Signposts for the slain: Kashmir tells its story through names

SRINAGAR: They have named it after their hero, in accord with a growing urge among Kashmiris to landmark their history and tragedy.  ‘Afzalabad’ say white letters on brick walls in Jageer, the native village of Mohammad Afzal Guru whom New Delhi hanged secretly over a year ago in the parliament attack case.
Youth in the north Kashmir neighbourhood have pulled no punches – Afzalabad they have painted even in front of a large military camp just at the village gates.
It stares down the troopers’ own message – ek goli, ek terrorist (one bullet for one terrorist).
And also adorns the building where Guru went to school as a boy, part of a community’s curriculum for posterity.
“We have already approached district authorities for a formal change in name,” says a local resident, adding that they had also written Afzalabad on application forms for election identity cards.
“We want to honour Guru,” Maqbool Ahmad, a bearded young man of the same village, says. “And we want an identity distinct from the adjacent village known for pro-India activities.”
Guru’s hamlet is not alone in this rite of remembrance. Signs, small and big, have sprung up across Kashmir in undying kinship to those fallen in conflict, and their cause.
The government’s brutal suppression of the Valley’s summer agitations has spawned the retelling of countless stories, barely in two or three words.
Anchidoora, a village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, therefore, has become Shuhada-e-Kashmir Colony, or Kashmir Martyrs’ Enclave.
Three local boys, fleeing a crackdown on street protests in 2010, were ruthlessly shot dead in the compound of a private house by a posse of chasing policemen.
No one has been called to account to this day.
“We can do nothing but find ways to remember these youth,” says Shabir Ahmad, a resident. “We have renamed the village so that anyone who comes here gets to know what happened.
As in Guru’s village, the signs in Anchidoora are painted in white, and are the first that visitors see.
Instinctive and unbidden the practice may seem in rural Kashmir, it is organized and considered in urban Srinagar.
The Municipal Park (or the Sher-e-Kashmir Park) in the city centre, where civil society groups riposted a government-sponsored Zubin Mehta concert last year, has already been rechristened in activists’ imaginations.
Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir (Reality of Kashmir) Park they call it now, after the name of their recounting of the region’s stories of pain and suffering.
A performance held to counter what civil society members termed as the state’s attempts to impose an argument of normalcy through its Ehsaas-e-Kashmir concert.
Human rights activists here call it “the institutionalisation of memory as a part of resistance” in the conflict-torn Valley.
“Memory is a part of resistance, and it is now getting institutionalised as a part of resistance,” Khurram Pervaiz of the JK Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) says.
“People in Kashmir understand the value of memorising sacrifices, and it is in line with this idea that we see people naming lanes or mosques or even businesses after martyrs.”
“It is a positive sign for the society,” he adds. “The sentiment of resistance is becoming widespread in the Valley, and people are doing whatever little they can to remember the sacrifice.”