The necropolitics played over the bodies of Kashmiris requires a theatre of the macabre
Mir Uzair Farooq
Sambit Patra, the numero uno mouthpiece of the BJP, wants a three-year-old-child sitting atop the blood-smeared chest of his slain grandfather to be a Pulitzer moment for India. Why not? Hasn’t Kashmir been the locus classicus of cinematographers, erstwhile of the Bollywood, and now of the Bollywood-style newsrooms?
Patra sees nothing in the image worth commenting on, his emotional sensibilities long traded for filthy political point scoring. But that is just routine, especially in today’s India. The tweets of Patra are part of a narrative that lulls such gore, making it palatable.
And it is precisely in such narratives—how they are crafted and uttered—that the truth reveals itself. Truth doesn’t lie beneath the narratives, to be dug out. Sophists, millennia ago, discovered truth to lie in rhetoric itself. If you tell your story well, you own the mantle of truth, they said.
Here is a snippet (or really the whole) of the narrative that is of concern here: Kashmiris are killed and maimed by Kashmiris, facilitated by (you guessed it!) Pakistanis, and this very fact should be spared no negligence.
Surely it is truthful, since it is hegemonic. But there is nothing like behind-the-narrative here, everything lies in the way this narrative is manufactured, structured and maintained. The tweet by wanting to glorify the moment—while being blind to the gore it depicts—Patra says exactly what he denies time and again—that such instances, where Pak-sponsored jihad kills Kashmiris, are countless.
But that he and his ilk have become a Pavlov’s dog for this one instance only goes on to show that there aren’t many such instances. That the family of the slain man said that the CRPF were involved in the murder doesn’t even bother Patra. He specialises in being unbothered by any sort of facticity.
Patra wants international recognition. The trump card of BJP has been to denounce any criticism as partisan. So, if the UNHRC expresses concerns (which is all they are meant to do) regarding Kashmir, the BJP rubbishes it as a foreigner’s distaste. But they really can’t help it, because recognition is a necessary evil—you want it but it costs. And this hypocrisy becomes manifest time and again. India wants the international community to hold China accountable but wants it to shush when it does what it wills against the Kashmiris. So, although the BJP put up their trademark apathetic face when three Kashmiris were recently awarded with a Pulitzer in feature photography, it has been a thorn in their side. They can’t help but scream blue murder. Too bad for Patra and the BJP that some in the world of human beings still care about humans and the carcass of morality called human rights.
That the tweet went viral in seconds and Patra didn’t concede an inch to his detractors is telling of the unethical morass that Indian media have become. But in selling this narrative they only tell the truth which they wish to conceal.
The image: Kashmiri bodies and necropolitics
But it doesn’t matter as much what Patra said as the image he utilised to say it. There is a three-year-old child latched on to the corpse of his grandfather who was moments ago killed in cold blood. As heart-wrenching and gruesome as it is, the Patras of India are unmoved. The personhood of this child and his grandfather is a prop in a theater of the macabre that they have made Kashmir. That a child has been scarred for life and that this incident, lodged in the digital memory of the world accompanied by all its gut-wrenching sadism and ugly politicisation, is a reminder that life is too inconsequential for the hashtag-pumping Twitterati.
Foucault wouldn’t be surprised to see his notion of biopolitics having been upgraded a notch to one of post-biopolitics. Kashmiri bodies are no longer regimented to institute a political principle. They are undeserving of even that. Kashmiriyat is a scandalous notion now. Kashmiris have been left to exhibit their bodies in the most inhuman and grotesque visualisation for Indians to look at and be lucky if they still have an ounce of moral and basic emotional sensibility left to sympathise with Kashmiris. It is an auction of suffering where any bid is welcome. Please, can’t you see blood before politics?, cries the child smeared by the blood and char of his grandfather’s corpse.
What is more symbolic of the erasure of basic humanitarian concern than the burning down of whole houses during encounters, leaving no trace of any belonging of the families that these houses hosted for generations? Refusing to hand over corpses of slain militants to their families is the most bare act of a necropolitics that has long been the principal form of politics played by both the Indian and Kashmiri politicians on Kashmiri people.
This is the pathology: to obstinately want to put everything in a political context and then decide whether to sympathise or not. So, the outpouring of sympathy from the majority of Indians over this image has only been after they fit it neatly in their narrative—that the army is but benevolent to Kashmiris. Otherwise, the body of a Kashmiri hung to the front of a jeep as a human shield wouldn’t elicit any sympathy—fake or real.
Kashmir has had its place amongst the orientalist tropes—of Kashmiris being a supine breed tortured by outsiders against a background of paradisiac beauty (the Jannat-e-Firdous). Now it has an uneasy place in the global anti-Muslim narrative—the bad Kashmiris are killing good Kashmiris. Kashmiris themselves are objects of these narratives. If they have to tell one of their own they have to appeal with blood and tears to the residual conscience of outsiders to have what is left of them.
But as much as these narratives render Kashmiris as a hapless objectified whole, they don’t need these narratives. Only their oppressors need them. Kashmiris live what is left out of these narratives and it is in their here-and-now, in and through their personal individual realities, that they fight these narratives.
Freedom for Kashmiris isn’t just an awaited social condition, the aspired future, but the very routine acts of resistance, of the present—of surviving under the boot while saying “I don’t accept you!” Freedom becomes a practice, as Foucault envisaged it. Freedom means choosing with dignity, even if the choice means death.
The writer is a graduate student in political science at the University of Delhi.