Rights

The Death and Burial of a Child in Kathua

The girl's little grave, marked by two large stones, cannot remain out of our collective sight.

O Destroyer, let her return there, if just to die
Save the right she gave its earth to cover her, Kashmir
Has no rights.

                               ∼ Agha Shahid Ali

The newspapers reported a strange and piteous story on Sunday morning: the eight-year-old girl who was abducted, drugged and gangraped by Hindu men who wanted to drive away her nomadic Muslim community from the area, had to be buried far away from Kathua’s Rasana village. She was not allowed one last resting place by the villagers who claimed that the land did not belong to the family.

The Bakarwals were seen to be taking over Hindu land and the Hindu villagers stopped the family from burying the child in the village. In the biting cold and dark night, the family had to move to Kanha village where a relative offered a piece of ground for the burial to take place. Finally, the small child could be laid to the ground, away from the greed and hatred of men, to lie forever in a meadow, a carbon copy of one that she had loved so much. “How much land would the girl’s body occupy?” asks a relative. “We had in our arms a child who was raped and killed. The villagers could have shown a bigger heart at such a time.”

The deaths of human beings diminish us all, all the more when it is a child who has died. Even more so, when the small, injured and abused body can find no place in our minds and hearts, cannot haunt us and can be summarily rejected even a place of burial. Do we seek no justice for her because of who she was? Are we so hard-hearted that we can deny a small plot of ground as her final resting place?

These questions refuse to go away for they are not just of the moment. These are connected to the larger questions of human rights abuses in Kashmir, the hatred between communities that are stoked by political expediencies, the utter cynical way we have kept the fires burning in Kashmir. Kashmir’s children, pellet gunned, incarcerated, hounded, encountered, dismembered, raped and abused, have become the fodder of hate-mongering, cynical, power-hungry men and women who see them as expendables. As Walter Benjamin reminds us, history sometimes puts on a truly surrealistic face, a moment of ‘the now’ when it becomes imperative to come together to resist the avalanche of hatred and death. Have we failed to see and seize that surreal moment?

That little girl’s abused body cannot be seen as dead and buried. Her little grave, marked by two large stones, cannot remain out of our collective sight. She cannot be banished far away from the epicentre of all that we do, say and think. We have to carry her little body in our dreams, in our gestures, in our languages, in our thoughts. Like her parents who trudged up the hill carrying her to her final resting place, we will accompany her too: her pitiful whimpers will lace our dreams, and one day soon we will wake up screaming to her wide eyes imploring us to act now, for peace, for justice and for the sake of our children whose deaths cannot be an end to our quest. It can and must remain, the forever now.

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