Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

The Stories Rooms Tell, The Kindle Magazine

By Majid Maqbool

Some rooms stay with you long after you have left them. They narrate their own stories, constructing their own little houses of memories.


In Kashmir, the disappeared and the dead have left behind their rooms in a state of perpetual mourning. Rooms that once breathed with their presence are lifeless now, mourning their absence. Empty spaces, emptied rooms, filled with a deep sense of loss.


Grief is a state of mind in Kashmir. Occupying its own permanent corner, grief looms large here, even in times of apparent happiness.  Even if you leave Kashmir, that particular sadness—the cumulative grief of this place—is carried with you. And it stays with you forever. It lives in the memory of the survivors. It thrives in the homes of the departed, in the eyes of their loved ones, and in the rooms bereft of their presence. And in the things they left behind.


For parents, the things that once belonged to their loved ones – clothes, books, a wrist watch, for example, a shoe – mean more than just things left behind by the departed. They’re a haunting reminder of what remains despite the loss. They are the remnants of what is left behind when everything is taken away: memories.



On a cold November afternoon, I met the old father of an Islamic studies student, Muhammad Rafiq Shah, who is indefinitely imprisoned in Tihar jail for the past seven years now. We sat in their garden. The old man called out his daughter to bring a cup of tea. He had a dejected look in his eyes as if all that he loved was suddenly ravaged off him. After retirement, he had looked forward to rest at home, expecting his son to take over the responsibilities of home. But that was not to be. After his son’s imprisonment, he remains in a state of perpetual unrest. Until his son returns home, there’s no peace in his life.


While talking about his son he would often look away into the distance, emptily staring around in silence.

“They destroyed the future of my son,” he would say repeatedly after uncomfortable pauses. “soe maesha aese zeah.”(Can we ever forget that?)

“Who will return all these years he spent behind the bars?” He asked. “Who will return his youthful years that were imprisoned?”

I had no answers.


Inside Rafiq’s room, which his father says is opened only at the time of cleaning it every week, his absence is palpable. The things which belonged to him have become sacred in his growing absence. They are touched with reverence. And all his things are kept in place, always clean, as he left them seven years back when he was picked up one night by the government forces from his home.

Nobody enters his room now. It remains locked.


Time seems to have frozen in his room. His passport-size photo is pinned on a wall hanging. On his cupboard, his name is vertically inscribed in large, white capital letters. The notes on his notebooks date back to the days when he was arrested. Near his study desk, small shelves are adorned with his books – volumes of books on Islam, his textbooks, books on Kashmiri Sufism and Kashmir dispute, and a collection of Allama Iqbal’s poetry. A few of his used pens – their refills half-emptied – still lie undisturbed near his notebooks. On one of the small bookshelves there is a pocket-size holy Quran he would recite from every morning.


I sat down where Rafiq would often sit in his room, studying late into the night hours. That night, when the SOG and police personnel took him away, his father says he was preparing for his university term exams. The books that were lying open for his study were later closed in his absence, and put back on his bookshelf by his parents.


Gently and very slowly, with his right hand, Rafiq’s father rubbed the corner where his son would often spread out his books to study. As if hugging him in person, he then kissed his own hand and said a silent prayer for his immediate release.

His son is yet to return home.





In 2008, at the time of state assembly elections, I found myself inside another room in a small house in Batamaloo area in Srinagar. Few mothers, whose sons were killed through the 90s by the government forces, had assembled there on the day of voting. More such women were coming in from the neighborhood. All of them were carrying the pictures of their beloved sons. All of them had stories to tell.


Earlier in the day, these women had heard that some people from their neighborhood were voting, despite the boycott, in the nearby polling booth. They had immediately come out of their homes, carrying the framed pictures of their sons in their hands. They didn’t say anything to the voters near the polling booth; they only appeared in front of them, as if telling them not to disrespect them—and not to disrespect the memory of their sons. Their meaningful silence conveyed their message. When the people who had come out to cast their votes saw these mothers from their neighborhood, they immediately recognized them. Seeing pictures of their dead sons in their hands, they felt ashamed of their act of voting. They knew their stories. They couldn’t look at the bereaved mothers in their eyes. They stood there, speechless. Unable to face them, they fled from the polling booth. Their votes remained uncast.




After protesting on the street outside, the mothers then gathered in one room. They wanted to narrate the stories of their sons. But only tears came out. Words dissolved into tears. They wept inconsolably when they were asked about their sons who were killed by the government forces through the 90s. Hugging the framed photos of their sons, one after another, they broke into dirges about their loved ones. When one mother would pause for breath, another would raise the lament about her lost son. And they couldn’t let go of their son’s pictures, unable to separate the framed photos from their bosoms. They kept hugging their photos as if their sons had just returned after decades of disappearance and were now in front of them. Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes.


I had to leave that room, without seeing the pictures of their beloved sons, without listening to all the tragic stories behind those pictures. The grief that came together in that room was overwhelming. Language was inadequate to express it fully. Sometimes stories untold tell more powerful stories that have to be felt.


That room, however, has stayed with me. It has become an unforgettable memory. And I carry it everywhere.

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Fire destroyed 200-year-old Sufi shrine Peer Dastgeer Sahib in June 2012. Photo: Abid Bhatt

Very recently a friend appearing in an interview in New Delhi was asked a strange question. Why was Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan offered tight security in Kashmir? Does it mean militancy is still a major threat? The applicant quoted police figures on garrisoned Kashmir saying not more than 247 rebels fight over half a million troops in Kashmir, plus several thousand spies and nearly a lakh cops. To him and many others the security was offered to shield the star from “unruly” fans. Rewind to the interview. So many mosques are coming up in Kashmir. Why are people suddenly turning religious? I mean I heard the youth are getting radicalised, another interviewer asked? The outspoken applicant in reply sought reasons as to why so many small temples have come up along Srinagar-Jammu highway, away from local Hindu population, which was not the case until few years ago. The interview then suddenly shifted to the applicant’s extra-curricular activities.

For the past many years, the question of mosques coming up in every lane of Kashmir is being asked. Then religious groups like Jamiat-e-Ahl Hadith (JAH) or the Salafis (popular but contemptuously referred to as the Wahabis and a constituent group of Sunni Muslims), Deobandi and Barelvi outfits (Shrine goers) or even Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) are discussed. Years ago JeI was pegged as a group from which youth sought inspiration from. Note, the state has often described people ‘radical’ once they offer it formidable belligerence, politically or ideologically.

In recent years, we’ve been told that JAH is promoting Saudi Islam or Wahhabi Islam in Kashmir, a land that has roots in Sufi ethos, in an attempt to push it against Barelvi sect. And now a new group Carvan-e-Islam that randomly came from nowhere has started promoting ‘moderate Islam’. It has seen a valley’s top bureaucrat leading its rallies, although he has been denying regularly that he promotes any one sect in Kashmir either personally or in official capacity. One wonders how processions of Carvan-e-Islam are allowed by the state while the Ashura processions of Shia Muslims always face strict curbs, water cannons, aerial firing and bamboo beating every year.

Last few months has seen target killings of personnel of religious groups. And with it several Kashmir mosques (mostly belonging to Hanafi sect—which in the eyes of the state follow moderate Islam) started catching fires. Almost half a dozen cases of fires witnessed that also saw a famous Sufi shrine getting devastated in Srinagar’s Khanyar area. Separatists suspect it as the “handiwork of agencies” hell-bent on dividing the Kashmir society along religious lines and “weakening the united resistance”, while the police has been blaming either miscreants or short circuits as cause of fire.

If we look back, one would realise how complex the situation has remained ever since the armed rebellion for Azadi broke out in 1989 and how the state has actually sided with the group (irrespective of its ideology) that doesn’t pose any threat to it.

For example, JAH that preaches puritanical Islam owes its rise to the not-so-powerful-now JeI, which was cut to size by various state machineries during the past few decades. JeI — a cadre-based politico-religious body in the state was a revivalist movement and had operated within a moderate Hanafi framework. It fuelled Islamic movement in the Valley through a definite doctrine but in sync with socio-cultural essence of the Valley. JeI brought modern religious education in Kashmir by organising seminars, discussions, opening schools and donation centres. However, as JeI also proved to be a political wing of the largest militant outfit, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, it soon saw itself juxtaposed to state and Centre policies. Soon notorious renegades and government gunmen started hounding JeI members triggering a huge flux among JeI cadres, who fled from villages to Srinagar and other urban areas. The JeI’s weakness created a huge vacuum only to be filled by the JAH. Side by side huge militarisation, raging conflict and loss of identity forced Kashmiris to live in a highly insecure environment. While civilians were seeking refuge in religion, the JAH proved to be the only platform that until now had the state patronage.

The JAH had initially faced opposition. For example, in South Kashmir’s Shangus area there are instances when members of JAH tried to preach in Hanafi mosques but kangris (traditional fire pot) were hurled on them. Similar other instances meant the JAH wouldn’t preach their ideology in local masjids. The takeover was failing. But soon the JAH started constructing their own mosques. The strong factor that saw the JAH penetrate deeper into Kashmir society was increased militarisation of the Valley. In many instances villagers going for morning prayers were suspected as militants and shot dead by troops. Previously villagers or citizens would walk for several kilometres to reach a mosque, but fear of getting killed saw mosques coming up in lanes after lanes. And as population swelled from 77,18,700 in 1991 to 1,25, 48,926 in 2011, expansion of rural and urban areas also saw hundreds of mosques coming up. The JAH’s money from Saudi Arabia was unrestricted so was its influence that was fast spreading especially among educated youth of the Valley. While the state agencies were clipping JeI’s power, the JAH found itself close to the state. The same state which now seems appeasing the shrine believer sect Barelvis. In fact in 2008 the then Governor Lt Gen (retired) SK Sinha helped the then JAH cleric Maulana Showkat for setting up the Transworld Islamic University. The JAH was given 12 acres of land. Reportedly ample financial support from Saudi Arabia had come too. The state agencies chose to stay ignored. Interestingly, Showkat was killed in a cycle bomb episode one Friday in 2011. Salafi ideology Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)would later blame “traitors from our own ranks” for the murder.

There are instances of killings that show irrespective of what ideology one follows, proximity with New Delhi and state agencies were the reasons of assault on people. For instance, in Seer village of South Kashmir, years ago pro-India People Democratic Party (PDP) worker Ghulam Nabi Khan who was a Salafi Muslim (JAH) by ideology was shot by militants. Then some JeI members were also killed just because of their affiliation with the PDP and not because of what sect they belonged to. It was never a sectarian fight.

Even in pro-Azadi JKLF, some members follow the JAH ideology though the party they work for has a shrine-goers baggage. In police department some key officials, who were at the forefront of counter insurgency some time back, follow Wahabbi Islam but work against the militants often driven by pan-Islamism. Again while the JAH is thought to be proponents of violent Islam it was the JAH’s Maulana Showkat who did a strong peacemaking when years ago members of Muslim and Sikh community came head-on over some issue. Showkat’s march had both JKLF and Sikh members.
The JKLF is many times promoted as a secular party because it fits in the dominant state narrative, despite the fact that they were the ones to shut down cinemas, burn down liquor shops and involved in many civilian kidnappings. If a research is done, the LeT, which the state sees as the most-ruthless group, will be found involved in very small number of cases in which civilians were killed. “In fact it’s the only militant group,” one senior journalist believes, “that apologised for killing an unarmed defence PRO (Major Purushottam ) when its Fidayeen squad entered Srinagar’s Badami Bagh army cantonment in November 1999. Purushottam had saved three visiting photojournalists in the toilet before he was shot.” But since the LeT has been capable to recruit many locals and has been involved in many spectacular attacks on the police and army installations, the group has been easily passed as the one doing something that goes against ‘Kashmiriyat’.

Sectarian war in Kashmir will favour the state which has been facing a popular rebellion so far. And since the Home Ministry’s survey recently found that nearly 60 percent of angry youth who took part in the 2010 civil unrest had spent ample time listening to religious discourses in (Wahabbi) mosques or on the net, pitting good Hanafi against bad Wahabbi, seems the next gamble. Earlier, the army had claimed to have funded renovation of Sufi shrines under Operation Sadhbavana until it faced a fatwa in 2007 and recently personnel of Rashtriya Rifles (RR) were seen offering food at a local Barelvi shrine. The state too is massively funding construction or renovation of many Hanafi shrines which can prove a dangerous trend.

If one carefully observes the standards of living of some senior Barelvi leaders, who have become active in recent months, as well as the reach of the JAH among the educated youth of Kashmir, it suggests that funds are coming for either sects and whether this money is coming from approved channels or from some mysterious quarters, the intention of triggering passions between the two sects seems the prime motive.

As I write this piece, North Kashmir’s Handwara district is protesting against the desecration of yet another mosque today. And, like, always police has registered a case against “unidentified miscreants”.

Mohammad Umar BabaAuthor: Baba Umar’s career started with The Indian Express in Srinagar where he reported on the South Asia earthquake of 2005. In the following years, he wrote features for Kashmir’s first online news magazine Kashmir Newz and in 2008 he joined Rising Kashmir as a senior reporter where he covered 2008-09-10 civil unrest. Baba specializes in producing stories mostly on Kashmir conflict and water disputes in India. Baba joined Tehelka in 2010 and the next year saw him winning ICRC (Geneva)-Press Institute of India (PII) award for his news report on victims of armed conflict in Kashmir.


Friday, 31 Aug 2012 at 02:47

Raheela Saleem Narchoor

The Kashmir issue is, essentially, my own story. During my stay outside Kashmir I, often reluctantly, have been involved with many conversations and discussions on Kashmir. Almost all people with whom I converse believe that Kashmiri women have no say about the region they belong to. They have been ignored in taking active part in almost all discussions ranging from human rights violations to religion issues. “Why don’t Kashmiri women speak about their experiences? Why are they silent?” There hasn’t been a single day when I am not faced with questions like these.

As a native Kashmiri, I accept the criticism of those who look at Kashmir from the outside. But how can I make a simple point in a rabidly patriarchal debate? For instance, not a single male power-holder, like the leaders in the central government or the leaders in the state government or the leaders of the separatist parties or the male activists of all shades of opinion and ideologies or even the much discredited male symbol of the state–the uniformed security personnel–No ONE, No MALE–has ever asked a Kashmir woman this simple question: “What is your position/stand/opinion on self-determination?”

Unfortunately, this absence of women’s voices prevails in most social, legal, political and religious discourses. In Kashmir women are considered uninterested in politics or because the gentleness of women’s nature is presumed not to have a political opinion. Overall, women in Kashmir are considered less capable of taking part in the political game. All these ideas add up to distance and, indeed, exclude women from political discussions. Even the male political discourses uses “naturalistic” arguments derived from values and rules associated with the public and private sphere.
While Islam is characterised as a strategy of exclusion used by mainstream political entities in most Muslim countries, Islam has been used, paradoxically, by women of Kashmir as a strategy of resistance. Kashmiri women use Islam as a strategy to minimize the effects of seclusion. The practice of covering whole body, as per religious mandate, by activists of the prominent women separatist party, Dukhtaran-i-Millat (DM), of Kashmir may be interpreted as the use of Islam to conquer the public sphere. By drawing attention to their devoutness of faith, Kashmiri Muslim women have been able to breach the barriers to their participation in the public sphere. For many other women, the affirmation of their obedience to God frees them from the ascendancy of the men who hold positions of power in their lives. Islam, therefore, becomes a strategy for some women to participate actively in political system. For instance, in Kashmir, the main women separatists parties like Muslim KhwaMuteen Markaz (MKM) and DM are based on the Islamic mandates. Though these political groups carry their own opinions, these opinions are mainly based on certain pre-conceived notions of religion.
The use of religion as a strategy of resistance is seen as a double edged sword, as it allows immediate political recognition and an apparently to legitimize incursion into the male public sphere. However, using Islam as a strategy of resistance may have a good impact on Muslim women participation in politics in various Muslim states;but, in conflict ridden situations like Kashmir it may have devastating consequences. This may radicalise the ideologies held by various women due to the peer group pressure. Setting goals based on particular ideology do not give chance to reflect from secular and democratic perspective. For instance, the proclamation of the DM to fight for equal rights within the frame of Islamcreate an atmosphere of biasness and partiality for the inclusive participation of women from all three parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, the inclination of MKM towards Pakistan, solely because Pakistan is a Muslim state, makes one to ponder the outcome of the secular political mandate of such organisation.
In limited terms the mainstream discussion on Kashmir is restricted between Kashmir men and the Indian government. Womenhave always seen from the prism of victimization,ignoring the crucial part of their political consciousness and, therefore, have been isolated from the mainstream politics.The situation of Kashmiri women will not improve by just labelling them the worst victim of violence; they need to be involved in almost all political negotiations on Kashmir. Therefore, great deal needs to be done to make the women politically visa-vis secularly active in Kashmir. As long as the Kashmiri women’s movement does not strengthen and widen its secular and political base, the women of Kashmir will never be free from the dictate of a conservative society and will continue to suffer intellectually as well as morally.
The author is working with Amnesty International. She can be mailed at