Love, Loss and Longing in Kashmir

Joydip Ghosal

Kashmir is a place where profound individual grief is absorbed into collective sorrow as people mourn the killings and enforced disappearance of their loved ones. Sahba Husain’s book Love, Loss, and Longing in Kashmir published by Zubaan stands testimony to her long and sustained relationship with Kashmir, her acquaintance with its deeply moving sorrow and profound grief that remains enmeshed with breathtakingly beautiful environment. Sahba Husain, an independent social researcher and women’s rights activist travelled extensively in Jammu and Kashmir. The social consequence of armed conflict, the travails of women who were shoved to the margin came into her ambit of research. In this book she delved deeper into different aspects of militarisation of families, individuals and communities. This book based on personal interviews, group discussions brought to the fore the issues of increased militarisation of civilian spaces, women’s mobilisation for justice and accountability. It seemed that given the complex nature of the conflict the research peeled many layers to see what lay beneath. While undertaking the research one nagging question always haunted the researcher. In a militarised zone, riddled by conflict within the border of the country where did the researcher stand in relation to the researched? She gradually learnt the inherent complications that defined the nature of conflict. In Kashmir the massive deployment of security forces created an unprecedented situation where all civilians were considered as prime suspects.

Men were routinely roughed up, tortured, leaving women more vulnerable. It is needless to say that there was hardly any space for political dialogue. After the abrogation of Article 370 people were further pushed into quagmire. The massive state repression and large scale violence led to fear and uncertainty. She sensed a constant effort among the people to come to terms with the everyday reality. They were stripped off their civil and democratic rights.

While trying to understand and absorb the calamity she was confronted with she asked a question: How the largest democracy in the world treated its own people in such a brutally oppressive manner? The overwhelming presence of gun wielding soldiers had shaken her. Her research took her to Dardpora (Village of Widows) and Kunan Poshpora that were marked by severe violence.

She keenly observed the many implications of Kashmiri Pandits’ migration. While visiting Muthi camp she felt appalled at the sight of dismal condition of the camp. Her research showed clearly that there was a rural- urban divide that characterised migration. Rural poor found accommodation in different camps in Jammu which Bashir Ahmed Dabla termed as ‘sham accommodation’. Rich and upper middle class shifted to their own houses which were built prior to militancy. She raised a pertinent question which was seconded by Balraj Puri that during the peak of militancy 20,000 Muslim families from the valley were forced to migrate. There was much hue and cry over the migration of Pandits but the migration of the Muslims hardly stirred the conscience of the mainstream media.

The political expression of women defined the period from 2008 onwards and it was probably the first time that women’s contribution began to find much space in the media. As state repression became rampant and brutalisation reached its zenith women found ways to protect their men. They played pivotal roles in mobilisation of protesters and getting their men released.

In 2010 BBC profiled a younger mother whose 14 years old son was killed by a tear gas shell. The mother told the BBC correspondent that she had decided to take to the street after the gruesome killing of her son. She willfully chose the path because she wanted freedom from subjugation.

This book documented the intense trauma and pain that the common women underwent. In 2015 Doctors without Borders conducted a survey on the mental health of the populace. It showed that 99.2 per cent adult population in Kashmir stated witnessing or experiencing one traumatic event in their lifetime.. It had become apparent that militarisation had led to the structural breakdown of all spheres.

This book ended with a passionate hope and desire to find a solution. It is an essential read for anyone who wants to know the ground reality prevailing in Kashmir today.


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Vol 55, No. 28, Jan 8 - 14, 2023