“India’s Blood-Stained Democracy” by Mirza Waheed

7 Jul

Kashmiri women attend a protest organized by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Srinagar in November 2010.  (Rouf Bhat/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

 

from The New York Times, July 6th

India’s Blood-Stained Democracy, by Mirza Waheed

“LAST September, a lawmaker in Indian-controlled Kashmir stood up in the state’s legislative assembly and spoke of a valley filled with human carcasses near his home constituency in the mountains: “In our area, there are big gorges, where there are the bones of several hundred people who were eaten by crows.”

“I read about this in faraway London and was filled with a chill — I had written of a similar valley, a fictional one, in my novel about the lost boys of Kashmir. The assembly was debating a report on the uncovering of more than 2,000 unmarked and mass graves not far from the Line of Control that divides Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The report, by India’s government-appointed State Human Rights Commission, marked the first official acknowledgment of the presence of mass graves. More significantly, the report found that civilians, potentially the victims of extrajudicial killings, may be buried at some of the sites.

“Corpses were brought in by the truckload and buried on an industrial scale. The report cataloged 2,156 bullet-riddled bodies found in mountain graves and called for an inquiry to identify them. Many were men described as “unidentified militants” killed in fighting with soldiers during the armed rebellion against Indian rule during the 1990s, but according to the report, more than 500 were local residents. “There is every probability,” the report concluded, that the graves might “contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” a euphemism for people who have been detained, abducted, taken away by armed forces or the police, often without charge or conviction, and never seen again.

“Had the graves been found under Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s compound in Libya or in the rubble of Homs in Syria, there surely would have been an uproar. But when over 2,000 skeletons appear in the conflict-ridden backyard of the world’s largest democracy, no one bats an eye. While the West proselytizes democracy and respect for human rights, sometimes going so far as to cheerlead cavalier military interventions to remove repressive regimes, how can it reconcile its humanitarianism with such brazen disregard for the right to life in Kashmir? Have we come to accept that there are different benchmarks for justice in democracies and autocracies? Are mass graves unearthed in democratic India somehow less offensive?”

 

I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight

                              Now and in time to be,

                             Wherever green is worn…

                             A terrible beauty is born.

                                              — W. B. Yeats

1

One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains

to will the distant mountains to glass.

The city from where no news can come

Is now so visible in its curfewed nights

that the worst is precise:

                                        From Zero Bridge

a shadow chased by searchlights 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 tire

Are falling on the back of a prisoner,

the naked boy screaming, “I know nothing.”

2

The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,

and somehow there, across five hundred miles,

I’m sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,

but without any assurance for him.

 

On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,

unheard we speak: “I know those words by heart

(you once said them by chance): In autumn

when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves

fall in clusters –

                                 one by one, otherwise.”

“Rizwan, it’s you, Rizwan, it’s you,” I cry out

as he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.

“Each night put Kashmir in your dreams,” he says,

then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,

whispers, “I have been cold a long, long time.”

 

3

“Don’t tell my father I have died,” he says,

and I follow him through blood on the road

and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners

left behind, as they ran from the funeral,

victims of the firing. From windows we hear

grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall

on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,

it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,

the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers.

Kashmir is burning:

 

                                   By that dazzling light

we see men removing statues from temples.

We beg them, “Who will protect us if you leave?”

They don’t answer, they just disappear

on the roads to the plains, clutching the gods.

 

4

I won’t tell your father you have died, Rizwan,

but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth

on the tomb of which saint, or the body

of which unburied boy in the mountains,

bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies

on Himalayan snow?

 

I’ve tied a knot

with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be

untied only when the atrocities

are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news

escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,

and I’m back, five hundred miles, taking off

my ice, the mountains granite again as I see

men coming from those Abodes of Snow

with gods asleep like children in their arms.

 

                                      (for Molvi Abdul Hai)

 

 

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************   

*  “Don’t tell my mother / my beloved brother / my sister….I’m dead” is also a common stock phrase in Balkan epic poetry of guerrilla fighters, kleftes, haiduci.

*  “By that dazzling light we see men removing statues from temples”…”Who will protect us if you leave?”…”men coming from those Abodes of Snow with gods asleep like children in their arms.”

Shahid Ali’s universalist soul was as hurt by the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) from the region as he was by the brutality of the Indian Army against its innocent Muslim majority.  I can only assume that the men with the gods asleep in their arms is a reference to this exodus.  Shahid suffered from a recurrent nightmare, in fact, that the last Hindu had left Kashmir, and he fought that haunting image through the curious fashion of reproducing their distinctive cuisine as meticulously and often as possible — he was an excellent cook; there are now hardly any Hindus left in the tormented region.  “Who will protect us if you leave?,” directed to the departing Hindu gods, is a line that always breaks my heart, and could only come from a poet of as sophisticated a background and from as beautifully Sufi-syncretic a region as Kashmir.

“I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Night” reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

 

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