The Dangerous Habit of Silence

The conception of a representative government that would enable the devolution of administrative responsibilities to districts and villages; a socialist system in which the state would control the means of production so as to ensure the fairest distribution of goods, power, and service to its members; the good of society would be considered a responsibility of the state, but the state would serve as an administrator and a distributor, not as a disseminator of ideology or doctrine; instituting educational and social schemes for marginalised sections of society—this worthy manifesto has been replaced in J & K with an agenda that encourages mainstream Indian financial institutions to play a decisive role in the State, through the fixing of prices on the national and world markets, cartels, and a variety of educational and cultural institutions. How representative are the new elites brought to power through the electoral process, or even unwitting or willing agents of mainstream powers and agencies?

This is how I see the gist of the contemporary problem in Kashmir: a conflict driven by nationalistic and religious fervour, with each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, and each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to its own suffering and sorrow, while ignoring the irreparable loss of lives, unredeemable loss of productive years, unsalvageable loss of properties and sources of livelihood, and the deep-rooted sense of despair of Kashmiris.

The insurgency and counter insurgency in the State has gone through a series of phases since 1990, but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality, which cannot be superceded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. After the forces of separatism reared their heads in J & K, the Indian Union exacerbated the violence and disorder by deploying belligerent and tactless methods. For instance, on 1 October 1990, Indian paramilitary forces razed the bazaar of Handwara, a town located in the Northwestern part of the Valley. This action, taken after a guerilla attack, resulted in the indiscriminate killing of a large number of civilians. Subsequently, the landscape was tarnished by shanty-like bunkers with firing positions adorned with Indian flags and nationalist slogans, underlining the brutal repression of regionalist and antiestablishment aspirations. The systemic erosion of democratic rights in J & K, which has been the underlying theme of India’s and Pakistan’s policy toward Kashmir since the dawn of independence since 1947, cannot go on forever. Events that are celebrated in the rest of India are overtly mourned in Kashmir. 26 January 2011, particularly, showcased the apathy of the people of Kashmir to the absurdity, bigotry, and spectacle that the nationalist politics of the BJP created.

While the reaction of the State government to the melodramatic and blustering attempts of the BJP to hoist the Indian national flag in Lal Chowk was designed for the Congress palate, it should not erase our memory of the duplicity of the Congress in enabling Murli Manohar Joshi to hoist the Indian national flag in Kashmir amidst tight security in 1992. If the Congress oracular “High Command” had decreed that the “children of a lesser god,” Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, be indulged by allowing them to raise the Indian national flag, which is the principal ideological unifier across political and caste divisions in India, the State government, in all likelihood, would have complied. J & K is replete with such examples of political dogmatism, undemocratic methods, and state sanctified brutality. The territory has been benighted by reprehensible misgovernance and trammeled by a militarised culture.

J & K is an example of a territory manipulated by New Delhi and Islamabad reliant on the political and military prowess of their patrons. This strategy, which New Delhi espouses without making any bones about it, has had the adverse effect of stunting the development of civic and democratic structures conducive to suffrage and participatory democracy. The erosion of “indigenous” opposition in J & K has delegitimised the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism toward state-sponsored institutions and organisations. The exposure of Indian democracy as a brutal facade has instigated disgruntlement toward Indian democratic procedures and institutions in the state. The cause of the independence and/ or autonomy of J & K have been thwarted by both India and Pakistan. Beijing is also worried about the ramifications that Kashmiri independence would have in Tibet. In India, the BJP keeps harping on the balkanization of J & K along religio-ethnic lines, first propounded in 1950 by Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan.

I reiterate what I have reinforced in my earlier writings: I cannot emphasize enough the need to create access for marginalised Kashmiris to a community perspective, or a reference group. Avenues for rehabilitation must be created, so those who have been brutalized can work through the discourse of oppression and victimhood into developing the construction of their identities as survivors. Victims of brutality can politicise their identities within clear conceptual frameworks, instead of inculcating the “habit of silence,” which is a dangerous habit. We cannot refuse to deal with a landscape that has been radically transformed by struggle. The politics of representation cannot undermine the oppositional force of indigenous movements. A carnage that wiped out the bloom of youth, dreams of surpassing the banality of life, ambitions of carving their own destinies and charting their own paths, of many of our children, cannot be dismissed as the obdurate stubbornness of an uncivilized people or mere “summer unrest.”

I felt so hopeless and disillusioned for a while, because of how the terrible disturbances in Kashmir became mere collateral damages, and did not motivate either the State government or New Delhi to bring about structural changes that would substantially address inequities and injustices. Because of my despair at the hijacking of a haunting mass mobilisation by mainstream organizations and separatists, and at the dearth of coherent political discourses in Kashmir, I was quiet for a while, until I realised that it was important to avoid the “habit of silence” at all costs.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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