Musings on Absence: Planning, Policies, and Conflict in the Indian Administered Kashmir

By Francesca Recchia

Francesca Recchia is an independent researcher and writer based in Afghanistan. She is interested in the geopolitical dimension of cultural processes and in recent years has focused her research on heritage, urban transformations and creative practices in countries in conflict. 

She tweets at @kiccovich

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Srinagar

At the time of Partition between India and Pakistan, in 1947, the whole of Kashmir was divided between the two countries – a decision that has been disputed ever since. Kashmir is the only state in India with a majority Muslim population and its annexation to the country has been an object of contention since the inception. As early as 1947, the Indian Government promised Kashmir a plebiscite that would allow its people to determine their fate. To this day, the plebiscite has not taken place and India has enforced a tight military control over the region in order to preserve the integrity of its national territory – or, allegedly, to protect its people from Islamist insurgents and separatists alike. The infamous Line of Control (LoC) – the 2897-kilometer-long border between India and Pakistan – is tightly monitored to prevent civilian movements and militant infiltrations. Despite the fact that Kashmir is not “technically” a country at war, it is one of the most militarized areas of the world with a ratio of one armed forces personnel to every seventeen civilians – a ratio that is higher than that in both Afghanistan and Iraq at the peak of the US-led invasions. The repercussions of such figures on the ground are admittedly tremendous.

An analysis of the landscape and the built environment can provide important insights into the understanding of such repercussions.

The design of space is neither neutral nor innocent. The State or the military often utilize such an instrument to implement broader political plans. Beyond aesthetics and functionalism, urban planning and space design can be understood as devices for social engineering: they are often adopted as subtle tools to implement the larger scheme of shaping society. In contexts of open conflict, the control over landscape and natural resources, as well as the management of infrastructures, play a fundamental strategic role. The segregation of urban functions and the definition of movement patterns determine access and exclusion, shaping people’s decision-making and patterns of behavior. Continue reading “Musings on Absence: Planning, Policies, and Conflict in the Indian Administered Kashmir”

Rivers of Blood: A Meditation on Borders

by Taimoor Shahid

 

This is a meditation on borders, international borders, the ways in which they structure our lives—our pasts, presents, and futures, and the ways in which we navigate them. It is a dialogue between what was and what is. It is a reverie, a plea, against the imagined lines that cut across our bodies, that separate us from our pasts, that divide our homes into halves, and that are always too real to pass.

It is based on selections from Padma Surkh Hai or The Bloodied Padmathe war diary of Shaakh, a student from Lahore studying at Dhaka University in 1971. War struck. And he moved with a Bengali friend’s family. Then they had to flee for life. First they fled from Dhaka to a small town, then to Rajshahi. Then to the Indian refugee camp across the river Padma. And then back from the refugee camp itself. All this while, Shaakh maintained a diary, in Urdu, his mother tongue, but also the tongue of the aggressors. He recorded killing, looting, arson, but also bare life during war, and the ways in which borders were created, navigated, and transcended.

Shaakh is my father. Here I read a few episodes from his diary and meditate on them through my own experiences: of borders, separations, migrations, and an inheritance of his past. I present this piece then as a tentative reflection on Borders of all kinds, seen through this episode of human history, an episode unfortunately not unique. Here the partition of 1947, of 1971, and the continuing partitions of the present come together. Here Dhaka and Lahore, and Calcutta and Chicago exist on the same plane in a complicated relationship built through text and sound: through disembodied connections that borders cannot sever.

It is to one of these connections that I owe this piece. It emerged from my collaboration with The Travelling Archive, a field recordings and field notes project based in Calcutta and run by singer and writer Moushumi Bhowmik and sound recordist and designer Sukanta Majumdar since 2003. I became friends with Moushumi di when I found myself across the India-Pakistan border that carves us into different flesh. Moushumi di had heard about my father’s diary, and she and Sukanta da had already been working on Borders for some time. We talked, and she came up with this idea: that we must do something. We must archive these voices for us to remember, and perhaps to transcend the Borders, through a collapsing of geographies, of time, of sounds. I thus recorded this piece for them in Chicago, which was then woven with Jarigan recordings—songs of lament sung for the martyrs of Karbala—from Faridpur, Bangladesh archived by The Travelling Archive in 2008. It was presented as an art installation at the annual I.G. Khan Memorial lecture event in Aligarh in Feb 2016. I am publishing here, however, only my contribution, in which I interact and interpret Borders as seen through my father’s eyes of 1971. It is not a finished project, and I invite you to comment, respond, and take this forward in whatever way you think necessary and useful to dismantle Borders of any kind.

 

Zindagi Gulzar Hai and The Production of a New Traditional Woman

Rich boy meets poor girl, they clash at first only to fall in love later and to live happily ever after. This basic plotline of the popular TV drama serial Zindagi Gulzar Hai (2012-13) is one very familiar to South Asian viewership. But, there is more to the show than masala entertainment. At its best, the serial provides keen commentary on the class structure of Pakistan and, in some ways, even contests social norms. At worst, the show is simply a repackaging of pedagogical manual of yesteryears that taught women morality and respectable behavior. In any case, Zindagi grapples with the anxieties of living authentically in a rapidly changing world. In recent years, Pakistan has seen rapid growth of its large cities and a burgeoning urban middle class. Concurrent with this capitalist urbanization has been the decades long process of the Islamization of the Pakistani state and society. These processes converge in a discourse of morality that takes as its disciplinary object the bodies of women, and this, I argue, is what we see in Zindagi Gulzar Hai, specifically, in the show’s positing of models of good and bad women as a way of addressing the anxieties about the mixed up contemporary world of the urban viewer.

But, why pick on, and apart, a TV serial? Isn’t it just entertainment? I think not. Following scholar Humeira Iqtidar’s distinction between secularism as a project and secularization as a process (2011), I conceptualize Islamization as a political project, connected but distinct from Islamization as a social process. While these two formulations can be mapped onto a divide between the state and society, they are not mutually exclusive. Grasping the feedback loop between the two is crucial. A more thorough work would place an interpretative analysis of this show in the multiple and interconnected contexts of the privatization of Pakistan Television and economic liberalization, and a political economic history of Islamization— a project built on and through misogynist regulation of Pakistani women. Such a reading of popular cultural forms like the TV serial, I hope to show as best as I can in the space I am allowed here, helps understand these processes and the emergent social formations, in the case of Pakistan, of Islamized capitalist patriarchy under the hegemony of neoliberal and war-on-terror discourses.

ZGH

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Rickshaw Diary

by Annie Ali Khan

Karachiscapes by Zehra Nawab
Karachiscapes by Zehra Nawab

While returning home one night from a reporting trip, I found myself in a rickshaw that was going so fast that I had to hold on to the tinsel wrapped poles for dear life. M.A. Jinnah Road, the road that forms the main artery of the city, was a blur of headlights and honking cars as the rickshaws weaved in between trucks and motorbikes. Seeing my face in the mirror, a young woman, her face and head uncovered, clearly a new customer, the old man with the grizzled beard laughed. “Here you have to learn to walk while holding the finger of death.” This was my first lesson navigating in the city.

His name was Lauri Baba, a word that means someone who is loved by his people. Lauri Baba, was an old resident of Lyari, the heart of the city of Karachi. But what is your real name, I asked him. “Even my own parents do not remember my real name,” he said. But he knew the city like the back of his hand.

A fellow reporter, also a young woman, told me she had taken a rickshaw home well past midnight one night. The rickshaw wallah veered off the main road. She began to scream. “If you did not want to have sex, then why are you out so late?” he said. He dropped her home. But he looked angry. Once I wanted to get home well past midnight. After standing by the roadside on Shahrah-e-Faisal, across from the Naval museum, for half an hour all I saw were strange cars slowly driving past, full of men. A flower seller sitting, who had long closed shop and was chatting with a friend on the pavement asked me where I wanted to go then called his rickshaw driver friend, who dropped me home. A friend visiting Karachi asked me what I did when I was out late. I take a rickshaw, I told her. It is the safest ride. I can always jump out. Rickshaws are pronounced “ruck-shah” and it is the Hindi word for protection. I always repeat that to myself. If you grew up on Bollywood films of the 90s there was a lot of reference to that sort of thing in those movies featuring macho men.

In an empty lot in the neighborhood of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, in one of the biggest migrant settlement, an inner-city neighborhood, beside the apartment building where my grandmother lives, there are always five or six rickshaw wallahs waiting in a row for passengers. They wait there amidst garbage heaps, where a man in tattered shalwar and no kamiz leads a herd of bony cows to graze every morning on the weeds. The paan wallah leans out of the window of his stall and cracks a betel-stained smile.

The rickshaw wallahs pass the hours playing a game using pebbles set in concentric chalk squares drawn on the roadside. They always look up and stop playing when I come by and then nods will be exchanged as to who will give me a ride. A kick to the rickshaw motor and we are on our way.

The rickshaw wallah has a hole in his ear. It is a hole the size of a small pea in the center of the cartilage. In the early morning when the sunlight is dim I believe I can see a bit of the road through his ear. Most times, there is a bright spot of light shining through. His mother pierced it with a fat needle when he was a little boy. It was back when he lived in the mountains in the north and apparently it was the only known cure for chicken pox.

A woman in a purple burqa sits by the roadside in front of the mausoleum of the Quaid, where the founder of the country is buried. The mausoleum is halfway between the area of Gulshan where my naani lives and Empress Market. A white domed structure in the center of a park. I have never been. There have been reports in the news of girls getting nabbed there so my parents never took us there. I remember reading the report of a girl who went missing while visiting the mausoleum with her family on a holiday. She was abducted by unknown men and was later raped in the basement of the mazaar. A Baloch man told me his cousin visiting from interior Sindh stopped to pray while passing by the white stone structure. “But he is no pir,” the Baloch berated his cousin who replied. “He must be have mystical powers, he gave us Pakistan.” The woman in the deep purple shuttlecock burqa is completely concealed. Nothing shows, except for her hands reaching out from the heavy folds of the burqa, moving over something on the road. It is unsettling and I see the rickshaw wallah veers a bit away from her whenever we pass by. She is there every morning, the purple of her burqa vivid and yet silent in the early morning gray.

There is another older rickshaw wallah who constantly scratches his bald head and always rushes out from the line of parked rickshaws when I come outside. He is safe I think. But sometimes I notice him adjusting the mirror and I see my face in it, and I see his eyes locking with mine. I’d much rather he kept his stare fixed on the road.
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