“In the same river”
The azadi (Freedom) movement in Kashmir is not just a struggle for justice, it is also a struggle of memory against forgetting. I have been collecting and archiving family photographs and investigation documents related to the victims of enforced disappearances in the Valley of Kashmir. Every photograph we make becomes a memory, a record of the past. Through this archive, I am trying to understand the ways in which remembering becomes resistance. When the victims’ existence is uncertain, the family gains solace in going back to these photographs and hope that they will come back one day. In this unending political conflict, the families’ resistance is in remembering their loved ones and refusing to accept that they are no more. I worked with the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a movement created by Parveena Ahanger to bring the voices of families together to fight for justice. APDP stands as a movement to remember the human rights violation by the Indian military apparatus in Kashmir. When asked what is ‘justice’ for Parveena Ahanger and the families of the victims, she replied; holding her son’s image in her mind, “Give our children back to us, can India do it?” I could only answer her question with silence, which is how the Indian Government is also answering their demand. According to these families, to forget is to accept the injustice around them, to succumb to the oppressor’s power. Remembering, on the other hand, makes them stand up and fight for justice. While the families push themselves to believe that their children are coming back, the photographs make them realize the void created by the politics of powerful states. During this project, I realized that we make images with a motive – usually to capture the happiest moments of our life, but we will never know what purpose it will serve in future. One thing that I was sure is, it is not always nostalgia. When I visited the victims’ families, all I saw was a mother’s determination, a wife’s fight, and Kashmir’s resistance against this structural violence surrounding them. Some families didn’t have a proper family photograph so they made a family collage. This shows how important it is to remember the injustice; ‘To remember, is their resistance’, to believe that their loved one is still alive somewhere in some prison is their revolt. Many times I was looking at some personal photograph of a couple, whose husband was abducted by the Indian security apparatus and his wife is left with their kids. One of the stories that impressed me was that of Zeena Begum, wife of Abdul Rashid Parra. Zeena Begum remembers her husband and their blissful marriage. She narrated her story to me. Her husband made her dress up for a photoshoot wearing a hat and shades, with which she was uncomfortable and felt very embarrassed back then. But now she just wishes he was there for yet another photoshoot like that. She goes on to talk about their first vacation, where they went to Dharibal, a popular tourist spot in Kashmir to enjoy their first trip after marriage. When asked how she is coping with his absence, she says it is depressing, and that she had lost all hope in life, but also realized that she was the only one left for her children. It was gripping to see how every case file in APDP’s archive had a mugshot of the missing person and most of these mugshots were cut-outs from a family album. This made me realise how a personal photograph like a wedding portrait of a person gets transformed into investigative material, a document – which isn’t the reason for which they were made. This tells the story of an unexpected loss for a family in a conflict zone. These photographs, despite talking about personal pain and memories, also have a mystical world behind them. The images have an ideal Kashmir behind them, where the person is posing before a beautiful landscape or a studio setting where Kashmir is portrayed as this ideal place to live a happy life with your loved one, but the reality is upfront, which we are never ready to see. This land has been made into a never-ending conflict zone by India and Pakistan. The solution could have been very simple if we were not so possessive, but unfortunately, our misplaced notion of patriotism and our lust for the land of Kashmir (and not its people) is becoming cruel and inhuman to the Kashmiris. We are so prone to look at the beautiful scenery of Kashmir but continue to live in denial and choose to neglect the humans and the violations in the foreground of these photographs. Kashmir has witnessed the political installation of puppet regimes and army rule throughout. The autonomy of the State of Jammu and Kashmir has been severely eroded by what Haley Duschinski and Shrimoyee Nandini Shosh have termed ‘occupational constitutionalism’ or occupation through India’s constitutional moves. The violence of political repression has fueled the desire for Azadi (Freedom). A resistance moment, which I feel is strong because of its surviving memory among the people of Kashmir. Looking at photographs and hearing the stories behind each one within the political context made this archive more personal than political. Thinking of how a personal family album can talk about the political aspects of a conflict and its effects made me understand how important a photograph can become. We make millions of images every day without even realizing how they are going to be used in the future. All this made me think about how these personal photographs can be used to talk about a conflict. Conflict over whether to forget or forgive. As a reflection, I flipped through my family album. What if I were abducted someday and my mother and father are left without closure? This is the unbearable trauma people living in this unending conflict zone have to live with.
© Siva Sai Jeevanantham