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Excerpts: Behold, I Shine – Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha

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Chapter Six
MAINE NAZIRA, AA KHA?
Memory as Women’s Resistance

Parveena Ahangar holds many sobriquets — from Iron Lady to Mother of Kashmir — but she is best known as the founder and chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) — which makes her one of the most prominent Kashmiri women in resistance.

It was on a May 2011 morning, with needle-fine rain falling incessantly, that I was first taken to Parveena’s home by the young journalist Junaid Rather. The grey sky had drained the landscape of all colour creating a mood of melancholia. Parveena, dressed in black, sat huddled with a kangri. She was unwell but strained her voice to recount her story. It was a tale she had been compelled to tell and retell and yet it had not lost its poignancy.

Parveena spoke of the 1990s. Her son, the seventeen-year- old Javed Ahmad Ahangar, had passed the tenth class and had gone to his uncle’s house in Batamaloo where he hoped to pursue further studies. For some days, Parveena was plagued by forebodings, natural perhaps in an era when crackdowns were rampant, but she was particularly disturbed by a black dog in her dreams.

It was the early hours of 17 August 1990. In the morning there was a knock at her door. Parveeena was told that her son, along with three other boys, had been picked up by the National Security Guard personnel and taken to the Hari Niwas interrogation centre. Parveena suspected that the troops were on the lookout for a militant who had the same name as her son and that they picked up Javed, who had a speech impediment, because he had failed to answer questions with alacrity.

More than twenty-six years later, the second-hand accounts of the anguish and terror that her young son underwent before he was taken away, still haunt Parveena. ‘I heard he had been stripped. That he was calling out for me and that he desperately wanted a glass of water.’

In the early days after her son’s disappearance, a distraught Parveena see-sawed between the hope that her son was alive and would be released, and the reality that he had failed to appear even as the other boys were set free. Finally, surfacing from extreme sorrow, she took the first step in the long odyssey of a mother in search of her son and a woman in pursuit of justice.

After an FIR was filed at the Shergari police station and persistent inquiries were made at the Batamaloo branch, Parveena was informed by the Deputy Inspector General that her son had met with an accident, was in the army hospital in Badami Bagh, and would soon be released. When there were no signs of his discharge, she approached the Director General of Police who, in turn, directed her to the Superintendent of Police, in charge of allowing family members to meet detainees. He provided a vehicle for her to visit the hospital. There, an exhaustive search yielded no results. It says much of her early political acumen that she saved the pass she had received at the hospital. This was later proof to show the way a cover-up had been attempted.

Finally, Parveena received crucial information by way of a witness who knew her son. Apparently, he had seen Javed getting beaten by three men near Hari Niwas. This witness went on to offer his testimony when an inquiry was ordered by thecourt.

What followed was a lengthy court battle over more than two decades in which four petitions were filed. Significantly, despite a court inquiry and report in March 1992 that indicted the alleged perpetrators, the Ministry of Home Affairs refused sanction for prosecution. In 1999, MHA indicated a charge sheet should be filed and sanction could be sought again. But till date no sanction has been given.

Even as legal proceedings dragged on, Parveena hunted for her son, personally, visiting jails and camps in Kashmir, Jodhpur, Hiranagar, Meerut and Delhi (Tihar) and the dreaded interrogation centres like Papa I and Papa II.

While she did not recover her son, she did get a profound understanding of the world of enforced disappearances and the institutionalized denial of justice and custodial violence. Parveena recalled, ‘I met so many parents whose sons had suffered enforced disappearances after they were taken away by security troops. I met wives whose husbands had left home and never returned. And I realized that I was not alone.’ Empowered by this discovery, Parveena began organizing the families of the missing. They met frequently at a friend’s place, in her kitchen and discussed a line of action—for both justice and social welfare. In 1994, the APDP was formed with the help of human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz.

Soon after this first meeting in Kashmir, I met Parveena in Mumbai where she had come to address a press gathering. I realized why she was called the Iron Lady. Looking pointedly at the audience, she asked why there were separate laws for crimes by Kashmiri civilians and those perpetrated by the army and why those responsible for enforced disappearances and custodial deaths were being granted immunity under AFSPA?

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Excerpted from Behold, I Shine: Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children by Freny Manecksha, published by Rupa Publications India.

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Set in Kashmir, Behold, I Shine focuses on the struggle of women and children in Kashmir, on what it means for them whose children are missing, who live the lives of half-widows; on what it means to stand up to authority, to ikhwanis and to the horrors unfolding everyday in their lives. It brings into focus activists like Parveena Ahangar who go through insurmountable losses yet fight back to start human rights organisations that help other women like her to fight for their rights. Behold, I Shine puts together the narratives of such women and their spirit in fighting against multiple odds.

About the Author:

Freny Manecksha is an independent journalist, published in the Himal Southasian and the Times of India and has reported extensively from Kashmir.

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Book Review: The Tree with a Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta

The Tree with a Thousand Apples

The Tree with a Thousand Apples

By Manisha Lakhe

The Tree with a Thousand Apples

Author: Sanchit Gupta

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Pages: 284

Price: Rs 350

Order your copy here 

You’d pick up The Tree with a Thousand Apples by Sanchit Gupta simply because of the stunning cover art by Misha Oberoi. It helps that the cover has a sticker that announces that the script based on the book is longlisted at the Sundance International Screenwriters’ Lab 2017. But also, you can’t wait to get embroiled in Kashmir. There are too many displaced Kashmiri poets in town and you want to know more about a book that talks about the tormented land.

For the first sixty pages or so, you will be impatient. The introduction to the characters, Bilal, Deewan and Safeena goes on and on. You get no feel for the colours of the Chinars, you don’t shiver from the cold breezes, you don’t picture the wooden homes, their creaking stairs. You only understand that the Bhats and the Maliks are neighbours, you understand how Deewan can fight for Bilal, and that Safeena is beautiful and that her tears are like diamonds and emeralds. The story takes its own sweet time to take shape, and that could be a negative for the book.

But then the action begins and the Bhats have to hide in their neighbour’s home from the burning and the pillaging. It is here that you begin to worry, to care for the characters. You realise how young they are and how the innocence of the city is systematically torn apart. Continue reading


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Kashmir Through Filters: A poem by Sayan Aich Bhowmik

Kashmir Through Filters

Sayan Aich BhowmikSayan Aich Bhowmik is currently serving as the Head of the Department of English at South Calcutta Girls’ College. When not under the burden of answer scripts and meeting deadlines, he can be found nurturing his love for movies, writing and poetry. A published poet, he is also the editor of the blog Plato’s Caves, a semi-academic space for discussion on life, culture and literature.

 


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‘Stones’ and ‘A nonsense elegy’: Two poems by Shahnaz Bashir

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Shahnaz Bashir was born and brought up in Kashmir. His widely reviewed and critically lauded debut novel The Half Mother won the Muse India Young Writer Award 2015. His short fiction, memoir essays, poetry and reportage have been widely published and anthologised.

Shahnaz teaches narrative journalism and conflict reporting at the Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He is a university gold medalist in journalism and was also awarded the prestigious Shamim Ahmad Shamim Memorial Kashmir Times Award 2007. His second book Scattered Souls, a collection of interlinked stories, has just been published by Fourth Estate HarperCollins. He is currently working on his third book.

Shahnaz Bashir’s two evocative poems on Kashmir’s present where stones write the elegy of loss and newspapers announce news of more massacres yet speak of an undying hope.

Stones

Dusty, calloused hands of hope write
Heavy, hard sentences of stones
And throw them
Word by word,
On the streets and lanes and by-lanes of a paper.
They fall off the paper and heap up—powdered words:
Detritus of truth, the alphabets of stones.
Strewn at crossroads and near spiked iron barricades
That guard the barbarians of the strife-torn city
Who are even afraid of the stones of tombstones,
Yet order gouging out of eyes of dreams
To deconstruct the stones.
In the darkness the guardians of dead conscience
Search for clues of pens—nab nibs,
Soiled with motes of words,
Battered words that distort even the stones.
Trailing after the lost voice of the fugitive ink,
Spirit of the bullets breaks where
They shatter the hearts of stones.
From each hand that has thrown words,
Come the cries of wounded stones:
Tears of stones, blood of stones.
They throw them stone by stone,
In the memory of stones.
And from each eye that sheds stones,
And each lip that croons,“stones,”
Come these amorphous words.
Each stone is a word, petrified,
In each hand that smells of freedom.

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Excerpts: Jaffna Street by Mir Khalid

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As I have mentioned earlier, prior to the branding of Jaffna Street, our area was notorious, constantly attracting search operations. In the summer of 1992 the security apparatus launched ‘Operation Tiger’, which achieved notoriety for allegedly bumping off insurgents rather than capturing them. The operation  was initiated from our Noor Bagh area and its first casualty was a local lad, a big fish, a much-wanted insurgent leader of the Al Umar insurgent group that controlled the entire downtown area. Earlier that same night, our next-door neighbour, Yusuf, an affable and mild-mannered artisan, died in a concomitant raid   by the Indian armed forces to trap a group of armed insurgents. Giving no heed to his or his parent’s protestations, the militants had forcibly entered his home to stay the night.

Weeks before, my sibling and I had finagled our way out of another army cordon using our exam slips. Allowed at first to leave, we were then detained along with a host of others at the Noor Bagh chowk. An autorickshaw driver who had inadvertently walked into the cordon had been forced to sit under a horse cart. Irate soldiers playfully made our release from the cordoned area  conditional on our setting the range plates of  their  AK 47  rifles to the correct measure; a sure way of self-implicating. In  the afternoon sun we watched in trepidation as the soldiers cursed and accused us of studying during the day and fighting them at night.

But afterwards, with the changing contours, even as foreign fighters started pouring into the Kashmir theatre of operations and Srinagar itself, the assassinations of former militants and people accused of snitching were regularly carried  out  by  a new insurgent crop. Ironically, though, the spate of extortions and carjacking that had been the norm ceased. The racketeer insurgent lot steered clear of our area for fear of being shot in broad daylight.

The increase in insurgent activity again led to an increased level of cordon and search operations and arrests by the paramilitaries and the military. Their lack of hard intelligence  led to indiscriminate and random arrests; many of my own friends and acquaintances were also taken in and had to weather vicious interrogation techniques in makeshift detention centres during the two- to three-day mopping operations. Many had to be carried home, so broken and battered, unable to even  stand. Many a times I thanked my stars for never having to go through these ordeals.

In June 1995, I stood in the large crowd in the main square on Nalamaar Road. My previous attendances in the cordon and search operations had left me with a sunburnt face and arms so    I was trying to find a place to perch and protect myself from    the summer sun, which in a few hours would attain a furious face, enough to melt the surface of the tarmac road.

What  I  hadn’t  considered  was  that  my  dandyish  though worn-out attire, complete with Lacoste and Levi’s components, would mark me out in the crowd. Within moments, a young officer in cammies wigwagged his fingers, signalling me to come forward. Ever the cocky person I was in those days, I blurted, ‘What am I supposed to do,’ in English. The officer retorted in   a serious tone, ‘I will let you  know.’

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New Release: The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra

house-that-spokePenguin announce the release of The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra. The novel, set in the controversial terrain of Kashmir, beautifully blends magical and historical elements. The book will be released all across India in February 2017.

Fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdan has always known that there is something extraordinary about her house, which is as inextricably a part of her life as what’s left of her torn, frayed family. Now just before her fifteenth birthday, she find that she has inherited not just her beloved house’s grim secrets but also a battle with an ancient, deadly force of darkness.

Lush and evocative, The House That Spoke is a kaleidoscopic tale that reimagines Kashmir with the colours of magic and is sure to leave you spellbound.

About the Author

Zuni is a fifteen-year-old author and has published two books of poetry. This is her first novel.She is the daughter of noted film critic Anupama Chopra and filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The acclaimed writer Vikram Chandra is her maternal uncle.

 

 


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Why do we need more narratives from Kashmir

By Suhail Ahmad

In a recently held interaction session organized by Rising Kashmir, academic and author, Dr Nitasha Kaul emphasized on the need of having more and more stories and narratives coming from Kashmir in order to clear the picture of the conflict zone which has been shrouded in the haze of multiple narratives. Fortunately, over the years, a number of young Kashmiri authors have attempted to reflect the true human story of Kashmir, challenging the State-centric discourse.

Walk into a bookstore, and you are drawn to a stack of titles on Kashmir conflict. Though non-Kashmiri writers have authored most of these books, there has been a refreshing change with the residents providing a local perspective of the intractable conflict. Now you can find the likes of Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed and Shahnaz Bashir alongside Victoria Schofield, Sumantra Bose, Sumit Ganguly and M J Akbar.

The local narrative is important given the prevailing climate of opinion in India about Kashmir. The debate about Kashmir has been conducted primarily by sensational journalism in India. The negative image of Kashmiris among the Indian people receive daily reinforcement from the news media. As a result, to the average Indian newspaper reader, Kashmiris and secessionists have become almost interchangeable terms. In the absence of any contact with real Kashmiris in daily life, many have accepted this kind of image as a substitute. Read more

Source: Rising Kashmir


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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Shahnaz Bashir

By Aminah Sheikh

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Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

My basic instinct is to write. Of course, a cause, money, adulation and fame are what writers write for but they can’t happen without the instinct. The vent that I need to articulate the deepest levels of my consciousness drives me to write. When not writing, I sing; I sing well.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

My most recent book is Scattered Souls. It is a collection of 13 interlinked stories which makes it a novel as well. The connections between the stories have been determined by the interdependent diversity in suffering that run through disparate, scattered individuals as a thread, enabling each character a full role in relation to the other. But that is not how it was planned. It emerged while writing them.

The conflict situation in Kashmir is extraordinary. The stories try to evince what ordinary means to a people living (read suffering) in an extraordinary situation.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Primarily, I’m fond of experimenting with diverse formats. I also like to punctuate the narration with real elements like a letter, an ad, a song, a poem, a list, a symbol and so on. I don’t like tight climax-plots but loose-ended plots to my stories with a multi-plot embedded throughout. I like a matter-of-fact, poetic, stream-of-consciousness, compact narration generally and above all. My stories would stand alone as well as converge, with certain elements, into each other. I am fond of nouns and verbs mostly, in verbing of nouns and adjectives as tiny metaphors. I don’t approve of fiction which is written only to explore the possibilities of language not ideas. I don’t like too much of aesthetic that fails to torture the language and holds it back from telling the latent truth.

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Indian author moots confederation to settle Kashmir issue

Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari on Wednesday released a book that calls for a confederation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but without undoing the partition as the only way to address poverty and resolve the Kashmir dispute.

“Regional cooperation with a focus on human security problems, on movement of people and on trade without unreasonable restrictions” was the need of the hour, Mr Ansari said at a function in Mumbai, apparently agreeing with the book’s argument.

“The common traits in cultural traditions and historical narratives need to be transmitted to younger generation through conscious promotion rather than prevention of cultural exchanges, films, and other cultural activities,” Mr Ansari said in his appeal to the governments and civil societies in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Mr Ansari made these comments while releasing August Voices, a new book by Indian peace activist Sudheendra Kulkarni, which calls for an India-Pakistan-Bangladesh confederation. Read more

Source: DAWN


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New Release: Abdul Gani Bhat’s ‘Beyond Me’ captivates, jolts the reader

The former Prime Minister of Jammu Kashmir, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was on Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s mission Kashmir in Pakistan to explore possibilities to work out a peaceful settlement of Kashmir dispute but Nehru died while Sheikh was in Pakistan, former APHC Chairman and Muslim Conference leader, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat writes in his autobiography ‘Beyond Me’.

In his 264-page book published by Gulshan Books Kashmir, Bhat writes that the war between India and China – the most humiliating war to recount amid noises ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ eventually brought Jawahar Lal Nehru’s ivory towers tumbling down in pieces to earth.

“Nehru’s sense of history was sharper than a few others around. He understood that belligerence against the neighbouring China and Pakistan at the same time could spell a disaster in the entire region and thus in deference to Anglo-American diplomatic persuasion as well preferred a strategic dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir dispute. The dialogue happened to produce no solution as usual,” he writes in the book that he has dedicated to Qurat-ul-Ain and her mother Tasleema and that encapsulates his life upto 1987.

The book divided into 15 chapters is being released at a simple function in Srinagar on Friday. Bhat writes things changed when National Conference (NC) founder, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was released from captivity. Read more