Harsh Paradise… This is a difficult blog post to write, and perhaps that is why I’ve been putting it off. I had thought I was going to start a series of posts that traced the ENEMIES Project from the beginning, but it looks like that will have to come out randomly over time. I gave a talk about this path a couple months ago, but it wasn’t recorded. So here are a few of my unordered thoughts – outside of the structure of a talk – and relevant to what’s happening in the world now.
I had no idea what to expect when I went to Kashmir last year. Kashmir is the land on the border of India and Pakistan, and I went there because I wanted to explore the Pakistan / India conflict for my ENEMIES Project. I traveled with my good friend Alex Pullen who had been working in Dharamsala, India, and when we arrived in Kashmir we were immediately swept into a whirlwind of stories (see this post from June last year). The recent history of Kashmir is incredibly complicated, and what you read in the western media about Kashmir is confusing and incomplete. What we found was partially about the conflict between India and Pakistan, but mostly about the issue of Kashmir as an occupied land – occupied by India on one side and Pakistan on the other.
For a while after returning to the US I avoided talking about Kashmir as an occupied land, because I was told that I may not be able to get another visa to India if I published negative material about the Indian military. This spring I started speaking about the issue in a few talks I gave, and now it is time to write something here about it.
Things were relatively peaceful when we were in Kashmir. In fact it was the most peaceful year Kashmiris had seen in a long time. There was a huge throng of tourists clogging the streets of Srinagar when we arrived, and I talked with dozens of merchants who were happy to see the tourist economy bringing much needed cash back into their stores. Still, just a few days after we arrived an important shrine was burnt to the ground and the city was locked down in curfew. Alex and I visited many women and families whose sons or husbands disappeared over the last decade. Mostly they were taken away by the military with no explanation and they never returned. Later during my stay several civilians were shot and killed by the Indian security forces, and after Alex left I visited some areas that are off-limits to tourists in order to photograph mass graves.
[This post is unfinished, but I pushed the publish button by accident. I am going to add a bit more, and then I’ll write more in the next few days.]
The image above is a few of the markers of mass graves that I photographed. There are many. Locals were told to bury the bodies, but there was no identification with them. One of the men who showed me the mass graves had been arrested six months before for showing the graves to foreign journalists. He was detained for two days and beaten severely. Still, he didn’t seem afraid to be showing me what he saw. He was a courageous man.
I’ll add more to this story later. I am writing about this now, because there were more killings of civilians in Kashmir in July. I’ll talk about those, and about how I’ve dealt with my experience after returning to the US.