By Wajahat Qazi
It might not be inaccurate to assert that the staple of conversations- whether private or even public (loosely defined)- in Kashmir is about the nature of the Kashmiri self. We, Kashmiris, generally speak in disparaging terms about ourselves; we talk about moral degeneration, lack of character, and other related themes. I would, before delineating my argument, posit that this disparaging of the collective Kashmiri self might be in the nature of a dissonance between an ideal (real or imagined) and the contemporary conditions that obtain in Kashmir. This is not to state that all is gloom and doom in Kashmir. No, not at all. I have travelled across and lived in many parts of the world and I can assert with confidence that, by and large, Kashmiris are not a “bad people”. Yes, we have our flaws but, in the main, Kashmiris are still a peaceable, peaceful and a nice people. Ours might be a “low trust” society in some domains but we are a trusting people and, again, by and large, we still have a fund of social capital. And “bad” or “good” are relative terms. What may be “good” in Kashmir might not be so elsewhere and what might be “good” elsewhere might not be so in Kashmir.
Now returning to the core theme of my essay, the question that arises is: why are Kashmiris ruthless judges of their collective selves? Why do we speak in disparaging terms about “us”?
I would posit two rather general theories about this.
One is that Kashmiris , since centuries, have lived an isolated existence. Our cloistered existence owes itself to geographical isolation and political uncertainty. We are landlocked and are a mono-cultural society with hardly any substantive contact with the outside world. Given this condition, we have nothing significant to discuss; so we turn on and against each other. And since we have an ideal moral standard as a benchmark, we are ruthless in our critique of our-selves.
The second is that the Kashmiri self has been constructed over centuries against the context of conflict. This has created a fluid identity. The self, according to researchers, is, “both a product of situations and a shaper of behavior in situations” (Oyserman et al, 70: 2012). As is well known, the self and identity are related. As Oyserman et al assert, “ self and identity are predicted to influence what people are motivated to do, how they think and make sense of themselves and other, the actions they take , their feelings....”(Ibid). Both the self and identity then are contextual. Our (Kashmiri) selves and identity(ies) , to repeat, have been shaped by conflict- historically and contemporarily. The result has been a sense of self that is at odds with “reality” and a fluid and an unstable identity. This has implications on Kashmiri nationalism which could perhaps best be defined as an inchoate nationalism without an anchor. This nationalism articulates itself firmly only under stress and duress. It is under these conditions that Kashmiris sense of self and identity is aligned. But, once the stress is taken out of the equation, Kashmiris revert to type.
All in all then, Kashmiris’ relationship to the self (collective and individual) is paradoxical. This condition is not normal. Kashmiri self needs to be aligned with a healthy and a salubrious idiom of the self. The question that now arises is: how can this be arrived at?
The answer may lie in an expansive notion of the self-both collective and individual. But as I have noted, the construction and development of the self is contextual. And, at the risk of sounding tautological, the structuring context for the self in Kashmir is the conflict in and over Kashmir. The first, cardinal step in restoring ourselves or even constructing new selves lies in a stable anchor for both the self and the identity. The conflict in and over Kashmir, however, gives short shrift to a stable self and its concomitant: identity. So the only way of constructing a new self and a stable anchor for our identity lies in a conflict-free context. This obviously means resolution of the conflict in and over Kashmir- a hackneyed solution- that nonetheless has a strong resonance for the Kashmiri self. The corollary here is restoration of agency to Kashmiris. What form, shape and nature of this agency can be in a world contemporarily defined by great flux and fluidity cannot be articulated with precision. One view would root for the Westphalian notion of sovereignty and the self; the other would call for a cosmopolitan view of the self where even Westphalian constructs –despite the rise of nativism and populism in the West- might be held to be dated and passé. Whatever or whichever path to an expansive self, at peace with itself and the world at large, alignment of the ideal and the real and hence an enriched collective Kashmiri personality is prudent or germane might be incidental in the grand scheme of things. But what is important is that Kashmiris’ need for a healthy and salubrious self. We need it but the prosaic reality is that the world does not owe this us. It is about time we own up and take responsibility.
*Oyserman D et al, “ Self, Self-Concept and Identity” in The Hand Book of Self and Identity eds, “ Leary M & Tangney J P” , The Guilford Press, New York, 2012
The author can be reached at: [email protected]