Nowhere is subjectivity, the sense of the subject’s being, more pronounced than in a so-called conflict zone. One’s sense of being in a conflict zone is always reduced to the bare minimum of being, wherein the subject sees itself solely or primarily in terms of her life, which has to be saved somehow from all the threats to it. But at the same time, subjectivity is heightened to its extreme as well, as the subject strategises on how to avoid being killed or maimed. The subject’s identity is shaped consciously in opposition to the forces adamant to extinguish it.
In Kashmir, the routine forms of violence make the Kashmiri give up on her assertion as a subject, as someone who can publicly make her sense of selfhood and identity felt, but at the same time she cannot but catalog the occurrences of violence through her mere bodily and psychic presence. After all, she is the raw material that the violence is fabricated from. In a zero-sum game, the insults, injuries, and humiliations that whittle her identity assimilate in her body-psyche.
It would be wrong to conclude that resistance blurs the effect of domination; if it did, there would be no zone of conflict as such. Though a Kashmiri remains hyper-aware of what happens around her and adapts, the violence overpowers her.
In its routinisation, the violence is so consummate in Kashmir that it escapes a vocal, meaningful expression. It can only be felt, with its ultimate referent being the Kashmiri bodies. Everyday violence creates the ‘existential,’ to use Arthur Kleinman’s phrase, in which life itself operates and is negotiated.
From the requisitory ID card display to waiting in line on the national highway for a military convoy to pass, to replying to uniformed military personnel with a ‘Yes, sir,’ when approached, the minor acts of violence extinguish the most rudimentary elements of subjectivity, acting as a medium for the ‘code of violent domination’ to prevail.
In a brutal irony, the most vivid assertion of Kashmiri identity occurs through its complete negation in voluntary death—in martyrdom. In an ugly reverse of necropolitics, the body reserves its privilege to be the last resort of communication. Ilja Srubar captures this irony perfectly in her neologism ‘a-semiological communication,’ in which any meaning-making is broken by violence and the body becomes both the signifier and the signified of the violence around.
Kashmiris don’t say it for mere rhetorical effect that to be sensitive to their suffering, an outsider has to be in Kashmir. Witnessing and being there has its own effect, an effect which Kashmiris through their embodied experiences of violence cultivate a different sense of.
The violence distorts not only the notions of self-identity of Kashmiris but guts the symbolic—social and cultural—matrix that anchors such notions. People, through inter-subjective communication and exchange, partake in the design of the symbolic institutions through which they mediate their lives. The microphysics of domination works so intelligently in Kashmir that the symbolic institutions figure only as an extinct resource for Kashmiris to recollect a sense of lost identity out of. Mute harmless graffiti, almost unreadable, are an insult to the magnitude of power the occupier holds and desires to flaunt.
Expression of violence, when not elusive due its sheer overwhelmingness or banality, comes at its own cost. The means to express, in Kashmir, are few and far between. Besides the written word, photography and videography have been resorted to for capturing the collective Kashmiri suffering. There has been an outpouring of videos and photographs in the hope that the sense of sight, being the most sensitive, will at least provoke. But with Kashmiris passive in front of the countless scenic niches of Kashmir, these have done little except alerting one to the wickedness endemic to the world of humans, or desensitising us to the gruesome spectacle of life, as Susan Sontag has beautifully registered in her discussion of pain and its representation.
Metaphors, analogies, and other figurations abound in the case of Kashmir—not long ago, Kashmirisation entered the lexicon for everyone’s use. One expression that with regard to violence often gets used is, “If you fill it to the brim, it will likely spill.” There is quite a spillage of violence in Kashmir, affirming the expression, but that is not simply due to cause and effect. Violence, by Kashmiris, has become a form of being; it is politics, of the violated and dispossessed, a compromised but chosen means to an end. As things stand, it will keep spilling.
The writer is an MPhil candidate at JNU, New Delhi. His work has appeared in The Wire, LSE Religion and Global Society Blog, Oxford University Politics Blog, and Raiot, among others.
The views expressed in the article are the writer’s and not Kashmir Reader’s.