By Nusrat Ara
Some months ago, lawmakers in Kashmir secretly got the new legislative building exorcised after chief minister Omar Abdullah nearly lost his chair on the second day of the session. In 2008, former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had to resign on the first day of the first ever session in the new building.
Exorcism, the legislators thought, would ward off the ghosts of the haunted building’ and give the new chief minister, who has survived a series of administrative blunders in his eight months of rule, some respite. Rather than improving the governance, the legislators preferred exorcism.
Chief Minister Omar first ran into trouble in May when two young women were raped and murdered by men in uniform in Shopian town. An official cover up of the incident sparked widespread unrest in the region. Armed forces were suspected of the double crime, but the administration, including the chief minister, first tried to pass off the killings as a simple case of drowning (in ankle deep waters). Eventually he had to give in to widespread unrest and declare an investigation. Months later however, the case is still unresolved, and an Indian forensic lab has said the samples sent for DNA testing have been fudged.
The Shopian rape and murder was sure to haunt the chief minister in the legislative session this summer. On the very first day, Leader of the Opposition, Mehbooba Mufti, snapped the microphone of the Speaker (chair) of the House, and flung it to one side.
The next day was even more chaotic. The opposition leader, Muzaffar Baig, accused the chief minister of being linked to the infamous sexual-exploitation racket that had rocked the region in 2006. Top security officials, bureaucrats and politicians of the state had been linked to the racket.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who claimed a clean record, felt offended and offered his conditional resignation in protest. Abdullah survived when his resignation was declined by the state governor.
The exorcism brings memories of PAPA 2 to life. PAPA 2, an infamous torture centre of the region, was converted into an official guest house cum residence some years back. Since 1990 hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri youth, both innocent and involved in armed rebellion, have been brought to PAPA 2 by Indian armed agencies, and tortured brutally, many even to death.
When PAPA 2 was converted into the guest house, afraid of the ghosts of innocents, its first incumbent a top state officer, got it exorcised by priests.
These people think that they can exorcise some buildings to ward off the impact of events that may haunt this land for decades.
But my land has seen death and destruction as a rule. It is a land of thousands of orphans and widows.
It’s a land of Kunan-poshpoara, where troopers raped women inside their houses all night after herding their men outside for identification.
It is the land of Dardpora village which is home to some 300 widows. It is a land where 8000 people are still disappeared, whose parents and relatives sit every month in a public park asking for their whereabouts.
It is a land where unmarked graves were discovered in 2008 and countless more lie buried unclaimed somewhere in unknown graveyards or forests. It is a land of people living in mental trauma. It is a land that has witnessed massacres.
A land where a small boy mistook his mother for a murderer when she came out drenched in blood from a room where his father and brothers lay dead. The boy was too young to understand that his mother was in shock after security forces killed three of their family that night.
A land where one can get arrested tortured and killed by the armed forces and the perpetrators can’t even be questioned.
It is a land where people are killed for protesting peacefully. A land where little boys with stones in their hands are showered with bullets and smoke canisters aimed deliberately at their heads.
A land where civilians are picked up and killed in staged gun battles, to be passed off as militants so that policemen can be rewarded for killing an insurgent.
A land of custodial killings. A land of divided families.
It is all these things that haunt its rulers and they respond by exorcising their mansions. I just wonder if my land can ever be exorcised of these injustices, killings and all other demeaning humiliations.
Nusrat Ara is a journalist based in Kashmir. She is a Citizen Voice fellow (grassroots journalist) with World Pulse. For more you can visit www.worldpulse.com.