“Abuse is not sanctified by its duration or abundance, it must remain susceptible to question and challenge, no matter how long it takes,” writes the African writer, Chinua Achebe. That brings to mind what Kashmiris are often heard saying: “remembering is resistance.” That sentence is a sentiment, which operates at multiple levels: as a people, as a race, as a nation, in remembering our realities of an oppressed people, and our political aspirations. It also means to keep challenging half truths of “normalcy and peace” having returned to the Valley.
But remembering and keeping memory alive and active is not as simple as it may sound. Other than the psychological complicatedness of humans, the State has adopted a two-pronged approach to tamper with what Kashmiris are “collectively” trying not to forget, and, also perhaps, to appropriate the space of their memory? The aforementioned approach points at: a) attempts to delegitimize the struggle by disputing the number of dead, their origin and ethnicity, not provide answers or accountability to thousands of enforced disappearances, and various other human rights abuses under the garb of black laws such as AFSPA, PSA and DAA, and b) attempt to impair memory (which is as dangerous as expunging someone physically. Consciousness evolves from memory; without which one is a not quite human).
Speaking about the latter; the State is at work to obfuscate the collective memory of Kashmiris. Well, one is not to expect any less. The State will do so in order to delete as many associations with the struggle as it can so as to create layers of haze and ambiguity over important happenings for things to remain disputed.
Memory can be tricky too. It can fade on its own or methods can be employed to manipulate and systemically suppress it. In psychological terms; memory inhibition is one such process which can be induced till a person achieves the “ability not to remember irrelevant information.” In order to strengthen the ‘normalcy discourse’, and to curb the sentiment of resistance in Kashmir, the State has chosen parts of Kashmir’s freedom struggle to render them ‘irrelevant’ in a scheming way. It is an attempt to suppress the memory or expedite its “process of decay” in the minds of the people it oppresses, for as long as it can to legitimize occupation.
Firstly, the absence of memorial sites for numerous massacres: Bijbehara, Zakoora, Tengpora, Gaw Kadal and Hawal during which hundreds of Kashmiris, mostly innocent, pro self-determination, civilians, mourners at peaceful funerals, were brutally fired at and killed by the Indian security forces. In absence of concrete sites, which act as sensory stimuli, it becomes an easy target for the State to manipulate as the incidents largely reside in the memory (or perhaps some versions can be found in the archives of newspapers — if they were allowed to report facts at the time, that is).
Secondly, refurbishing of Papa II, the infamous interrogation centre, and as the Kashmiri Novelist, Mirza Waheed writes, “Papa II in Kashmir was Abu Ghraib before Abu Ghraib became Abu Ghraib,” in which thousands of Kashmiri men were abused and tortured, and having turned it into a bureaucratic residence is another instance of dismembering memory of a people by the State. Historian, William Dalyrymple writes, about the interrogation centre, “large numbers of local people would “disappear.” Their bodies would later be found, if at all, floating down rivers, bruised, covered in cigarette burns, missing fingers or even whole limbs…” Who knows, maybe a few years down the line, the State might even rubbish the fact that any such torture chamber existed in Srinagar as it does, from time to time, refute facts of human rights abuse in Kashmir.
Another aspect of tampering with memory is the recent demolishing of military bunkers in certain parts of the Valley. At the surface level, it seemed A reclamation of space by the locals. Images, carried by some of e-newspapers, of Kashmiris holding iron rods, flashing signs of victory in triumph while tearing down illegal symbols of an occupation, depicted the joyous sentiment of repossessing what is one’s own.
But one must remember it really means nothing. It does not mean demilitarization of the region or reduction in the number of half a million troops present in the Valley. Removal of military bunkers does not equate with the abstraction of armed forces. Removal of a certain sensory stimuli does not change the ground reality. Than just being a cosmetic change, it reveals the State’s design which is to showcase, to the outside world, that Kashmir is not forcibly held by India, but is indeed its legitimate and integral part. Internally, in Kashmir, it is wiping away a host of associations with a particular stimulus, hence; interfering with the psychological being of a people.
(Opinion expressed by the author are her own and don’t reflect the policy of Kashmir Life)