Book: "Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir"; Author: Fahad Shah; Publisher: Tranquebar; Pages: 256; Price: Rs.395.
"For us, the colour red is not for roses but for blood." This strong statement from a 23-year-old calls for a patient hearing, especially if he is from the Kashmir Valley. Committed to narrating stories through memoirs and analytical pieces, young and independent journalist Fahad Shah provides a moving account of everyday struggles, emotional turmoil, insecurities and fear of the natives in this anthology.
"Memories made us rebellious. They made us angry. What we saw while growing up was uncertainty, chaos, crackdowns and curfews. When you have to live in fear 24X7 and worry about the safety of your family members, what choice do you have?" Shah asked while speaking to IANS.
"Military occupation has led to resistance. The turning point was the Amarnath land row. That was the first time everyone came out on streets, to fight, to raise their voices and to say enough is enough," he said of the 2008 mass protest against the Amarnath Shrine Board in which more than 80 people were killed.
Divided into three sections - memoirs, resistance and longing - it is edited by Delhi-based Shah, who was born in Srinagar. Hence, stories that touch the core of your heart come straight from people who have lost a near one, or are still waiting for the dear one to come back home, alive. The muffled voices of a photojournalist, to the first rapper from the Valley MC Kashn to a grave-digger, explode in this non-fictional account.
"There were no criteria for selecting articles. We wanted every aspect of the conflict to be told, that there should be voices of death and destruction," said Shah who is founder-editor of The Kashmir Walla magazine.
Thus, encapsulating the account of a photojournalist who turns into a stone-thrower after a 12-year-old boy who was shot in his chest crumbles in his arms, the frustrations of balancing journalistic ethics and standing for himself comes out well in the story, "The Pain of Being Haunted by Memories."
In another account, we are introduced to Fateh Jaan, a 44-year-old half-widow - a unique term that has been coined in Kashmir to categorise the wives of people who have disappeared. The dilemma of that uncertainty is where a woman is patiently hoping her husband will come back alive to her.
The possibility of this happening might be remote, as the insightful account by Gautam Navlakha, a writer and democratic rights activist, questions in his piece "The Matter of Truth, Lies and Manufacturing Consent in a Conflict Area",
"If the number of militants in Kashmir is now less than 100, why is an Indian military force of 600,000 men still deployed in the region?" Navlakha writes.
In a world where the words azadi, crackdowns, identification parades, encounters (shootouts) and grenades have become synonymous with the Valley ever since insurgency broke out in 1989 that led to the displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, Shah feels the only way to end the bloodshed is 'azadi'.
"Azadi means freedom from India and Pakistan. This is what we want. This is what we are fighting for," said Shah.
Bloodshed and atrocities are like inseparable twins who seem to have developed a liking for Kashmir since the early 1990s. This book might not change the course of events, but it will surely arouse emotions of love, longing and belonging.
(31.07.2013 - Shilpa Raina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)