Mudasir Wani & Asaf Ali Lone on an ‘activity’ that makes an ‘activist visible’ or a visible ‘audience’ that makes an activist?
The silence of anonymity breaks with the whispers of State. The whispers of guns and boots, banging and rhyming with law and order; implicates the people, working tirelessly for the resistance movement of Kashmir. Should this tireless work be visible or invisible? Why does a certain kind of activism or activists get more visibility? What is it – an ‘activity’ that makes an ‘activist visible’ or a visible ‘audience’ that makes an activist visible? And what kind of activism does a ‘visible audience’ endorse? Often commodification and marketing creates a hierarchy of activism. Activism has a peculiarity that it makes particular interventions in such a way which implicitly amplifies and silences the varied dimensions of the complexities of a conflict – like Kashmir. This article in no way demeans the work done by them but presents before the reader various nuances and complexities surrounding the politics of visibility in activism.
The present day living (surviving) lot of Kashmiri Muslims, Sikhs, Pandits, and others are all the survivors of state violence(s), mediocrities, hypocrisies and oppression(s). The Kashmir issue is presently being sandwiched amidst different discourses and narratives to fit into particular boundaries set by different actors in the play-of-the-Kashmir-conflict marketed for different audiences across the globe. The war-mongering (especially by India and its media) between the two neighboring nation-states has sidelined the ongoing struggle of Kashmiris. So one has to be extra careful while looking into the emerging narratives within-and-outside Kashmir (especially propagated through media and internet). The story of the struggles and sufferings of people does not begin with either the martyrdom of Burhan Wani or the arrest of a prominent Human Rights activist Khurram Parvez.
The current uprising after the martyrdom of Burhan Wani shows the resolve of people’s commitment to ‘Right to Self Determination’ and reveals the anger against the brutalities of Indian state. Does Khurram’s arrest point towards a change in Indian state’s dealing of Human Rights Activism in Kashmir? Earlier in March 1996, 35th Battalion of Rashtriya Rifles killed forty two year old human rights and JKLF activist, Advocate Jalil Andrabi under custody. He was killed by Major Avtar Singh, who died few years back in the US. Ghulam Qadir Wani of Bandipora – an intellectual and ideologue of Muslim United Front (MUF) electoral politics of earlier 1990s – was assassinated on 4th November 1998 by state sponsored gunmen. In 1996, 68 year old Abdul Razak Mir (Bachru), former MLA of Kulgam and prominent Jamaat-e-Islami member was lynched in public in broad daylight by state sponsored gunmen in Kulgam main Chowk. These and many more such killings are grim reminders of how people who dared to register their protest against the brutalities of the Indian Army in Kashmir were decimated from the scene sending away a clear warning to the rest.
India is nearing to make a ‘century of killings’ of Kashmiris; in the last three months or more than 100 days of curfew, the rate of killing is one per day. There are hundreds who have been blinded by pellet guns; thousands have been injured and incarcerated – including several prominent social, religious, and human rights activists. Some of them are booked under draconian ‘legal’ PSA (Public Safety Act) and many of them are still under ‘illegal’ police and army detention. On the 54th day of ongoing protests, Advocate Zahid Ali was arrested from his office in Srinagar by police. He is a member of Kashmir Bar Association and a social and human rights activist. Besides, he is the current spokesperson of Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir. Prior to his arrest, he was called by police and detained for few days and later released. He represented MUF (Muslim United Front) in the elections of 1987 from Pampore constituency. Not only Advocate Zahid Ali, but police has been harassing local level activists in towns and villages and Jamaat members as well as their family members across the Kashmir and Chenab valley.
A young prominent religious scholar from Tral and head of Pulwama Jamaat unit – Mujahid Shabir Falahi’s house was raided in night by police and army to arrest him. At that time he was not at home; during the night raid, his aged parents were brutally beaten and the house was ransacked. His father – an octogenarian and a veteran Jamaat member – was injured in the fire of a volley of pellets at his home. In another night raid by army in Khrew area; army brutally thrashed people disregarding age and gender, and later took Shabir Ahmad Mungoo, a 30 year old English lecturer with them. In the morning, his dead body arrived home, as he was beaten to death in detention. Not only in Kashmir but a student in Aligarh Muslim University was rusticated by the University authority apparently for updating an ‘objectionable’ comment on Facebook even though he had later apologized for the same. The unending brutalities of the police and army have turned Kashmir into a war zone (army fighting unarmed civilians) which is already the highest militarized zone in the world.
Nevertheless, State in its mad rush detained a human rights activist Khurram Pervez. Khurram’s arrest became an important concern for ‘activists’ of all sorts following the current mass uprising in Kashmir. They call it a shameful act on part of State. An interesting query is: why do people pour out so much support for Khurram and not for Zahid Ali or other socio-religious activists or in that case any common person? Why is it that Khurram’s detention comes to limelight and a campaign for his release is on way while not for others? It is not to say that it should not happen, and also not to demean the work his organization is doing.
It can be an important point to comprehend how resistance movement has been evaluated and hierarchized. The larger understanding among the people in Kashmir and outside works with the logic that ordinary masses, protesters, stone-pelters, and ‘Islamists’ (Jamaatis in particular) are disposable in this resistance movement. They are the natural first targets of State’s repressiveness; rather they are the legitimate would-be and should-be targets of State. Also, in the current global atmosphere of Islamophobia; ‘political’ form of Islam is seen as a camouflage for extremism, terrorism and separatism, even more so in Kashmir. When State comes to crush the resistance movement, state security agencies (as per their calculations) get these people – common masses and Islamists – incarcerated and tortured. As they rightly or wrongly think that they are the hot-beds of resistance and it is in their homes that resistance is bred and procreated. So, it is only normal and natural that a common man or Islamist or a Jamaat member gets picked up and detained or tortured. People do not consider it ‘out of place’ to learn that someone from the above categories has been slapped with PSA or was thrashed brutally. This treatment of commoners and Jamaatis does not disturb anyone in Kashmir or outside. One needs to bring out the historicity of this attitude of ‘but natural thing’ existing in their thinking. One needs to question the very un-disturbing attitude people share in this situation.
Why is there anger over Khurram’s arrest? For Basharat Ali, in his article “Arresting Human Rights” published in Raiot.in on October 3, 2016, ‘Khurram is just a better known face in a country-wide campaign to free all Kashmiris booked under what “Amnesty International” has called the “lawless laws”.’ It is precisely because activists did not expect State to arrest such a person (whose job and rapport with state is based on equilibrium and comfortable approach). It is often through this discourse of ‘human rights’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’ that simultaneously 1) raises some pertinent issues of human rights violations by the ‘actors of the state’ and 2) silences the cultural, social and political history of the resistance movement. The reduction of the entire Kashmir conflict to human rights activism and violations by ‘state institutions’ does not contradict with the State narrative and civil society activism in India. The edifice of human rights politics for Indian State and its civil society is based on the narrative that Kashmir is an infected ‘Atoot Ang’. Such activism based on this understanding makes Indian State’s position and location more comfortable vis-à-vis the strong resistance movement of people against the military occupation and their sacrifices for right to Self-Determination.
Basharat Ali opines that people like Khurram are “free-radicals” as they call them in chemistry. The question precisely arises from this very analogy, that they are FREE RADICALS. Not in the sense of organic chemistry, the question is in the oxymoronic sense of the phrase as well – Free Radical. The question is how far the body politic of resistance movement is going to live with the ‘free radicals’? And what about the “anti-oxidants” or read them as ‘anti-occupants”? The very nature of free radicals is that one can never predict what kind of chain reaction they are going to initiate and/or halt. Rather, it is the anti-oxidants which precisely are there to fight the oxidants/occupants in the body. As long as these free radicals are not anti-oxidants they could be carcinogenic – the cancer of military-colonial-occupation. The very unstable nature of ‘free radicals’ is to settle in a reaction on the side which is more incentivizing.
What is the paradoxical nature of Human Rights discourse in Kashmir? The campaign for Khurram will highlight his innocence that state is not justified in detaining him under PSA. The very assumption is questionable e.g. what if Khurram as per law is culpable under PSA, should the campaign stop then? The essence of resistance movement in Kashmir is not to fight the false framings under draconian laws, but to question the very legitimizing source of these draconian laws. E.g. we do not ask whether Afzal Guru was a real convict or not? Fair trial or no fair trial; it may be a good stuff for civil society in India to become vigilante against the usurping State. But what if Guru was really a part of parliament attack. Should we stop there saying he was guilty, so State was right in executing him? No. The point is what was the cause Guru stood for? Assuming this was an act of revolutionary terrorism, then for argument’s sake, Guru participated in the conspiracy to vent his anger about the military occupation of Kashmir. The issue then needs to be evaluated from the vantage point of the intention/cause rather than the means adopted and our position would be defined on that basis.
Again for example in the Parliament Attack case, all convicts (falsely accused) were Kashmiris but why did some go to gallows and others did not, to ‘satisfy the collective conscience of the nation’? It is precisely because those who did not had large number of people knowing them or had sizeable social capital. So then the question is: is our resistance movement facilitated by our social location – rather a safer location? Is it that resistance then becomes a privilege and not a choice? I have more social connections, clienteles and network; hence I am entitled to resist and represent and not you. If it is so, then what are ‘masses’ doing: a suicide? Can a resistance to occupation be made captive of one’s world over PR? This enterprise of performing resistance from a ‘privileged’ position creates hierarchy. The visible size of the ‘clientele’ made over a period of time due to one’s social accessibility (which is simultaneously unavailable or denied to others) creates a circular loop. The group that remains above the water visible to world has a strong support base providing buoyant force to this section from below. The creation of visibility of certain individuals and activists has become like a Darwinian struggle in the presence of internet and social media to aggressively market and fit themselves through a growth of certain clientelism and acceptance in certain groups. The danger of this game is that there is a selective recognition of few individuals and undermining of the larger struggles of people. This presence is marked by the production of emotions by the people who are more tech savvy and have access to internet and media. While as the people who do not have access remain anonymized. The audience should not be blinded by the flash of visibility but needs to recognize the struggles of the people equally and not create a biased measuring rod to market and create hierarchies of actors, activism(s) and emotions.
The modern day State is much smarter and Machiavellian than one can think. Mass uprisings of 2008, 09 and 10 were initiated by the Amarnath land row, Asiya-Nelofar rape and murder case, and Machil fake encounter respectively. All these mass uprisings got woven around issues of identity and human rights perspectives. But in 2016, the momentum of mass uprising got generated around the martyrdom of Burhan – an armed militant. In earlier three consecutive summer uprisings, State had arrested the resistance leadership – like Masrat Aalam etc. but in this case, it has cracked down upon HR activists. It appears State acts in a criss-cross manner. It makes much more sense if back then they had arrested HR activists and this time resistance leaders. What could be the possible explanation for this situation? Does State want a Human Rights issue not take a resistance turn and lets a resistance issue boil down into a human rights folder?
The arrest of Khurram by the ‘militaristic structure’ in Kashmir also needs to be engaged at another level. On 12th April 2016, a minor girl student (16 years) was molested by a soldier of 21 Rashtriya Rifles. Later, a confession video of girl was released by SP Handwara exonerating army, who had illegally detained her. This incident led to protests across valley and five protestors were killed in Handwara by Indian forces. In this case, Khurram played active role to get FIR registered against army and SP for molestation and illegal detention of her for 27 days. One might think that, back then state had opportune time to detain Khurram and not now. The important point to raise here is that; how does Indian State look at Human Rights activism in Kashmir? Is it a buffer discourse to douse the emotions and anger of people? And are Human Rights activists like fire brigade to rescue State from resistance masses and plunge them into quagmire of legal language. It would be interesting to know; do these human rights groups form a part of State ‘persuasive’ apparatus, which State uses at its will and when it needs them?
It is not to question the state-security apparatus about the timing of his arrest. State-security apparatuses are ‘sovereign’ in their acts and actions in Kashmir. However, we also should not be naively ‘sovereign’ in our thinking rather should see issues in their complexity and problematic of ‘mutual interdependence of actors’. Arshi Javaid in her article “Handwara: 16-year-old girl was detained for 27 days. Where’s the outrage?” published in dailyO on 20 June, 2016 expressed a relevant and appropriate concern and reality that: “Ask any Kashmiri and they would tell you how local elites have forged solidarities with the mainstream civil society and posited as yielders of knowledge and power. But since they have their political moorings, their interventions have not been free from political and class biases.” This question needs to be kept in mind in every context including this one.
It is ironic but this is the implication of ‘Kashmir is an internal matter of India’. It erases the history of the suffering of Kashmiris and negates the role of ‘Islam’ in the resistance movement, by comparing it with extremism and terrorism (as part of the global discourse on Islam now). Definitely, it is an exasperating situation to imagine State behaving like this with HR activists. So, what kind of privilege does an activist has over a commoner who is the bearer of resistance movement? Why there should be exasperation over the curtailment of privilege? And above all who is the benefactor of such privilege?
State is cunning and brutal; it knows when and how to hurt its interests and sacrifice small pawns to win the big game. Under the rubric of symbolic detention and later ‘legalized’ PSA, State knows how to make the tip visible and make a blind spot to grind the mass under it. It is this tip, which State will be made accountable for. It also knows how to give a physical scratch to make the pain beneath more invisible. Like in chess, State knows how to play in a stalemate. When no big steps can be played, it plays pawns. By moving them to opposite side it can promote them to big players.
Whatever is the magnitude of the work and howsoever is the contribution, whether by anonymous or visible actors; we have to be responsible in registering our opinions and critique to produce arguments for a viable and inclusive debate on the resistance movement in Kashmir.