Remembering Kashmir's 'disappeared'

Remembering Kashmir's 'disappeared'
5 min read
08 June, 2018
In-depth: More than 10,000 Kashmiris have allegedly been 'disappeared' by the Indian forces, reports Nayeem Rather.
Families of the disappeared protest in a sit-in organised by the APDP [Getty]

Since January 2016, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Parents (APDP) has been publishing its annual calendar, which it calls "a memory document".

The calendar is a montage of sketches made from the photographs of the men "disappeared" at the hands of the state, along with the details of their disappearance, and accompanied by poetry from young Kashmiris on the themes of loss and memory. Also included is the poetry of Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish.

"Every page of the calendar tells the story of the disappeared person; it is a testimony that they are not forgotten and continue to live in the collective memory and in the memory of their dear ones," says Immad Nazir, project manager at APDP.

The idea of publishing the calendar was to "evade forgetfulness".

During the past decade many family members of disappeared persons have died, especially parents of the victims.

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

Parveena says they came up with the idea "to stop forgetfulness pervading".

Parveena further says that, by publishing the calendar, APDP wants to make people aware of the issue and get people's attention.

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

These calendars frame suffering in the way that enforced disappearance is not an exception but systemic

Immad adds that when the calendars enter people's private spaces, it creates some sort of check against the enforced disappearance:

"These calendars frame suffering in the way that enforced disappearance is not an exception but systemic. It connects issue of ED with the larger political reality of Kashmir."

The first calendar was designed by Iffat Fatima, an independent filmmaker, whose documentary 'Khoon Deye Barov' ["The Blood Leaves its Trail"] commemorates the memory and struggles of the families of the victims of enforced disappearances. Iffat says that the calendar is an "act of remembrance" in the face of the state-imposed forgetfulness on enforced disappearance.

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

By hanging the calendar in a someone's home, it has the power to blur the space between private and public.

In its first year, APDP published 500 copies of the calendars. Due to increased demand, it published 1000 and 1200 copies in the years 2017 and 2018 respectively. 

In Kashmir, the state is at war with the memory of the people, activist say. And to obliterate the human rights violations committed by the state's forces, the state has been trying, for a long time, to overhaul its image - "hiding and imposing its fabricated narratives of normalcy," says Iffat.

Dr Farrukh-Faheem, assistant professor of Kashmir studies at the University of Kashmir, says that the state has been conducting a public relations campaign to project an image of Kashmir as "beautiful", which is contrary to what Kashmir is all about. He says the state tries to homogenise Kashmir's public image and has been promoting it through various means, including the Jammu Kashmir Bank Calendar, a montage of picturesque landscapes.

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

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

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

Mohammad Junaid, a US-based Kashmiri anthropologist, says dominant states want to organise and impose their own sense of temporality on dominated subjects.

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

It not only disrupts the official calendar, but also produces an alternative narrative of time - marked by struggle, loss, and sacrifice

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

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

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

APDP is a movement comprised of the families of those subjected to enforced disappearance. Since the beginning of the armed insurrection against the Indian administration of Kashmir, more than 10,000 Kashmiris have allegedly been "disappeared" by Indian troops.

The families have lodged complaints and testified against the perpetrators. However, the Indian state denies any involvement in the disappearances.

Amit Kumar, who teaches history at Amar Singh College in Srinagar, says that in a conflict-ridden place such as Kashmir, truth is the first casualty. Apart from snapping life out of people, truth and reality die a hundred deaths, he says.

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

Kumar adds that, apart from serving as a "memory document", the APDP calendar is counter-narrative to challenge the state and its institutions.

"The best thing about the various publications of APDP is that they find resonance with people," he says. "And this to me is the biggest contribution of APDP's publication - beyond the statist narrative, they are speaking people's language, they are voicing people's truth."

Nayeem Rather is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. He has previously reported on human rights, politics, the environment, and art and culture.