Kashmir Report

Jammu attack: As political parties point fingers, people living near the Sunjuwan camp grow fearful

Rohingya refugees settled in the area are especially worried after BJP leaders accused them of helping the attackers.

Gunfire erupted at Sunjuwan army station in Jammu on Saturday as Jaish-e-Muhammad militants launched an attack that has claimed 10 lives so far. Another battle broke out in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly – between the two parties running the state government, with the opposition party wading in.

The latest point of dispute between the coalition partners People’s Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party: talks with Pakistan to end the bloodshed in Jammu and Kashmir.

On Monday evening, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urged dialogue with the neighbouring country. “There are some media houses that have created an atmosphere where even talking about talks is anti-national,” Mufti said, addressing the Assembly, referring to the prime time chatter on certain television channels. “We have fought three wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971 and have won all of them, even the Kargil war. But our basic problem has not been resolved. Baatchit ke bina koi hal nahin hai.” There can be no resolution with talks, she said.

Virendra Gupta, the BJP’s spokesperson in Jammu and Kashmir, said he would not call the chief minister anti-national but admitted there were ideological differences between the allies on the question of talks.

BJP versus PDP

“When there is such a lot happening, Pakistan is supporting attacks and there is unprovoked firing on our borders, how can there be talks?” Gupta asked. “Pakistan must abide by the ceasefire agreement and stop training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Kashmir is India’s internal matter, there is no question of talks with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, only on the ceasefire violations.”

The chief minister’s suggestions, he continued, were “not practicable.” “You can’t equate India and Pakistan on this issue,” he argued. “Pakistan is the perpetrator and India the victim. If a person from this side equates the two, there is a serious problem.”

Serious enough to end the already fragile coalition? No, Gupta replied. “When the alliance was made, it was based on governance,” he said. “Each party may have its own ideology. Overall, there has been no problem in governance, though there are some grievances on the Jammu side that they have been neglected by this government.”

Valley versus Delhi?

The question of talks seems to have ranged the Valley-based parties against the BJP-led Centre. Indeed, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared on Monday evening, “Pakistan will pay for this misadventure.” Gupta, for his part, felt it was up to the Indian government to decide on the way forward after taking stock of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

The National Conference, the main opposition party, seemed to echo the People’s Democratic Party’s line. “We condemn the attack but at the same time we impress upon the Government of India that the only way to solve the problem is through talks,” said the party’s legislator Ali Mohammad Sagar.

Mufti also referred to the vilification of Kashmiri politicians in the national media in her speech on Monday. “If Mehbooba Mufti speaks of talks she becomes anti-national, if Omar Abdullah speaks of of talks he becomes anti-national,” she said. “So should I say…let people die but I will not agree to talks.”

The Rohingya question

Meanwhile, the presence of a Rohingya camp near the Sunjuwan army station has become the flashpoint of another political duel, this time between the BJP and the National Conference.

On Saturday, as the attack unfolded, National Conference legislator Akbar Lone raised the slogan of “Pakistan zindabad” in the Assembly. His party and the BJP have differing versions of how this started. According to the BJP, some of its legislators had chanted “Pakistan murdabad” to denounce the ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in Jammu’s Rajouri district and that triggered the response from Lone. “He said his sentiments are hurt when someone shouts anti-Pakistan slogans, where do his sentiments lie?” Gupta demanded.

National Conference leaders narrate a different sequence of events. “It was unfortunate,” Sagar said of his party colleague’s sloganeering. “But it was out of provocation from the Speaker who blamed Rohingya refugees [for the Sunjuwan attack], who happen to be Muslim.”

On Saturday morning, as news of the attack broke, Speaker Kavinder Gupta, who belongs to the BJP, had alleged that Rohingya refugees had a hand in it.

Later even Sitharaman said the “demography of the cantonment and adjoining areas indicates the possibility of local support to the terrorists”. While the defence minister did not elaborate, Gupta was candid. “The area around Sunjuwan is inhabited by persons who came from the Valley and there is a Rohingya camp around the periphery,” he alleged. “There were certain elements who helped in the attack. There should be no locality around the camp, the area should be evacuated and the persons living there investigated thoroughly.”

The National Conference took exception to the fact that the BJP had made these allegations without evidence. It was not right, Sagar said, to blame poor refugees without investigation.

But he also asserted that the Rohingya camp was illegal. “They cannot live here,” he said. “Under the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, only citizens of the state can live here.”

On the periphery

As this political debate played out in the media, cameras turned to the localities surrounding the camp. The sudden attention has created unease in Faridia Enclave, one of the residential quarters closest to the site of the gunfight. A large number of its residents are Muslim and it is also home to a Rohingya settlement.

“The media has been here all day photographing these people,” said a retired government employee, a Muslim, who lives in the area, referring to the Rohingya. “They work hard during the day so they can eat at night. Why would they go against the place and people that has sheltered them?”

A Rohingya man from the settlement, barely a hundred meters from the army station, said suspicion of his community had intensified in the last few days. “We are already in a difficult situation having come so far and our problems only seem to grow by the day,” he said, adding that they had faced discrimination first in Myanmar and now in India. “We have paid the price for things we haven’t done.”

Other residents are also wary. They fear the defence minister’s remark will put them at the receiving end of communal politics. “It’s all politics,” said a Kashmiri resident who stays in Faridia Enclave every winter. “We have nothing to do with this but we will become suspect now.”

The retired employee added, “There is already resentment against Muslims by some in Jammu. Now it will only grow. As they [BJP] themselves said, they will clean India by 2021, so that only Hindus live in it.”

Polarising discourse?

Political leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, joined the debate on Tuesday, pointing out that most of the soldiers killed in the attack were Muslim. It should be a lesson to those questioning the loyalty of Muslims and calling them Pakistani, he said: “Hum toh jaan de rahe hain.” Muslims are sacrificing their lives, he said.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, however, accused Owaisi of playing up communal identities. “Owaisi has polarised society on the basis of community,” he said. “By speaking such things, Owaisi and others like him are weakening society and helping Pakistan, separatist and terrorists in a way.”

But from within the sparring parties in Jammu came a few conciliatory words as well. “We don’t think every Muslim is like that, but there are certain elements,” said BJP leader Ashok Koul. He also distanced himself from Kavinder Gupta’s remarks against the Rohingya.

Sagar felt the Speaker’s remarks had polarised the state but only “to some extent”. “We are clear that we are brothers, and people in Jammu are very liberal in their outlook,” he said. “Peace and tranquility will be restored.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.