By Mouris Bashir
Zahid’s murder, his martyrdom remains pervasive and well entrenched, and the people especially pro-freedom parties, and those who voted must bear a heavy share of the blame.
His murder, what everyone perceives was over “hurting religious sentiments” of the Hindu majority, is incontrovertible proof that has forced liberals and saner heads to realise that these atrocities happen regularly under their noses and they are just hidden from public view. The brutality by Hindu groups has not increased this year, it has just been more visible. But Zahid’s murder was not simply a Hindu versus Muslim case nor was it over the issue of hurting religious sentiments. It was a well-planned murder. The murder was a stark reminder to Kashmiris that they are living under an aggressive state that is hostile towards them.
When news reached Kashmir that Zahid has departed for his heavenly abode, a strike was announced immediately by the pro-freedom camp, to nobody’s surprise. What followed next day was some Hurriyat leaders rushing, a routine thing for them to do and much like politicians in opposition across the globe do, to visit Zahid’s house to show off their solidarity, do a photo-op and then slip out and wait until the next Zahid is killed, then repeat the same cycle. They, and most of us, want to empathise with the family of the murdered. But can we stop such killings at the hands of Hindutva forces?
A trucker was killed under similar circumstances in 2008, we protested, empathised with the family, the pro-freedom and pro-India groups did their photo-ops, read out the prepared statements showing solidarity and promising heaven but afterwards left the family to fight their own struggle. A recent news report mentioned their ordeal, their struggle to make ends meet, and the discontinuing of education by the kids because they couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile, a few pro-freedom leaders used the Muslim quota in some foreign Muslim universities to send their own kin to become engineers and doctors, the pro-India groups abused the PM scholarship scheme to send the kids of their voters to different Indian cities to study.
They forget the kids of hundreds of martyrs; those kids are now just sad (news) stories in orphanages, on our streets selling everything from a pen to a sandal to tea, or working as house helper in rich suburban families. Empathy, as argued in a recent article in The Atlantic, as an emotion draws too much attention to an individual, standing in the way of effective social change. Some pro-freedom and most pro-India groups are maintaining and safeguarding their own interests while using the death of a common Kashmiri to further their own agendas and coffers. A hartal call and the subsequent curfew after every innocent Kashmiri kid is murdered is a sequence that even a baby born a week ago is aware of in Kashmir. Bakshi humiliated us in the 50s, Sheikh in 1975, Mufti, Farooq and Ikhwan in the 90s. The pro-freedom camp not only humiliated but nearly crushed us by selling out in 2008-2010. I can disagree with and still love some pro-freedom leaders unless our disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.
But today it is about Zahid. Zahid’s death is not only his death; it is every freedom loving Kashmiri’s death much like it was Wamiq’s or Sameer’s. Though he was murdered by communal Hindu forces, and not by the state sponsored militia, it does not belong to Omar Abdullah to take pot shots at his political rival or at the Hurriyat. His death does not belong to everyone, though we claim it and smear it across our social media pages and chant it on our streets. His death belongs to him, his kin, and his community first. I do not wish to do this to Zahid, to empty out his body, which was more than flesh, and turn him into a narrative, into a device, and take a fraction of my imagination and intellect, use his death as a pack mule to service a political exigency. Instead we and the pro-freedom camp should use his death in the service of transforming into something redemptive. Redemption is, sometimes, a very destructive act as it requires and demands a double absence of the victim of state violence. The very act of redemption enacts and necessitates a double disappearance because what is redeemed—the living, the laudable ideal—is hierarchised and takes precedence over the dead and their death in order for redemption to be achieved.
When I reflect on Zahid’s death at the hands of Hindus from Jammu I realise their party affiliations have been carefully kept hidden. I don’t have Zahid’s permission to perform such an act; he is gone to a blissful and just world, albeit too soon. Often deaths like this are turned into a spectacle, into material, into memorial, an artefact laid at the altar of history, and the body of the dead. Zahid’s body becomes a vessel for the anxiety, fears, and hopes of the living.
Dear Zahid, carrying nothing but my rage, and my grief, I went out into the streets in the 90s. My eyes were open as veins. I remember the chimes of voices as we neared the martyr’s graveyard. There were all kinds of people breathing and fighting back. I was 8 or 9 and in the front row of my best friend’s brother’s funeral that day, and watched hundreds of troops converging on us, but as soon as a Hurriyat activist pulled out from his white ambassador car, they lowered the rifles and allowed the waves of protest and solidarity of one great death. The death(s) belonged to all of us, built from all of our lives. Because that is the way we can live beyond death. Your death is one great death, and you can now live beyond death, in my memory, in our memory, just like 8-year-old Sameer who was trampled under jackboots on the way to his home after a playful session with his friends. Your and his death, we’re supposed to regard as a “small thing”, a “misfortune”, a “tiny kink” in the criminal justice system, a broken egg in the larger omelette of a Hindu Rashtra that wants to portray itself as a secular nation. The RSS and the BJP men who are part of the government and sadly Kashmiri Pandits even imply, or say outright, that what happened––your death––is justice.
I want to not think about my dead friend every time the police kills one of us and then get to pose in front of flags and lie to the cameras. They keep killing our people without any remorse and fear of punishment; and when I remember that I cry, though I don’t want to. None of my tears can offer resurrection, my writing can’t offer resurrection. And, I want us to stay alive!
—The author is a student at the University of Edinburgh.