Ideas

Why It Is Important For Kashmiri Hindu Women To Tell Their Own Stories

Kashmiri Pandit women at a rally seeking rehabilitation.
Snapshot
  • The wailing out of truth in anger and bitterness from a Kashmiri Pandit woman should be counted as a painful whimper from history.

    The stories of love, pain and persecution must be narrated by the woman herself.

The woeful lack of women's own narrative on women from the Kashmiri Hindu community in art, theatre, docu-drama and popular culture, has come to the surface in the starkest manner.

Earlier this month, a Kashmiri Pandit woman's intense reaction to a Bollywood film rattled, shook and stirred many social media users. She was a part of the audience at a screening of a Bollywood film — much awaited by the people of her community.

Perhaps not convinced by the manner in which things turned out in the portrayal and the story in the film, the woman broke down, venting her opinion angrily.

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Filmmakers have the freedom to pick and portray what they consider appropriate and commercially workable. They have the switch to the rumble and tumble of people's memory.

One cannot toss aside the fact that Kashmiri Pandit women could become potent givers of their part of that one collective and giant story — to any project — guided by sincerity in portrayal and, more importantly, documentation.

Documentation is not the end point of documentation. It enriches re-imagination, just as it opens ends for retelling. Women from the community can do it in the role of story carriers if not tellers. They don't have to be part of a cast for it.

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A communicative body of work of direct narration, of their voice, accounts and retelling into the microphone; on the television, in performing arts and cinema should have filled the vacuum in the last 10-15 years. Field was vacant. Bollywood, with its own treatment and products, entered the scene.

An episode of emotional meltdown from a person in the audience of this intensity opposing a film at its screening is rare. It indicates that emotions hollowing memory from the blood splattered Kashmiri Pandit exodus of 1990, or their retelling by elders, had remained choked in her. There could have been some dependence or distant reliance on Bollywood story-tellers to say or portray the real story. It all snapped.

The Missing Instrument Of Retelling

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The past lives in people. Memories of the Kashmiri Hindu genocide and ethnic cleansing of people of the community are signs of past living within many people of the ever evolving community.

Perhaps, there are many other women from the community who still have emotion choked within. In a male-dominated tossing of their narrative, a bold and flowing Kashmiri Pandit woman-punctuated intervention to tell the story of their persecution in fiction, film, and the performing arts has been either scarce or missing.

Today, their stories in direct narration should have been with non-Kashmiri Hindus who "don't know better".

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It is time to poke the regrettable realisation and ask ourselves — the "outsiders" to this community. Why has there been a persisting lack of their own storytelling in our collective Indic cultural space?

Out of the 30, at least 10-15 years would have been spent in needling an excruciatingly raw impact of the exodus, picking, stitching and rebuilding of lives by the Kashmiri Pandit women. Thirty years could hold at least 30 hours of such stories. The larger Indic family awaits.

Their truth has been provoked. Shakespeare uses Hamlet to erect a scene from the past before his (Hamlet’s) mother via a performance.

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He takes the help of drama to recreate, to provoke, to leave the perpetrators disturbed and provoked by the truth. The same instrument seems to have been forsaken by playwrights and filmmakers, who are trained to study Shakespeare's work, for women of their own community — for nearly 20 years.

The Absent Script

Why were the voices of Kashmiri Pandit women in the last 15 years (when media platforms and documentation works were peaking) so conveniently weighed over individual authorship/filmography driven activism?

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Plays from the southern states have taken up uncomfortable truths and worked their way to audiences in simple makeshift sets at National School of Drama (NSD). Renowned playwright and theatre director from Manipur, Ratan Thiyam, turned around the art of storytelling on Manipur and has been a revered visitor to NSD.

Has his work, language and repertoire not manage to move the left-oriented Kashmiri Pandit playwrights and directors there to speak of their own?

Kashmiri directors used folk performing arts to tell stories of Kashmir in their plays. Where was the story of the Kashmiri Pandit in those plays?

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Building Of An Outlet

Let's look at a larger context. There could be a possibility that women hurt by a film, as carriers of a collective story, are so enveloped by their story, that any expression of the arts delving into it, barring their own retelling, would fall short.

Have women of the community been even denied a portrayal of their own love stories?

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Community oral histories begin at home and within the community. Let's look at one of the valued series of videos on the Internet. Dulari Rocks: where Dulari (Kher) an affectionate granny and an ardent storyteller rolls out brief episodes in a carelessly careful manner. She is Kashmiri Pandit.

This is how, in less than a minute (56 seconds), she told her story of a day.

Her son records it. His is a simple gesture towards giving memory an outlet.

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Tamas, the watermark work, begins with words written in bold white on black. "Jo itihaas bhula dete hain, veh usay duharaane ka abhishaap bhugat-te hain."

The wailing out of truth in anger and bitterness from a Kashmiri Pandit woman should be counted as a painful whimper from history. The sandpaper of truth to women of this community should come from women's voices from within the community.

It has not. Neither have their own love stories. They must coax themselves into the retelling — if not of pain, then of those love stories that blossomed in Koshur at the camps.

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