An octogenarian Kashmiri woman woke me from my deep stupor the other day. JNU has become everything; I take joy from it, accept my share of miseries; I find causes worth fighting for, and then brim with confidence from victories. But it is all within JNU: the ephemeral joy, a necessary light melancholy, a cause but not really too important, a pyrrhic victory. So when the outside world I generally shield myself from comes face to face I tremble with indignation.
Many thousands of Kashmiris went missing during the last fifteen years. Enforced disappearances. Custodial killings. Fake encounters. Vanished into the thin air. Some thirty families, out of more than five thousand, arrived here in JNU to seek support from students and teachers for their demand to constitute an independent commission to find details about their missing kith and kin.
It was sad that only a few dozen people turned up for the meeting. These families had travelled almost a thousand miles in a bus for the programme. Since most of them could not speak in either English or Hindi, I volunteered to translate. An old woman got up, shuddering with an unknown fear, and, with tears falling incessantly from her eyes, began to narrate her story in a husky unclear voice. I pressed my hand against hers, she held it tight. She handed over her lost grandson’s photograph, a sharp featured green-eyed lanky teenager. She spoke to me, and I translated every three sentences: how her grandson had been abducted by army men, and how she had been unable to trace him.
It has been almost ten years now. She has run from pillar to post, but to no avail. By this time everyone in the room was quiet. She told me that her son was perhaps martyred. I was not sure if I should translate martyred as martyred or just say killed. Many people had advised me to use politically correct words. I threw caution to the wind, looked straight into the eyes of a person who looked like he was from the intelligence, and emphatically said “martyred. And I went on to do the same for around fifteen other old and young men and women, who came after the elderly grandma.
I could see some eyebrows raised. I didn’t care. Almost all of the family members cried. I was not sure what to do. I could give solace to one or two people, but when all fifty of them broke down, I stood helplessly. I felt upset standing there amid all this; I felt unmoved. Anger against the audience must have turned my heart to stone. How does it feel to lose your mother, sister, father, son? They didn’t seem to want to know.
I was somehow also angry at these Kashmiri families. These old women, and men, wives, sisters, and daughters should not have come here. Nothing moves here. No one listens. By expressing their grief and pleading in front of the powerful they not only undermined the extreme profundity of their feelings, but also let the powerful take in more airs as the arbiters of the fate of Kashmiri lives. Our loved ones were snatched from us in the name of the same audience we were asking help from.
“The city from which no news can come
Is now so visible in its curfewed night
That the worst is precise.
From Zero Bridge
A shadow chased by searchlight is running
Away to find its body.
On the edge of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,
It shrinks almost into nothing, is nothing,
By interrogation gates,
So it can slip, unseen, into the cells:
Drippings from a suspended burning tyre
Are falling on the back of a prisoner
The naked boy screaming,
‘I know nothing’.”
“I see Kashmir from New Delhi by Midnight”,
by Agha Shahid Ali