The book depicts the different facets of the tragedy that have befallen Kashmiris during the course of the conflict
By Bhat Safeer
One of the important aspects of any movement is the documentation of its events, phases, sufferings and ups and downs. The conflict in and over Kashmir long been dominated by divergent narratives with foreign authors, journalists and historians writing about it. Of late, Kashmiris have started writing about themselves, telling their stories to the world through fiction and non-fiction. This is quite significant as it has introduced a local narrative into the discourse, reflecting the way Kashmiris themselves perceive their problem. One latest addition to the collection is Shahnaz Bashir’s , ‘Scattered Souls’.
Scattered Souls is an anthology of 13 stories written in the perspective of the Kashmir conflict. Starting with the 1990s, when militancy had just emerged and was quite popular among the masses, particularly the youth, it dwells on the infamous Ikhwan Era and the stone pelting phase of the struggle. Different facets of the tragedy that have befallen Kashmiris during the course of the conflict and the scenes and situations which became part of the lives of the people have been depicted.
The oeuvre poignantly illustrates the plight of victims the conflict has exacted-a mother whose son was killed in front of her eyes, an old man whose only son was killed by an army tanker, of post-traumatic disorders, of fear psychosis, anxiety and depression, of shattered families and love stories, of shrieks and cries of a woman who has been gang raped by armed forces, of the tears of half-widows who hope against the hope for the return of their husbands, of enforced disappearances and custodial killings and Sadbhavna tours to lure students to love India. All these poignant incidents of pain and grief have been depicted in a brutally honest manner.
The depiction of inhuman torture chambers in the infamous interrogation centers sends the shivers down the spine. It is not only the state violence that the author refers to but the violence perpetrated by the insurgents who killed many innocents on the suspicion of being government informers without carrying thorough investigations. (This condition beautifully summed up in Noam Chomsky’s words, ‘If it’s wrong when they do it, it’s wrong when we do it’). Conflict in its multifaceted dimensions and uneven influence on the rich and poor has been dealt with in the story ‘The Ex-Militant’. While the rich and influential migrated to safer zones to safeguard the future of their wards, the poor had nowhere to go. It was these downtrodden people who suffered the most.
The human toll of the conflict has been very heavy and left thousands dead, wounded and maimed for life, widows and orphans. In many cases, the sole bread winners of families have been killed. It was the duty of the society and the countless organizations who collect donations in the name of the conflict to support them and ameliorate their conditions. But unfortunately they were left to fend for themselves and suffer terribly and how their abject poverty and distress forces them to take extreme steps has been amply shown in ‘The Gravestone’. The story of Sakeena and Biul and the constant stigma they face depicts a harsher reality of our society in which instead of sympathising with the victims, they are targeted and blamed for the sins they have never committed. It reminds one of the painful story of the Anantnag bride who was gang raped by the armed forces but her in-laws refused to entertain her in their household. In the guise of Barack Obama, the indifference of the world powers towards Kashmir’s plight and tragedy has been shown. The message is clear: had Kashmir been rich in oil resources, which unfortunately it is not, it would certainly have gotten the attention of the world. The confusion of the people, their divided selves, sorrow and happiness and their hatred of the occupation, couched in philosophical words has been illustrated in ‘somewhere a certain race of unknown aliens would have illegally occupied a planet of some other race’.
The author introduces his characters superbly. They are vibrant, of local parlance and with occasional typical Kashmiri epithets. At first sight, it may seem that the book is a collection of different unconnected stories but the stories are inter-connected and inter-related with characters reverberating here and there in the text. It is a story of three generations consumed by the conflict which the author opens in a sequential manner.
One of the essential qualities of a good fiction writer is that he/she compels a reader to actualize and visualize the scenes, taking him along with the story. Shahnaz succeeds in doing this. While reading the stories, the reader finds himself as one of the silent characters of the story itself. The beauty of the narration is such that the reader literally feels himself holding a Kalashnikov or a stone in his hands. One feels the impulse to try to stop the torture of Sakeena, empathize with Farooq, and stop Tariq from going to the bank that fateful day or to stop Ayesha from being her own husband and convince her that her husband is no more.
There appears to be one shortcoming in the book. There is no story on the Pandit exodus and the misery and distress that the poor among them undergo in the migrant camps of Jammu. Otherwise, the book is well balanced and there is not an iota of doubt in the fact that the stories are inspired by real life events. It is a story of souls scattered by the conflict in Kashmir.
The author is a research scholar at Aligarh Muslim University and can be reached at [email protected]