govt. is required to bring the accused military/security men to justice?

    The definition of genocide among the researchers, intellectuals and rights activists has evolved. Progressive scholars have developed their own definitions of genocide that would better fit the understanding of government murder. Below are some definitions that have a following among researchers.

    “Genocide is a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator.” (Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn)

    “Genocide in the generic sense is the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims.” (Israel W. Charny).

    Now consider what Salman Rushdie has said: “The phrase of “crackdown” that the Indian army uses really is a euphemism of mass destruction. And rape. And brutalisation. That happens all the time. It’s still happening now. And so, yes, I am angry about it! The decision to treat all Kashmiris as if they’re potential terrorists is what has unleashed this, the kind of “holocaust” against the Kashmiri people”.

    Those that call themselves liberal and progressive and claim to be rights activists have a distinct vocabulary and stand from those that indulge in or defend those that commit genocidal acts. How do you think your following statements must have looked like :

    “The Indian repression of Kashmir in this way is not unique (not that that makes it any less reprehensible) but the pattern is similar in the French occupation of Algeria, or…Balochistan, it is remarkable how Balochistan today sounds like Kashmir in the early ’90s – political killings, enforced disappearances, military occupation, denial of the right to self-determination, and so on.”…….“No, I don’t consider it genocide. A plan to bring down a population to its knees to deny them political, social or moral rights is a repression, an occupation, an attempt to militarily suppress a rebellion.Such responses to armed rebellions that are caused by the denial of the right to self determination are a shame for the modern world, but do *not* amount to genocide.”

    In your statements there was a familiar erasure of the tens of thousands of civilians that were killed, maimed, disappeared, raped and psychologically damaged by the Indian forces. And the comparison to Baluchistan was completely uncalled for, amounting to deflecting the focus of discussion elsewhere, something that the state usually does. Perhaps that is why the perception changed and you started to look like someone who was defending the Indian stance on killings of Kashmiris. Their memory, of what India had done to an entire people, seemed to come in the way of your legality. You suddenly started to come across as a nationalist doing what the Left in India has been doing lately.

    The overall problem with genocide today is that it is very hard to get it recognized. The prevailing thinking in the UN is still not inclusive and broad enough perhaps because those that are most liable to be charged with genocide are those nations that are indulging in it and have great influence in the UNO. It is no wonder then that when in 1985 B.Whitaker proposed the establishment of an impartial international body concerned with preventing genocide (paragraph 85)it was ignored. The UN Human Rights system included multiple treaty monitoring bodies for the prevention of Torture and other violations, but still has no body specifically responsible for the prevention of genocide (source). Then there is the problem of punishment. There is still no International Penal Tribunal for it. Hence, it is only the Governments of States in the territories of which the crime was committed, that can institute proceedings for its punishment. In the case of “domestic” genocides, generally committed by or with the complicity of Gevernments, bizarrely the Governments are required to prosecute themselves. That results in mass murders getting protected by their own Governments, save in exceptional cases, where these Governments have been overthrown. Perhaps it is this lack of mechanisms and the will on the part of the big nations that results in the frustrations that also lead to unilateral acts. Israel, for example, was forced in part due to this lack of mechanisms to go all the way to Argentina in a covert operation and abduction Adolf Eichmann to bring him to trial in Israel for genocide. That is also what gives rise to terrorist activity. When people see that the law is toothless or ineffective they also take the law in their own hands, case in point being the murder of more than 50 innocent Turkish diplomats by Armenian terrorists, for how the Ottoman Empire treated them.

    From Al Qaida to LeT to the Naxals every armed group is now using the excuse of unresolved genocidal crimes as their raison d’etre. It is not that people are stupid and do not know what genocide is when they see it. It is that the governments are not going to be the ones to admit to it. And why would they? It would amount to shooting oneself in the foot. India for example would immediately come under focus and imminently get indicted for having committed genocidal acts against Kashmiris, Sikhs, North-easterners, the Tribals, Muslims in Gujrat in particular but also in the whole of India in general…., and suffer the attendant opprobrium. As a matter of fact the Govts actually go out of their way to impede any open discussion from happening and try to deny, water down and downgrade the killings so that they never comes close to being classified as genocidal.

    I think it would be safe to say that people were expecting something entirely different of someone like you. They were probably expecting you to do what Adam Paul did – openly declare that the Indian actions in Kashmir were genocidal even if India succeeded in not allowing them to be called as such. Instead you went on and on with a tit for tat thing with Huma and others debating with them how each incident could not be considered genocide.

    By now Huma Dar, Freny Manecksha, Shuja Malik and Junaid have elucidated brilliantly (on FB) how genocide is seen from an activist’s and a victim’s point of view, and how Rapael Lemkin’s original definition was much broader, inclusive and closer to what Kashmiris think it should be.

    Nation states defending the status quo of the definition of genocide can be understood to do so because they stand to suffer heavily if that status quo suffers a change. Why would you, Shivam, refuse to go beyond that narrow definition that only provides a cover for large scale government murder?

    On genocide, I stand firmly on this side of the line. I openly call Indian actions in Kashmir genocide and strongly support the broadening of the official definition of genocide, of setting up of an International Penal Tribunal as well as an international monitoring body for the prevention of genocide. The question now is this, Shivam: Where do you stand on the definition of genocide?

    Do you really think that the UN definition is desirable in its present form? Will you continue to claim the moral high ground of being a defender of human rights while insisting on refusing to challenge the status quo on the UN definition of genocide, OR will you go on the front foot and openly advocate that changes be made and that the horrors committed by India in Kashmir be called genocide?

    Regards.

    Gauhar

  13. Dear Burhan

    Thank you for sharing this piece with me. It actually comes as no surprise to me considering where i come from. let me share where that is.

    I come from a background of mental illness research. It so happens that due to my engagements i meet a number of kinds of people, as do we all who work in research. So one day i ran into someone who told me a narrative similar to your’s. His words were- “Out of twelve, just five of us (cousins) remain”. The whole night after that i could not sleep…it kept haunting me. To see the death of one older relative was enough for me to have a breakdown- i mean a bit serious, so what about someone who has seen scores of his own, that he has grown up with, going down, often without a trace.

    For a number of us, Kashmir is only a distant thing- most people are so immersed in their little little private hells …i do not say this as a judgement about the lives of others but with due respect to everyone, for each is going through immense suffering. They do not know which cry of the ‘outsider’ they can respond to, or believe because everyone has been so effectively demonized. Isn’t it? I try in my own little way to hear every side of the story wherever i can get to hear it from the horse’s mouth. ( that is how you saw me on that other forum too)

    So after that chance encounter with that youth, who ‘vanished’ completely after that little disclosure, my eyes and ears opened to this part of the world- because before that i was (as i still am) deeply submerged in my own study of whatever it is. (In particular i look at social construction- of mental illness and my current research is that. i examine it from multiple perspectives viz sociology, social psychology, linguistics etc)

    For a number of years it has been there in my head or may i say heart that the incidence of mental ‘illness’ or call it suffering in the aftermath of the atrocities in Kashmir would be quite high. I do not get to read much of it ( I work in some very peculiar circumstances, that i will share with you later) except for one research paper that i have. I have been looking at Kashmir as totally a case of ‘manufacturing of mental illness’- am quite distressed about it, even without talking about that to anyone. Anyhow, this is almost just the start of the road for me in so many ways. i hope our paths will cross again and we shall have something in our respective repertoires (mine being musical too) to lessen the grief of who we meet.

    warmth and blessings to you
    May the Kashmir of all your and our dreams come about again, if Azadi will get it, so be it. My love for the human is always going to be more than my love for egoistic attachments to a piece of land. AND most certainly i stand with everyone who stands for dignity, equality and truth- however painful it may seem to the majority.

  14. On the note that you began…another Faiz song – a recent addition to my (singing) repertoire

    Hum parvarish-e-lauh-o-kalam karte rahenge
    Jo dil pe guzarti hai, rakam karte rahenge
    Asbaab-e-gham-e-ishq baham karte rahenge
    Viraani-e-dauraan pe karam karte rahenge

    (this was written at the time he was put in Jail for six years… so what could he do but pen his anguish. ANd what can i do, but sing mine?)

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