Bureaucracy in Kashmir: A Perspective

Illustration by Mir Suhail
The resignation of a celebrated bureaucrat Shah Faesal created a social media storm in Kashmir, with many welcoming his decision and many others questioning the politics and timing of it. Shah Faesal has left the world of bureaucracy to enter 'electoral politics'. In this timely essay, Ashfaq Saraf lays bare the functioning and purpose of bureaucracy in a militarized context of Kashmir and offers valuable insights into its 'false power and charm'. 

Mechanizations of military occupation, when facing the specter of organized resistance, can hardly afford anything superfluous. Each step is measured as these mechanizations primarily seek durability of the military structure that facilitates the occupation. An environment of controlled polity such as one under the aegis of Indian military in Kashmir aims to dispossess people of free political will, exposing, in the process, people’s politics to dangers of collaboration and collusion. The example is akin to the parenthood of orphan children, in trying to avoid dealing with the vacuum in their lives such children expose themselves to experimental parenthood – the primary platform for experimentation being the vacuum in children’s life; the object of address being the hitherto unaddressed qualms of dormant parenthood.

To exert its claim over occupied land the occupying force cannot afford other than militarism as its modus operandi; however, a brazen display of the latter shall unnecessarily lay bare the sanguinary paws military occupation scrambles by, it, therefore, is pulled back to dwell in a space which is veiled from the people’s perception – unless of course compelled to be on display by a native insurgency or other resistances of similar nature.

The veiling is undertaken by creating a pseudo governance structure. This structure is invested with powers which, however, have no bearing, owing to the grade these belong to, on overall positioning of occupational apparatus. The governance structure is further subdivided into hierarchal layers and the task is distributed accordingly. Three prominent institutions, made to sit at carefully designated hierarchies – which might merge with each other, or as well be inverted when the conditions of engagement for occupying power demand thus – emerge:

  1. Puppet ‘civil government’ appointed via a mechanism of ‘controlled’ voting.
  2. Bureaucratic administration chosen through a selective evaluation of skills necessary for cloning the odd native into a false headgear of knowledge and power.
  3. Police structure installed to discipline the native into a mould of oppression and intimidation.

In Kashmir, all three formulations of state power have played a shameful role in cementing coercion and facilitating innocent killings. Whereas the institution of civil government pivots all movement and prescription of the central command emanating from New Delhi, the Police have made sure an atmosphere of fear and intimidation be created and propagated for each end necessitating it. The institution of bureaucracy, on the other hand, carried forward in India as remnants of British colonial legacy and transported to Kashmir in its current form post Indian incursion has had a relatively two-fanged role to play – two-fanged in that in addition to discharging its assigned task it acts to keep the pecking order and organization of the civil government safe from the scrutiny that public exposure might necessitate.

Attending to its function the civil government displays a propensity to readily act a mouthpiece for the occupying power. In effect, it continually endeavors to blunt people’s awareness of the cardinal issue of military occupation and its concomitant violence. By taking up banners inked with catchphrases of collaboration while simultaneously practicing an idiom that reeks of helplessness in face of an all-powerful (command) centre the civil government plays the role of a smokescreen hiding away the sinister pull steering the people down to dark depths of subjugation. The occupied people make of the functionaries of civil government as somewhat displaced entities, displaced from the people’s practice of day-to-day resistance against the military occupation. Similar and often more visible is the case of police apparatus – very little can be done to camouflage the khaki into a likable sight in Kashmir, the colour of a policeman’s uniform designates villainy. In Kashmir the colloquial for a policeman is policewoel, a word which has long cast its lot with slang, it represents a section of society which has turned blind to the reality in its vicinity. One wouldn’t be going too far in suggesting the Police are foot soldiers of the dirty war waged by Indian occupational apparatus in Kashmir.

The institution of bureaucracy, in contrast, functions with a comely face. The whole set of equations govern the extent and methodology by which this institution interacts with the occupied society. It functions two levels beneath direct occupational command – helping veil much of the craft used to pass the command down to the beleaguered masses. If the criteria accepting candidates to be appointed to the civil government be analyzed it becomes evident that the entire evaluation procedure – recognized by many acronyms ending in AS, for administrative services – employed to clone the native into the bureaucratic attire is a farcical exercise, at least in respect of there being only a perfunctory need to train a candidate into assuming a tertiary role, which in the character of its execution is Lilliputian. The honorary conferrals on people from irrelevant backgrounds point to as much farce. However, their minds being sites of constant psychological warfare, the vulnerable psyche of occupied people transmutes the evaluation procedure into a measuring scale which in turn results in elevating the bureaucratic rank to the last rung of the deceitful ladder of social status. Of course, given the condiment of inaccessibility that now thoroughly wraps the whole ladder like slime, climbing it would need prescribed modes of preparation. The process serves the occupying nation on two fronts: One, the native with a certain propensity to learning and education is easily devoured for recognition by the brouhaha of the evaluation procedure. Second, it allows the occupational structure to take steps impeding the growth of alternate avenues of evaluation and progress – notably those capable of rendering the native less dependent on the adjuncts of military occupation.

For the plain reason that the institution of bureaucracy is projected having the potential of addressing the literary and intellectual aspirations of the native student, it must be analyzed for the threat it poses to the collective intellect of people. The battering of native intellect is, at the same time, accompanied by subjecting the institutions of education and learning to shameless scrutiny. Scholars’ jobs are at the mercy of the ruling elite, the educational institutions are held more as subsidiaries of civil government than centres of critical thinking; in influencing the outcome of academic decisions, like restructuring or transfers or promotions, political predilections outweigh academic merit. Research is stifled and scholarship restricted to circumvent vital concerns of education i.e. conversations apropos of freedom and rights of the individual. Bureaucracy, therefore, is not only a strong tool in the hands of the occupying power helping its occupational agenda, but it is also effectively used to subvert scholarship and literary aspiration as well. What distinguishes the impact that politics of encroachment has on educational institutions in an occupied territory like Kashmir from other parts of India is the umbrella of collaboration unifying all shades of pro-India politics demanding, thereby, from these intuitions of learning and scholarship complete suppression of conversations on the nature, configuration and functioning of military occupation.

Interestingly, the sharpest edges of bureaucratic knife are best pushed to work by blunt cries of native resistance, in other words, if people were passive and responding to the violent dictates of military occupation in a less fitting currency bureaucratic juggernaut would softly slip under the covers of a people-serving, infrastructure-enabling, ration-distributing menu, however, human nature being as it is, people resist. The occupational authority labels the assaults mounted by resistance on its structures a threat to “peace”, and as such is forced, by design, to project its civil face, as an essential part of the military procedures combating the native resistance. The earmarking of district collectors to seal the PSA cases in Kashmir is a classic example of bureaucracy being used to impart a native, non-military face to the (violent) military activity launched in order to crack down on people’s resistance.

Positioned as these are between two contrasting dispositions, one that of the occupied people and another the puppet civilian government, the bureaucratic institutions are susceptible to practices deviating from the norm. If the deviation demands bending of rules laid down by the governing authority it is promptly referred to as corrupt. In Kashmir, these practices denote bribery, intercession and other such good offices. These are used to conquer the bureaucratic impedimenta stalling progress and movement of perfectly legitimate undertakings of the people. The practice engages people by taxing them not only for time and efforts but also with a sense of helplessness in the face of an increasingly ill-disposed bureaucracy. Caught up with malevolence in the daily requirements of their life, people are distracted at yet another level from the principle affliction hurting their nation. The taxing bears upon the people’s disposition as an immediacy engaging most of their resources and effort. The result is a self-regulating repetition with no end in sight until corruption begins to appear a more severe pestilence than the plight of occupation, setting in a kind of psychological disarray among the people: What of the notion of Freedom when the institutions of our own governing (as the occupier would have them believe) are awry? Had the institution of bureaucracy been corruption free people would be able to decipher the chain more prudently—from the top down, the bureaucrats as the lowly executioners of their masters’ will.

Therefrom it is no less than tragic that a desire to render these institutions of public dealing corruption free pushes for active participation of the native people in the bureaucratic process. The replacement of corrupt bureaucracy with an uncorrupt one – assuming a miracle of sorts is pulled – might temporarily rid the people of the affliction of corruption, however the very nature of uncorrupt bureaucracy in occupied territories promises a complete acquiescence to the demands of vassalage, in other words at the heart of uncorrupt bureaucracy lies servitude. An uncorrupt bureaucratic structure is uncorrupt not because it aspires to be just but because it conforms utterly, delegating the occupational hegemony in toto down to the occupied population. In Kashmir, thus, referring to an uncorrupt bureaucratic structure as a solution to the ills of bureaucracy is hazardous because the idea of incorruptibility easily lends itself to smooth functioning of bureaucracy as demanded by the structures of military occupation.

The institution of bureaucracy in occupied territories is an indispensable part of the military contraption. Active participation of native people in these institutions helps veil the commanding voice, lending a native face to one of the vital elements of military control. In spite of the portion of public dealing, these institutions are exposed to, an association with the higher echelons of bureaucracy connotes collaboration and participation in the mechanizations of military control. The statist propaganda, buttressed by a thin job market in Kashmir, has produced a huge mass of young people to whom only bureaucratic jobs present an enviable option; for (Kashmiri) people to successfully manoeuvre the pitfalls of bureaucracy – both, the appeal that a proximity to corridors of power carries and the veneer of intellectual growth that the evaluation procedure wears – conversations, to begin with, around the structures of military control should continue. The need is to lay emphasis on independent scholarship, encourage students to look beyond the assurances of a secure job – and that is possible only when we reclaim our rights and responsibilities towards our land, preserve our businesses, encourage indigenous experiments in job-production and expose – concurrently – the silent enablers of the violence of military occupation. ♦

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.

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