Barricaded Time in Occupied Kashmir



With the advancing threat of settler-colonialism in Indian-occupied Kashmir, it becomes urgent to examine the militarized topographies of the region, the ways in which the occupation alters the spatial relationship shared by the locals, and how some of these spaces are reclaimed in everyday acts of resistance. This photo-essay by Zohra charts the burgeoning occupation apparatus in Kashmir.

A soldier stands in front of a tin bunker while the city is lit up in the background.
The gaze. An Indian armed forces personnel is seen stationed outside a bunker in Srinagar’s Amira Kadal market.

In Kashmiri language, the word bandh holds different meanings: Bandh means a state-imposed curfew, but it also means a civil curfew. It means to be imprisoned, restricted, or tied up, and it also connotes suffocation.  

Along the valley runs a maze of barbed wires, our suffocation manifested in our streets. An elaborate system of checkpoints disorients the population, stripping their minds of the maps they have memorized since childhood. As the roads become narrower with barricades, diversions imposed by the Indian military make the Kashmiris feel further unacquainted with even the routes that they have frequented. A multitude of checkpoints restricts the flow of every possible movement, hindering time and authority that a Native should have over their own land. Time freezes for the Natives, becomes incalculable, as they are queued up and made to wait in humiliation, while Indian army convoys or settlers are allowed to pass by, freely.

Words become strange, stranger in siege. While this perpetual surveillance entitles the Indian-settler with a  sense of “security,” it develops a sense of insecurity and uncertainty among the Natives. Here, the Native civilian faces the vulnerability of being a suspect and a “potential threat to peace,” while the settler celebrates the Indian trooper’s act of “guarding” this very “peace.”

At these checkpoints, the Indian armed forces enjoy the impunity of killing on the basis of mere suspicion. Hence, the barricade is not only ordering you to stop, or dictating whether you can pass, but it may as well become the line differentiating life and death. The presence of checkpoints, bunkers, and army camps is so pervasive for the local population that they are often devised as a landmark or a pick-up point, with everything else around them becoming banal.

With military paraphernalia spread out densely, the topography of the region—of how it is known to the Natives—becomes obscure. The meadows become graveyards, and hilltops become garrisons. As the state wants to replace the Natives with settlers, this manufactured change tilts the balance in its favor; it makes the Native nescient to their own surroundings, while giving more knowledge, more power to the state. 

The expansion of this militaristic apparatus wears the local population down. It impedes the Native’s memory, and intrudes their spatial imaginary. The fatigue caused by this unceasing sense of suffocation often reaches its threshold, and the Natives exercise their right to violence and defend what is theirs. Over the last seven decades, India’s attempts to strengthen its colonization by intensifying military presence have been rejected and resisted. Stones and sticks rising from the hands of the youth interrupt this militaristic continuity. Checkpoints are dismantled, bunkers are climbed over, and barricades are bypassed in the Natives’ attempts to reclaim their time. ■

Mountain range with faint lights of Indian army camps in Occupied Kashmir.
The mirage. River Jhelum reflects the lights illuminating an army cantonment overlooking Srinagar. The hilltop is visible from almost every neighborhood of the city. 
Indian soldier flanked by more soldiers and a spool of concertina wire in a street in Occupied Kashmir.
The labyrinth. Armed forces personnel patrol the streets of Maisum. Located in the center of the city, Maisum is home to popular resistance leader Yasin Malik, who has been imprisoned in India’s Tihar jail since 2018. The neighborhood has been actively resisting throughout the civil uprisings of Kashmir. 
Indian forces with a spool of concertina wire in Occupied Kashmir.
The spool is the only constant. Armed forces are seen laying cordons to the neighborhood of Maisum after the locals came out to protest the Indian court’s decision to sentence Yasin Malik to life imprisonment in May 2022. 
A busy street in Occupied Kashmir with locals as well as Indian military forces.
The everyday, interrupted. A bylane has been barricaded to prevent the movement of civilian traffic as India’s Bharatiya Janata Party was to flag off a bike rally from the city center of Lal Chowk on July 25, 2022. Many see these events and rallies as the state’s attempt to project normalcy in the Valley. 
Yellow barricade with the word "STOP" in Occupied Kashmir.
Punctuating the paradise. In 2020, the occupational authorities introduced “smart barricades,” saying that the installation of yellow pop-colored barricades “does not affect the aesthetic beauty of the city.” 
Blue coloured bunkers and watchtowers and barricades with an Indian soldier holding a gun in Occupied Kashmir.
Making desolation, calling it peace. On bunkers and watchtowers, one often notices messages of “peace,” which contradict the reality of subjugation the occupation’s apparatus inflicts upon us. Checkpoints like these are gradually multiplying across the Kashmiri landscape, claiming more indigenous land.
A bus is being used as a barricade in Occupied Kashmir.
Dissonant, intimate barricades. To prevent the Muharram procession and the subsequent movement of civilian traffic and mourners, one of the main roads running across the city center has been blocked. 
An Indian soldier stands in front of tin bunker on a street in Occupied Kashmir.
The mutant. Over the decades, the structure of bunkers in Kashmir has become more rigid. Earlier, bunkers were created by piling up sandbags, but now the forces use tin sheets, wood, and sometimes even concrete. And with this slow change in material, the temporary becomes permanent, and embeds itself into the daily life of Kashmiris.