This book review was first published as “Book Review: Love, Loss, and Longing in Kashmir by Sahba Husain“ on Feminism in India on November 18, 2019.
There’s more to Kashmir than its natural beauty. And this other side or sides are well articulated in Sahba Husain’s Love, Loss, and Longing in Kashmir (Zubaan, 2019). It is the most militarized zone in the world and, with a new inhumane lockdown and revising the applicability of Article 370 on 5 August 2019, there’s no communication from and with Kashmir.
(Please note that the Article 370 of the Indian constitution hasn’t been abrogated. The mechanism of its applicability has been changed making it defunct in the Valley. See “Neither Abrogated Nor Removed: The Ploy Behind Centre’s Article 370 Move,” The Wire.)
Having worked as a consultant — Oxfam India Trust for its Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Project (VMAP) and Aman Public Charitable Trust under its Gender, Mental Health and Conflict program — Sahba has been writing on Kashmir since 2000.
Breaking the Stereotypes
Her book invokes a new sensibility toward Kashmir. The cover jacket seems different, I said to myself. Almost all the books that I’ve read on Kashmir have a book-cover stereotype: a Shikara, an empty Shikara, an old man rowing a Shikara, or a sunset scene and an old man rowing a Shikara, and last but not the least an army personnel looking through a barbed wire with a gun in hand. All these created a sad-beauty sort of a fetish of Kashmir. It needs much more examination at a deeper level, like this book. (The beautiful cover, which shows an alley leading to a glass door through which we can see a man and woman treading on a meadow, is designed by her daughter Saema Husain.)
It’s important to talk about these stereotypes: Everyone is a militant, Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims cannot stay together in harmony, Kashmiri Pandits were driven out, the India Army is there for the good, gender-based violence only happens to women. Another one being the presence of absolute academic objectivity while writing about Kashmir, a land that has sustained and endured extreme violence needs no stone-hearted researcher but an empathetic listener.
And I was elated to know one in Sahba, in person, during the closed book launch in India International Centre, Delhi and also, in the book, where she mentions, “I knew I could not remain neutral or objective any more, although objectivity in research in much valued but here it was imperative for me to take a position – politically and emotionally – and it soon became clear to me where and on whose side I stood: by the side of the people and their struggle for justice.”
“The dwindling population of KPs in Kashmir says a lot about the apathy they continue to face at the hands of successive governments.”— Sanjay Tickoo, president of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS)
Kashmir Is Bleeding, Screaming and Fighting All by Itself
This book is broken down into five chapters. First dealing with the departure of Kashmiri Pandits; second with enforced disappearances; third about the presence of women in Tehreek (movement); fourth on the mental health of the Kashmiri people; and fifth, the final one, on the sexual violence and impunity in Kashmir.
Discussing about the sudden departure of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), Sahba also uncovers other facets that do not form the agenda of the Prime Time news channel debates (debates is a subtle art; they actually play a ‘I can shout louder than you’ game) by recording testimonials of KPs, both who have stayed and left. Testimonies like people mentioning unequivocally that they “have continued to stay here because of [their] Muslim friends and colleagues who provided [us] with a sense of safety. They in fact helped us survive through the worst periods of militancy. There existed mutual support and understanding between us.”
Kashmir is a tragedy unfolding itself almost daily. It hides under its belly the pain and separation of all its women, and this feeling is poignant when we read the story of Parveena Ahangar whose 16-year-old was picked up by the Indian National Security Guard in 1990. He is still missing.
“Women have suffered more than anybody else during the last many decades, as she [sic] had to bear onslaught of oppression more than the men.” — Yasin MalikTweet
The book also has figures and statistics of enforced disappearances, state of mental health facilities and figures on Kashmiri Pandits, and violence against women; but I’m purposefully doing away with citing figures. Numbers can never tell the separation that tears apart Parveena every second, that longing she has to meet her son.
“Everyone I met had a plastic bag ticked away in the house, which they pulled out to share the newspaper cutting sand photographs that it contained. These plastic bags were a precious possession for the women for they contained not only memories but also proof of the existence of the disappeared person.”— Sahba Husain
Numbers can never explain their tragedy that has hit each one of the Kashmiri population — its men, women and children alike. Besides women, Sahba also highlights the plight of men who are prone to sexual violence by the military. She writes, “Sexual violence against during war/conflict remains largely invisible. Like violence against women, sexual violence against men is nearly unspeakable in its brutality.”
Reading this book has affected and appalled me. With this unprecedented and, at least till 2024 likely irrevocable, inhumane lockdown, I’m not sure what to do. But anyway, I can just appeal all of us to arm ourselves with information to be the “real changemakers” and not pseudo-allies by reading books on Kashmir. And this is an essential book.
Featured image credits: News18.