Hudur Durga (হুদুড় দুর্গা)

Conversation with Ajit Prasad Hembram : Chhandak, Ujjwal & Pramod

The conversation with Ajit Prasad Hembram was held in Centre for Studies in Social Science (old building), in 2016. Hembram is a Adivasi activist belonging to the Kherwal branch of the Santhal tribe. It has been translated to English by the Aainanagar Team.

Kherwals live primarily in the Purulia district of Bengal and in parts of Jharhkhand. Since 2011 the Kherwals of Falaora village, Purulia, have started celebrating a martyrdom day for their mythical ancestor Hudur Durga/Mahishasura.

The custom of Mahishasura worship (as it is referred colloquially) has now spread all over India. As we continue to feel more and more stifled by a politicized Hindutva, as a society, scholars and non-scholars alike, are showing a keenness to visit the complexities of our regional histories. The Dasani festival is one such exploration. Today, the martyrdom of the Adivasi does not simply lie within books and myths, but come alive in various forms. Knowing one’s past and knowing it well is one of the principal strategies against that socio-cultural-political invasion.


Q. Since when are you celebrating this Asura festival in Purulia?

A. From 5th October, 2011.

Q. What’s the story behind it?

A. One of our major festivals is called Dasani (দশানি). You can say, it is a celebration of sadness. Sadness, because our land was ruined. In the ancient times, there was a great leader of us Kherwals (খেরোয়াল), who fought with the foreigner invaders. He was eventually tricked and murdered by them. We haven’t since found a leader like him. We commemorate him and call him Hudur Durga. Dasani is a celebration of his memory.

Q. So it is a ‘martyr day’ for the Asura; tell us a bit more about its history.

A. The history lies with our elders, and we pass it to our youth. We memorialize a land that belonged to us. A land named Chaichampa (চাইচম্পা). It was a land of happiness. Those days, many of our ancestors were educated and lived in big houses. They were traders; there was no poverty among us. We mention all these in our songs.

Our leader—now known as Mahishasura—lived in Chaichampa or Champa, as it was colloquially called. During his reign, the Aryans invaded that land. Mahishasura tried to defend it. You know we call him Hudur Durga; never Mahishasura. Only later we realized that our Hudur Durga is known by others as Mahishasura.

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Why Kunan Poshpora?

Interview of Natasha Rather and Ifrah Butt

Natasha Rather and Ifrah Butt are two of the five co-writers of ‘Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora‘–published by Zubaan Books in March, 2016. Rather than engaging in a more generalized discussions on Kashmir, We decided to focus on the book, thus inevitably drawing on the larger histories of Kashmir. and the socio-political contexts of the resistance movement. The interview has been conducted by Nandini and Pramod. Ujjwal and Trishnika are on camera.

Introduction

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For most of us, in middle-class India, “Kashmir” appears as a stereotype – mountains, snow, shawls, firhan, terrorists, tourism. Our media reinforces these stereotypes in myriad ways. And, we prefer to look away. This “looking away” is the strange prerogative for those of us who are the citizens of an empire, the metropole, the colonial center. Yet, the occupation of Kashmir by a country whose citizenship we claim, implicates us. It poses upon us the responsibility to know more, to learn, to act.

The occupation also implicates us as Indian citizens, as Indian women, as Indian feminists.

Yes, the Indian feminists carry a special burden. A burden that begins with the fact that the Indian feminists are, still, by and large, an elite bunch. Predominantly upper-caste, predominantly middle-class, predominantly urban, predominantly over-educated. Consequently, even when massive protests broke out in New Delhi in 2012 – attended by an unprecedented number of women, who probably have never walked in a political rally before – against the gang-rape of Jyoti Singh, the young physiotherapist, almost no attempts were made to think of rape as one of the crucial weapons of the state. Almost no attempts were made to invoke the ways in which rape becomes a central weapon of the Indian occupation in Kashmir and elsewhere in the Northeast. Soni Sori and the women of Bastar remained largely outside of the scope of 2012 protests and the subsequent media-discussions of rape and sexual violence.

In that context, the book Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora, co-written by five young Kasmiri women–Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Munaza Rashid, Samreena Mushtaq and Natasha Rather–poses a special challenge to the Indian feminists. It demands, that they recognize the Indian occupation and the ways in which that occupation uses sexual violence as one of its crucial tools. It also demands that they see Kashmiri women as political subjects, and not blank slates upon which Kashmiri men write their own political agenda. In very practical terms, such recognition would also entail that we, as Indian feminists, every time we are asked to take into account the question of occupation with its attendant state terror and violence, we do not deflect the conversation towards the patriarchy of the Kashmiri society and the resistance movement. In other words, the book demands that as gender activists, cultural workers, writers and feminists, we examine our own political investments and implications within ideas of nation, nationalism and colonialism, while not losing sight of the fact that gender plays an extremely important role in Kashmir– both in terms of the everyday realities of the occupation and the anti-occupation resistance. As Essar Batool, one of the co-writers, wrote in one of her recent posts on Facebook, “’Misguided’, ‘jihadi’, ‘illiterate’, ‘ oppressed’ women of Kashmir, voicing their opinions on roads, in huge numbers. Indian feminists have been telling us that we need azaadi not from India but from patriarchy.”  We got a chance to spend some time with Natasha Rather and Ifrah Butt, two of the five co-writers of the book, when they visited Kolkata recently. This interview is a result of our interactions.

–Nandini Dhar

Transcription of the interview

Nandini: So, why Kunan Poshpora? And–if I got it right from reading the book–that most of you are very young, right? And may be also that some of the writers were not even born! So what made you go into this particular space, into this particular case, and what is very specific and special about these instances.

Natasha: ‘Why Kunan Poshpora?’ is the question we get asked a lot of time. Kunan Poshpora happened back in 1991. Most of us were not even born or too young to know what was happening around. But the atrocities that happened in Kunan Poshpora is talked about a lot. Reason for that is, the people of Kunan Poshpora kept their struggle alive for 23 years till the PIL was filed for reopening of the case. Kunan and Poshpora, these twin villages have somehow come to epitomize the struggle of Kashmiri women, and how the Indian state backlashes on the women, and attacks… The patriarchy of the society to repress the people–and that’s why Kunan Poshpora. There are lot of cases of sexual violence in Kashmir, but there are no such case of mass rape and torture in one night in any other village than Kunan Poshpora. There have been other cases but people have preferred to remain silent about it, to not carry the struggle forward and to not talk about it. But people of Kunan and Poshpora have they always decided…you know…on the next day that happened they decided that they would fight for justice. And one of the survivors says that they decided to struggle for justice because they do not want this incident to be repeated in other villages. If they had preferred to remain silent, the Indian Army would have continued their exercise in other places and raped more women, tortured more men. They wanted to fight for that, they wanted that to stop. That is why Kunan Poshpora.

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