By Muzaffar Ali
Anarchy, pejoratively defined as a situation of chaos and disorder, has its reasons. This has a resonance in Kashmir. A psychologist’s explanation will be that hyper-violence and persistent disturbance in Kashmir are greatly responsible for anarchy here. Some psychologists might even argue that Kashmir, being a highly militarized zone, is in itself a major factor to describe Kashmir’s conditions approximating anarchy. A 2008 study by K. D. Jong and associates concluded that “the ongoing conflict exacts a huge toll on the communities’ mental well-being” with a feeling of vulnerability associated with an increasing psychological distress among Kashmiris.
A number of studies done by indigenous and international psychologists are available in the public domain to further and strengthen the argument of psychological distress. The psychologist’s claim is well taken and reasonable. However, we need to understand that a psychological explanation is not an even keel on which the entire narrative of the current crisis can be formulated. Defense strategists, police administrators, policy analysts, political scientists, politicians and above all the folklore descriptions have their own ways to understand and explain the crisis of Kashmir. Only a few are keen to know whether a philosophical explanation of the current predicament can be offered. Being a student of philosophy, I think it is not completely unwarranted to turn, among other things, to philosophy to understand what Kashmir is made to become.
Why do people in Kashmir volunteer to put their lives in risk in order to register protest against events of great political significance? What explains the fact that a lot of people have shown great willingness to embrace death if that is the cost of saving a life, even if it is that of a militant? The answer cannot just be that people have transcended the fear of death. Why is it that students clash with government forces in and around schools? The answer cannot just be that it is an aberration and students need to be counseled. Why do youth assemble in market places after a brutal encounter and pelt stones at government forces? The answer cannot be that the government personnel on duty is a symbol of occupation and needs to be struck. The questions are endless and responses keep coming from myriad vantage points. My purpose here is to go beyond these responses and find whether a specific philosophical explanation of the current anarchy ridden crisis is possible.
The valley has been victim of great violence since the last three decades. Every uprising from the nineties onwards has left a deep scar. Forget the leadership coming together, almost every decade has seen splits: the Pandit-Muslim split, the Hurriyat split, the split among the rebels and so on. NGOs, crusader groups, wannabe sympathizers – all have tried their hand at it. Every split has given rise to a very uncanny, incomprehensible fragility. The uprisings of 2008, 2010 and 2016 are fermenting sources of such fragility.
One of the fundamental markers of the fragility Kashmir epitomizes is the renewed armed struggle as local students and youth pick up guns. The fragility articulates itself in the public domain through an “aspiration to fight.” Such an aspiration is prevalent in every young mind as a sacred part of their existence. The aspiration may or may not translate into what I call as an “agency to fight”. For an armed rebel is the perennial symbol of a direct and extreme confrontation between the state and masses. However, only some can push themselves hard to actualize this shift by becoming armed rebels. Others lag behind and are unable to negotiate with the circumstances. The powerlessness to negotiate gives rise to a crisis while the “aspiration to fight” remains as an essential part of existence. The constant pressure from every quarter leads them to find a way beyond this crisis.
On one hand, stands the “mother” who has been appropriated by the state apparatus as a symbol of love and normalcy and wants the kid to lead a regular life. On the other hand, stands the “aspiration” and the fragility of Kashmir which seduces the kid to follow his peer in the forest. The mother confronts the student in bone and blood and the distant peer in the forest confronts him in life and death? In life, the rebel confronts him through virtual feeds on social media. In death, the rebel confronts him through grandiose funerals. To recognize the mother is to choose life and to recognize the rebel is to choose what the motherland ought to stand for. The choice between the mother and motherland (to use Sartre’s illustration) remains bleak as neither becoming a rebel nor leading a regular life appears secure.
The teen/student watches the peer rebels getting killed and tortured. He also watches another peer receiving bullets in a mother’s lap. The situation is ambiguous as the two opposite choices are only ideally opposed and do not offer anything different if exercised.
It is amidst this situational ambiguity between the two extreme choices that the teen/student attempts to find a way beyond, where he remains loyal to both the choices while being committed to none. The school/street/gunfight-sight offers the kid a format to express his loyalty. The protest becomes a moment of going beyond the choices of regular life while being stuck in it. The kid while protesting is constantly negotiating with the fragility while trying to balance the choice between mother and motherland. But what does protesting inside a school or on the street offer? How (if at all) does it help the student or the teen to cope with this situation? The response is simple. The moment of protest offers the student a flight from reality, a reality which reflects chaos, crisis, ambiguity, and fragility. The protest becomes a site for the magical transformation of reality which enables the student to reclaim his lost control over life, albeit momentarily.
It enables the students to magically transform the helpless circumstances of ambiguity and indecision into a moment of control. While protesting, the students attempt to get back the control over their lives, which otherwise has been snatched by the ambiguity of choices. The stone, slogan and the street turn into a magic wand which helps in bringing this shift. Many scholars will disagree at the use of word magical and argue that the shift is emotional. The street, school and the slogan have been traditionally understood as an articulation of emotions and sentiments. I am of the view that using emotions as a source of explanation does not help us understand the chaotic proclivity of Kashmir’s anarchy. It is only the magical transformation which leads the students’ actions into protesting today and studying tomorrow. Emotions, even though ephemeral, are not so short-lived.
—The author is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Savitribai Phule, Pune University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org