In recent days, following an article in this newspaper, a ‘debate’ if one can call it that in this benighted place, has emerged around the placement, within the Kashmiri ideas of resistance and occupation, of locals joining the civil services. First, it should be clear that people have individual choices; there can’t be any worthwhile system, of governance or thought, where individual choices are sought to be circumscribed. So, Kashmiris joining the civil services, for example, are exercising an individual choice and aspiration. What can, however, be critiqued is the matrix of power which, inversely, channels what society should aspire to while actually suppressing some aspirations. It is a no-brainer that the civil services, as they exist in the subcontinent, are a colonial regime. Instituted by the colonials to produce local collaborators; a system neo-colonial states in the region inherited. The civil services are the state, its members are civil representatives, dedicated, under oath, to further the interests of the state. Here, all talk of seeking to “better or change the system from within” is akin to the adage of the fish declaring it will change the innards of the heron in whose belly it is being digested.
Sure, there are ‘good and honest’ bureaucrats; but what, exactly, in the subcontinent, including Kashmir, have even they achieved? Have systems of governance and babudom become less opaque? Does the civil service not remain a behemoth most people wish to avoid, unless forced to supplicate before it? The problem becomes worse when those joining this vestige of colonialism are valorised, and held up exemplars.
The basic idea, divested of noble intent, of the civil services, as a means to achieving a ‘good life’, has to with conceptions of power. And in a place like Kashmir, where rank injustice and oppression is rife, where a militarised structure determines pretty much everything, that aspiration for power is paramount. A person joining the civil services is, in effect, cleaved from his own society and yoked to structures of power which are a problem for vast sections of that society. But let’s not focus on the civil services alone. Here, numbers of, say, journalists, seek the same proximity to power, inverting the basic dictum of why they are journalists in the first place. This will keep happening in a place where there is an abyss between claimed democracy and actual systems of coercive power. And people can join the civil services, or be journalists and cosy up, most unethically, to state power, but they should certainly be divested of the notion that they are anything but small cogs, and all halos are entirely self-imagined.