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Scattered Soulshttp://www.amazon.in/Scattered-Souls-Shahnaz-Bashir/dp/9352641248

I recently finished reading Shahnaz Bashir’s “Scattered Souls”, which is a collection of powerful short stories depicting the price that ordinary citizens living in Kashmir are paying because of excessive militarization. The Indian Government may justify this as much needed policing against the Kashmiri insurgents, to maintain internal security. But with all due to respect to the National Security Advisor, the Home Ministry and the Indian Army: How is any country going to maintain peace and security by further angering mobs and distancing civilians?

After reading Bashir’s book, I feel compelled to write this piece,the people in those pages are like ghosts. I say this as their everyday reality rarely crosses our mind, we are so caught up in playing the good patriotic Indian that we forget our roles as humans. All the stories are beautifully written and I can only guess the pain to pen people’s horrific experiences especially when they can’t be blamed for their situation. One of the stories that continues to haunt me is the story of a mother who was raped by Indian soldiers and gave birth to a boy, Bilal. Her struggle is maddening as she has to mother a child who will always remind her of that horrific night. But despite her trauma, who in power would have believed her story. In 1991, when the 4th Rajptana Rifles Unit entered the Kunan Poshara village and raped women aged between 13 and 70, the Government’s inquiry suggested it was a hoax despite their being credible evidence. The most unfortunate is that the stories of inhuman behavior by the Indian Army have also emerged from States like Manipur. It only goes to show that excessive and unlimited power can’t be handled with responsibility, even by groups that are held in high esteem by the people of this country.

I was filled with a sense of hopelessness as I turned the pages of Bashir’s book, I tried to imagine myself and my loved ones in that situation. It was difficult to, as I could empathise with each of the protagonists in the stories but I could never relate to them. I also sit back and think, how many Indians actually think about the people of Kashmir as ordinary citizens trying very hard to get by their lives, without equating them with stone pelters, extremists or Pakistani terrorists.

The recent episode of a young man, Farooq Ahmad Dar being used as a human shield by the Indian Army was cruel and inhuman. Farooq’s only fault was that he stepped out to assert his democratic right to cast a vote for the Srinagar by-elections. The same election that saw a miniscule 7.1% voters who even bothered to vote. The election was a strong message to our leaders that people of Kashmir are losing faith in the democratic system and now after the human shield incident, my guess is these numbers will dip further, but the question is, will anyone care.I got my answer whenAttorney General Rohatgi, asked everyone to applaud the Army for their efforts for “protecting us”. I find this ironical considering the same Army used another human being for no good reason as a human shield. Actually is there ever a good reason for doing this.

The narrative that the Indian Army can do no wrong and should not be criticized is further fueled on social media when certain Bhakts who run human rights organisations of their own suggest that using a stone pelter as a human shield is justified.  How is it justified? Have these so called patriotic Indians ever wondered, what is the real story behind this stone pelting? Again, this is not to say that I am all for stone pelting but this is a perspective.

Stone pelting also called Kanni Jung locally, says a lot about the oppression faced by the youth and children in the Valley, as it is an activity picked up by young boys and children. While no one will disagree that stone pelting is a violent culture but it is a form of protest and it is probably the only way the youth feel they can be heard. They protest so that their hopes and dreams can be treated with the same acceptance by the people in power, so that they can be treated in a just way without being accused of crimes they did not commit. I assume it’s not rocket science to understand this,that by using force like AK-47 or rubber bullets on innocent civilians we are only leaving them hopeless and alienating them further from the idea of a just and free India.

This realization dawns on you when you read one of the stories in the book about a young man from the Valley. He was elated that the President of the USA at the time, Obama will be visiting India, in 2015. His only reason was that the leader of one of the most powerful nations of the world will be able to solve Kashmir’s problems and his faith came from a naïve but not surprising place which was thatObama being a man of colourwould understand the plight of Kashmiris. Such a pity that the youth from a State that we want to control has more faith in the leadership which is miles and miles away rather than the leadership that sits in Delhi. Some reading this might think, but there are two sides to every story. Yes that’s true and my only request is for once you should begin with the other side, the Scattered Souls is a good start.

Neha Saigal

Development Consultant based in Delhi

@NehaSaigal24

 

2 Comments

  1. Mr Bashir’s stories can only be pieces of fiction with lots of emotions sprinkled on them. There cannot be any sympathies with people who kill their protectors ( the Indian armed forces ). I have seen Kashmir from very close and I know how their mind works . Why dont we talk about the Kashmiri Pandits and all atrocities inflicted on them by the same people who now call themselves Kashmiris .

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Kashmir is a never – ending story of peoples struggles. These stories add to real stories that come out of the state through different channels. While the mainstream suppresses them, other independent media project the happenings almost daily. This review book adds to the understanding of the psychological state of mind of thebsuffering women and men.