Mirzapur journalist Pawan Jaiswal being booked for a video reminds of media gagging in British Raj

The way UP scribe Pawan Jaiswal was booked for roti-salt video reminds one of British Raj when Urdu satirical weekly ‘Awadh Punch’ was launched to indirectly reveal harsh realities of British empire

Journalist Pawan Jaiswal.
Journalist Pawan Jaiswal.

Humra Quraishi

The manner in which the Uttar Pradesh based scribe, Pawan Jaiswal, is getting harassed to the extent of getting booked by the Uttar Pradesh government for exposing the roti – salt ‘meal’ served to school kids in a Mirzapur district, is provoking one to quip – Is it time we get back to the ‘Awadh Punch’ days? Well, the ‘Awadh Punch’, came into circulation in the Awadh belt during the Raj days, when the then British rulers booked all those Indians who dared to write against their misdeeds, against their atrocities , against their governing tactics! It was then that a group of poets, writers, activists and artists came up with this novel idea to expose the British masters through verse or subtle prose - where all possible basic facts were relayed and the lampooning was not too direct!

Founded and edited by Munshi Sajjad Hussain, this satirical Urdu weekly was published from Lucknow, from 1877 to 1936 . Said to be modelled on the London based weekly magazine - The Punch (from which it probably derived its name too), some of its contributors included the then famous personalities in the literary world like Ratan Nath Dhar Sarshar, Akbar Allahabadi and many more.

I got to read the details of this weekly in Professor Mushirul Hasan’s volume -The Avadh Punch: Wit and Humour in Colonial North India (Niyogi Books) where he writes that so heady was the outcome and response of the ‘Awadh Punch’ that within a short span, 70 Punches were published in several cities of this country.

Well, now that journalists, writers, authors and activists are facing the risk of getting hounded by the sarkar of the day for baring the stark ground realities, isn’t it the time that more and more forums and platforms come up, so that the vital truth isn’t crushed?

Going through the literature of the past decades, I find myself wondering where have those rebel poets gone whose verse and words were drenched in intense passion and raw emotions; they felt as if soaked in the poets’ own blood and sweat. While talking about poets I must mention that historical texts and literature on the Kashmir region carry such verse after verse of the poets and poetesses who still hold sway in that region. Through their verse, these poets had reached out to the masses.

What if those poets were alive and around? Wouldn’t they have cried out through their verse asking about the whereabouts of the over ten thousand ‘missing men’ of the Valley; about the hundreds of the unmarked graves dotted in and around the Valley; about the people there surviving in great agony and utter despair?

In fact, it saddens one to realise that in recent years, very few non-Kashmiris have focused on the ongoing human tragedies taking place in the Valley.

In the recent years, two of the prominent non-Kashmiris women who had been focusing on the human tragedies hitting the Valley are Uma Chakravarti and Angana Chatterji. Uma Chakravarti is a well known New Delhi based academic who had, in 2005, decided to form a support group for the Srinagar based APDP ( Association of Parents of Disappeared persons ) to help trace the missing men of the Valley. In fact, in 2000, she was part of a joint fact-finding team on human rights violations and had met Parveena Ahangar of APDP ( Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons ), whose moving account of the enforced disappearance of her son and her struggle since then of trying to find out what happened to him and for justice, made a lasting impact upon Uma. Later, she became part of a support group that tried to mobilise opinion in Delhi about enforced disappearances in Kashmir.

The US based anthropologist Dr Angana Chatterji’s detailed study – ‘Buried Evidence: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves’ drew people’s attention to the unmarked graves unearthed in and around the Kashmir Valley. In an interview she had detailed the crucial details of the unmarked graves of the Kashmir Valley, “The first time unmarked graves were investigated in the Valley was in March 2008, by members of our groups… Since then, we have documented the existence of 2,700 unknown, unmarked and mass graves, containing 2,943+ bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. Of these, 87.9% were unnamed, 154 contained two bodies each and 23 contained between 3 to 17 bodies. Exhumation and identification have not occurred in sizeable cases. We examined 50 alleged “encounter” killings by Indian security forces in numerous districts in Kashmir. Of these, 39 persons were of Muslim descent; 4 were of Hindu descent; 7 unidentified. Of these, 49 were labelled militants/foreign insurgents by security forces and one body was of a person who had drowned. Following investigations, 47 were found killed in fake encounters and one was identified as a local militant. None was of foreign insurgents…. These graves are unmarked as their identities are unknown… If independent investigations were to be undertaken in all 10 districts, it is reasonable to assume that the 8,000+ enforced disappearances since 1989 would correlate with the number of bodies in unknown, unmarked, and mass graves….”

She had also revealed, “Gravediggers and community members tell us that the bodies buried in the 2,700 graves were routinely delivered at night, some bearing marks of torture and burns. In certain instances of fake encounter killings, where the bodies of victims have been identified, it was found that civilians who resided in one geographic area in Kashmir were killed in another area. At times, these bodies were transferred to yet another area and then buried. In one instance, we learned that the killings took place outside Kashmir, for example, in Gujarat. Some local security forces personnel and state employees testified to us in confidence. We also attempted to formally contact senior government and security forces officials, requesting explanations. Our requests were declined.”

As an anthropologist, her observation on the condition of the graves and those buried was, “ We were able to identify graves within selected districts and inquire into instances where photographic verifications and/or exhumations had taken place. Our findings do not include the forensic study of the exhumations. The graves, we were able to ascertain, hold bodies of men with few exceptions. Violence against civilian men has expanded spaces for enacting violence against women in Kashmir. The graveyards have been placed next to fields, schools, and homes, largely on community land, and their affect on the local community is daunting…”

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