Basharat Peer, a Kashmiri journalist based in New York and author of Curfewed Night, addresses to Indians in this article. This has been published in the Economic Times on 9th August 2010.
When poems written about totalitarian regimes echo in the hearts of a people purportedly living in a democracy, it is time for that democracy to take a hard look at the mirror. Over the past two months, as the numbers of Kashmiri protesters killed by Indian troops rose, I kept returning to a poem. In December 1970, the troops of the communist government in Poland fired and killed 49 protesting workers at a shipyard in the city of Gdansk. Three iron crosses, cast by fellow workers, stand now at the spot where the workers had fallen. On the memorial remain the words from a poem by Czeslaw Milosz:
Though everyone bowed
down before you
Saying virtue and wisdom
lit your way
Striking gold medals
in your honor
Glad to have survived another day
Do not feel safe.
The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but
another is born.
The words are written
down, the deed, the date.
When pain makes it difficult to articulate coherently, quiet remembrance helps. Like many other Kashmiris, I have been in silence, committing to memory, the deed, the date. The faces of the murdered boys, the colour of their shirts, their grieving fathers — these might disappear from the headlines, but they have already found their place in our collective memory. Kashmir remembers what is done in your name, in the name of your democracy, whether its full import ever reaches your drawing rooms and offices or not. Your soldiers of reason carrying their press cards might dissuade you from seeing it, comfort you with their cynical use of academic categories and interpretations of Kashmir, they might rerun the carefully chosen, convenient images on TV, but Kashmir sees the unedited Kashmir.
The tortured man returns home one day to tell the tale. The pallbearer remembers when the slain boy’s body fell on the street. The hands of the doctor who struggled to stitch the torn limb bear witness. We have been remembering for a while, and you don’t make it easy to forget. Every new atrocity is a reminder of a previous one. I remember getting my first identity card in 1990; I remember that early morning announcement ordering us to the hospital grounds, the first crackdown as soldiers searched every house. I still remember the eyes of the masked informer in the BSF Gypsy, pointing out who would be taken into the makeshift torture-centre. I still remember the bruised back and burnt hands of one who limped out of the hospital, where soldiers extracted information. I remember raising my hands in air and walking between check-posts.
Even when we go about our business, getting degrees in far-away universities and working jobs in far-off lands, we remember. Even when we don’t know we are remembering, we remember. Like my friend, who confessed one night in a New York room to a recurrent dream: a boy he had known, was running in a lane outside his house in a northern corner of Kashmir, but the soldier chasing him had fired and not missed. The boy has been running in my friend’s dream for 18 years now.
They too remember, the boys whose masked faces you see, carrying stones in their hands. One of them remembers a bunker by a bridge in Srinagar and hot iron rods leaving marks on his forearms that he now hides with a full-sleeved shirt. One of them remembers the cold edge of a dagger on his throat and a question shouted at his grandfather, “Where did they go?”
On August 13, 2008, a 21-year-old house painter from a tiny village near Sopore saw unarmed people being shot in the village of Chahal near the Line of Control. His mother remembers now, looking at a framed picture of him. The house painter’s memory brought him to Srinagar on January 7, 2010, carrying a gun, shooting, and eventually being killed after a 27-hour long encounter with the troops, that you might remember.
And now there is much more that is becoming hard to forget. Have you seen that picture from Srinagar? On a stretcher in the middle of a street is a slain young man. Behind his fallen corpse, soldiers and policemen assault the pallbearers and mourners with guns and batons. The mourners run for safety, except for a man in his late fifties. The father trying to save his son’s corpse from desecration, spreading himself over the boy, his arms stretched in a protective arc. And have you seen the video of a woman in Anantnag, washing the blood of the boys who were killed outside her house?
We also remember your soft-spoken Prime Minister speaking in Srinagar of ‘zero tolerance of human rights abuses.’ We remember a committee he had formed to possibly repeal the law that gives license to kill. Do you remember it — the Armed Forces Special Powers Act? A broken man I met by the Dal Lake remembered it. His 16-year-old son who had argued with a BSF officer had been killed. He remembered his son wearing sneakers and leaving the house that afternoon. He remembered lowering him into a grave, soon after. A tired son I met in a remote village near the border remembered it. His 70-year-old father, the “oldest militant”, had been killed. They even remembered that rare thing called justice. They know you don’t speak much of it anymore.
Your government is sending troops with guns, more loops of barbed wire, announcing more curfews. It might even pacify the Valley again. In his essay, On Disbelieving Atrocities, Arthur Koestler says that those not directly touched by atrocity were protected by an ability to “walk past laughing and chatting.” Koestler addressed the untouched, unaffected people, walking past: “Were it not so, this war would have been avoided; and those murdered within sight of your daydreaming eyes would still be alive.”
Is that how you seek to be remembered?
Author’s email: email@example.com
Some video links of Basharat Peer talking on Kashmir: