By Muneeb Yousuf
The armed conflict in Kashmir is about to enter its 28th year this fall. There are, to invoke Maya Angelou, so many layers and so many perspectives to talk about. Yet my mind drifts to something very small, a common man’s story in my village, a thing forgotten in the past, an event to be resurrected and, in that resurrection, a plea for justice. The justice may never come, but one must talk about justice. It is not the hangman’s noose that I am thinking about but of justice in our collective thinking that, more often than not, breeds injustice. The justice, I believe, could be done by resurrecting the grim pasts of the common people, who have never found a voice of their own, who were subjected to injustice not only by the perpetrators from the opposite barracks but by men from their own camp.
The masked men with guns and steel from the opposite barracks have wrought on the people an avalanche of cold-blooded killings, rapes, custodial murders, disappearances, etc. – the horrendous crimes laden with unending suffering and unstoppable condemnation. It is as if the bones in the body of Kashmir have been exposed and dogs will keep gnawing at them. Yet, as the winter approaches, what will soothe this body are the hot embers inside the Kangri. But the relief would be ephemeral. Once it plunges under the winter quilt, the Kangri burns everything that comes in its contact, sparing not even the immediate matting underneath. It shall ruin the carpet of dreams with an ugly black hole.
But why mourn the carpet’s ruin? There is an even bigger, uglier mark on a heart. I must talk about him, and his father, who died dreaming of a world of peace. Why is it that I am not talking about his world that shrunk from a green, flowery garden to a hole in the carpet?
During the decades of political turmoil in Kashmir – where the life of a common man was subservient to one narrative or the other woven by the elite bourgeoisie – so many lives were ruined through the imposition of a ‘false consciousness’ by local Kashmiris, who happened to be representatives and members of key socio-religious organizations at a particular moment in time.
Let me present to you Farooq, a man who embodied a madness of its own kind. Tall, slightly dusky, sharp-minded, Farooq had a sense of responsibility. His father, Samad, was in his mid-sixties, suffering from asthma and cardiac disorders. In his heyday, Samad was a waza (traditional Kashmiri chef of Wazwan). As asthma crippled Samad, doctors advised him to quit his profession. It was hard for a person in mid-sixties to acquire new skills to earn a livelihood. So the responsibility came down to Farooq, who had recently joined college. As the family’s condition worsened, Farooq applied for many jobs but didn’t get any. At last, he applied to the Indian army and luckily got selected. The news of the job infused a new lease of life in Samad, for he was in desperate need for medicines that he could not purchase. With Farooq’s new job, Samad could hope again.
This hope, nevertheless, proved to be short-lived and the fate had other things in store for them. Their life and hopes were cut short by a man, who I would call Sultan. Sultan was no ordinary man. He was nazm-i-halqa (a key representative of Jamat-i-Islami [hereafter JI]). The position of nazm-i-halqa possessed discretionary powers within the organization and enjoyed greater acceptance within the Muslim-majority Kashmiri society. In a Foucauldian sense, they possessed both power as well as knowledge. In some instances, such power and knowledge were used for certain personal ends. On many occasions, this power-knowledge complex was also used to impose a particular idea of morality on common people. However, these same ideas didn’t apply to JI representatives and their families, as I will try to demonstrate here.
Days after Farooq was selected for the job, Sultan told Samad that his son’s decision to join the Indian army was ‘morally wrong’ and that he must retreat. Normally, a Kashmiri joining the Indian army is seen as an act of treachery in relation to the main resistance discourse – something that would tarnish the larger cause of tehreek. Sultan’s words left Samad heavy-hearted.
When Samad visited Sultan’s home the next day, he asked, “Can’t you protect my Farooq?” “Our organization might forgive, but others won’t,” came Sultan’s reply. This terse response shattered Samad, who took it as a sign of danger, even if the threat didn’t come from Sultan. Finally, he forced his son to quit.
Poor Samad died within a year and Farooq became a wanderer of streets. A great sacrifice, indeed, one we must all salute.
The ideas of morality, which applied to Farooq, a poor man’s son, didn’t apply to Sultan’s son, who joined the Indian Reserve Police Force, an extension of the Indian state. Sultan’s son has been in the service for the past eight years. In our locality, no one could muster courage to raise his voice over such a blatant hypocrisy.
This article doesn’t interrogate the ideological foundations of JI but deals with the deployment of the JI ideology at a local level in a village in Kashmir. The aim here is to investigate the power exercised by the JI representatives. I must acknowledge that I don’t have large-scale empirical material or data sets like researchers gather in formal studies. The empirical evidence for this article comes from a very local level and gathered informally through conversations with the local people on the margins of urban life. Here I would like to call myself, following Richard Hoggart, a ‘reader of culture from inside.’
Nonetheless, I argue here that an ideology, same as religion, doesn’t mean much in its abstraction. It makes itself manifest in the lives of its professors and followers. It is a dialogical process that connects one end to the other along a fragile continuum of faith and belief. If any disjuncture, whatsoever, takes place along this continuum, the very ideas of faith and belief falter and cease to exist. In a response to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste in Harijan (July 11, 1936), Gandhi wrote, “One can only judge a system or an institution by the conduct of its representatives.” There is a larger degree of truth attached to this statement in that it holds humans responsible for the conduct within an institution or under the purview of an ideology. Theoretically, it lays emphasis on reason and professes that those who advocate an ideology or submit to it must not only serve it but uphold its sanctity in the face of adversities posed by the modern world. Those who don’t adhere to are, in Gandhi’s words, wrong ‘specimens’, who ‘woefully misrepresent’ the faith. I argue, based on my observations, that many of these nazm-e-halqa are wrong ‘specimens’ out there to sabotage the faith.
I do not believe that one needs rims of empirical data to represent a certain kind of a phenomenon that takes places at a micro level, an unexplored landscape that doesn’t come under the microscope of researchers and intellectuals. Farooq and Samad’s life is a living testimony of utter disregard for humanity and subversion of sacrifice and justice by those, who allegedly profess such notions.
Farooq has since lost interest in life.
The hypocrisy that I have tried to outline in this article has to be located in the fact that while the discourse of not joining the armed forces may be long dead, the person who once claimed to internalize its conceptual underpinnings should, owing to moral reasons, not have indulged in acts that directly contradict what they have once been fervently preaching.
In the case of Kashmir, the anti-army joining discourse might have been relevant at a particular moment of time and those preaching it may have been right in advocating it concurrently, I wonder why certain principles and standards of morality and sacrifice apply only to a poor man and not the one who wields power, despite the fact that both are from the same community. This is, I believe, a complete subversion of truth and justice.
Note: This piece is dedicated to the resilience of common Kashmiris, who have been targets of terror – hard or soft – from multiple sources. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved in the story.
Muneeb Yousuf is with MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
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