Almost a month later, the human tragedy that is Kashmir continues to dominate India and Pakistan, and elsewhere, despite the multitude of crises that surround the world. In the midst of global attention focused on the protests in Hong Kong, Brexit and the US-China trade war, there have been considerable reports, as well as statements by leaders about what is happening in the Valley.
In Pakistan, of course, it seems that Kashmir has displaced most of the other news. Perhaps that is why I have been thinking in detail about what I still see as my main work, substitution, and the importance of words. The latter hit his house a few years ago while reading a book about partition; Starting with events in other places, it ended in the Valley and the conflict it generated between the newly emerged states.
The author's efforts have been widely acclaimed as a well-written and well-researched report on what happened in the days that led the subcontinent to be divided into two separate countries. But if one pays attention to words, the greatest narrative pales in the background. And it made me wonder if we, as writers, are sometimes aware of the prejudices that creep as we build sentences to describe events and people.
It is assumed that if a bias is visible, it can be deliberate, but not necessarily so. For our current tendency to write "with a lot of color" (which has become a prerequisite for good journalistic writing), sometimes at the expense of neutrality.
It is assumed that if a bias is visible, it can be deliberate, but that is not necessarily so.
Words are important, and who knows this better than subeditors.
Therefore, take this book (which will remain unnamed because we are all guilty of these prejudices and no person needs to be pointed out).
In a detailed account of what happened in Kashmir (which includes a good part of the end of the narrative), he writes about the days when the Pakhtun tribe men entered Kashmir. One of the cities so "invaded" was Baramulla, "a happy city" that now showed "scenes of devastation" that the "members of the tribe" of Pakistan had caused. “They stayed for two days, burning and killing. They looted everything they could find, even releasing the bracelets of women's wrists and earrings from their ears. "
Then he speaks of a "famous incident" in which the "fierce and careless fighters" who were "armed with rifles, huge daggers and axes" kill a British couple and also "destroy the chapel altar and statues of saints. "in an attack on a Catholic mission.
In fact, throughout the account, the members of the tribe are vividly described. Consider this: "However, they were fearsome in appearance, with matted beards and rough turbans tied around their heads, and they had no regrets in their advancement."
(You could even find a similar language used in books about recent events in Afghanistan or Muslim militancy from other parts of the world. Because now it has become a norm to associate beards [long, unkempt or unruly] and turbans [rough, traditional or black] with the violence of a militant. In fact, they have become interchangeable. But I digress.)
Perhaps the members of the tribe were as violent and destructive as they were implicit. Fair enough. But then one has to turn one or two pages to get to where the "violence" is narrated in Jammu.
We are told that "RSS cadres were infiltrating Kashmir province with the help of elements of the Indian army." It is later said that "Hindu extremists climbed into army trucks heading north."
But there is no description of how these men look. With or without a beard, fierce or not, polite or not, the language is so scarce that the reader does not help to imagine what the "Hindu extremist" looks like. I can't think of any images, especially not violent and fierce men. Is this because, in the post-9/11 world, we all have an image of how a member of the Muslim tribe or pakhtun should be, but not of a "Hindu extremist"?
The Jammu massacre is described relatively sparingly.
"… Dogra's troops in the city of Jammu had stacked five thousand men, women and children on buses … the soldiers had penetrated deeper into Kashmir, and then forced the civilians out of the vehicles. While disoriented Muslims curled up in a clearing, Hindus and Sikhs, most likely Akali and RSS extremists, rose from the brush and threw them with rifles and kirpans.A couple of hundreds of Muslims escaped to the fields. or killed … "
Once again, the description of the event is scarce compared to the members of the tribe and their "crimes", despite the fact that it has been called "bleak", "heinous" and even "scandalous." But there were no "shouts and shouts" as there were when the Catholic mission was attacked. And although "the rest were raped or killed," there is no description of how the individual women who were raped were treated; remember that the members of the tribe had forcibly removed the jewels of the women they had found.
An incident paints an image of human suffering and human bestiality, while in the other, there is little of both (at least in words). One is an event described with the addition of what journalists call "color", while the second is simply told with clear facts. And simple facts do not have the same impact as descriptive passages.
It's hard to say why this was done. It could be partial, deliberate or not. It could also simply be the result of having investigated more about the members of the tribe than the events in Jammu.
But underline the importance of words, as we write or read them. And in any case, we must be aware of how they affect writing.
As I moved through these pages, I remembered the first golden rule of the edition that was taught to the sub-publishers: eliminate adjectives (which I break in this sentence using "gold"). It always seemed to be a tool for trimming thick / excess words, but it can also be a means to ensure neutrality.
Postscript: If I had to delete a word from this book, it would be the word "cunning" to describe Fatima Jinnah. It seems so politically incorrect today.
The writer is a journalist.
Posted on Dawn, September 3, 2019