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.
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. ■