I have stopped reading columns in the International Herald Tribune because I get most of them pushed through my door as op-ed articles in our mainstream English language newspapers. But last weekend, browsing through the edit page quite randomly, I spotted an article I had not seen in my New Delhi newspapers.
“Awaiting Justice In Kashmir” is an eight-inch deep bottom spread, written by Mirza Waheed, whose novel, “The Collaborator”, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2011.
The column, datelined London, begins: ‘Last September, a lawmaker in India-controlled Kashmir stood up in the State’s Legislative Assembly and spoke of a valley near his home constituency in the mountains. “In our area, there are big gorges, where lie the bones of several hundred people who were eaten by crows.”‘Reading this, Waheed was “filled with a chill – I had written a similar story, a fictional one, in my novel about the lost boys of Kashmir.”
The Assembly that day was discussing 2,000 unmarked mass graves discovered not far from the Line of Control. The facts being discussed formed the core of a report by the State Human Rights Commission. In other words, what the lawmakers were discussing was an official report.
Most of those killed were civilians, “potentially the victims of extra judicial killing.” Waheed continues: “Corpses were brought in by the truckload and buried on an industrial scale.” The report catalogued 2,156 bullet-riddled bodies found in mountain graves.Suddenly, I became acutely aware that atrocities like the one Waheed has written about will recur partly because the sheer accumulation of atrocities over the years has made us insensitive to pain outside our immediate environs. This results in mass amnesia, and that too without much interval between a tragic event and its erasure from memory.
What Waheed has written about did make quite a splash in an NDTV show last year. Typically, such has been the consumption rate of atrocities that the Kashmir story had vacated my memory cells until Mirza’s column.
Take another example. In September it will be exactly one year when the Gopalgarh unit of the Rajasthan Police shot and killed 10 Muslims in the local mosque. Attacks on Muslims during prayer by a group or a sect, with the support of the local police, are occasionally reported from Pakistan, but the Gopalgarh atrocity inside a mosque is a first in India as far as my memory can fathom.
The Gopalgarh incident arose from a dispute between Meo Muslims and local Gujjars over a watering hole behind the mosque which the Gujjars use for their cattle.
Meos are a fascinating community deriving lineage from Meenas, a politically powerful tribal community opposed to the Gujjars. Here comes a sociological twist. A Meena may belong to the BJP but he can still claim support in Meo pockets by virtue of his caste and “gotra” or sub-caste links.
Gujjars find the Meenas too strong to take on frontally, but a spineless Congress leaves Meos exposed as soft targets in places like Gopalgarh. Initially Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot took an interest in the matter but failed to take action against the local police and district administration. “RSS and VHP, which backed the attack on the mosque, are free,” says Ramzan Chaudhry, a social worker, “but a dozen innocent Meos are in jail without trial.” After a year’s waiting Ramzan and his group met the Chairman of the National Minorities Commission, Wajahat Habibullah. He promptly arranged for the agitated group to meet Rahul Gandhi. “Let us see if some action follows,” says Ramzan.The next scene opens in Bijapur, Chattisgarh, where bodies of teenagers haunt you until the next spell of amnesia. Let us see what the judicial inquiry finds here.
In March 2011, following a report in The Hindu newspaper about 300 houses that were torched, with two men killed and three women raped in Sukina district, a judicial probe was ordered. The government has not made the report public. In fact, going a bit into history, even the Ghulam Hussain report on the Hashimpura massacre has been gathering dust for 25 years.
Mirza Waheed asks a question: “Kashmiris who have disappeared; Kashmiri Pundits who fled in 1990; the mass graves. Would there have been a [global] uproar had such atrocities been reported from Libya or Homs in Syria?” Is he asking the question of Washington or New Delhi?