The Unhappiness Factory of Kashmir
In an April 2012 issue of Open Magazine, the editor Manu Joseph wrote a provocatively titled essay, “Sorry, Kashmir is Happy”. Unsurprisingly, this article became the subject of heated discussion. In this InPEC article, the author – Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri writer, poet and cultural critic – brings some perspective to the issue.
By Sualeh Keen, 7th May 2012
Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building—the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice? India simply gets away with all those rapes, murders and disappearances? So nothing disgusts them more than these words: ‘Normalcy returns to Kashmir’; ‘Peace returns to the Valley’; ‘Kashmiris want to move on’.
When Manu Joseph wrote these words in the Open Magazine article ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’, it was but expected that ‘they’ would get disgusted and outraged. ‘They’ are the intellectual writers and online activists that constitute the second generation of Kashmiri Muslim separatists, the first generation being the Pakistan-trained mujahideen who fought with AK-47s, grenades, rockets, and bombs against ‘Hindu India’ in search of Azadi (literally, ‘freedom’). While originally Azadi meant the valley’s accession to Pakistan, after the Pakistan-sponsored armed uprising in the early 90’s failed and with the onset of internal turmoil in Pakistan, the meaning of Azadi has shifted from accession to Pakistan to independence from both India and Pakistan. This demand is largely confined to the Kashmiri Muslim community of the Kashmir valley, while finding little or no support in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State. Even in the valley, opinions are divided in favour of independence, accession to Pakistan, greater autonomy or self-rule within the Indian union, and political status quo.
That the people of Kashmir have suffered in these two decades of militancy is an undeniable fact. Terrorism imposes a price on everyone including the non-combatants. In Kashmir, even a failed grenade attack can make life a nightmare for the people living or working in a locality—through crackdowns, identification parades, frisking, beatings, interrogation, torture—making the people resent this abnormal intrusion of fear, hurt, and death into their lives. Their resentment turns to hostility, which takes the shape of resistance to the State, and to military and paramilitary personnel, because that is all that they can react to. It is difficult to open a front against shadowy enemies (terrorists) who don’t wear uniforms that would identify them and who can take anyone down anywhere with no accountability whatsoever. This threat of random violence is what makes terrorism so successful. And when the State responds forcefully with counter-terrorism measures, again, the special powers accorded to the armed forces pave the way for the abuse of those powers. So, not just the costs of terrorism, the subsequent costs of counter-terrorism are also borne by ordinary people caught in the crossfire. Ironically, the violent Azadi movement and the misery it unleashed in society provided the raw material for the new generation of largely non-violent separatists to justify their demand for Azadi. Towards this effect, the separatists base their political narrative entirely on the “oppression and human rights violation by the armed forces of India.” While seeking justice for the fake encounters, custodial murders, etc. committed by the men in uniform (armed forces), the separatists are silent about the murders, rapes, abductions and extortions committed by the so-called mujahideen. In other words, there is an attempt to distort or redefine truth in a way that the effect becomes the cause.
After the mass mobilization during the Amarnath Land Row in summer 2008, the separatists have become louder and shriller. Over the past few years, there has been a significant shift in the position of the separatist intellectual ranks. Those who were ‘balanced’, ‘moderate’, and ‘diplomatic’ have suddenly taken a more extremist position and become more vocal in their tone. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, in an extremist camp, the loudest voices are readily hailed as the voices with ‘real pain’ for the people. As such, many formerly objective and moderate voices are becoming louder by the day, so as to be seen as the ‘legitimate’ representatives of the people. But secondly and more importantly, this pandemonium is strategic from their side. The separatists have for the first time in many years, after they picked up guns, been able to garner some sort of wider public attention and interest in Kashmir, and begun to extract solidarity from other groups in India and the West—mainly Leftist groups, which in my opinion may be well-intentioned but have a severe lack of understanding of the local complexities of the issue. The separatists feel that for the first time in years they have gained the moral upper hand on India (during the terrorist phase of this movement, morality was thrown to the wind) and they want to drive this in every time, not letting their guard down ever for once, not admitting any slippage, no room for doubt, no room for self-critique, no room to entertain those who exhibit less than complete service to the cause. This is a war that they need to win at all costs and they are encouraged by imagined signs of victory. However, not all of them personally think that Azadi is achievable, but they hope to achieve something lesser with this posturing and by playing hardball. But they dare not declare their scepticism about the achievability of Azadi publicly, lest it be seen as a sell out by the separatist crowd.
It is easy to see why ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’ is their kryptonite. Last year, lest a literary festival ‘Harud’ that was to be held in Kashmir be seen as a ‘sign of normalcy’, the shrill online Azadi supporters, including a few pro-azadi Kashmiri writers based abroad, launched a boycott movement that succeeded in convincing the organisers to cancel the event. But sorry, Kashmir is normal and happy. Anybody who visits Kashmir will agree that the scene has changed drastically from 2010; not just in public space but in private conversations as well. “Azadi is gone!” is the verdict of almost all the people one meets – in Kashmir’s villages and in towns. What are the people happy about? Happiness is a relative term. The people are happy that, after the three successive years of unrest (2008 to 2010) that brought life to a standstill, they can breathe again in a free atmosphere, live a normal life again, attend to their businesses, go to their educational institutions, without stone-pelting protestors taking to the streets, without deaths, without protracted shutdowns and curfews imposed by the separatists and the State respectively.
I have often criticized the extremism of the Azadi supporters, who, after the brouhaha over Manu Joseph’s article, can be called “The Unhappiness Factory”. The separatists are only interested in exaggerating the figures of victims, demonizing India, and exhorting people to make sacrifices at the altar of Azadi, while acting as fire starters or as torch-bearing cheerleaders standing outside the fire or as pall bearers and mourners. The most notable characteristic of the workers of the “The Unhappiness Factory” is that they are not content in seeing human rights violations (HRVs) being put to an end or seeing that victims get justice. No, they want nothing like that to happen, because justice for the victims and an end to HRVs would portray “Endia” (India) as a responsive and responsible “Demon-crazy” (Democracy), and that will undermine and devalue the sacrifices of the martyrs. They are very clear that they want nothing less than secession from India, even if India’s human rights record improves to become the best in the world, which is fine, because people may seek secession from a larger country for one reason or the other. But the aspiration of which ‘people’ do the separatists represent? The separatists are unable to or refuse to accept the hard reality of the divided opinion of the people of J&K State.
The cumulative positive contribution of the separatists towards the betterment of Kashmir draws a blank. Rather than supporting, the separatists can be seen pooh-poohing the local movements about RTI, corruption, environment, etc. They even try to morally pressurize victims against taking compensation from the State. These “Einsteins” think that switching off and rebooting the main power switch would make every malfunctioning appliance in the house function properly on its own, miraculously, as soon as the light of Azadi dawns. That Kashmir may on the contrary get plunged into darkness is a risk this vocal minority is willing to take on behalf of every Kashmiri, even those who don’t agree with them, because according to them “Azadi is for everybody,” notwithstanding the differing opinions of some Kashmiri Muslims and religious and ethnic minorities in the valley, the entire Pandit community that fled away from the violent Islamist Azadi movement in 1990 and the people of the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the J&K State. And until thy “Free-doom” has come, every other enterprise in the valley should be suspended, cynically mocked, or termed as inconsequential. Only Azadi is of value and only the separatist knows what is good for the people whether they agree to it or not.
Yoginder Sikand, in his candid article ‘Why I Gave Up On ‘Social Activism’, gave an apt description of such negative disseminators of unhappiness:
“The hatred that often passed for ‘progressivism’ in ‘activist’ circles was truly astounding, and I fell lock-stock-and-barrel for it. One was trained only to look for the negative in every nook and corner, and, if it didn’t exist where one looked, to imagine and fervently believe that it did. One’s whole life became one great protest. Protesting against real or imaginary injustice was almost the only respectable thing to do. It was as if there was nothing at all good in the world to celebrate, and even as if celebration and joy were themselves an ‘unnecessary diversion’ or a ‘unaffordable luxury’ that truly committed ‘activists’ had to carefully shun. That explained why many ‘progressives’ and ‘radicals’ were horrifically negative as human beings, many of them being irritatingly obnoxious, judgemental, cantankerous, dour and sullen. Their penchant for protest made them only more so. Believing themselves to be somehow morally superior to others because they had, so they thought, devoted themselves to the ‘oppressed’ made many of them painfully sanctimonious and proud.”
Some of the shrillest proponents of Azadi operate online from urban Kashmir, elsewhere in India, or from abroad. Beneath their veneer of Leftist ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ word salads resides a foundation of xenophobic regional-religious chauvinism they can barely conceal and is hardly an improvement over that of their gun-wielding Islamist predecessors. Using what is essentially a Leftist jargon, they warn of the “occupying forces” using “progress, development and peace” to undermine the Azadi movement, even though a better education or a career in a peaceful setting is what took many of them to places outside the valley. Those who warn of the “capitalist consumer carrot” should go to a Kashmiri wedding and Waazwan (wedding feast—no carrots on the menu) where ordinary Kashmiris can teach them (and the rest of India) a thing or two about consumerism that is very much indigenous! It becomes a futile task of imposing and seeking to universalize the unfettered-capitalism debate (legitimate in other contexts) to a localized phenomenon and to individual choices to the point of absurdity. It is extremely patronizing and hypocritical of the computer-savvy city slicker or a non-resident Kashmiri to tell people that they did not need decent jobs and infrastructure.
No wonder, Manu Joseph’s interview of the top ranking Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer from the valley, Dr. Shah Faesal (which forms the backdrop of his ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’ article) was harshly criticized of by the online separatists, which compelled the target of criticism to respond in a Facebook group (Dr. Shah Faesal’s comments on Facebook group ‘Moderate Voice Of Jammu, Kashmir And Ladakh’ can be found here and here). The separatists conveniently turned a blind eye to the pioneering work done in the area of RTI (Right To Information) by Dr. Shah Faesal. Incidentally, one of his first RTI cases was about finding the whereabouts of a civilian picked up by the Border Security Forces in 1990 and never seen again. But the separatists are not interested in all these ‘charades’ of justice or making heroes out of individuals who work within the ‘system’. How dare Dr. Shah Faesal say that to love peace and normalcy is commonsense and commonsense is winning in Kashmir.
When Manu Joseph criticizes the non-resident online separatists, it makes him sound more like a writer who is just getting to know Kashmir. By no means are a few non-resident Kashmiris the only intellectual cheerleaders of street violence and ideologues of separatist sentiment. The very same Kashmiri youth residing in Kashmir whom Manu Joseph interacted with and who want peace, normalcy and KFC in Kashmir are the ones who become votaries of street violence and anti-State sentiment. The reason cannot be generalized because each person has his own motives. Reasons could range from some young people going for a radical chic image, the emotional contagion of the vocal separatists, guilt-laden psychodynamics, occupational hazards of being an aspiring journalist in the valley who wants to be noticed, of being a victim of the ‘victimhood’ propaganda, being paid or instructed to write with a certain slant, not to mention the instant fanfare among mutual back-patting Azadi supporters. Indeed, the main bulk of the output of “The Unhappiness Factory” is home-made and not manufactured on the laptops of non-resident ‘intellectual stone-pelters’.
Also, Manu Joseph’s article is to be faulted for doing a superficial symptomatic diagnosis. It does not address why the same people who want normalcy now, were in the streets three years in a row, and, given a suitable stimulus, may well come out on the streets again in the future. The article does not offer solutions for ensuring that normalcy is not disturbed by the forces of unhappiness in future. Yes, many people have moved on, but to where?
The ball is in the State’s court and it is up to the State to ensure that the dividends of peace are not squandered away with its habitual apathy, complacency and inefficiency. I recommend that Manu Joseph’s article be read in conjunction with the nuanced piece by Praveen Swami and by Ajai Shukla, which I feel should be taken seriously by the State. The committed workers of “The Unhappiness Factory”, a vocal minority, are not the same as the majority of Kashmiris. Many of the latter also have no love lost for India due to the high-handedness of security forces and the political machinations of the Centre, but they simply wish that the rule of gun would end and they could live life normally, like people anywhere in the world, including India. While “The Unhappiness Factory” is inconsolable, the majority of Kashmiris will settle for something less than Azadi or make do without political restructuring. They do not appear to be so keen any longer on utilizing the blood of martyrs but in seeing that blood is shed no more. The State needs to address the desires of these people rather than a loony fringe.
In a nutshell, the State also needs to get a move on. After all, “The Unhappiness Factory” will do what it does best and that is not going to change, perhaps never. Oppositional politics derives its raison d’être from the wrongs of others, and if the state is farsighted and forthright, the “Factory” will shut down on its own. In any case, negativity has diminishing returns, and finally the quest for happiness and affirmation of life wins the day.
So here is to happiness and normalcy. Here is to life!
Sualeh Keen is a Kashmiri writer, poet, graphic artist, and cultural critic. He works as a marketing communications professional. He created the Facebook group “Moderate Voice Of Jammu, Kashmir And Ladakh” as a platform to promote dialogue between various stakeholders of the State.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect InPEC’s editorial position.
Also Read: Heyns, the Final Straw for AFSPA in India? – This article discusses the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) of India. A United Nations Human Rights Council report is set to be released on this in the near future.
Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’ by Manu Joseph, Open Magazine, 21 April 2012.
“Why Should Suicide Bombers Buy Life Insurance?” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics blog.
‘Victory For A Vocal Minority’, Outlook Magazine, 29 August 2011.
‘Why I Gave Up On Social Activism’ by Yoginder Sikand, Countercurrents.org, 19 April 2012.
‘Face of Hope Reflects Calm in Kashmir’ by Manu Joseph, The New York Times, 29 February 2012.
‘In Kashmir, some hot potatoes’ by Praveen Swami, The Hindu, 23 April 2012.
‘Charging ahead in Kashmir’ by Ajai Shukla, Business Standard, 1 May 2012.