– The People –
Shoving a camera up to a strangers face requires a lot of nerve. It’s a trip walking up to someone on the street who speaks a different language than you, and saying, “can I take your picture” while using your hands and pointing and the camera to get the deeper meaning across. To be able to capture that moment… the look on a person’s face and the setting. They could be looking back with interest, excitement or maybe they’ve never had their picture taken before… and are looking back puzzled or with indifference… boredom…maybe with bit apprehensive at first, and then turn a good smile…
While working with Nelson on The Enemies Project we spent most of our time
wandering around the streets and neighborhoods of Kashmir taking street portraits. After diving into the confusion, bitterness and resentment of the Separatist political scene I talked a bit about in Part 2, Nelson and I needed to talk to the people. It’s so different just talking with people you meet on the street. More often than not, we’d be invited to sit with strangers and share the milky chai… most of the time sweetened with sugar, and others – more traditionally salted…
Hospitality is very important in Kashmir and we were treated so well by the people we met. Often people we met would ask questions about our families, lives, beliefs and opinions on politics. People on the street were just intrigued by our interest in visiting their beautiful home. why we were there, what we were doing, what we did at home, how many children we had… the list of questions goes on and on… Riding this amazing feedback, Nelson and I roamed the alleys, and markets of Srinagar… meeting people, hearing stories and photographing.
A midst many pleasant interactions there were also harder ones. We still still had not met with two people from opposing sides of this conflict that were willing to be photographed together. We had’nt photographed a Kashmiri and Indian together… and that’s why we were workingon The ENEMIES Project in Kashmir…
To meet with some families, we contacted a group called The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). It was through them, that we started meeting families – and specifically women – that would talk to us about their experiences living in Kashmir. With APDP’s help, we started interviewing mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers sons, and fathers whom are been affected by the Indian Occupation.
One family we met and photographed, had one of their sons kidnapped by the Indian Army in 2003. As crazy as it sounds, civilians being kidnapped by the Army was very common… APDP was founded in 1994 by a woman, whose son was abducted by Indian security forces, and like the other families, to this day, she doesn’t know if her son is alive or dead.
APDP has over 10,000 documented cases of kidnappings and disappearances in their archives. There is very deep seeded resentment towards the Indian Army (CRPF). Not only because of the wars India fought with Pakistan on Kashmiri land, or due to the failed Kashmiri Revolution, but there have been numerous documented cases of “fake encounters” set up by the Army. These supposed “encounters with terrorist groups”, end up being portrayed as the “terrorists” all being shot and Indian Army personnel gaining merit, honors and higher standing for their valorous behavior (not to mention the Indian Army gets more funding and resources from from the central gov’t and justification to remain in “unstable” Kashmir). I say this because numerous times, the reality of these “encounters” was that a troop of Indian officers kidnapped a bunch civilian Kashmiri boys from villages or a neighboring state, shot them, burned the bodies and reported that insurgents had been successfully terminated… sometimes much much nastier events took place than this as well… Check this wiki-link on the Pathribal Massacre if you want a little more information on these “fake encounters”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chattisinghpora,_Pathribal,_and_Barakpora_massacres
These massacres and the thousands of documented and undocumented cases of government kidnappings on top of these, have deeply divided the Kashmiri people from their Indian government.
That’s why APDP had to be created…
During interviews when we asked the mothers and wives of disappeared sons or husbands, what they thought of all of this, the political situation and the kidnappings, or if they wanted independence like the Separatists leaders we interviewed weeks previously – the women usually had short but profound responses…
“My freedom will come when my husband returns”
“People have been coming for the last 12 years to take my photograph and hear my story, but I still don’t know where my husband is“.
“Will you help us find our son?..”
Aside from the quotes above, the mothers, aunts and sisters we interviewed, spoke on the long winters -with no heat or electricity- food shortages – the schools being shut down for eight months of the year – and unavailability of jobs for their husbands, fathers and brothers…
The brother and sister to the left, we met on a hike one day up in the Kashmiri mountains. The children in Kashmir were amazing… full of light, promise, energy and intrigue… like all children everywhere…
The two sisters below we met outside of Srinagar while doing an interview for The ENEMIES Project.
I wish I could display pictures of all the people we got to meet. All the stories… All the interactions, the shared food, shared space… the kindness…
After working and living with different communities in Kashmir, I feel deeply connected to Kashmiri’s and their people’s struggle. There is something about sharing food with a stranger who doesn’t speak your language, and has a different religion than you… to sit with them on the floor in captivated by their company in and shared silence… maybe some darting smiles and nodding heads of acknowledgment and understanding… experiences like these are worth more to me than all the wealth in the world.
The act of living, being with our families and neighbors, enjoying our shared history and identity I find exhilarating.
Interacting peacefully with those around us, sharing our opportunities and perspectives, allows us to share the fruits of our labors. This can be done just as easily with neighbors down the street or our brothers and sisters 7000 miles away – on the other side of the planet.
To me, people are People everywhere…
Part Four of The Kashmir Analogs – “Transcending the Language Barrier” will be released next week.
Beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time….
I have been extensively stationed in Kashmir and have seen the situation from an outsider’s point of view.It is important to understand the role of Indian Army and what they go through in the troubled valley.There are incidences which I have seen with my own eyes..for e.g hot boiling oil being poured on the Army personal on duty.If you were able to visit Kashmir it is because of them and it is an unrewarded sacrifice that they are doing.Maybe an insight into the POK or Gilgit condition or state of affairs will be a more eye opening experience.Rather than just seeing the story from only one side,maybe the mass slaughter of the Kashmiri Pandits(Hindus) in the valley by the Kashmiris will give you a more comprehensive idea of this delicate issue.Safe travels
Thanks for your response. I agree with you totally, the situation in Kashmir is sad for all the individuals involved. We worked alongside Kashmiris and native Indians while we were there. My gathering was that this an incredibly difficult and complex situation. I pray for everyone living in the whole region.
It is a heart breaking situation and now only prayers can perhaps bring peace back in my valley.