My land has seen death and destruction as a rule. It is a land of thousands of orphans and widows. It is the land of Kunan Poshpora, where troopers raped women inside their houses all night after herding their men outside for identification.
It is the land of Dardpora village, home to some 300 widows. It is a land where 8000 people are still disappeared, where the parents and relatives of the disappeared sit every month in a public park asking for their whereabouts.
It is a land where unmarked graves were discovered in 2008 and where countless more lie unclaimed in unknown graveyards or forests.
Kashmir’s leaders have attempted to expel the demons. This past summer, lawmakers in Kashmir had the new legislative building exorcised after Chief Minister Omar Abdullah nearly lost his chair on the second day of the session. It was only last year that Abdullah’s predecessor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had to resign on the first day of the first session held in the new building. Exorcism, the legislators thought, would ward off the “ghosts of the haunted building.”
Chief Minister Abdullah has survived a series of blunders in his first months of rule. He first ran into trouble in May, when two young women were raped and murdered by men in uniform in Shopian town. An official cover up of the incident sparked widespread unrest in the region. Armed forces were suspected of the double crime, but the administration, including the chief minister, first tried to pass off the killings as a simple case of drowning; this despite the fact that the bodies were found in ankle deep water.
The administration eventually gave in to pressure and declared an investigation. Months later, however, the case is still unresolved and an Indian forensic lab has said the samples sent for DNA testing have been fudged.
The exorcism of the legislative building brings to life memories of PAPA 2, an infamous torture center in the region. Between 1990 and 1996, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri youth, including innocent noncombatants, were brought to PAPA 2 by Indian armed agencies and brutally tortured—many even to death.
When PAPA 2 was later converted into a guest house, the new occupants, afraid of the ghosts of innocents, had it exorcised by priests. In the case of Chief Minister Abdullah, the legislators preferred exorcism instead of improving governance.
These people think that they can exorcise some buildings and ward off the impact of events that may haunt this land for decades.
They forget that Kashmir is a land of people living in mental trauma. It is a land that has witnessed massacres; a land where a small boy mistook his mother for a murderer when she emerged, drenched in blood, from the room where security forces had killed three family members.
It is a land where one can get arrested, tortured, and killed by the armed forces and the perpetrators can’t even be questioned.
It is a land where people are killed for protesting peacefully; a land where little boys with stones in their hands are showered with bullets and smoke canisters aimed deliberately at their heads.
It is a land where civilians are picked up and killed in staged gun battles, passed off as militants so that policemen can be rewarded for killing an insurgent; a land of custodial killings; a land of divided families.
Kashmir’s rulers are haunted by these things and they respond by exorcising their mansions. I wonder if my land can ever be exorcised of these injustices, killings, and demeaning humiliations.