Death-bound Subjects, Gender, and Counter-memory in Kashmir

Angana P. Chatterji, University of California, Berkeley; Co-chair, Political Conflict, Gender and People's Rights Project

Title: Death-bound Subjects, Gender, and Counter-memory in Kashmir

Abstract: Transactions in counter-memory amplify the bodily history of unknown graves and death-bound subjects (JanMohamed, 2005) in contemporary Kashmir. The talk explores networks of individual and communitarian remembrances and sensory memory, honoring the transformative, decolonial scope of the task performed by Atta Mohammad of Baramulla District. In June 2008, Mohammad, then 68, testified to his work as a gravedigger and caretaker of unknown graves at Chehal Bimyar and to burying 203 bodies on a hillside adjacent to the Jhelum river between 2002-2006. Mohammad had stated to Parvez Imroz and myself that: “I have been terrorized by this task that was forced upon me. My nights are tormented and I cannot sleep, the bodies and graves appear and reappear in my dreams. I have tried to remember all this... the sound of the earth as I covered the graves... bodies and faces that were mutilated... mothers who would never find their sons. My memory is an obligation. My memory is my contribution. I am tired, I am so very tired” (Chatterji and Parvez et al., BURIED EVIDENCE, 2009: 18). For those seeking to locate persons dead and disappeared and to access events of history, Mohammad’s commitment to remembrance renders navigable complex modes of power that organize the landscapes of Kashmir's subjection. The talk explores the ethics of access and engagement with the material ‘artefacts’ held by the unknown graves. These endangered archives are imprinted with the politics of life and death across shifting political and metaphoric ruptures. The talk engages the intersectional and gendered terrains where life is often neither bearable nor ‘grievable.’