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Guest-Editorial: “The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away”

By Idrees Kanth and Muhammad Tahir

The February edition of Café Dissensus, “Unmasking the Conflict: Making sense of the recent uprisings in Kashmir”, is an eclectic mix of essays, poems, a short story, and even a diary entry. Most of the essays published for this edition of the magazine have expectedly come from the Kashmiris themselves, though there are also a few write-ups from those who, while not from Kashmir, have nevertheless been actively engaged with it through research, writing or activism. Of these, Amrita Singh’s essay on Malik Sajad’s graphic novel, Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir, and the one on Public Safety Act (in Kashmir) by Shrimoyee Nandini Ghosh are excellent, and certainly worth a read.

However, the magazine, which has over the last four years emerged as an alternative platform for discussion, has in that very spirit sought to offer a voice to the young aggrieved Kashmiris, whose narratives, despite gaining some space, remain still largely un-noticed and unheard. Thus more Kashmiris ought to be speaking and writing for themselves, and not always authorising their personal ‘experience’ of perpetually living in a conflict zone to be articulated by those who claim to be speaking on their behalf.

The write-ups by the young Kashmiri students included in this edition of Café Dissensus have been either lightly edited or not edited at all, so as not to stifle the emotional content that animates some of these writings. The narratives, while they may not always be ‘intellectual’ in their tone – for that exercise has been so ‘benevolently’ taken over by the many ‘experts’ and ‘sympathisers’ of the cause elsewhere – manifest the despair, the anger, the frustration, and yet a modicum of hope that embodies the very person of a Kashmiri, a gamut of experience that can only be voiced by those who are condemned to live this experience every single day.

Words like occupation, suppression, martyr, aazadi, farce of Indian democracy, crackdown, curfew, disorder, depression, ptsd, pellets, etc., strewn across these write-ups familiarise us with the vocabulary that young Kashmiris grow up with, a lexicon not frequently employed by those who live in otherwise more ‘normal’ societies than the Kashmiri people do. Yet, these words and the narratives framed around them should not only be read as a conscious assertion against the oppression that the Kashmiri youth face, but also a symptom of what they have undergone. That said, what is the way out of this cul de sac, as it appears to be?

On principle, both moral and legal, India should allow the Kashmiri people the right to decide their political future. However, they have denied this right to them and, instead, through their stooges and networks in the Valley, have continued to justify their illegitimate occupation of the place over the last seven decades. Besides, the Indian state and its intellectual paraphernalia have constantly tried to highlight and even accentuate the internal divide within the Kashmiri society. Of course, while the local society and the Kashmiri movement for aazadi may be beset with internal contradictions, it still would not legalise the Indian occupation of Kashmir, or take away the right of its people to decide their political future. To slightly riff on the argument that Basharat Ali brings up in his brilliant essay penned for this edition: while patriarchy and other inequalities and dissensions exist in Kashmir, such debates are often set against the movement for self-determination to be used as tactics designed to create schisms in the society. As he rightly suggests, while a gender debate is needed, and should already be taking place, it need not be set against the aazadi movement in Kashmir.

Ali also explains, by offering a useful comparison with the black community in the US, how the state by making a media spectacle of a young athlete from Bandipora (North Kashmir) not only seeks to sell the rhetoric of a “return to normalcy” in the Valley, but also uses her success in a particular sport to set her up as an icon to be emulated by the Kashmiri youth, in contrast to those who “pelt stones for five hundred bucks a day,” and are thus even devoid of any political consciousness. Such narratives and efforts on the part of the state have through more subtle means sought to emasculate the aazadi movement, and need to be challenged and written about despite their extensive power and reach. Having said that, the Kashmiri people must also remind themselves of other forms of oppressions and exclusions that are deeply rooted in their community and way of life, much as it is important to underline that the compulsion to articulate a particular language of ‘resistance’ is an affliction that ought to be overcome as well. There has to be a sustained internal dialogue among the Kashmiris themselves to enable many of these differences to be engaged with more fruitfully and productively.

Finally, the Kashmir conflict is also at a minor level a manifestation of the larger moral crisis facing us as a global people. Perhaps, if the historian Eric Hobsbawm were alive, and willing to pen another history for our times, he could well title it the “Age of Cynicism.” While there is so much talk about democracy and rights, equality, and the celebration of difference, the modern man and modern societies have been subjugated and disciplined like never before by the modern regimes and civil societies of knowledge and power. There seems to be no moral basis to modern-day life, and the institutions and practices it has thrown up. Instead, people seem to ‘reconcile’ to the many contradictions they carry within them with effortless ease!

Nevertheless, despite these not healthy circumstances in which we are living, we must strive towards creating an equal and a just world in our own little capacities. Only then does aazadi, along with the ‘discourse’ of rights, become more meaningful.

Hoping you have a good read!


Idrees Kanth is a Fellow in History at the Asian Modernities and Tradition research profile at Leiden University, the Netherlands.
Muhammad Tahir is a PhD scholar at the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University, Ireland.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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