Opinion

How to kill a Kashmiri: A novelist’s list

There exists an entire range of methods. Running fat vehicles over young bodies is just the latest.

A young man by the name of Adil Ahmed Yadoo was mauled to death by a police vehicle on May 5 in Kashmir. Adil had been pelting stones at Indian paramilitaries and police as protests broke out once again in Kashmir following yet another gun battle between Indian armed forces and Kashmiri militants.

You watch the video even as a voice inside says, “Don’t.” Your nine-year-old might pop into the room just as you go full screen. You won’t be able to explain anything mid-gasp. You watch even as you know it will be disturbing, looking wide-eyed as a young man from home is flattened by a monster vehicle. You watch, pause, and rewind a tiny bit, to ascertain the exact moment Adil is mown down.

In an alternate, imagined viewing, you hope the truck stops at the precise moment the boy is about to come under the wheels. But you know it won’t because it didn’t. You also hope that watching the video for yourself will tell you that what you have read and heard about the incident so far was wrong. That it was not that horrifying, or probably not even true. Perhaps it was an accident; perhaps the police driver lost control, went a bit berserk, and ended up killing the boy. All that, however, belongs firmly to the imaginary. The mowing down of the 18-year-old protestor is entirely true. You’ve just watched the video. The vehicle doesn’t pause, doesn’t swerve to give the boy a sliver of a chance. It doesn’t brake, it just roars ahead. A Kashmiri voice is heard saying, “moud ha.” He’s died.

Adil’s killing might have been passed off as an accident, and the government did make a lazy attempt to spin it so, but for the video which was filmed, as it appears, from a window across the street in downtown Srinagar where Adil was among other protesting boys pelting stones.

The boy was taken to the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, the main hospital in Srinagar, where most of Kashmir’s injured, maimed, and blinded are taken, where a multitude of Kashmir’s wounded and dead have been taken since 1989, when the Indian state decided that the only way to deal with the uprising was to kill the boys. At the hospital he’s declared dead, his internal injuries gifted by a fortified personnel carrier far too many to allow him any hope of life.

(Photo credit: News NOW Achabal Kashmir/Facebook).
(Photo credit: News NOW Achabal Kashmir/Facebook).

An entire range of methods

This is not a common mode of killing Kashmiris. There exists an entire range of methods. Running fat vehicles over young bodies is just the latest.

We’ve, of course, seen killings by the bullet, as thousands interred into graveyards, gardens, and mountainsides will testify. Death by tear-gas canisters breaking open skulls, too, as 17-year-old student Tufail Matto raises his hand from the afterworld. Tufail was killed as he returned from tuitions in 2010 during another of Kashmir’s many bloody summers. You can also kill a Kashmiri by pumping 300 lead pellets into his body from close range, as the dead cash-point guard Riyaz Ahmed Shah will confirm. Or, if you choose, you can bludgeon them to death, countless blows of rifles and iron rods ensuring a life is extinguished as effectively as a dagger to the throat. Young academic Shabir Ahmed of Khrew, who was beaten to death by “drunken soldiers”, will tell you this via his surviving wife and little son. The Army that did that to him later said his killing was “regrettable”. Nothing more.

If you’d, perchance, like further proof or illustration of the many ways of killing, you will need to go back in time to find Sameer Rah who was clubbed to death after he had shouted a few slogans. He had a piece of fruit in his mouth when his body was found dumped in poison ivy bushes in August 2010 when protests raged across Kashmir and the Indian state, once again, decided to shoot its way out of a political crisis. Sameer would’ve turned 16 this year.

You can also pick the poorest of the poor in Kashmir, take them to a forest with the promise of rewarding work, murder them in cold blood, mutilate their faces, brand them terrorists, and shout encounter, yeah!

There are many more listings in the macabre catalogue.

You can kill a Kashmiri, protestor or not, young or old, girl or boy, by blinding them for life, as hundreds of haunting eyes in dark rooms across the Valley might signal to you, all dreams snuffed out with a pull at the trigger of the birdshot gun deployed to suppress protests in Kashmir.

You can also kill a Kashmiri’s soul by tying him to the front of a truck with ropes – after having beaten him – tie a placard on his chest, and parade him for hours as a human shield. You can then humiliate him further, a year later, as a ruling party member extols the virtues of torture by selling clothing with a representation of the scene emblazoned on the front. It turns out torture t-shirts sell rather well in new India. Farooq Ahmed Dar, whose torture video went viral last year, continues to murmur a one-word reminder: justice. His torturer was given a medal. This year, as many more Kashmiris, militants and civilians, are killed, it’s the video of Adil crushed by an armoured vehicle that has gone viral.

Kashmir and Kashmiris are now almost entirely cornered in a siege where militarism of the most vicious kind is an everyday, routinised affair. The slain are mourned, protested, and memorised momentarily, until another Kashmiri is killed by another means. One shudders to think what new ways of Kashmiri-killing might Delhi devise to silence dissent and aspirations for freedom and justice.

There may, however, still exist a simpler way of dealing with the troublesome, dissenting, and annoyingly imperishable Kashmiri: talking. You might be surprised to find out they are quite capable of and rather good at conversation. What’s more, it doesn’t involve killing.

Mirza Waheed is a novelist and the author of The Collaborator and The Book of Gold Leaves.

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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.