Srinagar: A boy looks intently at an expansive collage of pictures inside a tent erected outside the shrine of Batamaloo sahib, a strictly vegetarian saint whose Urs was observed today.
The images of the people who have been killed in the resistance since 1973 in Kashmir seem to compete for onlookers’ attention.
The boy, Mohsin Rah, walks up to Shakeel Bakshi, who has been organising this photo exhibition for the past several years on the saint’s Urs.
“I need the photo of Sameer baya. Can I take it home?” Mohsin asks Bakshi.
Sameer Rah was eight years old when he was beaten to death by the government forces during the anti-India uprising in 2010.
Bakshi gave him the picture and the boy ran home.
“These pictures are a glimpse of the sacrifices Kashmir has offered for its freedom. They are the reflection of Kashmir’s history,” said Bakshi, the patron of Islamic Students League.
“Many families learnt about the death of their kin at this exhibition. Last year a woman from Anantnag fainted when she looked at a picture,” he added.
The woman’s son had been killed at the Line of Control by army. But all these years, she believed he was one of the thousands of youths who had disappeared in custody of armed forces since 1990, when the armed anti-India revolt erupted in the state.
The exhibition features people who have been killed by government forces from pre-militancy era to the recent killings.
“The exhibition is one long reminder. It is disturbing but it reflects the truth of our condition,” said Murtaza Ali, a visitor.
Bakshi said the ISL has been collecting pictures and videos since 1989 to “keep the memory alive”. Most of the pictures have been donated by photographers.
A sizable number of the pictures got damaged over the time or were seized by government forces during search operations, he added.
“People used to destroy such pictures as they feared reprisals from government forces. Some people had buried the pictures of their loved ones under earth and retrieved them after the siege eased a bit,” he said.
Mohammad Ayub, an ISL activist, said the first photo exhibition was organised in 1992 at the Hazratbal shrine. Till 1996, the most-revered shrine remained the venue for the exhibition.
But the exercise was shelved after the government-sponsored militia, Ikhwan, emerged in the Valley.
“We again started the exhibition in 2005 after collecting photographs. Collecting photos was the most disturbing thing as many people doubted our intentions,” he said.
President ISL Sheikh Musaib said organising the exhibition is always a risk as the government can wind it up anytime and, worse, seize the pictures.
“But surprisingly when a police team visited the exhibition in the morning they left in a somber mood. They perhaps realised that they belong to the same society which has lost these men and women,” said Musaib.