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

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

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. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

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".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.