Barricaded Time in Occupied Kashmir

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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.