20 November 2012
Last updated at 02:08
Between 2006 and 2011, photographer Amit Mehra visited Indian-administered Kashmir 25 times. Photographs from the last two years of that period are being shown at an exhibition at Delhi's Photoink gallery.
Thousands have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir since a revolt against Indian rule began in 1989. In recent months there has been a lull in violence in the region, claimed by both India and Pakistan. "Was it possible to represent Kashmir without photographing the presence of the security forces and yet be able to suggest what it was like to live under constant surveillance?" was a question which preoccupied Mehra.
Most pictures of Kashmir have been about protest, trauma, death and funerals. But Mehra's pictures are "vastly different from the expected", the show's organisers say in a press release. "The streetscapes and landscapes are devoid of drama and imbued with stillness and silence."
"Very often, [the pictures convey a sense of] a disconcerting silence."
Mehra rarely uses the "confrontational approach to make portraits and instead obscures one’s view of people by photographing through windowpanes, cars etc," the press release says.
Mehra took this picture of a deserted card room of a leading hotel in the tourist resort of Gulmarg and was struck by its "desolation". "It was empty and isolated, this once thriving place, waiting for people to come," he says.
Kashmir is full of stunning houses and Mehra found many of them deserted, a result, partly, of the long conflict. "Many houses are barren and unlived," he says. This is a picture of a sparsely populated house in Srinagar.
Here women pray before a Holy Relic, believed to be a hair from the Prophet Mohammed's beard, at the famous Hazratbal shrine, near Srinagar. "For a moment it seemed that people in the strife-torn valley can only communicate with God, as nobody seems to be listening to them. I felt the turmoil had made people more spiritual."
Mehra took this picture of a Muslim man who looks after a Shiva lingam, the sacred symbol of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva, left behind by his Hindu friend and neighbour who fled Kashmir during the violence in the 1990s. "It is a symbol of Kashmir's syncretic traditions, many of which seem to be forgotten in the narrative of violence and strife," says Mehra.
Two young Kashmiris, Mir Abdul and Musadiq Mehraj, were among the first footballers from the region to travel outside the valley to play club football in India. "The young men in Kashmir are usually stereotyped as trouble makers," says Mehra. "I wanted to show that they were like youth anywhere else, with hopes and aspirations."
One day during his travels Mehra spotted two girls playing near Srinagar. "They look so tender, so fragile. They are beautiful children cruelly caught in a conflict zone."
Mehra took this shot in a village in Langanbal when he heard the sound of gunfire. As he looked around, he saw a woman and horses running across the road. It was not clear where the sound was coming from, or who was shooting. "People and animals in Kashmir have become so sensitive to sound of gunfire that they begin running at the very hint of it," he says.
Mehra says this picture of a dismembered doll covered with snow is a tribute to the young people who died in turmoil in 2010. "It's a metaphor for lives cut short, of broken dreams. I find this picture very disturbing."
Mehra says he was looking for a picture to convey how Kashmiris live in a tightly knit society. Then he saw this dense maze of homes from a hill top near the city. "I thought, this is it, I have got my picture. This maze of tin roofs and closely located homes mirrors the people and society."