The continued lockdown in the state is designed to remind Kashmiris that they are no longer individuals with any agency.
Sidharth Bhatia 13/Aug/2019
The BJP government’s attempts at showing that all is well in Kashmir, never really convincing, have been shown to be false. The propaganda has failed and real stories of the plight of Kashmiris are coming out. The world now knows, if only up to a point, what Kashmiris are going through, no matter what official sources and government-friendly media say. The social media machine that pushes content to support the government has tried its best to create an impression of ‘normalcy’, but nobody is buying except hardcore devotees of the party and its leaders.
The sight of NSA Ajit Doval having a meal with ‘ordinary Kashmiris’, shot in a tight frame, had some value at a time when no visuals or news was coming from the Valley, though its staginess has become more known since. Yet the channels bought the story, circulating it as an example of how Kashimiris were most relaxed post the announcement. Soon enough though other, less cheerful and more disturbing images and stories began trickling out.
Television channels and news agencies kept up the drum beats, declaring that everything was great and that any other point of view was anti-national, but you can fool the public only so much. Indians and the rest of the world wanted to know what the Kashmiris thought and that, in the absence of any means to communicate with Kashmir, was not immediately possible.
But truth will out and when truly independent journalists went to Kashmir, they came back with stories of a population under siege, frightened and angry, where protests were pushed back with force, where even the most ordinary human needs were going unmet.
The pellet gun injuries are horrific and the videos have shaken up viewers, but no less heartrending are other kinds of stories of suffering. Kashmiris living outside the former state have also endured pain: they haven’t been able to get in touch with their near and dear ones, and the festival of Eid, a time of great celebration and rejoicing, was a sad occasion.
Yet, dramatic though these stories are, they don’t tell even a fraction of what the Kashmiris must be going through. We can only imagine the daily frustrations and humiliations for ordinary Kashmiris, locked up in their homes, with no means of knowing what exactly is going on, with no way to reach anyone and completely in the dark about their future.
Monumental decisions have been taken that are going to impact them in significant ways and have been sold to the rest of the country as a move that will be beneficial to the Kashmiris themselves. “We must destroy the village to save the village” was an apocryphal saying that became popular during the war in Vietnam, and it sums up the attitude of the government which now wants to subjugate Kashmiris for their own good.
What is more, the plan is not simply to do it by force. That, at best, can control them. Inherent in the scheme of things is to humiliate them. Cutting off all means of communication, using force to keep them in check and the daily depredations are all designed to remind Kashmiris that they are no longer individuals with any agency – their every move and their very beings are in the hands of the state, where the state is represented by a huge and omnipresent military force that intrudes into their daily lives.
History provides us many examples of how governments showed power over their subjects and reinforced it with humiliations and small and big. Apartheid South Africa – and before that, the British version in the country, was about reminding Africans that they were second class citizens in their own land. They were shunted into special enclaves and townships and the white government later created mini ‘countries’, called Bantustans where blacks had their own ‘governments’. But on a daily basis, the African could only move around with a special pass and had to leave white areas before sun down.
During colonial rule in South Africa, M.K. Gandhi had the humiliating experience of being thrown out of the first class compartment in Pietermartizburg in Natal and it changed him. He came to India and saw that his own fellow Indians were undergoing similar experiences under British rule and that spurred him to fight the Raj.
Palestinians living in Israel too undergo such experiences on a daily basis, but this has not stopped resistance movements that continues to trouble the Israelis. In Kashmir, tens of thousands of soldiers have not stopped rebellion from locals, and now that resistance will escalate, when the ordinary Kashmiri begins to feel there is nothing to lose. Power, however naked, cannot suppress the human longing for basic dignity and freedom.
Graffiti in Palestine. Credit: freedombuspalestine.blogspot.com
State power is designed to steal away a person’s self-esteem and Kashmiris have seen that first hand for years. Now they will not just lose their land but also their self-respect. Already, they are being made to wait for hours to make a short phone call to their families elsewhere-one can only speculate on what is to come.
It is difficult to know the extent of their suffering, but imagine a life in which you have to pass through army checks several times a day, be questioned by a jawan while going grocery shopping, have your child taken away for questioning and then being told that you can get only four minutes a day to make a phone call, that too from a government office. It would be humiliating.
In these times of hyper connectivity and the access to so many means of communication, to find one is not allowed to use anything – internet, landline, mobiles – is like being cast back to the stone age. That is the situation of millions of people right now and no one knows how long it will continue.
Guesswork on the true intent
There is a lot of guesswork of the true intent of the government in doing away with Article 370, which guaranteed special status to Kashmir and was a Constitutional agreement. It allowed India to tell the Kashmiris that their rights were protected and to show the world that India stood by its commitments.
That this was on the BJP’s agenda is true, but not all poll promises are fulfilled. So why did this government rush through with this, less than three months after being reelected? The speculation ranges from the Hindutva agenda of flooding the place with Hindus to make the Muslims a minority to global geo-politics, to even opening up landbanks to big industrialists and developers. All of which may be true.
But more than just exercising control over the territory is the excitement of controlling the lives of people. This appeals to the authoritarian streak in this ideology and especially to those who run this government. They have no time for wishy-washy concepts like citizenship or human rights. The Kashmiris are Muslims and therefore must be tamed. And they must be humiliated on a daily basis, so they know who the boss is.
It won’t stop here of course. Legislation and structures are already being put in place to try this formula elsewhere in the country. Different methods will be used, but the objective is the same – using the iron fist to keep the populace in check. The loud cheers that have gone up all over the country must surely have provided great encouragement to the establishment – the people actually want their lives to be controlled. The Kashmiris don’t, but who cares for them anyway?