Sabika and Shivani had been at high school in India during the Summer of 2010, and at that time they knew little of what was happening in Kashmir. On the 29th of June that same year, Iffat, who was from South Kashmir, was returning home from Delhi, with her uncle and mother, after completing her registration for university. As they neared the end of the journey the vehicles were stopped at Khanabal Point. Iffatt, her mother and uncle found themselves on the street, trying to get home amidst tear gas shelling and stone pelting. Running, they reached an open field where Iffat’s mother suddenly sat down. Frozen with fear she refused to move any further. After time passed, Iffat said, they somehow managed to run to the safety of their home amidst the sounds of gun shots. A few hours later Iffat watched from her home as the bodies of three young boys were carried down the street. She said they were only 19 or 20 years old and had been martyred just metres from their own homes.
Sabika, Shivani and I listened to Iffat’s story, and tears welled up in our eyes. Although Sabika and Shivani did not know things like this were happening in 2010, they were well aware now. Over the brief two years that have since passed Sabika and Shivani’s personal interests had led them to undertake an internship with the Association for the Parents of Disappeared People (APDP), an organisation that fought an uphill battle in their attempt to seek justice from the state on behalf of Kashmir’s disappeared and their families. Through their work with APDP Sabika and Shivani had encountered a side of Kashmir that most non-Kashmiris do not get to see. It is these experiences that lay at the root of the urgency they both felt to speak of Kashmir to India – to their friends, their families and their classmates. This is something important. I remember a year or so back my grandfather in Australia said things probably wouldn’t change in Kashmir until public opinion in India began to.
As I spoke with these three young girls, all brimming with a sense of urgency about Kashmir, I couldn’t help notice how the occupation itself had come to shape our vocabulary. Crackdown. PSA. AFSPA. CRPF. Disappeared. These were not simply words but ways of understanding and of knowing the world. There was a time when these words did not have a presence in Kashmir, but now they shaped it and they had shaped us too.
Shivani said that someday she wanted to bring her family from India to visit Kashmir – but she would not take them to the Boulevard or to Dal Lake but instead she wanted to take them to the bi-lanes of Srinagar and to the outer villages where they could sit and meet with families, where they could listen to those who had their freedom taken from them in Kashmir.
Iffat said in 2008 it felt like Azadi (freedom) was here, as though it was just around the corner. But somehow in 2010, for her, there had been more killing and less hope. There was an old man where Iffat lived who sold ice cream from a cart on the roadside. One day she saw him chase a police wagon down the street. He was pleading, crying to the vehicle and the uniformed men inside, asking them not to take his grandson away. But the wagon simple drove off. This is how people are disappeared in Kashmir.
Some say there are close to 10,000 people who have disappeared in Kashmir over the last two decades; often picked up by the police or the army and never seen again. It was these disappeared and their families that APDP sought justice for.
For Iffat it was the small things that hurt her the most, like the way an army vehicle can drive through a red light without stopping and without any consequence. In 2010 the state had put the police at the front line, a strategic move that placed Kashmiris against Kashmiris. Iffat said it would not matter if AFSPA was revoked now, because the state would just shift power to the police and instead of being a military occupation, she said we’d be living in a police state. For her they were one and the same thing, only with a different name and a different uniform.