In choosing death, Kashmiri youth defy India’s power over their life

Kashmiri protesters throw stones at Indian soldiers to help trapped rebels escape near the site of a gunfight in Chadoora’s Durbagh village, Indian-administered Kashmir. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan since 1947. The two countries have fought wars over the Muslim-majority region and both claim all of it. Most Kashmiris, however, favour independence or merger with Pakistan. — Photo by ABID BHAT

 

Kashmiri bodies have been killed, raped, and tortured under Indian rule. The Indian state thereby lays claim over how Kashmiris live, and how they die: the body that does not obey shall be taken. But the youth is turning this equation on its head. 

By Rouf Dar 

I deviate off my escape route and try to hide in a gully but somehow the forces follow me. I climb up a wall and see others running for life. Some have been caught. They are getting thrashed. I try harder for escape. Right on top of the wall, I find myself cornered from both sides by army men. One of them steps ahead to pull me down and I wake up.

This is one of the dreams that I had in recent times. It is one in a series in fact. In another dream, I was used as a human shield; the first bullet woke me up. Another had me lying in a pool of blood after being hit. Yet another had me naked in a prison, about to get violated by the men in dark uniform. And all of these are subconscious manifestations of the brutalities of an actual war imposed on us.

The killing machine kills, tortures, and rapes. Those it cannot beat physically are taken down by the psychological effect of what others are being subjected to. Violence, and its visual transmission, shatters one and all.The very language of violence gets normalised as violence itself is normalised on a daily basis. Thus every expected act of violence has a lesser effect than the preceding one.

The manifestations of state power now treat the human body as the battlefield. The ability to control and manipulate the human body determines the authorised use of power. Since ancient times, law has acted as a state-sponsored deterrent, to create fear in the minds of people so that their bodily conduct adheres to the manner the state requires of them. Bodies are somehow subdued, and attempts made to control the mind that forms the intended target for state control as does the resistance to that control. Foucault would thus describe thinking as a “perilous act”.

Modern battles are fought over bodies and minds. India is concerned about the land of Kashmir but to annex the land sans resistance requires them to either obtain legitimacy or eliminate the inhabitants of this land. What the state has managed to date is to successfully establish the structures of coercion even as they have failed to build compliant structures of legitimation. The Kashmiri body has been coerced but never did it become compliant to the Indian colonial project.

When the Indian armed forces kill, rape, and torture Kashmiri bodies, they not only claim and assert control over the land but also claim to possess the power of “right of death” over people. This right of death, as in the historical evolution of the state, implies that the colonial state can punish by “taking away” things (property, liberty, life, etc.) from subjects who act (seditiously) in contravention to the state’s interests. Thus the Indian state takes away Kashmiri life, limbs, eyes, movement, association, and speech.

The right of death manifests itself in the form of an arrest, torture, imprisonment, sexual violence, disappearance, and murder, etc. Curfews, for instance, prevent dissent by inhibiting the movement and assemblage of bodies. Ban on the internet intends to cloak the naked, illegal nature of the state. And crackdowns by default imply that the bodies move, assemble, and are held captive as per the will of the state.

The shift in the nature of state power has been from “right of death” to “power over life”. States are now more concerned with the latter—the regulation of subject behaviour. The Indian state therefore, in order to control Kashmiri life and people, conducts surveys, holds welfare programmes, organises tours for students, offers scholarships, and uses religious propaganda to attain the legitimacy for their illegal rule. These two powers work in tandem. The body that does not obey shall be taken.

The Indian state would never have to resort to the power of “right to death” if the “power over life” successfully accomplishes their colonial objective. To put it in a simple manner, if the Indian state manages to turn all Kashmiris into subservient subjects (or collaborators), there would be no need of taking awayKashmiri life. But because resistance to Indian rule has become the essence of Kashmiri life does the need arise to take it away.

The occupational state policy—the luxury to kill—has always acted as a two-edged sword. It kills some and deters the rest. One death instills humongous fear in the survivors who become passive receptors of violence. The amount of blood spilled by the hands of the Indian state has created a traumatic populace. Those who are not killed will be consequently traumatised witnessing the game of death enacted by trigger-happy forces regularly on the streets and in countryside.

The carriage of daily violence in the media, print or television, and the social media feeds people otherwise sitting at home, supposedly far from the site of actual violence, with exactly the same kind of stimulative impression that direct targets experience. They no more remain aloof. A Kashmiri living far off from the valley goes through the same trauma that someone on the ground does.

***

We all grow up with images. The images of culture around us as children remain attached for life. The nature of socialisation, determined by the socio-political conditions of that time, drives our imagination and activity. Our life is a product of historical processes that we go through in our families, schools, playgrounds, etc.

As a child, while going to school, the image of an army camp, and the speed-breaker on that road, has imprinted itself in my mind to the extent that I still visualise the army camp in the same place even though it has been removed more than a decade ago. I vividly remember the Kashmiri tied upside down from a tree while an army man beat his buttocks with a stick.

Coming back from school once, I remember when army men made us carry sandbags from the roadside into their camp. We were in school uniforms, but that did not matter. A decade later, a school boy, Umar Kumar, would be shot dead in his uniform not far from that place. It indicated a systematic process of attaining coercive control over our lives.

As a kid, playing cricket with my friends in the local playground, we heard gunshots. We had to run. We ran to the next village with many co-villagers. What made us run was the politically embedded practice of running away from encounters. The political culture that we grew up in, before our mind matured, had told us that we were at war with the army men.

We cannot claim to have a well-understood sense of the political reality at that age but it was leaving terrible imprints on us. Later I realised the war was so murky that even children had to run for their lives. We did not possess arms or pose any threat to the Indian state but the magnitude of occupation was such that any existing form of Kashmiri life—its sheer existence—was criminalised in its entirety.

The Indian state worked by successfully, coercively instilling fear. The fear gave rise to a consciousness that exhibited itself through manufactured collective practices. Near the army camps we had to get off buses, present our identity cards, and get frisk-searched. On the announcement of a crackdown, men had to come out and assemble in an open area so that the army could search the whole village.

The colonial state power of “right of death” and “power over life” has faced resistance, too. The continued years of oppressive practices crossed a threshold and the frustration of being occupied burst out. The years 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016 represent a shift to wresting back the control of our lives and land from India.

Taking to the gun resists both these applications of power. That the enemy is heavily armed, in possession of sophisticated weapons, numbering in lakhs, does not for a moment deter the armed fighters from resorting to the gun. They know they cannot defeat the enemy. They realise their shortcomings. They implicitly admit that death is as close as any vein in the body. They chooseto die. And they chooseto disobey the state power over their life.

They refuse subservience to the state’s whims. They refuse to live a life controlled by alien forces. Until that point, they have lived a life which state violence has tarnished at every turn. Now they stand up to destroy the status quo that has always sought to control their lives. Whether they fail or succeed, they manage to challenge the hegemony of the occupational state.

The large number of people thronging encounter sites to save armed fighters represents that change as well. The embedded practice of running away from encounter sites due to fear has vanished. Instead, it has reversed. The movement is towards encounter sites. Civilians are ready to lay down their lives for those whom they value much. Trying to save militants, boys from Shopian are killed in Kulgam encounters, and vice versa. They choose their own death. They claim their “right of death”.

On the other hand, those who survive are depressed, traumatic, and frustrated by the daily dose of violence. They survive the psychological onslaught of the occupational state which otherwise, with its sheer brutality, would have destroyed the strongest of souls. They put their faith in God, they resort to cigarettes, they love, they marry. They live. They claim their “power over life”.

The Indian occupation of Kashmir has created both fear and fearlessness. The fearless lot, who choose death and take the fight to the occupier, traumatise those who are left behind. Their death affects their siblings, relatives, and countrymen. The latter grow more infuriated because over a period of time, continued state-sponsored violence has stiffened people’s anger, vengeance, and thirst for freedom.

***

One of the scores of funerals of Kashmiri militant commander Burhan Wani, July 2016. Kashmir witnessed one of its largest mass uprisings against Indian rule in the aftermath of Wani’s killing. Indian forces shot dead scores of civilian protesters, injured over 15,000, and blinded hundreds by firing shotgun pellets. — Photo by ABID BHAT 

As early as 2015, when militant funerals were not mass affairs, Abu Qasim was killed in a swift midnight encounter in Kulgam’s Khandipora village. The following day was hectic. I along with my friends was present from dawn to dusk. We witnessed the breakage of the military cordon, teargas shelling in the town, quarrels among groups of people claiming the body, and multiple gun salutes to the martyr. We returned home exhausted.

We were scared the succeeding night. We contemplated many thoughts. All of them were frightening. The next morning, a younger friend of mine confessed to me that he was too scared to go to the toilet at night, so he had urinated in a bottle in his room and slept off. We laughed over it. But even as it had begun to vanish, fear remained.

It’s been a few years since and Kashmir refuses to get bogged down by fear. Youth smear the dust of bricks soaked with militants’ blood as sacred scent. The valour of those laying their lives down for the cause of freedom has achieved unparalleled heights. The militant-people love has strengthened. The killing of scores of militants does not deter anymore. Rather it leads to more recruitment.

Naturally, the “Winning Hearts And Minds” strategy of the Indian state has failed. The Indian state counted on instilling fear in the Kashmiri body to ensure their stranglehold on the valley. But the insurmountable, ever-replicating dissident thought in the Kashmiri mind has gradually ridden its body of that fear. That vanishing fear in the dissident mind of an unarmed Kashmiri body is what defeats the colonial purpose of the Indian state.

The current phase of armed resistance, like the 1990s, might be suppressed by the Indian state whose search for more punitive strategies to suppress a fearlessly infuriated people is still in process. The Indian state with the help of its local lackeys is fighting a war with the Kashmiri resisting life, which—even after being subjected to a web of colonial traps—has refused to oblige to their illegitimate rule. And that, therefore, is the essence of the Kashmiri life: its resistance. And this is the eternal reality of every fight for justice: it goes on.

Rouf Dar lives in Kulgam, Indian-administered Kashmir. A political science graduate, his writings on the Kashmir conflict have appeared in TRT World, The New Arab, Outlook India, Cafe Dissensus, and Raiot among others. He is on twitter @RoufDar_.

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