Skip to main content

Kashmir, Bastar: How ominous calm, enforced silence 'don’t provide' neat answers

By Harsh Thakor* 

The book “Flaming Forest, Wounded Valley: Stories from Bastar and Kashmir” is a gripping account with lively narratives of first hand experiences in Bastar and Kashmir, where repression has simmered to a boiling point since 1947. Author Freny Manecksha illustrates how the fabric of human rights has been ripped apart, violating the laws of the Constitution.
More than the commentary -- of violence and atrocities, death and turmoil and also resistance and tenacity -- what is remarkable is the in depth portrayal of how people are besieged in their day to day life. These project the bigger, grimmer picture.
Each tale touches upon injustice or intimidation, ranging from the stark oppression of Adivasis in Bastar withstanding bodily violations for their rights to jal, jangal and zameen; to the subtle way in which journalists and activists are discouraged from visiting Bastar. The only hotel in Dantewada can turf out guests at night, claiming the hotel is needed for wedding guests.
In Kashmir, a poet remembers the burning flames of what was once his home which was blown up by armed force when militants rushed in, as a necessary part of poetic folklore; a woman is woken to the terror and humiliation of soldiers in her own room during a night raid.
The stories illustrate the continuities in the state’s militarisation policy. For instance, the ancestry of Chhattisgarh’s Salwa Judum and its depravity could well be traced back to the way the State created and nurtured Kashmir’s rogue Ikhwanis; the battle to preserve pastoral land in Kashmir would also be a parallel of the Adivasi struggle for forested land in Chhattisgarh.
The aged and infirm were not spared from the atrocities. This happens even as India is showcased as the world’s biggest democracy. It also shows how colonial concerns are superimposed with corporate ones.
The mainstream media represents Bastar and Kashmir and parts of the North East as zones of insurgency and/or terrorism. But, as the book points out, these are in fact highly militarized zones where failing to stop at a checkpost can get one shot.
In the Bastar section, the book looks at how the Adivasi’s holistic view of the forest as an entire ecosystem with its cultural and spiritual values, is vastly different from that of the state, which sees it only from the commercial angle. The nature of the economy defines the classification of forest produce.
The merciless displacement drive during the Salwa Judum years was undertaken to
champion the mining interests of corporate honchos. Repressive measures of the Salwa Judum placed the lives of the Adivasis in peril.
The book looks at why there are many demonstrative acts of dissent staged against this ‘development’ agenda, which flow from this crucial difference between the Adivasi vision and that of the state.
Through her field trips Manecksha discovered that Adivasis suffered great feelings of insecurity and alienation because they associated the security camps as centres of illegal incarceration, torture and humiliation. She narrates several incidents of sexual brutalisation, rape and intimidation and the Adivasis’ struggles to pursue justice for the same in court. Sexual violence as a weapon of war was
deployed in conflict zones as a means to crush the resistance movements.
The Union home minister recently announced -- triumphantly -- the setback or retreat of Maoists and of militancy. The agenda, of course, is to portray their humiliating defeat. But what this closure entails — the deep injuries
Manecksha’s book is critical in manifesting the humiliating injuries perpetrated by the state. It is significant to note Chhattisgarh’s complex political history and blurring of party lines. Both the BJP and the Congress are united in efforts to aid industrialists and business entities to displace indigenous habitations and lifestyles.
In a crucial chapter on Bastar’s judicial proceedings and the criminal justice system, Manecksha looks at how under the guise of security, a vast section of Adivasi society is labelled as Naxali.
The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which has broad and vague definitions of what is unlawful and the indiscriminate use of the NIA Act, has enabled the State to incarcerate thousands of Adivasis in fabricated cases. The high occupancy rate in jails as against the extremely low conviction rate illustrates the injustices being done to people spending lengthy periods in jail for no crime at all.
In the Kashmir section, Manecksha probes into how the most autocratic measures of the State, stripped Kashmiris of all rights, even those of an election as the hallmark of democracy, with the patent rigging in 1987. This paved the way for violent struggle.
The book looks at the huge violence during the militancy years with internecine battles between various groups of militants and counter fighting, as well as targeted killings of Pandits leading to the sizeable departure of the community. India’s reply was an unleashing of a brutal counter insurgency operation, with enforced disappearances, custodial and extra-judicial killings, torture and sexual violence. Instances of heroic retaliatory protests are described in vivid detail.
The events of 2019 with eradication of Article 370 and the months of oppression that followed are recounted in detail with narratives on the mass incarcerations of people, telecommunication blackout and the return of night raids.
Various form of oppression like begar or forced labour that exist today can be traced back to the Dogra rule
In the first few weeks in August 2019 operations were carried out at night whereby troops entered people’s homes, made arrests, took away youths to camps where cases of torture were reported. In one instance, widely reported in international media, the instrument of subjugation was a loudspeaker. It was placed in a camp so as to ensure that villagers of Heff Shirmal in Shopian district could hear the shrieks of tortured persons as a warning message.
The book also examines spaces of dissent which highlights the role of funerals as a political statement and is the reason why lakhs gathered for prayers for Burhan Wani. This was also evident in the nineties when thousands had congregated for the funeral of a militant Ashfaq Majeed Wani, commander in chief of the outlawed Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.
Funerals have also become gender inclusive spaces. Many women, who are
traditionally forbidden from attending final funeral rites, were present for Wani’s funeral.
The funerals of civilians killed had also become a very public affair. When Tufail Matto, the 17-year-old schoolboy was killed by the canister of a tear gas grenade whilst returning home from tuitions public outrage broke out, Ashraf Mattoo, his father, was persuaded by the public to let him be buried in the Martyrs' Graveyard in Eidgah instead of the family graveyard. He said that although Tufail was his son, in death he belonged to all of Kashmir.
The state, which has become conscious of the emotive power of funerals, used the corona pandemic to prevent handing over bodies of militants and civilians killed in gunfights to the families, denying people the most basic right to mourn.
The historic dimensions of Kashmir’s political struggles have been largely ignored and the book makes a small attempt to examine the complex and volatile interaction between external forces and internal struggles, from the colonial and the time of Dogra rule up to present times. Various form of oppression like begar or forced labour can be traced back to these times.
Since the abrogation of Article 370 a series of repressive laws have been pushed through. These range from legislation that strips hundreds of pastoral communities of their right to live in their ancestral homes, the sanctioning of mining leases that allow non’Kashmiris to destroy and ravage the land, the amendment of laws that pave the way for heavy influx of non Kashmiris etc.
The Hindu right-wing openly asserts that it aims to convert 69% of the Muslim majority of Jammu and Kashmir, into a disempowered minority. Kashmiris themselves have compared this state to ithe Naqba or permanent displacement of Palestinians. The author surmises that the ominous calm and enforced silences don’t provide neat answers.
*Freelance journalist



AMR: A gathering storm that threatens a century of progress in medicine

By Bobby Ramakant*  A strategic roundtable on “Charting a new path forward for global action against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)” was organised at the 77th World Health Assembly or WHA (WHA is the apex decision-making body of the World Health Organization – WHO, which is attended by all countries that are part of the WHO – a United Nations health agency). AMR is among the top-10 global health threats “Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a growing and urgent crisis which is already a leading cause of untimely deaths globally. More than 2 people die of AMR every single minute,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. “AMR threatens to unwind centuries of progress in human health, animal health, and other sectors.”

New Odia CM's tribal heritage 'sets him apart' from Hindutva Brahminical norms

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Mohan Charan Majhi took the oath as the new Chief Minister of Odisha following the electoral defeat of the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik, who served as Chief Minister for twenty-four years. The new Chief Minister is the son of a security guard and a four-time MLA who hails from the remote village of Raikala in the Keonjhar district. He belongs to the Santali tribe and comes from a working-class family. Such achievements and political mobilities are possible only in a democratic society. Majhi’s leadership even in the form of symbolic representation in a democracy deserves celebration.

What stops Kavach? Why no time to focus on common trains meant for common people?

By Atanu Roy  A goods train rammed into Kanchenjunga Express on 17th June morning in North Bengal. This could have been averted if the time tested anti-collision system (Kavach) was in place. 

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Saving farmers and consumers from GM crops and food: Philippines court shows the way

By Bharat Dogra*  At a time when there is increasing concern that powerful GM crop lobbyists backed by enormous resources of giant multinational companies may be able to bulldoze food safety and environmental concerns while pushing GM crops, a new hope has appeared in the form of a court decision from the Philippines. 

Top Punjab Maoist who failed to analyse caste question, promoted economism

By Harsh Thakor*  On June 15th we commemorated the 15th death anniversary of Harbhajan Singh Sohi or HBS, a well known Communist leader in Punjab. He expired of a heart attack in Bathinda in 2009.