Hurriyat and Economic Questions of the Struggle

  • Wajahat Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Jan 11 2017 9:14PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 2 2017 7:10PM
Hurriyat and Economic Questions of the StruggleGK Photo: Habib Naqash/KI

The Post-Burhan people’s uprising has been painted by some middle class writers in Kashmir as a failure. The blame for this supposed failure has been apportioned to the Hurriyat leadership for its seeming lack of imagination and inability to put in practice effective strategies of revolutionary resistance. While an immanent critique forms the lifeblood of any revolutionary movement, it must not contribute to the strengthening of a Statist culture by way of a reactionary discourse that intentionally or unintentionally contributes to raising cynicism to the level of “common sense”.  Hurriyat’s ability to exercise political agency has to be understood in the context of the enduring structures of domination that an overarching military occupation has systematically built over decades in Kashmir.

Some armchair critics of the Hurriyat have accused the leaders of leading the Kashmiris into a political morass. The class habitus of the middle class writer predisposes her or him to commit to a minimal political engagement with the politics of resistance, which largely expresses itself in the media discourse on Kashmir. The loudest critics of the Tehreek leadership are far removed from the revolutionary praxis of the masses or of the Hurriyat activists, who mostly come from the lower middle class and underclass.  

 A vast majority of Hurriyat activists have paid enormous, bodily, mental and material costs to sustain the movement for Azadi, especially in times, when most people in Kashmir have fallen into political slumber. Majority of the families of Hurriyat activists, have immensely suffered due to the prolonged incarcerations of their sons or due to repeated harassment by State actors. Many of the Hurriyat activists have a long history of association with the resistance movement, which goes back to the decades of 70s and 80s. Their continued participation in the long march for Azadi has rendered them and their children incapable of acquiring considerable educational capital, a major route of upward social mobility taken by the significant sections of Kashmiri middle classes. Long incarcerations have often led to downward economic mobility among a majority of Hurriyat workers. Late marriages and difficult financial conditions have perpetuated existential crises in their lives. Those endowed with significant cultural and social capital, the affluent fractions of middle classes, the salariat and the elite seem to treat the politics of Azadi as the concern of Hurriyat workers and the Kashmiri underclass, applauding them off and on from a safe distance.

To be fair to the Hurriyat leadership, the people’s uprising was spontaneous and was not initiated by the resistance leadership. The Hurriyat took charge of the pro-Azadi protests only after they gained steam and became widespread. The leadership responded with a resistance calendar which urged the masses to hold regular protests and months of hartals. People were also occasionally reminded of their collective duty to support the victims of State repression. The unending hartal calendars dished out by the Hurriyat leadership, notwithstanding the pressures exerted on them by some revolutionary youth groups to prolong the strikes, do deserve a critical reading. Even though hartal as a resistance tactic cannot be completely written off for its potential to disable society-state entanglements, its overuse has only impoverished the underclass and bred increasing dependence on State actors, primarily the pro India political elite. 

A cursory look at the class profiles of the dead, injured and detained in the present uprising reveals that the souls primarily tormented by the military occupation come from the underclass or lower middle classes. If past can serve as a prelude to our present, a 2010 study “Behind the Numbers: Profiling those Killed in Kashmir’s 2010 Unrest”, authored by Kashmiri journalist, Zubair Dar and published by the Indian NGO, CDR, is revealing as far as the class position of an average pro Azadi protester is concerned. The report involved a study of socio-economic profiles of the families of 97 boys out of a total of 114 killed in the 2010 mass uprising. Zubair Dar’s damning report card reveals a painful reality of the ignored class question in the Tehreek, a disproportionate burden of the Azadi movement carried by underclass bodies. Dar writes, “Thirty five out of the 97 families profiled survive on less than 5000 rupees a month, 32 earn between 5000 and 10,000 rupees a month. Seventeen have a reported monthly income between 10,000 and 20,000 rupees and only 2 families have incomes more than 20,000 rupees a month.” The report further reveals the subaltern status of the families in that the fathers of the killed were mostly laborers and small peasants and only 7 of the 97 were lower rung government employees.

This class profile suggests that in times of intensified and long repression, it is the Kashmiri underclass, lacking social capital or Sufaerish in State institutions, which is forced to supplicate before the pro-India political elite to get their sons released, their prison sentences commuted, police cases withdrawn against them or for that matter ward off routine harassment from the repressive state apparatuses. Not surprisingly, many young protestors, reeling under poverty, with limited access to good legal defense, get consumed in fighting prolonged police cases, and ultimately are pushed into the arms of the pro-India political elite and brokers of the State to ensure their survival. To borrow anthropologist, Alpa Shah’s idea of “Keeping the State Away”, the poor protestor embraces the political and bureaucratic elite to escape the repressive State actors.

Kashmiris as a nationality or as a collective have been victims of a hard State. However, a certain unity must not be conflated with uniformity or homogeneity of experiences of an everyday military occupation, which are differentially mediated by different class fractions.The resisting sections of the underclass bear the brunt of both structural and direct violence. Hurriyat’s immediate response to the sufferings of victims of State repression has been constrained by a crackdown on its leaders and activists. However, judging from the past uprisings of 2008 and 2010, the divided Hurriyat has been unable to foster social institutions that could systematically support the injured, the incarcerated or the families of the youth killed in the uprisings. In the past, the united Hurriyat Conference, with consolidated resources, had been somewhat better able to serve the victims of State repression and violence. 

Even though Yasin Malik led JKLF has brought together Hurriyat (G) and Hurriyat (M) factions on a united forum of resistance, real institutional unity continues to elude Hurriyat even now. Except for JKLF, which is the sole Kashmiri nationalist organization in the larger spectrum of Hurriyat groups, the inability of pro self-determination and Pakistani nationalist constituents of the Hurriyats to come together, despite ideological unity, can greatly be attributed to a lack of vision and an inability to overcome factionalism.

The Hurriyat’s failure or success needs to be measured both in terms of the short and long term goals of the movement for Azadi. It also has to be evaluated in terms of the movement’s internal and external dimensions. In the short run, Hurriyat’s ability to win any concessions from the Indian establishment –like the possible release of prisoners, creation of political space for a non-violent resistance or protecting the skeletal autonomy of Jammu Kashmir – has been greatly constrained by unfavorable political opportunity structures. The rise of a belligerent Hindu nationalist party like BJP to power in India has meant that the massive State repression in Kashmir has only come to deepen and widen. The rise of BJP in India has created a political field, where jingoistic nationalism has become the dominant ideology. A more rightwing turn in Indian politics and the near decimation of the opposition means that Hurriyat’s resistance can no longer hope to exploit any possible divisions in the Indian political elite on Kashmir. The Indian national consensus to hold Kashmir through a liberal use of the iron fist has been further hardened by the consolidation and strengthening of Hindu nationalist forces in India.

Hurriyat leadership’s protest programs definitely helped in consciousness-raising among the masses. The movement also led to greater social cohesion and solidarity in Kashmir. Externally, it contributed to a growing awareness on Kashmir in the International media. The idea of creating an alternative temporality by floating a resistance calendar is acreative deployment of a radical imagination and a revolutionary counter conduct. However, Hurriyat’s idea of what constitutes the political has remained quite limited. Its overemphasis on challenging the political society largely ignores the vast realm of civil society, be it the case of religious organizations or institutions, ideological state apparatuses like schools, colleges and universities, or for that matter, the realms of art, sports and culture. 

Moreover, the deleterious effects of Hurriyat’s hartal calendars have considerably weakened Kashmir’s economy. We are confronted with an economically weaker Kashmir, when the discourse of development unleashed by the Indian State and its political proxies in Kashmir is positioned as apolitical, which to invoke James Ferguson, serves as an anti-politics machine, depoliticizing people and  enhancing the power of State actors.The promise of development can be used by India to encourage an economically dependent population to vote for a pliant Kashmiri political elite, which can eventually facilitate Kashmir’s assimilation with India. The struggle for Azadi might be reduced to a reactive politics, fending off assimilation rather than harnessing and synchronizing the multiple sources of social power and involving all social groupings to realize national liberation.The questions of political economy and the “political” in the resistance movement can no longer be ignored. How does the Hurriyat leadership rise to the occasion remains to be seen?

(Wajahat Ahmad teaches Sociology at O. P Jindal University)