Of Conversations, Courage And Memory 

THE virulent acts of criminalising opinions in Kashmir will have far-reaching consequences. When conversations do not happen something undesirable happens. It is an irrefutable fact that since August 5, 2019, censorship has been normalised in the Kashmir Valley. And conversations criminalised.

It appears that the entire Kashmir society is put on the ventilator where it is gasping for breath in the absence of proper medical aid, professional advice or due to medical negligence.

For the last two years or so, Kashmir’s once vibrant civil society is on the silent mode. Also, Kashmir’s social media space is circumspect. Kashmir’s cafes and shop fronts (Waane Pyaend), once the places for catharsis, are either deserted or dull. Even when some are filled they sound dreary in the absence of meaningful conversations.

In the words of one professor of political science, Kashmir’s “cafeteria approach” to conversations and controversies would provide vent to emotions and sentiments of all kinds. Now people who go out often look around, rolling their eyes out in all directions to make sure that no one else is listening to their possible conversations. On the mobile phone devices, people seldom speak their heart out and prefer speaking in a coded language to avoid scrutiny of any sort from the Big Brother. Many have reached to a discomforting conclusion that expressing a view on the region’s political landscape is unlawful or entails a cost.

Generally, all sorts of conversations would happen on the shop fronts in Srinagar’s downtown or in the suburbs and ruburbs of the vale. In the coffee shops. And in the editorials of newspapers, too. It was a norm, but not anymore.

No conversations are happening. There are whispers and murmurs, though. Or, there are cryptic conversations.

The situation is so dire that even the unionist camp is complaining of suffocation and strangulation. One can only imagine the mood of the other ideological camp. That is one of the measuring rods to understand the severity.

Worse, the region’s leadership across the ideological spectrum has abdicated responsibility. Leaders, who once upon a time would talk about the Kashmir issue and its possible impact on South Asian politics or geopolitical matters, are absent from the scene. There was a time when they claimed to control and own up the street sentiment. Now they do not even issue symbolic statements on existential matters.

In their appreciation, they have paid a cost for their expression. And in a choked atmosphere there are consequences for any form of expression. That is largely true. But what had they expected? That the path of resilience will be a bed of roses?

To a large extent, this unfortunate situation is a result of extreme fear. In extreme fear, psychologists say, there are three possibilities. First possible reaction is to succumb to fear. That is called Flight. Another possibility is to resist. That is called Fight. There is one more possibility; not knowing what to do. This one is called Freeze. It appears that the people, politicians, pulpit and Kashmir’s opinion makers and the civil society — all are in the Freeze mode. They do not know what to do or lack resources and means to change anything substantial on the ground. Perchance they are waiting for a miracle. But do miracles happen?

Is this a healthy sign for any society? Is this an evolution or a near collapse? Can the institution of dialogue remain discredited forever? While the Big Brother and Ministry of Love can afford to remain busy in self-congratulatory chatter for enforcing silence in the society, it is not healthy by any stretch of the imagination.

History tells us that chronicling ordeal or documenting pain has never been easy.

Elie Wiesel in Night — a book that sheds light on the horrors of violence of Holocaust during Adolf Hitler’s time — makes some important observations. Answering the basic question about why he wrote the book, Wiesel notes: “Was it to leave behind a legacy of words, of memories, to help prevent history from repeating itself?”

Wiesel’s autobiographical account documents suffering, survival and hope. As a teenager he found himself captive at Auschwitz, one of the deadliest Nazi German concentrations camps at the time. The survivor developed hatred for all of humanity while suffering in the camp. That was being human.

Similarly, we have bone chilling accounts on Holocaust by Primo Levi, Viktor E. Frankl, Heather Morris, Anne Frank and many more.

Why is it important to write and to document?

“Did I write it so as not to get mad or, on the contrary, to go mad in order to understand the nature of madness – the immense, terrifying madness that had erupted in history and in the conscience of mankind?” writes Wiesel in Night.

Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl, would write her diary while in hiding in Amsterdam. After being captured by the Nazi troops the family was taken to a concentration camp. Anne’s father survived and remembered that his daughter had been maintaining a diary. He went back to the house where the family was hiding to find his daughter’s diary. It was published as a book titled The Diary of a Young Girl which sold millions of copies and was translated in several languages.

But is it easy to write when surveillance is at peak, and thought police an undeniable reality? Can one search for meaning in times of extreme fear? Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning tells us that it is indeed possible to find meaning and cling on to hope in distress. In Elie Wiesel’s words, his survival in the concentration camp was a matter of chance because others were not as lucky.

In writing also lies moral obligation to chronicle, to document and to tell the tale. The aim of the powerful has always been to erase memories. All dark periods in history are judged one day. The response of the people is judged. The response of the leadership is judged. The response of the pulpit will also be judged!

There are times when one wants to write but it is difficult to find words. At other times it is the lack of will that becomes an obstacle. Sometimes survival takes precedence because of fear.

Courage, the ancient Greeks held, was not a virtue in itself, but that it was a quality that made all the virtues possible. Indeed, Kashmir has shown grace under pressure. Now it must also summon courage to initiate conversations, dialogues and to write what is long overdue!

  • The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Gowhar Geelani

Gowhar Geelani is a journalist-author who served Deutsche Welle as editor. He is author of Kashmir: Rage and Reason

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