Kashmir: A Tale of Haunting



The picture above is a few months old.

It is an allegory of the Kashmiri people (cannot call it a nation since the word bears no trace of coherence, at least at this moment in time). Haneefa lies injured and paralyzed from waist down. Bedridden, teeming with sores and worries. A single mother to a 13 year old Humaira, her only daughter. Humaira, as is obvious from the picture has matured beyond her years.

In June last year, Haneefa joined protests against police and military brutality. Living in a sly warzone all too used to violent disruptions, Haneefa, incensed, thought nothing of demonstrating when a young journalism student Farrukh Bukhari was subjected disappeared by the police. His body was later discovered in a rivulet. The demonstrating crowd was fired upon by police. Haneefa was beaten. Sustaining five bullet injuries, she was left paralyzed.

This was one amongst a litany of incrementally disgusting and all too routine abuses that occurred during the civil unrest last summer. After a 9 month battle with immobility, bed sores, and mounting sickness Haneefa died last week.

She was 35.

The passage of death is nothing new. People die all the time. Even the unborn die; those young, younger, old and older! It is how the death came about which makes Haneefa and others like her significant (and important to memory). Having said that, Kashmir has too many like Haneefa to be able to remember them individually or in any other personalized way. They get relegated to statistics which are argued over, discredited, used and misused (depending on which side you are on). After some time they become just any other death, normalized, memorialized and accepted in a strange way.

Till the ill-fated day in June, Haneefa had been just another woman. She was caught in the unfortunate stirrings of life which included a divorce and destitution to some extent. Ever since her fatal injury she had been worrying for her daughter. For those mundane issues of living which often get amplified for an orphan (Haneefa was already foreseeing her demise).

In this incessant spectacle of punishment that is meted out in Kashmir (with due recognition to people in such circumstances elsewhere), the world is a blind witness. Sometimes I wish we had oil or natural gas (Oh! well we supposedly have water, ridden with botched treaties, nevertheless increasingly vital). Sorry I digress!

How can we comprehend such laws that seek to silence passionate crowds with bullets? Important to mention these bullets have very sparingly hit limbs. How can we understand Haneefa’s death that was preceded by a single deviance (if it can be labeled thus) – that of raising her voice against injustice and occupation? How can this single act of unarmed dissent become strong enough to warrant death?

Is Haneefa’s death, an individual death? Physically, tangibly, apparently – yes. However in a war system such as Kashmir the individual becomes a social body as Veena Das writes. It becomes a surface where sovereign inscriptions are etched.

Haneefa’s body is a metaphor for Kashmir – broken and disabled pushed to an untimely death. She manifests everyone; with each killing - all are subjected to a new death. And every other death is our own – a singular personal death. Yes – in that sense everyone has died a thousand times over and continue to do so as of writing this.

Such despondence and melancholia over the dead and those technically living has the potential to end on a defeated note. However there is a chance to reflect on the meaningfulness of the bodies which were consigned to death. The body, such a maimed corpse of Haneefa and countless others, not only hold promise for the state apparatus as a tool of surveillance but also manifest resistance. Bodies that have piled mountain high and lifeless in the Kashmir, are a matter of haunting. Every single body is imbricated in this specter; responding to such specters is an obligation.

As the spectacle of dead, dying, maimed and incarcerated continues to play out, those living under physical and emotional siege need to heed the revenants and they do. They have to forge bonds between the living and memory. They are bound to respond to the revenants. So that justice and mercy may find comfort.

May Haneefa rest in peace and her spirit rise…

Dissent, Freedom of Speech, Kashmir