Conflict and Suspicion in Kashmir

  • Amit Kumar
  • Publish Date: Apr 11 2017 10:10PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 11 2017 10:10PM
Conflict and Suspicion in Kashmir

                                                     Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/ KI 

We need to rethink what we say about others, lest it deepens mistrust  


Conflict disfigures societies in more than one way. And when conflict and occupation stretch for more than five centuries, the impact on the society is unimaginable. The sinister design of occupation produces both rebels and renegades. If Indian presence in Kashmir gave Kashmiri society Maqbool Bhat, it also gave Kuka Parray. But the real horror is not when you have two combatants standing in front of each other. In this case taking sides becomes easy. The real difficulty arises about those who fall through the cracks of Rebel and Renegade dichotomy. Among non-combatants how does one get to decide who is rebel and who is not? Who decides this? If everyone in the Kashmiri society is a rebel, leaving out the Ikhwans and those Kashmiris who help Indian state machinery, then the question comes down to who is a bigger rebel. 

In a conflict like Kashmir, consciously or unconsciously, we end up discussing, answering these questions, and in turn end up hierarchising the rebels based on the risks one has taken and sacrifices one has made. The unfortunate fact about this whole thing of deciding who stands where is at times two Kashmiris end up standing against each other. I am neither suggesting that identifying friends and foes should not happen, nor that it will stop. If it is a war, battle lines have to be drawn – no matter how torturous and violent that is. But what I’m concerned here is about the real culprit – the presence of India and its enormous oppressive state apparatus in Kashmir, and how one can weaken its grip. What I will be suggesting is not the only way and not surely the last way. But it can be one of ways among many others employed by Kashmiris in their everyday life. 

The long history of Kashmir conflict apart from many things has led to a complete disruption of trust in Kashmiri society. It seems everyone is looking at the other with some suspicion. I remember I’d told a brother a few weeks ago that I was reading about some person. This brother immediately declared him ‘revisionist who betrayed the struggle’. My evaluation of the person, my reading of his writings changed. I was now somehow looking for the ‘collaborator’ because my brother told me. And I trusted my brother. But I’m sure this brother of mine also got information from someone he trusted. This chain goes on and on. There’s something wrong with this approach. It has to stop. May be we need to rethink what we say about others, otherwise, the day won’t be far when whole Kashmir will seem to be swarming with collaborators. We are being continuously told that you can’t trust anyone in Kashmir. But who benefits from all this? First Jammu and Ladakh were pitted against Kashmir, then Kashmiri Pandits against Kashmiri Muslims, then Ikhwan against the Kashmiris, and now the whole society is being told to trust only one’s own self and no one else. Again, I ask, who is benefitting from all these divisions. 

Modern nation states no longer work only on controlling territories through violence and coercion. States in the neoliberal world are more concerned about controlling humans, rather bodies, the creation of precarious, vulnerable subjects. In the name of providing security, states turn everyone into individuals, go on destroying every collective, and ultimately make every individual depend on the state and its institutions for the survival. Modern states in the name of providing security have thrived in creating insecurities. What we see in places like Kashmir is the most pervert nature of the state. It’s not the ‘benevolent’ neoliberal state which keeps individual and private property safe, but it’s a monstrous combination of a violent, oppressive feudal state as well as a body controlling, individualising neoliberal state. It can kill anyone with impunity and it can track every individual, even to his/her bedroom. Kashmiris very well know what kind of surveillance system Indian state has in place in Kashmir.

In Kashmir the struggle is not only for livelihood but also for life. Society has become deeply hierarchical and there’s hardly any respect for anyone, except for power and powerful. Labour is never paid for. People die working and their labour is never acknowledged. So, how do you ascertain your own self? How do you prove that you exist? How do you go beyond being a ‘Collateral damage’? I mean there are many ways to see how one becomes what he or she is in Kashmir. But there is no way society can cure itself of this disease till the threat to life and livelihood remains – till the occupation remains. But won’t it be a folly to play this statist game? Most of us will believe that no one is born greedy or a rebel or a renegade, unless we believe in the laws of Karma! It is our history and circumstances which decide which side we end up in. I’m not denying here the individual choices. Precisely why some among us are respected and others loathed. But certain individual choices aside, can we help create an environment where most of us make the best choice, i.e. stand against occupation? Is there something we can do as a society in this endeavour? My humble suggestion is yes we can.

Let me explain through one simple example. Quite a section of our society believes IAS/KAS as the ultimate achievement in life. Focault, while discussing the relation of knowledge to power, argues that ‘Knowledge is power’. In Kashmir this equation unfortunately turns on its head. If I’m allowed to twist this idea, then the new equation becomes—‘I control power, so I will control knowledge’. No surprises that in our everyday life an SOG personnel does and can very well thrash and even kill a scholar. So, if power decides everything from knowledge production to livelihood, even life, won’t it be prudent for someone to join these elite services. We can go on calling them state goons, collaborators and everything else. But realistically speaking, these labels won’t matter if your life is safe. Only some, whom we call dreamers/rebels, go beyond this immediate urgency of life. So at the root of it all, it seems power is calling all the shots. But the next question then will be to find the roots from which these rapacious state institutions derive their power from. It’s from us, the people. These state institutions which have been seats of unlimited power are like the dementors of Harry potter – more we approach them, more powerful they become. But it won’t happen that suddenly one day everyone who is the part of Indian state machinery decides to join the pro-freedom group. For that parallel institutions have to be created.

And this is where I see a possibility. All the mistrust and collaboration is ultimately the result of insecurity. We will have to build collectives based on egalitarian and democratic principles from which people can draw strength and no one feels alone and insecure. We will have to build alternate political, economic, religious and social institutions which decrease the dependence of people on the state institutions. We have to build such economic institutions which make individuals depend on their labour, be proud of their labour, and help them when there’s any crisis. We need to have political institutions which can solve crimes from murder to rape within a system based on delivering best possible justice to the victim. In short, we need to have a self-reliant and collective governing system. 

One can of course discuss and debate the nuances of these parallel institutions. But they seem to be the need of the hour. I conclude by arguing that these parallel ‘peoples institutions’ will do two things: 1. Draw the battle lines more clearer between the occupier and the occupied, and 2. Prevent Kashmiris from killing and labelling their own brothers and sisters as rebels and renegades. It will ultimately end up strengthening the collective that is Kashmir – and even that can be Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Amit Kumar is a Doctoral candidate at the Department of History, University of Delhi