Modern history’s least documented massacre that reportedly heaped 2.3 lakh Muslim bodies in Jammu by Nov 1947 is tailed by countless stories of ravaged lives. Hearing those stories fed childhood memories of a Kashmir-born JNU scholar. Here she attempts to recreate some of her conversations spanned over the years with women survivors of the massacre.
Known for wearing fashionable overcoats, symbolic of her modern outlook, Shafqat had passed the middle examination and was hoping to be the first matriculate woman of the family. But then November 1947 happened and Shafqat and her younger sister were taken away.
Not a single male member of the family had survived who would have gone to look for them. Their mother’s sole priority had been to salvage her younger daughters, hiding them at places and then changing the hideouts.
By the time, the sisters were recovered by the state committee formed for recovery of abducted women, they were ravaged.
Shafqat returned pregnant. And terminating the pregnancy was not a possibility. Both the sisters were married off to men who had come forward to accept them despite their plight. While the marriages were far from any semblance of happiness, the pressure of ‘forgetting’ owing to societal configurations was not any less daunting.
There was no time to negotiate with the trauma as forgetting was the only way to resuscitate the leftover ‘honour’. Even inter-generational transmission of the knowledge pertaining to events in 1947 was not encouraged.
The year 1947 is a cataclysmic year in the history of Jammu and Kashmir in terms of its scale and impact. Though the most visible consequence has been the protracted conflict and prolonged bloodbath, however, history of violence has not been addressed in totality.
In case of Jammu, our memory traces the tragic Muslim massacre and the state complicity associated with it, but hides many other aspects beneath the political debris.
There are no real records for the number of families separated, the fields of crops left to rot, homes destroyed, and the perilous journeys undertaken by people as they fled to safer places. The survivors don’t know whether their kin were buried or cremated or just left to rot through the impending winters. The long silence does not recompense the loss, trauma and the grief.
My own interest in Jammu sparks off from personal conversations with some survivors that have formed as staple of my childhood. For the survivors of massacre who had migrated to the Kashmir valley, escalation of violence in 1990s brought back the idea of living through the same fears, but it was the experience of seeing them live through 2008 Amarnath land controversy that brought home to me, what it meant to be a Muslim and especially a Muslim woman in Jammu in 1947.
The first realisation was that this calamity is also fraught with the certain sense of gendered calamity. There is no denial to the fact that uncanny violence sponged off the majority population, but a blanket of silence descends upon the cases of abduction and rape. Thus absence of committed social analysis and half remembrance of events exhume the entire context. In many cases, men were the main targets, while women were left behind to take on the business of putting lives together.
Rabia was a teen aged daughter of the local Imam in one of the violence affected Mohallas of Jammu city. Though the family to this day denies there ever existed any Rabia, yet the acquaintances inform that Rabia was abducted by raiding Sikh Jathas and taken to one of the districts nearing the Punjab border. Her abductor brought her back after some years, but the family refused to take her back. Left with no other option, she returned with the abductor and had to marry him.
Significantly, this act of forgetting of Rabia’s complete existence and in Shafaqat’s case of her abduction and pregnancy has to be placed with a political and historical framework as to how society has engaged with the violent sexual trauma. The edifice of our political memory having always rested on the hyper-masculinised domain differentiated between normative and non-normative reality.
Paradoxically, no attempts were made ever to engage with this reality, which was clashing with the established morality. This allows an insight into how violence is prioritised and categorised as ‘worth remembering’ or ‘not worth remembering’. Also how memories of violence particularly sexual violence are simultaneously located within the ambiguities of concealment, which is indispensable to the operations of power, both internal and external.
The half-remembrance has spanned through the arenas of everyday life and churned out cognitive and emotional responses rife with contradictions. In effect, remembrance should have been able to bring cultural and moral understanding back into the ambit of the people at large. This would also mean absence of disruptive implications for the nexus of state, nation and culture at critical historical junctures given the futuristic imagination of a community or the question of nationhood.
Fatima’s family was a staunch Muslim Conference supporter. Given her background, she got to meet Muslim Conference leaders like Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas, Allah Rakha Sagar, K.H Khurshid very often. A smile ran through her lips when she told me, “Our families were on cordial terms.”
She recalled how her father being a Muslim Conference sympathiser was targeted brutally and how her toddler cousin who couldn’t be picked from ground during stampede was crushed under the feet.
In the lives of these women, the different geographies did not make any difference. The journeys they made were fraught with same struggles, providing succour to the remaining families and making comprises for escaping the male gaze.
In that chilling carnage of 1947, Hajra lost 17 male members of her family in Udhampur. Running to save her brood of children, she took shelter in the tiny hamlet of Reasi. She had delivered a baby boy a night before the killings happened.
While she made an arduous road journey, she realised that the infant in her arms had turned lifeless and ice-cold. Lack of food and shelter took away two more children of hers in coming weeks.
Leaving for Pakistan was not an option for her as there was no male escort and she did not want to land in the whirlwind of unfamiliarity. She instead made way for Srinagar where she could start a new life with her children. Though she found some state and social support to reconstruct her life, but yet could not evade the male gaze.
Still in her twenties, Hajra decided to remarry a man thirty years elder to her, to gain some sense of security. But this also meant Hajra had to additionally provide for one more person as her new husband was not employed. In fact, the burden of the sense of security was inter-generational as later Hajra’s children had to provide for the foster father.
Since these events had myriad resonances, it becomes extremely vital to understand that 1947 was also a flashpoint of struggles which subsequently got buried under the debris of high voltage political events.
(Names of the victims have been changed in order to respect their privacy)