In this piece, Basharat Ali explains the origins of love and hate many Indian’s have expressed for the people of Kashmir recently and locates both in the continuum of a desire which demands control over Kashmir and its people. The author demonstrates how a Kashmiri life in India is an insect life.
In A. S. Byatt’s novella, Angels and Insects, the Victorian naturalist William Adamson is faced with a question fundamental to the understanding of human evolution and politics. It is a question of the classification of insects as Other or, conversely, the classification of the Other as insects. Why are insects classified as the Other? The naturalist provides a very simple answer: because “Men are not ants.” But why are “men” not ants?
The one thing that differentiates human life from animal life is the ability of the former to classify, organize, colonize, and ascribe meaning to unknown things, including those concerning animal life. Humans do so because they are the only species capable of politics and political action. In Politics, Aristotle locates the specificity of human politics in our ability to speak. He argued that man is a political animal than “bees or any other gregarious animals” because of his speech. Through speech, humans express themselves, their aspirations, associations and dissociations, agreements and disagreements, love and hatred. Animals, on the contrary, are capable of sound and with that, they only express pain and pleasure. Over the years the evolution of modern technology has allowed the modern manifestation of human organization, the State, not only to concentrate the means of violence but also the means of politics. The State classifies, organizes, colonizes, and ascribes meaning to its Other through its and “regimes of truth”. For States, however, the Other is not animal life but a collective of humans reduced to animal/insect life. Let’s say, ants. The purpose is to deny them any meaningful expression and participation in politics.
But ants, as we know, are also capable of collective action, if not speech. They know communication and perform tasks for community survival.
Think of Kashmir and its relation with the Indian State. We are told that “Kashmir is an integral part of India”, sometimes even elevated to the status of a “crown”, head of the Bharat Mata, without which India has no meaning. The people of Kashmir are asked to believe this and not offer a version of our own history. We are denied expression.
In Kashmir India maintains an army of close to a million personnel, trained and equipped for a war of any nature and scale, thus making it the world’s highest militarized place. Such militarization is in need of scientific justification. The dominant Indian view holds that the presence of the military is justified by the threat posed to the integrity of its sovereignty and citizens by the “terrorism” sponsored by Pakistan. This view is not only held by the Right, the Centre, but also by the large sections of Left. It is said that Pakistan orchestrated a jihadi insurgency, and continues to foment it, in Kashmir as its proxy war against India in the 1990s.
However, the movement for self-determination in Kashmir has a long history, longer than the “idea of India”, during which different methods have been adopted by the people to realize the formation of their “imagined community.” But all of these methods of political engagement have been criminalized as actions initiated “across the border” against the sovereign integrity of India and performed by the credulous hands of Kashmiri men and women. We are told that the people of Kashmir are incapable of any politics, except for the one rendered in the form indentured servitude to deepen India’s colonization of Kashmiri.
Although Kashmiris have expressed themselves in speech, by offering to renegotiate relations through dialogue for long, by seeking participation in what is called the “normal politics” – elections, public demonstrations etc. – but the Indian “regimes of truth” have muted them out by its sheer capacity to produce noise, multiple paradigms, even though false, to categorize people as ‘ants’ incapable of meaningful expression to their aspirations. So the Indian State, Indian academics, Indian journalists, Indian activists, Indian media, Indian leftists, Indian Hindus, Indian Muslims, have stepped up at regular intervals and ascribed motives to our collective action and reminded us of our gullibility. We are told we are a self-hating bunch of people who carry a death-wish written on our identity cards. We are told we are disloyal because we choose to stand up and leave. We are repeatedly informed that our existence is meaningful only if we live like insects and allow India and its experts to classify us and attribute meaning to our aspirations.
Any political practice, be it in the form of words or actions, which challenges the “mainstream”, we are told, is not indigenous but a result brainwashing, religious radicalization done from across the border by Pakistan. So in order to fix our illness, to treat the cancerous lump of meat beating in our chest, the Indian State and its people offer us a cure in the form of love and punishment.
The reference to love and punishment here is not only a reflection of the present times when, on one hand, we are told to leave India and on the other, we are asked to drop-in at their places in case we feel threatened. We have been told the story years ago. An Indian liberal journalist once narrated the story of Kashmir something like this:
Kashmir is like a beautiful woman who is loved by two strongmen of the village. Both of them fight against each other to take her home with them. Ultimately, the stronger one gets to take her with him. He loves her, buys her costly gifts but she can’t seem to love him back. He beats her up, tortures her only because he loves her and wants her to love him back.
Assuming that Kashmir is a woman, why is it that she must be “taken”? Can she have a say what she wants to do about herself? Maybe she wants a tree-house somewhere in the hills where a rainbow appears like a piece of cloth hung out to dry. And what kind of love justifies torture? Should he not simply stand up and leave?
The desire to control Kashmir, irrespective of what Kashmiris want, is what encourages hate and love for us in India. When this “poor woman” decides to speak or respond back through violence the continuum of different cures coalesces into one. The calls by many left-liberal Indians asking Kashmiris to arrive at their doors in case they feel threatened is what one Kashmiri writer has called the "heart of fascism". While the violence of the right wing is targeted at acquiring our land by burying our bodies, the love of the left-liberals is directed at winning our hearts and minds: simply, our souls.
Besides, threatening and scaring us with violence serves them the same purpose as caring for and loving us does. They don't scare us because we are ugly nor do they love us because we are beautiful. Their hate and love both stem from their civilizational desire to control the Kashmiri body and its idea of an "imagined community". Our challenge to this desire, when manifested in the language of violence, is met with what we are seeing unfold across India right now. When we don't challenge and oblige the desire, then we are loved. When we are held down and say nothing, we are good.
In the postcolonial Indian imagination, killing Kashmiris has become a political tradition which brings them together to concretize the idea of their nation every time the forces within the country put the basis of the “idea of India” in doubt. It also comes into play every time a Kashmiri reminds them of her right to her own idea of a nation. She is often welcome to speak about her pain but strictly advised against translating that into political action. The existence of a Kashmiri in India is that of an insect who is only capable of expressing pain and pleasure.
This is not a Hindu-Muslim issue. This a Kashmiri-Indian play of the political in its bare form. We are the other who inform their sense of the self. Hence, any idea of our assimilation in the Indian imaginary (individually or otherwise) is an ethical and a philosophical impossibility. ♦