Can Electoral Politics Envisage Resistance?

On Wednesday, January 9, 2019, well-known Kashmiri bureaucrat Shah Faesal announced his resignation from Indian Administrative Service (IAS) on Facebook, citing “the unabated killings in Kashmir, and lack of any sincere reach-out from the Union Government”. Faesal seems to be mulling over joining the electoral politics. Since October 2018, there were speculations rife that he was preparing to join the National Conference along with former JNU student activist Shehla Rashid. But, keeping his cards close to his chest, he said on last Thursday that what he will do next “also depends on what people of Kashmiri want me to do. More so the youth. I have an idea how I can do it. I am sure you have ideas too and you want me to factor those ideas in before I take a final decision”.

Dr Shah Faesal (IAS)

This article will expound in some detail the merits and demerits of his idea, which he nebulously outlined in his January 8, Facebook post, wherein he said that he wants to work within the space, which he describes as “some sort of hazy, suspicious, dreadful middle-ground, intersecting resistance and collaboration”. What he alluded is, essentially, analogous to what Nicole Watts calls ‘representational contention’. Let me explain.

Electoral Politics And Resistance

Nicole F Watts (2006, p. 126) argues that “electoral politics can constitute an important and distinct repertoire of contention in a less-than-fully democratic state”. Based on her research on the pro-Kurdish movement, she looks at the participation of the Kurdish activists in Turkey’s institutional and electoral politics and suggests that between 1990 and 2005 such participation allowed the Kurdish movement to create a vital space for its survival, reinforcement, and propagation. Becoming part of the representative institutions, the pro-Kurdish activists could get access to wider audiences (local and international media, the EU diplomats), build organisational infrastructure, organise public gatherings through state institutions, and crucially, have legal protection from prosecution. They created opportunities and resources for pro-Kurdish symbolic politics.

Watts says that although during the 1990s the PKK had become weaker and its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was imprisoned, the Kurdish movement nevertheless survived because of the pro-Kurdish representative contention. Initially, pro-Kurdish political parties faced obstructions—when the Turkish Constitutional Court closed them—but, in the April 1999 municipal elections, they went on to win in 13 provinces, and gained control of 37 mayoral seats (including in the largest city of southeast Turkey, Diyarbakir). Such big electoral success was once again repeated by the pro-Kurdish parties in the 2004 elections.

The scene of Assembly when the lawmakers were fighting with each other, literally a Dangal in the house

Enjoying the legislative immunity (and hence enlarged freedom of expression), the pro-Kurdish legislators vigorously articulated the Kurdish grievances and political claims. As Watts (p. 134) says, using institutional avenues and platforms, the Kurdish deputies contributed “to a rapid and dramatic shift in public discourse in which pro-Kurdish claims would become a common feature of political life”. Having taken control of several important municipalities, the Kurdish councillors were able to organise big Newroz (Kurdish new year) events, which hitherto had been regularly suppressed by the state—since the festival was considered as “a potent symbol of Kurdish nationalism”.

In 2001, the Diyarbakir municipality even incorporated into a three-volume history of the city new sections related to Kurds, including mention of the first Kurdish nationalist uprising, the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925. Earlier, in June 2000, a pro-Kurdish mayor had changed the names of 200 streets in the city of Batman, rechristening some of them after important Kurdish events and leaders.

Recognising the significance of representational contention, the Diyarbakir mayor, Feridun Celik, would later remark: “Mayoralty should not only be seen as collecting garbage and investing in infrastructure. We have assumed a political mission and our grassroots have political aspirations”.

Yet, in the course of this political mission, the pro-Kurdish activists and deputies and mayors continued to face state repression. Before the April 1999 elections, dozens of HADEP (Halkin Demokrasi Partisi) members were jailed. In February 2000, Celik along with two other mayors was arrested for aiding separatist rebels. There was increasing pressure on other pro-Kurdish office holders from the state, some were forced to resign, some were debarred from contesting elections for life.

What are the odds for ‘representative contention’ in Kashmir?

Since in semi-democratic states the freedom of expression and free assembly is severely constrained, Watts sees representative contention as “important middle-ground activism” where activists who participate in it negotiate a thin line between formal and informal resistance—though, the armed and unarmed components of the resistance movement are distinct in terms of their functionality.

But, what are the odds for representational contention in the peculiar political context of Kashmir, which Patrick Colm Hogan (2016) defines as “atypical colonialism”. Kashmir is more akin to the Palestinian than Kurdish situation, as illustrated by the political anthropologist Mohamed Junaid. In his 2018 essay Disobedient Bodies, Defiant Objects, Junaid argues that in the early 1990s the “military occupation of public spaces [in Kashmir]established new rules of mobility, assembly, sociality, and, in gen­eral, everyday life, rules that were violently enforced”. In 2019, the militarized administration of Kashmir is deeply institutionalised.

The three factors which Watts considers as essential for a strategy of ‘representative contention’ to succeed are all present in the Kashmir case: regional concentrationformal citizenship, and a high degree of legalism (i.e. adherence to the law by the authorities even when that law allows activists a space for manoeuvre). However, historically speaking, while this strategy has been used at least twice in the post-1947, it yielded only partial gains.

Arguably, it was first used during the Maharaja Hari Sing’s reign, when, under the Constitutional Act (April 22, 1934), a 75-member Praja Sabha (People’s Assembly) was established which extended recommendatory powers to the members. For the emerging Kashmiri leadership, it was an important political opportunity which later expanded a little more under the Jammu and Kashmir Constitutional Act (Sep 1939) that conceded some privileges (like parliamentary immunity) to Praja Sabha members, thus allowing the Kashmiri leadership to express their political grievances without the threat of being jailed.

The Plebiscite Front Experiment 

In the post-Dogra period, the Plebiscite Front also tried to use the strategy of representational contention. However, the organisation’s fervent rhetoric of election boycott eventually came back to bite it in the late 1960s, when the Front started to mull over the possibility of contesting the elections. The youth revolted against the moderate leadership of the Plebiscite Front, accusing them of wavering from their principle stance of the right to self-determination.

Kashmiri women spearheading a rally demanding a plebiscite during Plebscite Front days

In early October 1965, some youth activists even forced their way on to the stage inside the Hazratbal shrine, considered as the bastion of the Plebiscite Front, and heckled the senior most leaders of the organisation, such as Maulana Mohammad Sayeed Masoodi and Ghulam Mohiuddin Karra. The youth accused them of being Delhi’s “stooges”. When the Front announced its intention to contest elections in early 1970, students and youths protested on the streets. The J&K police killed several demonstrators and jailed hundreds of others. However, the biggest hindrance for the Front was the Indian government, which demanded adherence to the Indian constitution.

When, in 1969, the Front wanted to contest the bye-elections for the five vacant Assembly seats, the chief election commissioner of India set a condition: to first accept the finality of Kashmir’s accession with India. The Front decided to stay away from the elections. However, in May 1969, after a string of meetings with the Indian government, the Front decided to contest the panchayat elections. On May 15, the Front leadership announced in Srinagar that it would find “a new path”.

In the meantime, the world powers were trying to get India and Pakistan on to the negotiating table to resolve the Kashmir conflict. However, as reported by Sanaullah  Bhat in his 1980 book, the Russian Prime Minister Kosygin’s proposal to Pakistan and the American President Nixon’s proposal to India were both rejected by the respective countries. By early 1970, the Front entered negotiations with New Delhi and ultimately decided to contest elections. To assuage the public, its general secretary, Khawaja Ghulam Muhammad Shah, issued a statement, announcing that “The Plebiscite Frontwants to take part in the elections so that the Kashmir issue could be resolved with the consent of the Kashmiri people”.

Sensing that people were not supportive of the elections, Sheikh Abdullah also made a mollifying press statement in late January 1970: “I cannot turn away in any way from the Kashmiri people’s issue of the right to self-determination. In the view of the sacrifices given by the Kashmiri people for their right, I cannot give up their just demand”.Sheikh Abdullah framed the election participation as part of the conflict resolution effort. He, however, faced severe opposition from some Front members like Munshi Muhammad Ishaq, who vehemently opposed the elections and insisted on the right to self-determination.

There was growing discontent among the people, and protests continued throughout the Valley. During Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s visit to Srinagar on July 14, the youth and students carried out big demonstrations in Srinagar. Ironically, the Front helped the state government to suppress the protests. In his November 12, 1970, public rally at Pulwama, Abdullah reiterated his earlier position: “Even though I have grown old now, but you should always remember one thing that till I am alive I will keep fighting for the truth and justice and for the Kashmiri people’s birthright, the right to self-determination”.

Although the Plebiscite Front shrugged off the demands from the Indian government that it must change its stance on self-determination for it to be allowed to contest elections, on December 23, Indira Gandhi made it starkly clear to them: “I am speaking as the Prime Minister of India and this is the opinion of whole India that we will not tolerate any talk against our territorial integrity. Some people in Kashmir are saying that they will take an oath of loyalty to the constitution to enter the Assembly and in the Assembly, they will speak of breaking the constitution! We will not allow this to happen.”

In the end, the Plebiscite Front compromised. The party was dissolved after Sheikh Abdullah signed the 1975 Accord, wherein he accepted India’s sovereignty over Kashmir.

The MUF Experiment

As journalist Masood Hussain writes in his detailed Kashmir Life article (March 23, 2016), the Muslim United Front was formed on September 2, 1986, in a hotel in Srinagar. Four days later the new party released its constitution, dedicating it to a boy, Shafaat Ahmad, who was killed by the J&K Police. The MUF was composed of a medley of nascent religious organisations, student and trade union groups, and the established political formations such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the Peoples Conference. Among the fledgeling formations were: Majlis-e-Tehfuz-ul-Islam, Ummat-e-Islami, Muslim Students Federation, Muslim Students Union, Muslim Zone Employees Front, Shia Rabitta Committee, Unjman-e-Itehad-e-Muslimeen, and Muslim Employees Front.

“Kafan Posh” MUF candidates at an election rally in Iqbal Park in 1987 before March 23 polling day. (Photos in special arrangement with MERAJUDDIN)

The MUF could mobilise hundreds of thousands of people to its rallies in Srinagar’s Iqbal park—on November 17, 1986, and March 4,1987, (the famous 42-kaffan-poshdemonstration). It was perhaps due to the MUF’s participation that the 1987 elections witnessed about 80% voting, as first-time voters also participated. It got 470580 (approximately 30 per cent) popular votes.

What Was the MUF Agenda?

According to its former member and the candidate from Amira Kadal constituency in Srinagar, Muhammad Yusuf Shah (alias Syed Salahuddin): “We fought elections so that we could pass a resolution in the assembly for freedom of Kashmir. India knew that. That is why they rigged the elections […] Fighting elections were a means to educate masses about the freedom struggle. We wanted the endorsement of public sentiment in the assembly” (Greater Kashmir April 14, 2008).

However, Syed Ali Geelani, who was in jail when the MUF was created, says in his 2006 booklet Deed-o-Shanaid (p. 53) that since the MUF leaders didn’t expect to win the two-thirds majority in the J&K Assembly, so bringing the bill to declare the 1947 conditional Accession as invalid had little chances to happen. Nonetheless, Geelani believes that the MUF could have worked as an effective opposition, and its participation in the state assembly may have provided the people with ahope of change through democratic processes. But, Indian state wanted to install its chosen people, so it rigged the elections.

Syed Ali Geelani

The prevailing political situation determined the demands that the MUF initially put forth; these mostly related to political and civil rights. As Masood Hussain writes, these included: “release of all political detainees, restoration of judiciary’s dignity, reinstatement of dismissed employees, respect for the basic human rights, rollback of Jagmohan’s all ordinances, corrections in the wrong demographic projections and due representation to the Muslims in opportunities in education and jobs”.

The MUF faced state repression right from its inception. Just two weeks prior to March 23, 1987, elections, the J&K police arrested nearly 600 MUF members. Apart from the rigged elections, it cadres faced brutal torture in police custody—the Kashmir police chief of the time was DIG Ali Muhammad Watali. Ultimately, the organisation collapsed, after disagreements emerged among its founding members, and increasing discontent among the youth of Kashmir became threatening. On August 30, 1989, three Assembly members of MUF resigned, the remaining one was assassinated after the armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir.

The Engineer Rashid Case

Currently, there is Sheikh Rashid (aka Engineer Rashid), who has carved a place for himself in the domain of ‘representative contention’ and has a decent following from even the pro-Tehreek constituency. He joined the electoral politics in 2008 after facing state brutality, and now heads the Awami Ittihad Party (which he founded in June 2013). In his legislative assembly speeches, public appearances and social media posts, Rashid have reiterated his position of ‘rai-shumari’ (self-determination). The slogan often raised by him, and his supporters is: “sab naarun peh baari, hai haq hamara rai shumari” (what trumps all the slogans, our right the right to self-determination).

Engineer Rashid in action in the J&K Assembly

Starting as an independent legislator from the rural Langate constituency of Handwara, Rashid has cultivated a large following on social media, where he regularly posts his video statements. Unlike the Hurriyat leaders who face prosecution and constant detainments, Rashid has been relatively free to organise political rallies, gatherings and conduct press conferences. In one of his social media videos, posters of JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat and other political figures can be seen behind him on the wall, a political projection.

When he takes a pro-Tehreek position in the J&K legislative assembly, he is sometimes marshalled out, but he cannot be arrested because of the immunity legislators enjoy by law—though on occasions the J&K police have also roughed him up.

What Does History Teach?

The twin cases of the Plebiscite Front and the MUF show that the strategy of ‘representational contention’ has least chances of succeeding in achieving the core objective of the right to self-determination, given that India is not the United Kingdom, Kashmir is not Scotland, and South Asia is not Europian Union.

The PF survived for at least twenty years (1955-1975), but the MUF had a briefer life of just three years (1986-1989). But, there is some continuity. From the PF branched out the other resistance formations, some of which later converged to form the MUF. And, from the disbanded MUF grew Hurriyat, which continues to define the oppositional politics in Kashmir.

What is interesting, though, is that Hurriyat’s position is more akin to the Plebiscite Front than the MUF. The youth revolted against the moderate PF leaders because they decided to contest the elections, which PF had previously boycotted and spoke against, and deviated from the core principle: the right to self-determination. On the other hand, the MUF’s decision to contest the elections was widely supported by people, because its aim was to capture the Assembly and declare the 1947 conditional Accession as invalid. Yet, while Hurriyat’s stand on the right to self-determination is clear, it will find itself in hot water if it even hints at contesting elections. Because, like the PF, Hurriyat is also trapped in its own political rhetoric of election boycott.

At least two generations have grown to understand that an election boycott is an essential tool of political resistance that taking the oath of upholding the Indian constitution, a prerequisite for contesting elections, is a political taboo. It is only when the current resistance leadership unanimously agrees to change the tactics and retry the MUF model that ‘representational contention’ can have real meaning in Kashmir, which brings us to the question: what options Shah Faesal has?

The framework of Representative Contention

In his interview with News and Views program on January 9, 2019, Faesal said that the MUF model can be a basis for reimagining Kashmiri politics. He also said that the present political set up in Kashmir is “fit for a massive disruption” because it does not truthfully represent the larger sentiments of Azadi. So, basically what he is seeking to do is more on the lines of what Engineer Rashid has been doing already.

He can experiment with the model, but for the people associated with the resistance, entering the electoral process would be a tricky situation, as the success in elections may undermine their own politics. As Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow (2007, p. 133) argue engaging with the institutional politics blunts the sharp edge of contention, since “institutional logic takes over from the logic of contentious politics”. When a resistance movement engages with the institutional processes, it faces the hegemonic discourses about the standards of political propriety and proper parliamentary behaviour, which means it can no longer pursue a form of political action which is independent of the system.

Nevertheless, as the Kurdish case illustrates, the representational contention can be instrumentally used to draw limited concessions from the state and push for little changes and reforms. Ideally then Faesal’s option should be to join the Awami Ittihad Party if the intent is to practice the representative contention within the limited space available in Kashmir and not left the political space unoccupied.

It would be ironic to have the MUF model in mind and yet be part of the National Conference because it was the latter that crushed the former. To make an exaggerated analogy, it would be like holding the Nuremberg trials with Hans Frank as the presiding judge. If the idea is to truthfully represent the larger sentiment of Kashmiris, then joining NC makes no sense because NC believes in the finality of the conditional accession while as the people in Kashmir demand their right to self-determination.

Certainly, there are some constitutional provisions (such as Article 35A) which urgently requires to be safeguarded from the RSS and BJP, who seeks to engineer a demographic change in Kashmir by scrapping it. But, it is for Hurriyat, JKLF and other pro-Tehreekformations to decide if they want to strategically use the model of representational contention to achieve the limited objectives in the short run, such a getting political prisoners released, changing names of streets, incorporating Kashmiri history into the school curriculum, and bringing in laws that can strengthen the Article 35A and other constitutional provisions related to the autonomy of Kashmir.

The biggest argument of the resistance leaders is that election results are manipulated by Indian state for propaganda. If people boycott the elections, it will send a strong message to the world. That is a valid point. However, the resistance politics must also move beyond symbolic to the substantive. If an election boycott is useful as a tool of disruption, then contesting elections can also be used for the same purposes. For example, the republican Sinn Fein MPs in Northern Ireland contests election to the Westminster Parliament but they do not sit for the business of the house. It is called the policy of abstentionism, which is a sort of passive resistance. Like election boycott, abstaining is also a disruption; through which Sinn Fein refuses to accept British sovereignty on the Island. If the idea of a boycott is to send a message to the world, then an equally effective but different tool (contest and abstain) can also be used.

Obviously, the legislators from Jammu and Ladakh will create hindrances. Indian state may also repeat 1987, and either ban pro-Tehreek legislators or arm-twist them and may also try to co-opt some of them. So, strong party discipline, loyalty, conviction, and commitment to the cause will determine how the pro-Tehreek legislators will handle tough situations and obstacles when they try representational contention. But, if the Tehreek leadership plays strategically and prepare well, they can make it possible.

This is in tune with the December 14, 2016 statement of the Joint Resistance Leadership: “Now it is time to consolidate our gains and build upon them in order to move ahead further. In this regard, the leadership feels that a long-term sustainable strategy, based on proactive initiatives, programmes, and sustainable modes of protest with maximum public participation in their creation and implementation and minimum costs for the people, is the way forward”.The resistance movement already has huge public support, it can mobilise thousands of people on a single call, but what it requires is proactive, imaginative, and shrewd politics.

***

This article was first published by Kashmir Life on 14 Jan 2019: https://kashmirlife.net/can-electoral-politics-envisage-resistance-197936/?fbclid=IwAR3XDc9dqf-t7IFtOxFaAt6bvrZVHjMWs2eOiH9ZtLIvhe05kVjModVolCQ.

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Badlaav: The Change Has​ Come

Over six feet tall, clean shaven with coiffed hair and brawny physique, Aijaz Rah easily passes as a Hollywood superstar. In fact, the gene of acting occasionally drives him for a role or two in DD Kashir serials. But for Aijaz the first love remains singing, and he proficiently carries forward his legendary father Ghulam Mohammad Rah’s musical legacy.

Aijaz Rah started his career quite young in 1977, singing mostly for Doordarshan Srinagar. He trained under renowned singer Ghulam Nabi Sheikh and music director Muhammad Ashraf and even briefly enrolled in Music and Fine Arts in 1982. Later, on his friends’ suggestions, he went to Bombay in 1986 where he got a breakthrough after two year’s struggle to sing for Jhankar Orchestra. It was during this brief stay in that charismatic city that he got under the tutelage of Karim Chacha, the renowned tablaist, and learned nuances of music.

In recent years almost all songs of Aijaz Rah have been hits. With his Mauj Chi Aekher Mauje Asaan, a painful and melancholic song, he stirred million hearts. The Mauj album earned him Khilat-e-Mehjoor Award in 2008. His Rinda Ho became a rage.   

For the Kashmiri music lovers talented Aijaz Rah has now come up with his latest offering Badlaav, a unique music album that is sure to make you tap your feet on high octane Punjabi tunes. Yes, you heard it right. For the first time, Kashmir meets Punjab in a musical feat that mesmerizes with its enthralling music and profound lyrics of our own patrons of literature: Shamas Fakir, Souchi Krayal, Neyami Sahab, Rehman Rahi, Mahmood Gami and Munawar Khadim.

It took over a month for Aijaz to compose the five songs in an expensive Ludhiana studio in Punjab. And his creative efforts and hard work have finally paid and all the songs have been rendered so beautifully in innovative beats (fusion of Punjabi folk tunes with Kashmiri music) that Badlaav has become a must buy. Aijaz Rah’s thirty years experience comes through his songs. Creating suitable rock tunes for profound lyrics of existential yearnings and metaphysical desires is no mean feat.

On a pleasant April afternoon in a calm Boulevard restaurant, Aijaz Rah had a freewheeling chat with GK Magazine. In bluish patterned sweater over a pink chequered shirt, Rah exuded confidence and restrained excitement.

How the idea for the album struck you?

Actually, last year two of my fans, very well established businessmen, approached me with a very curious question: Why there aren’t any high beat Kashmiri songs? Why can’t we produce songs on the pattern of Punjabi music? I told them in plain words: it takes a good amount to create such kind of music. A few days later, to my utter surprise, I discovered that they had deposited money in my account and they told me: now give us the songs.

Why have you chosen a title like Badlaav for a musical album?

It was the suggestion of some of my friends who said that this album is bringing a kind of change in Kashmiri music so we should name it Badlaav (Change).

You have recorded your album in Ludhiana Punjab. What difference did you find in terms of the professional environment?

Well, Punjab has a thriving music industry with numerous studios all around.  Punjabi music industry has adapted to new times catering to the modern tastes, which is the reason why they are hugely successful. While I was working there I did not find myself bound professionally. In fact, I was struggling with a tune for the song Bulbula while being in Kashmir, but as soon as I entered the Ludhiana studio with its stimulating ambiance, my creative juices just began to flow.

It is perhaps for the first time that a Kashmiri singer and Punjabi artists have worked on a commercial musical project?

Yes, Badlaav boasts of being the first such collaboration between Kashmiri and Punjabi music industry. The people I worked with in Punjab were all highly professional and they are big names in the Punjab music industry. When you will listen to the songs in the album you will surely feel the quality and high standard of work.

You have selected Sufi lyrics for this album, any particular reason?

Basically, my idea was to take great Kashmiri poets to the younger audience so that they hum and remember their rich and soulful poetry and to do that I think high beat music is the right medium since it is of their taste. Rendering such mystical Sufi poetry in rock music demands real hard work and research and I am very thankful to Ghulam Mohammad Shaksaaz sahab for helping me in getting correct pronunciations and rhyme.

Now that you have put in so much hard work to produce this album, what are your expectations?

I am satisfied with my work as it has come out as an excellent piece and I believe Kashmiri music lovers will definitely like the songs. But the problem is not whether people will like it or not, the problem is the devil of piracy which is killing the music industry in Kashmir. And then there is reluctance on the part of distributors and wholesalers who prefer to sell low-grade music albums because they fetch them good profit. If people buy and support good quality Kashmiri music it can flourish; ultimately when an album sells, artist survives. If we don’t recover the costs that go into the making of a good quality music album, how are we going to invest again!

***

This interview was first published in Greater Kashmir on 6 April 2012.

Avoid Mob Takeover

Back in the late 2000’s, I read an interesting book by William Ury The Third Side(1999). An anthropologist and a negotiation expert, Ury provides many real life examples to show practical ways of intervening between warring parties, be it in a family or outside. As he says, ‘it takes two sides to fight, but a third to stop.’

At that time, the book gave me a good feeling because, on many occasions, I had played that ‘third side’ role. But it also made me realise that our society, by and large, had this innate feature which instinctively activate itself on occasions like road side quarrels to diffuse a situation from turning nasty. You would see people intervening, saying things like “hey ladai ma’sa kariv…”, “hey laayuss ma…”, “hey ye chui gatchan galath…”, “hey thayivsa wan…”, “hey kehn chuina…”.

Basically, these words have a potential effect to cool down the tempers. These interventions do work, most of the times, especially if the words come from an elder or a respectable person.

I used to think that because in our society people often volunteer to play the ‘third side,’ that may explain why we see less nasty fights in Kashmir. Over the time, however, I did read many headlines which made me skeptical about my initial assessment. Just recently I read: “Man kills brother over land dispute in Tral.”

The conflict related deaths and violent incidents were always there, but it was difficult to conceive of a ‘third side’ in that volatile political dynamic, other than the ‘international community.’

However, I do remember, during the highly charged period of 2010 unrest, a policeman found himself cornered in our street. Before enraged young men could thrash him, someone wrapped arms around the cop and took him inside a residential house. He was given water and assured of safety. During the same time, one fine morning, I saw how a middle aged man intervened and save a cab driver from being thrashed by soldiers. This man literary came in between the charging army man and the driver, shouting: “What is his fault?” Sensing possible protest, troops let the driver go.

As Ury says, there are many reasons why fights break out. It could be anger or fear; people may believe they are firmly in the right, or they might think they are stronger and will prevail in the fight. But, what was the cause of the fight near Jamia Masjid on Lailat-ul-Qadr, which eventually led death of the police officer? And most importantly, why didn’t any one play the ‘third side’? Or if anyone did, why couldn’t it stop the fight, or at least why couldn’t policeman’s life be saved? These are the questions which only an independent, impartial investigation can answer.

Elders say it was unprecedented in Kashmir. It received wide condemnation. “Deeply disturbed and condemn the brutal act at Nowhatta. Mob violence and public lynching is outside the parameters of our values and religion,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tweeted. “We cannot allow state brutality to snatch our humanity and values.”

But on social media, opinions were mixed. Some people threw accusations of ‘selective condemnation’ at those who showed outrage at this incident but “remained silent at the Kakapora killings” and many such cases? Some used this to blame the Azadi movement in general; Indian electronic media seized the moment to double-up its noise, painting whole Kashmiri society as barbaric, but conveniently ignoring the incidents of lynching which have been regularly happening in their own backyard.

Since this incident came on the heels of Kakapor encounter where three young Kashmiri rebels, Shakir (18), Irshad (17) and Majid (19), were killed and their bodies charred, a feeling of disgust, shock, and anger had already swept around.

But one thing should be made very clear: Ayub was beaten to death; it was barbaric, reprehensible and cannot be justified. A friend wrote on Facebook: “Even if he was an intelligence cop, he didn’t deserve a death like that.” It is not what we Kashmiris are known for, and this must never happen again.

I know like any good society Kashmiri community is also inherently generous and hospitable. We have demonstrated what is good in us time and again (e.g., 2014 floods) and many non-Kashmiris can vouch for that. We believe in helping each other, we believe in sharing things, celebrating and mourning together, and we believe in taking khabar of each other. These are our values and traditions and we cherish them.

Though details are still awaited, reports so far reveal that it was a mob which killed Ayub. This should alarm us. How come we let a mob kill somebody on an auspicious night? The circumstances in which Ayub was killed are complex. But we must be careful because given the tumultuous situation in Kashmir.

Social psychologists argue, in a crowd, people experience ‘deindividuation’ (i.e. loss of self-awareness). It happens in the highly excited state of being inside a crowd, and it leads to “anti-normative and dis-inhibited behaviour”, i.e. the normal restraint and inhibition weakens.

We need to reinforce our societal mechanism of ‘third side’ and not let ‘mob mentality’ get the better of us, whatever the circumstances. And, at the same time, we should not let others manipulate this incident to caricature us or diminish the justness of our political struggle.

______

First published in Kashmir Life on 19 July 2017: http://kashmirlife.net/avoid-mob-takeover-146211/

Decoding Barkha Dutt’s Understanding of Azadi Movement in Kashmir

On 6 June 2017, influential newspaper The Washington Post published an Indian journalist Barkha Dutt’s article “Why the world no longer cares about Kashmir.” The article generated quite a discussion on social media platforms where Dutt’s arguments were discussed, evaluated, and criticised. Here, I seek to critically evaluate her article. But instead of looking at her arguments per se my aim is to examine the discursive strategies that Dutt has used to construct her arguments. Specifically, I will analyse the central components of her overall framing of the Kashmiri freedom struggle.

Before getting started, here are brief, though limited, descriptions of some academic jargons which would be inevitably used for analytical purposes in this review:

Presupposition: shared or presupposed knowledge about something which is assumed to be true, known, or taken for granted. Ideologies are naturalised through presuppositions (for example, in the sentence “Our five thousand years old civilization has seen many turns,” it is presumed that the civilisation was really five thousand years old)

Predication:  ascribing attributes, qualities and features to people, phenomena or entities through use of adjectives, adverbs that modifies the subject (for example, the adjective/adverb radicalised in “radicalised young men are protesting”)

Mitigation and intensification: modification of language in a way that it either mitigates or intensifies illocutionary force of what is being said (for example, using vague expressions and euphemisms, or hyperboles and strong words, or quotations marks and indirect speech)

Argumentation: justifying or questioning a normative position or claims of truth (for example, “global warming has changed weather patterns and we need to tackle this problem”)

Nomination: linguistically naming or categorizing subjects, phenomena or entities (for example, “Bhaghat Singh, the terrorist who killed a British officer,” or “student protestors blocked the road”)

Taking these discursive strategies as a framework, now let’s see how Barkha Dutt frames the Azadi movement in Kashmir in her Washington Post article. Here, eight main sentences from her 800-word article are reproduced:

  1. “Schoolgirls in headscarves have joined male agitators on the street.” Here, Kashmiri women’s dress item ‘headscarves’ is emphasised and they are said to have “joined” male agitators, presuming Kashmiri women do not organise protests independently. When located in the current global context of increased Islamophobia, a following inference can be drawn from the statement: headscarves-wearing women are religiously-inclined which presupposes they have been radicalised, hence they are protesting. In other words, Dutt seems to convey that schoolgirls are protesting because they have been radicalised and the evidence of their being radicalised is that they wear headscarves.
  2. “India’s human rights record in the landlocked valley was subjected to constant international scrutiny; Indian diplomats had to contend with uncomfortable questions on Kashmir.” Here, mitigation strategy is used: euphemisms like ‘record’ and ‘uncomfortable questions’ underplay the serious issue of human rights abuses in Kashmir. No statistics or representative cases about human rights abuses are cited.
  3. “This is despite recent controversies such as the Indian Army’s use of a local civilian, Farooq Ahmad Dar, as a human shield on a military jeep.” Here again mitigation strategy is used through the use of euphemistic term ‘controversies,’ because what is being termed as controversy is actually a war crime. Also, there is seemingly a deliberate omission about what international law says about human shield issue and how the majority of Indian public celebrated this war crime.
  4. “The bottom line: Kashmir is no longer an issue that Pakistan can get the world to take notice of.” Here, Kashmir conflict is not seen as an issue of political demands coming from Kashmiris themselves but as an issue which Pakistan is pushing.
  5. “The creeping radicalization of many young men agitating on Kashmir’s streets has also kept the world at bay.” Presupposition, nomination, and intensification strategies are used here: Islamist bogey is subtly raised; ‘agitating young men’ are presupposed to be ‘radicalised’ and they are not seen as social actors with varied political subjectivities. It potentially draws this inference: While as a non-Muslim can be a radical in a non-religious way (Communist etc., like Che Guevara), but radicalisation is not legitimate in relation to Muslims because Muslims being radical necessarily means being Islamist.
  6. “The more the next generation of Kashmir’s protesters become part of a global Internet “ummah,” invoking religion ahead of rights, the less the world is likely to engage with them.”
    Again, presupposition strategy is used, because it is presumed that next generation Kashmiris are invoking religion ahead of rights. And also, Kashmiri protestors are essentialized i.e., all Kashmiri protestors think, act and behave the same way.
  7. “Of course, none of this lightens India’s moral burden to be accountable to our own standards of democracy and human rights in Kashmir.” Presupposition and predication strategies are used here: ascribing a positive identity to India (democracy) and effectively obfuscating its colonial project and militarised occupation in Kashmir. The use of “our own standards” seems a deliberate attempt to distinguish between “international standards” and “India’s standards,” with the latter seemingly trying to rule out any Scotland type referendum in Kashmir. A sentence like “none of this lightens India’s moral burden to be accountable to international standards of democracy and human rights in Kashmir” would be qualitatively different.
  8. “There is no military solution, and India will have to develop a dialogue mechanism to talk to rage-filled, disenchanted Kashmiris.” Once again predication and nomination strategies are employed: ascribing negative attributes to Kashmiris through use of adverb ‘rage-filled.’ Use of a vague term like ‘disenchanted Kashmiris’ seeks to obfuscate the real political demands of Azadi which majority of Kashmiris have been raising.

 

_______

First published by WithKashmir on 9 June 2017: http://withkashmir.org/2017/06/09/decoding-barkha-dutts-understanding-of-azadi-movement-in-kashmir/

 

The Conflict, The Crisis, and the Kashmiri Youth

As part of my research work, I had a brief email correspondence with two Kashmiri students last year. Their short replies, I think, afford a glimpse of sorts in understanding those sublime aspects and implications of political uprisings which tend to remain obscured, or be taken for granted. I know just two anecdotes cannot be basis for generalization, but they seem to point to a broader phenomena, which may allow us to understand some of the aspects of the youth activism in the Indian-controlled Kashmir. The messages are produced verbatim here:

…just before 2016 unrest, I was alien to all the dirty kitchen politics and their executors, the freedom movement, the history of my nation, article 370, AFSPA, and so on. It so happened in these few months that I underwent such a psychological transformation that I seem to be more interested in the movement rather than science. (A female postgrad science student from Srinagar)

I am a 17-year-old. Although I have not seen the militancy era of Kashmir during the 90s but I’ve been witness to events like 2008, 2010, and the recent turmoil in 2016 in Kashmir. Like most of other Kashmiri kids, I became interested in words like ‘Freedom’….’Azadi’… ‘Pakistan’ ‘conflict’…etc. from my childhood. I first started writing when I was about 13 years old.   (A male teenage student from Srinagar)

When I read the first email for the first time I thought: here is a young Kashmiri reflecting on and, succinctly articulating, the state of affairs in her homeland. But as I came back to the message later, I realized that it says more. It does not just merely express peculiarities of the Kashmiri politics from a particular individual’s point of view, but it also talks about “a psychological transformation.”

And this concept of psychological transformation is an important one in case of Kashmir. It provides a potential clue about how a person turns into an active participant from being a passive bystander. Of course, this ‘active’ here does not mean political action on the streets but becoming conscious about the conflict, relating with it, and ultimately taking and articulating a position vis-a-vis the conflict.

The second email manifests a conflict narrative, which has its distinct vocabulary and lexicon. This narrative derives as much from the lived experiences of the military occupation as from the culture which enables this narrative.

In the remaining part of this short essay, I will first briefly discuss the idea of passivity in a military occupation, and then I will talk about the narrative culture, which a generation produces in the unique circumstances of its traumatic experience.

Passivity in a Context

When the female student (quoted above) talked about her psychological transformation, we can assume that there was a period of her political passiveness (conscious, cultivated, unconscious?) prior to the 2016 uprising. This preceding period of passivity can be analysed by borrowing the concept of crisis as context from the political anthropologist, Henrik Vigh (2008), who states: “We need to depart from our regular understanding of crisis and trauma as momentary and particularized phenomena and move toward an understanding of critical states as pervasive contexts rather than singular events.”

When a difficult situation (e.g., war, military occupation) perpetuates and normalises itself in a place over a time, it tends to make people, who live under its shadows, adapt to it (some get co-opted). However, that does not mean resistance against such condition terminates itself indefinitely. Adaptation under hard and chronic conditions can be seen as a strategic and pragmatic response imposed by mundane necessities of human survival. Since the crisis state is chronic, such a world is not characterised by order and balance but chaos and disorder, which has come to become ordered.

For at least last two generations of Kashmiris, the massively militarised space around them with around half a million Indian troops stationed in Kashmir in thousands of camps is symptomatic of a pervasive context of crisis, where the state inflicts violence on Kashmiri body and psyche on almost daily basis. For young Kashmiris, who grew up in a condition of chronic crisis, the killings, the shootings, the arbitrary detentions, the humiliations, the protests may not seem a disruption of ‘order’ rather an order itself; these may not be aberrant shocking events in an otherwise smooth flow of things. In other words, these events represent, in Vigh’s terms, “…not a short-term explosive situation but a much more durable and persistent circumstance.” In a similar vein, Walter Benjamin writes in his essay, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1950): “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

From the perspective of the Kashmiri youth, their context looks like as one of constant war – because of the seeming irresolution of the Kashmir conflict and the enduring military occupation – and their own condition a state of helplessness to balance and control the exterior forces that influence and affect their possibilities and choices. This exterior force, from their perspective, manifests itself in the form of the militarized spaces, the securitised administration and policies, and the denial of autonomous politics. And, therefore, “[a]s people have to work regaining their possibilities and positions within their social environments,” two crises interact here: societal crisis and the personal crisis. This phenomenon may explain why there is a mental health crisis in the Kashmir valley, with nearly 93% percent people having “experienced conflict-related trauma.”

Moments of Clarity

While some societies may take a long time to externalise their resistance, resistance does find ways to nurture itself through underground and other activities. For example, the Clandestine Press in the Vichy France of the early 1940s. James Scott calls it infrapolitics, which entails concealed, strategic forms of resistance. And in some cases, after a period of latency, resistance manifests itself, when the ‘normalised situation’ is consciously and forcefully disturbed through direct action and the essential nature of the relationship between the occupied and the occupier made evident, thereby revealing the ‘moment of clarity’. During these moments, adaptively pragmatic attitude to the ‘normalised situation’ (of military occupation) is replaced, en masse, by a more proactive resistant assertiveness.  The summer uprisings of 2008, 2010, and 2016 in the Indian-controlled Kashmir can be regarded as those moments of clarity in which the essentially forced relationship between India and Kashmir manifested itself.

The generation that experiences the moments of clarity potentially also produces a unique culture because many of them might internalise the consciousness related to the traumatic event. In Edmunds and Turner’s (2002) conceptualisation, “a generation can be defined in terms of a collective response to a traumatic event or catastrophe that unites a particular cohort of individuals into a self-conscious age stratum.”[1] It is traumatic events (wars, conflicts, economic downturns, etc.) that produce a profound effect on a generation’s consciousness and self-identity. The experiences of trauma are internalized and get sublimated into a unique set of values, interests, and political activities, separating one generation from another generation’s past and becoming “the basis of a collective ideology and a set of integrating rituals.”[2]

Here one can find echoes of Pennebaker and Banasik (1997), who argued that not all historical events register themselves in collective memory of people but only those events that significantly impact the course of people’s lives in long term and bring major institutional changes. They also postulated that national events of significance have much more impact on people of a certain age group (between 12 and 25). But in temporal proximity of the event, the affected generation tends to keep a distance from commemorating it, because coming to terms with the event itself takes away much of time and energy, and also lack of resources (financial, social, and political) does not allow it. I think in the present age, this latter aspect (of commemoration) has changed as social media has become part of the social fabric affording easy and cheaper ways to document and remember.

Though significant traumatic events like uprisings do not occur frequently, but political resistance through formal and informal networks, general strikes – in the last 27 years, from 1990 to 2016, hartal [general strike] has been observed over 2000 times against many events and incidents – curfews, state-imposed restrictions and other aspects of the military occupation, in general, effects a persistent traumatic condition in which not only this narrative culture reinforces itself but also the self-identity of the youth which gets shaped in the process. Though identities (ethnic, gender, class, vocational, etc.) are fluid which can potentially revise over time among the young adults, traumatic events or moments of clarity may accentuate a core identity.

Ultimately, what I tried to point at with the aid of two illustrative quotes above is that pervasive context of crisis affects the possibilities and choices of the youth and their expectations, convictions, desires, anxieties and fears, reflected not only in the political action (like street protests and stone pelting) but also in the narratives and accounts that they produce in response to this context of chronic crisis, which also shapes their self-identity. In the event of a significant political tumult (like uprisings), pragmatic adaptation to the conflict and the concomitant psychological detachment from its politics seem to get ruptured among some passive bystanders, who eventually become manifestly political.

[1] Edmunds and Turner, Generations, Culture and Society (2002), p. 13.

[2] Ibid, p. 13-14.


First published on Cafe Dissensus Magazine, 20 Feb 2017: https://cafedissensus.com/2017/02/20/the-conflict-the-crisis-and-the-kashmiri-youth/

Nothing

You sit and hold your face

On the cusp of your hands

And outside the window

You see nothing

 

Your gaze is firm and intense

On the snow-capped happiness

It shimmers in its whole being

But tell nothing

 

A river races down the meadow

Its sorrow roars and flows

And flows down like a serpent

You listen to what it wants to say

You hear nothing

 

At a far off distance a soul sings

Big willows leaning on its body

You close the window and retreat

For the song says nothing

 

In your dreams

there is a light in the center

It glows and glows eternally

And everything moves towards it

But you

For you watch in silence

perhaps in awe and horror

You are alone, you see around

And there is nothing

 

 

 

24 January 2017

DCU

11:40 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

Between Bharat Mata and Hindustan

There is a debate on whether Hindutva nationalism has mainstreamed in India or it remains confined to the right-wing constituencies. Whatever may be the case, the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Waris Pathan’s suspension, through a unanimous nod, by the Maharashtra Assembly is an indication that: there is a thin line between Hindutva nationalism and Indian nationalism. For now, Pathan remains suspended for the entire budget session till April 17: for exercising his right to not to speak certain things he didn’t want to say, as guaranteed by the Indian constitution.

In the double irony – which seems to have become a hallmark of it now – it was the Congress party, with its 42 members, that aggressively demanded the ‘disciplinary’ action against the Muslim legislator, but the same Congress party had strongly criticized the Modi regime’s reactionary behavior during the JNU episode, reasoning that people cannot be forced to accept an exclusivist notion of nationalism! Given the enduring nature and long history of its peculiar politics, the Congress party can, arguably, categorized as an organization with a certain Hindutva streak. Remember notorious Sanjay Gandhi sterilization campaign and the Turkman gate massacre of impoverished Muslims and later Sikh massacre in 1984; opening up of the Babri mosque locks and allowing subsequent vandalism, and other creepy skeletons in its cupboard.

Around 80 years ago, Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who was a known critique of nationalism, had presciently cautioned his fellow Bengali patriot Subhas Chandra Bose against divisionary and controversial potential of Bande Mataram – a song in Bengali writer Bankim Chandra’s Anandmath – emphasizing that it was a patently religious hymn devoted to the Hindu female deity Durga, and thus one cannot expect “Mussalman… [to] patriotically…worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’”. Unlike in a novel, Tagore had written in the letter to Bose, “the song [Bande Mataram] cannot be appropriate” inside the parliament. In 2016, Sangh Parivar and Congress alike do not seem to agree with Tagore.

One of the prominent figures in the India’s freedom movement like Aurobindo Ghosh, before reforming, not only didn’t find merging religion and nationalism as problematic, but in fact, started an ominous tradition of arms worshipping (Shastra puja) through organizations like Anushilan Samiti, and thus tried to make violence as an acceptable form of political action. For Anushilan Samiti members novel Anandmath was an inspiring text as it had explicitly pointed out the real enemy – Muslims – and the ways to fight them. Down in the south of India, Vinayak Savarkar, author of 1923 book Hindutava, reinforced an exclusivist Hindu nationalism, by reasoning that only those people whose matribhu (motherland) and punyabhu (holy land) was same were true Indians. By this Savarkarian logic, Muslims and Christians did not belong, because their holy lands lay, respectively, in Mecca and Jerusalem. In short, they were alien “others”. For both Savarkar and Golwalker, who are considered as the founding fathers of the Indian version of fascism, “Bharat Mata” essentially meant Hindu nation (Hindu Rasthra).

Now, as Tagore would have said, asking practicing Muslims to worship a concept (of Bharat Mata) which actually originates from a novel (Anandmath) in which, without scruple, the protagonist Satyanand asks for the Muslim blood and, ironically, welcomes the British rule, is, not to put too fine a word on it, utterly preposterous and ethically problematic.

Whether the Congress party took the aggressive posture against the Muslim legislator for certain politics ends – in terms of undercutting MIM’s growing influence among the urban Muslim youth – or to preempt the likely accusations from the ultranationalists for being too tolerant of “anti-national” thoughts and behaviors, might be a plausible explanation, but by aligning with the theo-fascists on this issue, it has lost one more battle, and allowed them to project India in their own (Hindutva imaginative) terms and at the same time also let them construct Indian Muslim as an unpatriotic category, because an Indian Muslim couldn’t bring himself to chant and venerate imaginary “Bharat Mata”, even though he emphatically said that he would rather prefer to say “Hindustan Zindabad”; but then the latter slogan is in Urdu language and for Hindutva nationalists, even Urdu is a suspect language!

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First published in Kashmir Reader and Express Tribune on 25 March 2016: http://kashmirreader.com/2016/03/between-bharat-mata-and-hindustan/

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/33373/the-problem-with-vande-mataram-and-hindu-nationalism/