Imre Kertesz said, “Fiction is a form that is more truthful …”.”
I was a second Lieutenant when I arrived in Kashmir in 1992. For a year, I was in Kashmir with an infantry unit. Kashmir valley was at that time a complex fusion of faith, politics and trust. I was overwhelmed by the reality and human potential for violence. This presented an endless supply of stories from human angles. They were shared orally by the Kashmiris, both young and old: stories of pain, fear, and suffering in an absurd, emotional isolated, and basically meaningless world.
There was no poetry, novel, movie, or short story, and there were no novels, movies, or poems. Kashmir is an example where creativity went awry. This is where creativity goes awry. This isn’t for the faint of heart. Creative lapses can lead to wasted time, reputation damage, and money being misappropriated. Lack of creativity is synonymous with lack of conviction. Not only is creativity required to have courage and be able to stand up for your convictions, but it also requires that you are willing and able to do whatever it takes to win. The mainstream has been unable to accept truthful accounts because of the risk factor. An opinion or judgment from a safe distance is what permeates. And Kashmiris cannot be honest and balanced due to fear. Only the Indian Army soldier is able to see the danger and will fight it.
Niya Shahdad is a direct reflection of your eyes. This is based on her bio, which was posted on The Wire’s website 29 May 2018. She seems certain that she has something substantive to share with you. It is probably bad news. Then, she tells the reader about the horror and violence in Kashmir. The style she uses is both graphic and picturesque. Both emotion and religious feelings are expressed warmly through her trip to the “true forces” and the origins of the “mindless violence, terror.”
It’s convenient that Burhan Wani was killed, and the dating sets the tone for the story.
Niya, aged 23, is a Tufts University recent graduate. There she earned her BA and MA in English. She writes convincingly with her fellow writers.
But this narrative is flawed.
It’s not true.
She is not the only voice trying to construct a narrative about the Indian State that will only exaggerate its vices and ignore the strategic mobilization, which sometimes uses Islam or independence interchangeably. The truth is more complex than that. Only the soldier can see it.
The Kashmiri Pandits, who are a minority and cannot effectively counter Niya’s voice because they lack an empirical strength, are at the opposite extreme.
Rahul Paandita was fourteen when the 1990 earthquake struck Srinagar. His family was forced from their Srinagar residence. They were Kashmiri Pandits. This was a group of Hindus living in a Muslim majority. He wrote “Our Moon Has Blood Clots”, a story that focuses on the Pandits. It shows the violence of ethnic cleansing carried out by Islamic militia. Scores were tortured and murdered, and 3.5 Lac Kashmiri Pandits were forced into exile.
There’s an ascendant version of the “Muslim” story and one that is minority. Despite the fact that there are many books and tons of information about the diplomatic, socio-economic, and historical sides of the 71 year-old dispute, some truths remain.
The “human” drama of Kashmir has been ignored by almost all media outlets, including television, radio and newspapers. Simply because we are naturally interested in the lives of our fellow humans, it’s part of our nature. People are at the core of events when they’re told a human interest story. This has two benefits. It provides a connection with the reader and taps into the natural curiosity of people.
Concerned that faujis have never written any stories from Kashmir about human angles, despite the abundance of writings by ex generals and so-called ‘defence professionals’
The insurgency contributes arms and training as well as fighters to Pakistan. This is why they place all responsibility for violence in Jammu Kashmir. They only repeat what they have already said.
On the contrary, we have Niya Khandads who play on the victim mentality. They deliberately prevent the exodus for the Pandits, but dwell on the killings or injuries of Muslims and only that – an Indian nation tricked and duped.
There is very little to be said about the soldier. He is always being duped into performing actions that don’t serve him.
According to the Indian citizen, Kashmir is not home to any individual, but rather stock images. There are’secessionist Kashmiris,’ terrorists in Kashmir, and soldiers who are merely ‘Pak proles’.
It has been years of turmoil that have failed to create any tangible characters, whether they are military or Kashmiri. There is a commonality between Kashmiris, with their problems and ambitions. Many are the underdogs, caught between terrorists and the armed forces. Understanding their fears, insecurities, pain, anger and fear would improve our collective perceptions of these emotions.
Muzaffar was a man who was raised in a strong nationalist family. He was tortured and harassed to become militancy to protect the same credential. I managed his surrender and found him to be extremely intelligent during our conversations. I owe him many rare insights about Kashmir which give me the conviction that Niya Shahdad (and her ilk) are ‘pseudofillers’ who have overtaken the writing sector and know how the entire ‘deal’ of editing works.
Muzaffar’s tale doesn’t stop here. After a week of custody, he asked for my permission to visit him parents. This I gladly granted. He never came back. I stormed his home to “sort him all out” and discovered that he was being pursued by Hizbul Mujahideen. He had pierced his stomach with an iron rod and had goneuged out his eyes. The guilt has weighed heavily on my shoulders to this day.
A jawan accidentally fired his weapon into his forehead. His grey matter dripped until medical staff arrived. He was sitting still as though in a trance and tried to get up. But he collapsed after seeing an officer approaching.
One of my school teachers had told me that Kashmiris were not as close to Pakistani sympathies as they were with POK. It was a ’emotional’ relationship, he stated. This was a year and a half after the insurgency was launched from JKLF. Various groups were advocating the establishment Nizam-e-Mustafa (“Rule of Allah”)
A woman was being interrogated by her husband about possible links to militants. I was asked by the lady whether it was his fault that his mother was a Muslim. An illiterate woman asked me such a direct question. I still have her fleeting, faint smile that plays around my lips, proud, disdainful, unfeated, and inscrutable to death.
I was able speak with Mohammad Yusuf Shah’s son from Budgam. He described to me how his Islamic scholar-preacher father had been made into a militant leader of Hizbul Mujahideen under alias Syed Salahuddin.
I have more stories, and I ask for forgiveness from the heavens.
Today, the Army is an integral part Kashmiris’ daily lives. The army has also learned more about the Valley as new generations of Kashmiris live next to the military camps. Its ethos is constantly reflecting on the local community. This ethos is represented by Lt Fayaz (or Aurangzeb). The accompanying sloganeering that is rooted in the traditional “us versus them” mindset has not made their story have the desired impact. Burhan Waani is still the dominant voice in the collective imagination.
The Army alone is capable of creating an alternate hero.
The fauji is required to write. This is not the propaganda-style stuff you see on TV. These stories are more personal and give readers the opportunity to interact with the content.
The pen can often be more than a weapon or weapon: it is the key to defining a generation’s history and causing turmoil.