Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tractors of Catalonia and the Kashmir Aazadi Discourse: The Technology Connection

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad (PhD)

After a long struggle, the Catalan regional parliament last month on 28th of October voted to declare independence from Spain with 70 percent of the voters in favor in the 135-seat chamber. No surprise, that the Spanish Constitutional Court has termed this move as illegal and has promptly dismissed the local government with immediate effect. Spain’s allies like US, UK, Germany and France, it seems does not want to see what they call “more cracks, more splits”. Notwithstanding, the current stalemate, the intention behind writing this small piece is to flag out how a particular technology became a symbol of Catalonia’s push to secede.  

Weeks before Catalonia regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain, I wrote a small article on September 8, 2017, published in a local Daily of Kashmir with the title “Technology is the way: Use it as a potent political tool” in which I argued with some cases that technological innovations are increasingly used by the suppressed communities across the world to disrupt the status quo by not complying with the rules of an ‘ordered’ universe that the rulers have crafted for them. From, Korea to Cuba and Kashmir, the struggle for freedom, as is flagged in the article, is dotted with ample cases where technological innovations have led to the political revolutions.

Certainly Cuba was a past spectacle and Catalonia the present. However, the connecting dots between the old and the new modes of revolutions are visible from the varying uses of the technology. In both the cases ‘disobedience’ and subverting the status quo is confirmed by inversely using the technology. Technology manuals are barely used and new functions are invented within a short span of time. To put it in a different way, technology assumes a different form and identity and steadily becomes more political and sometimes social too.  For example, when social networking sites in Kashmir were banned last summer, a 16-year-old Zeyan Shafiq from Anantnag developed Kashbook, Kashmir's own version of Facebook. Without any doubt this display of ingenuity was not driven by the market incentives or to gain social reputation; it was but a deliberate attempt to counter the Jammu and Kashmir government move to ban 22 social media services, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter. Indeed a simple and technical approach of noncompliance. Likewise, in 2011, the use of internet in the Middle East was so intense that the term Arab Spring became synonymous with “Twitter uprising” or “Facebook revolution”.

In Catalonia, a region dominated by farmers certainly used many tools for declaring independence from Catalonia but the use of tractors merits a special mention. In the recent uprising hundreds of tractors were used by Catalonians to either block the road or to counter the police movement. And this exceptional and innovative tool of protest was so powerful and successful that Tractors became a popular symbol of Catalonia’s push to secede’ and attracted global attention both in media and on social networking sites. For instance, Palko Karasz, in a recent New York Times article published on October 11, 2017, with the title ‘Tractors became a symbol of Catalonia’s push to secede’ contends that “In a region that draws part of its identity from the toughness of farmers, their tractors are now among the symbols of Catalonians’ fight for independence.” During the contentious referendum on independence, Karasz reports that the tractors were not only positioned outside polling stations as a line of defense against intervention by the Spanish police but were used for lending the mechanized mass support to its independence.

Karasz further writes that “Farmers in the rest of Spain and Europe have for decades used tractors in protests about the cost of gas or the wholesale price of produce. But, they (tractors), he writes, “have rarely attracted as much attention and popular support as they have in recent weeks in Catalonia. And even as the protest schedule is busy, so is the schedule on the farm.”

This fascination for technology and using it as a potent tool to liberate the oppressed classes might appear a new phenomenon, but creating new discourses and triggering new movements by using different technologies is essentially very old.  It was Karl Marx who first explicated in detail the cause and effect relationship shared by the technology and social structure and declared technology as the prime driver and shaper of the social structure. His argument that “the hand mill gives you the society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, the society with the industrial capitalist” has achieved supreme fame. To Marx, technology is the major and independent variable that truly creates colossal tremors in the society. These could be both positive or will have destructive consequences.

Without going into this technological determinism theory, the fact of the matter is that history of revolutions is dotted with multiple examples where people have used various forms of technologies in shaping the bigger political, economic and social discourses. It inexorably creates a new culture and in due course leads to new realities and new debates. Kashmir certainly is no exception. For example in eighteenth century, new weaving technologies were used to counter the barbaric Afghan rule. Nevertheless, in Kashmir, we still have a long way to go in solemnizing the marriage between the ongoing resistance movement and the technological innovation.   


Author hail from Halmatpora Kupwara, and is co-author of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from the Global South’ published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis. He can be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com

AN OPEN LETTER TO MR TASADUQ MUFTI: 
BETTER STOP ENCOURAGING ROTTEN METHODS FOR REWARDING INNOVATORS IN KASHMIR

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad (PhD)

http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/op-ed/an-open-letter-to-tasaduq-mufti/268681.html

Dear Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, Coordinator Chief Minister’s Grievance Cell, I hope that this humble piece of writing finds you in good spirits. I am writing this letter as a response to your recently undertaken initiatives towards “formulating a roadmap in bringing J&K state into the innovation and technology map of India”. As a Coordinator of Chief Minister’s Grievance Cell, you in fact facilitated a meeting with the officials of CIPAM (Cell for IPR promotion and Innovation) from Union Ministry of Industries and Commerce in your office on December 9, 2017.  The meeting according to the released press note “was a step towards creating an ecosystem of innovation and technology in the state.”  And to achieve this noble idea you have decided to establish exclusive IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) cells in all universities, colleges, and schools in Jammu and Kashmir. 

Well, first of all, let me compliment you for your marginal acknowledgement of the significance of innovations. Certainly, innovation is the key to economic prosperity and development. We can’t grow or develop much if we continuously try to evade from the discourses on innovations. This part of your recent agenda is less sticky. The problem however arises when a future politician and someone holding a responsible office encourages rotten ways of rewarding innovations in Kashmir. Your vehement support and unflinching love for modern day IPRs actually provoked me to address this small open letter to you.

Presumably, two things could have encouraged you to make such bold statements in defense of patents:  First, it could be your naivety and less understanding of the whole issue of IPRs in the development discourses and second it could be a deliberate policy attempt to push Kashmir to a cobweb of unending misery. Dear Tasaduq, if you believe that modern day intellectual property system will unleash innovations in Kashmir, then you are entirely mistaken. Intellectual property is in fact an intellectual monopoly that hinders innovations rather than helps the innovators and the states grow. For the brevity of this argument let me cite a report published in 2015 with the title “Innovation: Time to fix patents” in The Economist, the popular English magazine which encourages economic liberalism and supports free trade and globalization. With credible evidences on the contributions of patents, the Economist concludes that the modern day patent regime actually hampers innovations and is actually a rotten method of rewarding them. It’s time to fix patents, maintains the Economist. Likewise, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine the two leading economists at the Washington University in a new book titled ‘Against Intellectual Monopoly’, published by Cambridge University Press indorses the opinion that the current patent/copyright systems should be abolished without any further delay because it discourages and prevents inventions from entering the marketplace. “From a public policy view, we’d ideally like to eliminate patent and copyright laws altogether,” says another Distinguished Professor of Economics David Levine, at the Washington University. He further argues that license fees, regulations and patents are now so misused that they drive up the cost of creation and slow down the rate of diffusion of new ideas.  Even the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) a specialized UNO agency for promoting IPRs across the globe in a study published in 2013 concludes that IPRs can create incentives for investment in research and development (R&D) but they can also lead to static inefficiencies in the form of monopoly prices. Joseph Stiglitz, another American economist and the recipient of 2001 Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Science in a recently published Guardian article on 19 October 2017, contends that the “The IP standards advanced countries favor typically are designed not to maximize innovation and scientific progress, but to maximize the profits of their big companies.” Stiglitz with his colleagues offer ample evidences which show that the majority of theories and empirical evidences which encourage IP Laws are increasingly inadequate to govern global economic activity and are poorly suited to meet the needs of developing countries and emerging markets. They are inimical to providing for basic human needs such as adequate healthcare, contends Stiglitz.

Dear Tasaduq, in Kashmir, most of the inventive activities happen in the informal economy and the set of IPRs you encourage today regrettably operate negatively and carry many maladaptive features with them. No tangible benefits have reached to the local innovators by maintaining what you call ‘exclusivity’ over the know-how related to their innovations though various forms of IPRs. Even Geographical Indication (GI) for the shawl industry has horribly failed. Considering these maladaptive features of modern day IPRs many economists would rightly disagree with Abraham Lincoln’s widely propagated notion that patents are designed “to add fuel to the fire of genius”.  During my eight years of extensive field visits in Jammu and Kashmir, almost all innovators I interacted with reported a near complete unfamiliarity about the role of patents and trade secrets. For instance, Ab Rehman Parry (55), from Shalimar Srinagar inventor of an electric spinning wheel does have some clue about the patents but possesses barely any knowledge about the procedures involved in the patent application. His father Late Ghulam Mohammad Parry was also an innovator and was awarded patent in 1977 for a period of 14 years vide patent no 146031 dated 26/03/1977 for an improved stove. As I attempted to enquire whether he and his father have ever used the granted patent, the innovator responded in negative. Hence, even the awarded patents could scarcely bring any pecuniary benefits to the innovators in a context like Kashmir. His father in an attempt to scale up his innovation with his patent ended up in jail.

Given that patent is a legal right extended to protect the interest of innovators, one wonders how much protection such patents will offer to these ‘ignorant’, ‘unaware’ individuals against the probable disputes. Concerns of similar nature, albeit in a different context, are raised by David Noble, in his magnum opus ‘America by Design: Science Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism and Bessen and Meurer’s Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk. They argue that individual innovators find it increasingly difficult to reap the benefits of their innovations due to high costs of legal pursuance. From the conversation I had with the local innovators both individual and the community innovators it became evident to us that modern IPRs potentially operate negatively in our context. Another problem with the patents is that its rewards reach the inventor's ex-post facto, which leaves them with the problem of funding their project up front.

Dear Tasaduq, rewarding innovators in Jammu and Kashmir with the patents, as we have observed, can also have grave social problems. Property rights, although fundamentally is a medium of self-expression argues Rabindranath Tagore becomes intensely individualistic, and ‘anti-social’. It affects the value of co-operation and social commons. This is an important point we all should keep in mind before we advocate for patents. Many innovators come from the rural settings; giving them the exclusive rights might exclude the other anonymous contributors. As we noticed, many innovations are not always the result of individual efforts; the support of anonymous actors (parents, relatives, neighbours etc.) is quite explicit.

To conclude, I would suggest that you and your government should find right incentives for the local innovators and for all those who try explore the unknowns. Setting up patent cells in Kashmir sounds ludicrous and a policy blooper. I would suggest we better stop encouraging rotten methods of rewarding innovations in Kashmir.


The author hails from Halmatpora, Kupwara. He is co-author of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from the Global South’, published by Taylor and Francis, Routledge, UK. He can be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Can Innovations Overcome the Enduring Science Drought in Kashmir? 


Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

In his magnum opus -The Wealth of Nations (1776) - Adam Smith, the renowned Scottish economist and philosopher, beautifully outlined that many great inventions in and around Scotland factories were actually the inventions made by the common workmen. He observed that many significant improvements were made possible ‘by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines’. To put it differently, Adam Smith outrightly dismissed ‘universities’ as the source of inventions. Kashmir, a region paralyzed by incessant conflict and innumerous lethal episodes, needs an innovation push, along with several other things that must be undertaken to counter fragility. This push will not only help to overcome routine problems but also help to address the enduring science drought in the region.
Schumpeter, the much acclaimed economist of the 20th century, asserted in his famous book The Theory of the Economic Development that ‘economic development is driven by innovation through a dynamic process in which new technologies replace the old, a process he labeled as creative destruction. However, many including Schumpeter uphold the opinion that creating innovations is as easy as turning a tap on.  They believe and fervently argue that continuously financing basic science will lead to more innovations, and therefore more development.
However, if we were to revisit economic history, numerous examples can be noted where science draught and major societal problems have been momentously addressed by innovators who did not have an extensive association with fundamental science. Scientists and engineers, as observed in the economic history have not contributed meaningfully to solve several pressing concerns of the society. For example, during the industrial revolution, all major innovations which helped systematically revolutionize Europe in 16th and 17th century came from people who had very little knowledge of basic science. For instance, steam engine, owed almost nothing to the law of thermodynamics but law of thermodynamics in return owes almost everything to the steam engine. Likewise, the mechanization of textile industry is another fascinating case - practically all radical creative interventions came from common workmen and not from scientists. According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder’, all major breakthroughs of the 13th century to the development of modern computing methods narrate an underlying success story driven by the ‘rule of thumb, learning by apprenticeship, chance discoveries, trial and error, and tinkering’. Very few breakthroughs actually emerged from sustained funding of science.
Rightly thus, the linear model of science, as advocated by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, who urged England to unworryingly fund and make use of navigational science to catch pace with the Portuguese, turned into a failure. This was because advances in Portuguese navigation were not achieved by whopping scientific investments but by breakthroughs that directly stemmed from the experiences of sailors and fishermen.
Even recently, a study conducted by the OECD on sources of growth in OECD countries between 1971 and 1998, came up with some startling findings. The study concluded that all publicly funded research had no economic impact whatsoever. Similarly, the USA Bureau of Economic Analysis, in another separate study conducted in 2007, concluded that the returns from many forms of publicly financed research and development are nearly zero, and that many elements of university and government research have very low returns.
The case of public funded universities and engineering colleges in Kashmir is also worth consideration here. These institutions have not only failed in helping address the crises faced by communities but have also not progressed in their endeavor of developing new scientific knowledge. Since the inception of University of Kashmir in 1948 and NIT Srinagar in 1960, not a single breakthrough innovation has come from these ‘elite’ research institutions, despite devouring public money worth millions of dollars. Even their contribution towards advancement of basic science is doubtful. For instance, in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF-2017) released by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development of India, the University of Kashmir holds the 73rd position, which is much below than many B- grade Indian universities. Making a place in the top 1,000 Times Higher Education World University Rankings is next to impossible for research institutes based in Kashmir. The reasons for their dismal performance are again very much debatable. Some find an easy explanation in the ongoing armed conflict and blame the persistent conflict for disrupted functioning and sub-standard performance of these universities. However, many of us would agree to the fact that many great universities around the world have emerged mostly in regions that have witnessed conflict.
Without going into this eternal debate further, I believe that public money should be constructively utilized to develop propositional forms of knowledge, which mostly lie outside the university boundaries. The knowledge that our ‘illiterate’ farmers, artisans and woodcutters possess deserves attention. Recklessly pumping millions of dollars into public universities for creating four-square lawns highlights a major challenge to the development of frugal forms of knowledge and must be urgently addressed. As convincingly reported by well-known economic historian Joel Mokyr in the Gifts of Athena, it was the common man’s propositional knowledge outside the walled universities which helped transform the evolution and development of economics in Europe. Kashmir certainly is no exception - the noteworthy innovations Kashmir has gifted to the world - seamless celestial globe, weaving bridges, kangri, and weaving techniques to name a few - owe very little to the knowledge produced in universities!


Author hails from Halmatpora Kupwara and can be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kashmir: Why it needs a Knowledge Push?

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/kashmir-why-it-needs-a-knowledge-push/257241.html

Kashmir, unlike other places in the world is gravely entangled in the political skirmishes between the two nuclear states, India and Pakistan. Although graced with spectacular natural beauty, this place reflects some monster veracities of human cruelty and colonial savagery. Without going into the damages done to this place because of the ongoing conflict, I try to explore the immediate alternatives which could possibly help mitigate the existential crises people face here. True that many places in the world mostly on the peripheries face similar types of coercions but the weight of the problems faced by people here is undeniably too heavy to be even compared with other settings. A place where on one side rampant poverty, poor education and absence of other basic life requirements have trapped people into a vicious cobweb, the atrocious experiments of the ongoing war in Kashmir on the other side have almost annihilated the ‘life’ from the bodies here. In Franz Kafka’s lexis the life difficulties are ‘nauseatingly miserable and beyond repair’ here.  

Kashmir, as everyone knows is in a big morass and people here are struggling to find a dignified exit from it: the fact also remains that in this process of collective struggle against the foreign forces we have unintendedly created various classes grounded differently in religious, knowledge and other settings. These obscure and ridiculous hierarchies witnessed in today’s Kashmir have not only complicated the ongoing movement but have also deteriorated the spine which would otherwise provide the support to the struggle.  

It is beyond the scope of this small piece to flag out separately the issues and problems being faced by a common native of Kashmir but let me very fleetingly try to highlight some of the immediate remedies, which if provided properly can help revivify the hopes at the margins. Being a resident of Kashmir and a textbook example of a war-victim, I would strongly suggest that the best weapon to empower the people at the margins is to educate them. To unshackle the people here from the chains of slavery, to empower them to fight the boorish oppressor, education, political enlightenment I believe is a must weapon. What I have observed so far is that majority of people particularly living at the margins are subjected to various forms of discriminations precisely because most of them are unable to have any kind of access to any knowledge base. Majority of them are so disempowered and underprivileged that even the thought of pursuing education frightens them. Now the enigma is how to get them out of this trap.

As reflected above, today’s Kashmir like other places around the world is characterized by the criminal co-existence of immense prosperity and appalling poverty, with anti-poverty rhetoric being as pervasive as poverty itself. There is perhaps no end in sight to this global predicament. Various types of explanations and solutions have been proposed to overcome this divide. Certainly, some such elucidations are incredulous while some are practical. For instance, when our local religious leaders and elites inadvertently take Thomas Malthus’s dubious proposition to justify poverty as a natural phenomenon and overlook the other arguments which propose that poverty is the result of a deliberate nexus between various actors, the problem gets further aggravated. Even the most recent explanations which have blamed the existing faulty institutions, geographical disadvantages and local culture for incessantly rising poverty are again disbelieving.

Without putting my feet into this contentious field, I think, the best solution to overcome the current crises at least in Kashmir’s rural settings is to provide the people here a knowledge push for a successful takeoff from the trap in which majority of them find enmeshed. Now the other practical and important questions which arise here include: what type of education should be provided? Who should provide them education without coercing and manipulating their thinking? What about the other basic essentials of life? And importantly, why focus education and not the other high return business? These questions again are philosophical and political as well. As asserted in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire that that the oppressor can wittingly ‘deny pedagogical action in the liberation process’ because the colonizer uses ‘education’ as a propaganda to convince. “Worse yet”, asserts Paulo Freire is that this “banking model turns them (students) into ‘containers’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher.”.

Given the problems of the existing system of education, advocating a separate model of learning and unlearning for the places at the margins sounds too romantic and theatrical. Because it is not only impossible given the current set of circumstances but will also invite state scrutiny for being more practical, creative and critical. However, there is a way forward which probably can help lessen the sufferings of these people here. First, in Rabindranath Tagore’s terminology ‘extension centers’ purely based on no-profit scheme should be created. These centers should be fashioned with the motive of engaging the less privileged people at the margins, tap their creative thoughts and build on the propositional knowledge they possess. To put it differently, together we should help create strong and vibrant communication centers in these forlorn places. These centers won’t only facilitate an evocative dialogue between various actors but will also help them understand the nuances of important discourses which influences them. Similarly, voluntary adoption of orphans and less privileged kids should be encouraged. They should be enrolled in ‘good’ schools where they will have access to quality education. As witnessed in many places here in Kashmir, different ‘outside sympathetic organizations’ have deviously exposed these vulnerable kids to unseemly ‘knowledge’ structures. Furthermore, informal dissemination of knowledge channels be encouraged to help these people realize their political and societal rights. Unpaid visits by our doctors, engineers and social scientists should be greatly appreciated. Example like Barefoot Doctors in China should be replicated.  

If as a community, we expect everyone to participate in the ongoing struggle, then why as thesame community we fail to reach out to those who need us the most. If we collectively fail to empathize and commiserate with the less privileged and the victims of the conflict, then unquestionably, we can’t ever claim victory in any revolution. Undesirably, as a nation, we haven’t been successful in developing our ‘empathic capacities’ so far. The cross-communication between our urban centers and the rural areas is very thin and is considered insignificant. There is a big and dangerous divide within this so-called ‘homogenized community’ entirely grounded in religion, caste, and wealth.  Knowledge about such menaces should be elucidated to everyone. Mosques, buses, social gatherings should be properly used, volunteers should efficaciously and creatively use these spaces for critical and creative thinking.

These ideas look romantic and impractical but let us be very clear here - if we fail to create an inclusive and classless society then a society with absurd hierarchies will not only fail us in realising our long term goals but will also extinguish the flame of resistance from us forever.


The author recently completed his PhD from JNU, New Delhi and hails from Kupwara. He is co-editor of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis, UK.  He could be reached at 9906542881.  

Politics of Innovation: The Neglected Dimension of Kashmir’s Struggle for Freedom

Politics of Innovation:  The Neglected Dimension of Kashmir’s Struggle for Freedom
                                                   
                                                Dr. Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, a great figure of Italian Renaissance and a pioneer of realistic political theory wrote in his famous political treatise The Prince (1513), that ‘innovation’ is a must for both governing the people and for misleading the people too. To him, innovation is a resource for dealing with the change and overcoming the uncertainty. Certainly, he was not explicit about the technological innovations but his overt reference to the ‘process innovations’ can’t be unnoticed. Kashmir, a place where mases are governed through various forms of political novelties couched in political deceit, policy coercion, bullying and use of novel brute forces has also lead to a counter revolution noticeable in the people’s inimitable ways of responding to such vicious state actions. To put it differently, noncompliance manifested in knowledge generation and particularly in technology is emerging as a new norm.

Notwithstanding the market element in ‘innovations’, different communities have differently responded to state sponsored viciousness. To overcome the hegemonic and slanted narratives of the state and of its elites, communities across the world have developed indigenous knowledge systems to either escape the state oppression or to subvert the status quo.

For instance, ‘self-made inventors’ of Korea during 1920s-30s posed a very serious challenge to the Japanese colonialism with their local innovations. The local innovators not only upended the Japanese discriminatory narrative about the ‘universal’ characteristic feature of the technology but also effectively managed to connect these indigenous incremental inventive steps with the debates of self-reliance and Korean nationalism. The Japanese popular narrative of defining invention as a ‘universal activity’ bereft of local specificities, was annihilated by these home-grown inventors. The movement was so powerful and successful that the state managed elites began to shift their perspective to argue that “invention is a native process, culturally embedded, incremental, and could be undertaken by anyone who would persevere through the long process of trial and error”.

Likewise, after the armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro in Cuba against the right-wing authoritarian government faced a kind of technological drought. Because of an exodus of foreign companies and investment due to Fidel Castro’s new policies, there were no signs of invention. However soon after, Che Guevara assumed office as Cuba’s Minister of Industries, he simply introduced a new paradigm by offering the first strong ideological push. To subvert the dominant western hegemonic narratives of invention and innovations, Cuba offered strong defiance and noncompliance in the form of viewing the capital (T) -technology radically different from those of the west. They started breaking, re-creating things mostly from the scarp. In Technological Disobedience, writes, Ernesto Oroza, that this “reparation, refunctionalization, and reinvention show leaps of imagination in opposition to the concepts of innovation favored by the logic of Western mass production”.  According to him, “Cubans began to bring this repair-mindset home, turning their own households into laboratories”. For instance, Orozo, writes that an “electrician would, during his day shift, repair the engine of a Soviet MIG15 jet fighter and, in the evening—faced with a country-wide shortage of matches—build an electric lighter out of a that pen and light bulb”. And it was precisely this technological disobedience which helped Cuba survive the turbulent times.

In Kashmir, where innovation and invention is perhaps not a norm but people historically have responded to state savagery very imaginatively. For example, after the Afghans invaded Kashmir in 1753, they not only destroyed the local industries but also imposed a very heavy tax system.  Afghans who ruled Kashmir until 1819 not only adopted different domineering forms of resource appropriation but also introduced a new system of collecting tax from the weavers known as “dagshawl” or excise tax on shawls. Many historians noted, that this exorbitant and ridiculous tax system became “such a burden for the poor shawl weavers that some of them preferred death to the weaver’s profession”. In order to evade this unjustified and horrendous tax-system on Kani Shawls, two ingenious innovators introduced a radically different shawl and named it Amlikar shawl. This shawl would not only take less time compared to the Kani shawl in weaving but also remained outside from the ambit of this usurious tax system.

Similarly, what could be considered as the best example of the technological disobedience in Kashmir can be observed from the Radio-Station invented by Ghulam Nabi Ahangar in 1971. To counter what he termed as the state-propaganda, he surprised his entire community by setting up his own radio station at Dialgam. For his oddity and ‘irrational’ creative attempts, he was harassed and intimidated from time to time by the state and the non-state actors. The uses of singing lantern, invented by another self-made inventor Ghulam Mohammad Mir in 2007, are very peculiar. Mir, who belongs to a humble family in Kokernag, district Anantnag, was tired of the persistent embarrassment he felt every time the Indian army raided his house during the 1990s and found him sleeping naked.  He decided to work out an idea to escape his complications. He developed a singing lantern, powered by a dry battery and a remote sensor that would alert him of human movement near his house in Sagaam village. 

There are many other such unsung innovators from Kashmir who dared to disrupt the status quo by not complying with the rules of an ‘ordered’ universe, but by subverting them. Their choices are arbitrary and random and may thus not adhere to any definable criterion. In Economics and Culture, David Thorsby, would argue that these types of maverick acts are calculatingly anti- rational acts. Hence the choices, contends Thorsby these individuals make are ‘anti- rational choices’.

However, with deep guilt, I must acknowledge here that in Kashmir we haven’t effectively ever tried to capture such ‘recalcitrant’ and ‘disobedient’ creative attempts in the conventional Azadi discourse. The nuances of such anti-rational choices are not understood and wittingly outshined. This inattention has offered a good opportunity to various outside ‘sympathetic’ organisations to exploit or misappropriate the inventive and artistic potentials of our local innovators. Lately, we have observed that many non-Kashmir based organisations with the pretext of helping local innovators have started mishandling their innovations. To put it differently, local creativity is politically coerced and resolutely dampened. 

The author hails from Kupwara and is co-editor of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis, UK.  He could be reached at fayazjustinternational@gmail.com or 9906542881.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Don’t we need an ‘empathy revolution’ immediately?


SHEIKH FAYAZ AHMAD·

For every revolution, empathy is the key. If we collectively fail to empathize and commiserate with the less privileged and the victims of the conflict, then unquestionably, we can’t ever claim victory in any revolution. No doubt, we all have suffered because of the ongoing conflict but the fact remains, that there are many unheard and unnoticed families and individuals living on the peripheries who demand our attention immediately. Undesirably, as a nation, we haven’t been successful in developing our ‘empathic capacities’ so far.

 Look, for instance, the cross-communication between our urban centers and the rural areas. It is very thin and is considered insignificant. I have seen many people coming from outside Kashmir and visiting the rural areas than the people from our cities and the leading towns. How many times have we justly and communally embraced our orphan children? How many widows have we supported bereft of any ‘incentives’ thus far?

 Empathy, certainly is a perquisite to every revolution and perhaps we lack it.   Ernesto Che Guevara  would argue that ‘empathy’ is the feeling of the unity with the oppressed. For him, revolution is the necessary expression of the empathy. Kashmir, I believe, urgently need an ‘empathy revolution’ to overcome our own tragedies and also effectively fight the oppressor.


This Eid, let us take a pledge to support all those who have suffered because of the Indian savagery and viciousness. Let us overcome our own prejudices and pity partialities and preferences. Let us together bring an ‘empathy revolution’.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Does the on-going Kashmir “movement” lack a plan of action?








 Published: November 26, 2016

Kashmir is witnessing a synchronous struggle which is not concentrated in the urban squares only but is ubiquitous in all the corners of the Kashmir valley. PHOTO: AFP.

In Why Did the ‘Twitter Revolutions’ Fail?, an article published in the New York Times last year, Ivan Krastev couches his set of arguments in a thought-provoking manner by referring to history. He writes that, immediately after the 1851 Paris coup by Napoleon, some of the greatest political minds from Europe, including Karl Marx (a communist), Pierre Joseph Proudhon (an anarchist), Victor Hugo (a romantic), Alexis de Tocqueville and Walter Bagehot (the liberals) hustled to their reading rooms to understand the Paris coup and draw philosophical conclusions out of such events. To quote Ivan,
“Their interpretations of the coup were as different as their philosophies. But in the manner of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, they all mistook the end of Europe’s three-year revolutionary wave for its beginning.”
In a much similar vein, some of the recent articles produced to interpret the on-going mass uprising in Kashmir have more or less reached the same incredulous and unrealistic conclusions. Some noted scholars have argued (at least in the Indian media) that it’s the Pakistani ISI agents masquerading as stone pelters in Kashmir who cause unrest and damage state property.
A few would graciously describe it as a mere human rights issue and claim that the resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio lies in the revocation of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). And a handful of intellectuals had circumscribed their narratives to the ‘economic disempowerment’ and lack of education thesis. They emphasise that the issue will die down if India keeps pumping money (black or white) into the wallets of the Kashmiri people.
Certainly, there are many other well-balanced writers and intellectuals around the world who sincerely support the Kashmir cause. However, some of them still try to reduce the Kashmir issue to a mere AFSPA problem. Of late, these ‘sympathetic outsiders’ (and sometimes insiders) have been associating the Kashmir issue with the Dalit predicament in India. In their ‘cleverly’ worded articles and by using various arrangements of intellectual rhetoric, they uphold that the solution of the Kashmir problem lies in the liberation of Balochistan and in the emancipation of Dalits in India.
Beyond all doubt, and far from being against Dalit emancipation, I stand for the rights of all suppressed communities around the world irrespective of race, gender or religious denominations. However, the problem arises when we attempt to explore these different issues through one particular framework. By doing this, we are certainly creating more problems than solving any. It is because these differing problems are completely grounded in varied socio-politico and historical settings and can seldom be reduced to one single narrative.
These analysts no doubt have every right to perceive and interpret the happenings in Kashmir in their own way, but this article seeks to offer an insider’s perspective of the on-going struggle.
To interpret a mass revolution and draw conclusions is not an easy task. As reflected above, it has baffled many great intellectuals let alone newspaper columnists. And my humble attempt to read the on-going movement is no exception here. I, myself, could be misinformed and might fail to capture its true essence.
In today’s world we bear witness to many revolutions; small and big, peaceful and violent, driven mostly by the young and the tech-savvy individuals. Thomas L Friedman would term them as ‘The Square People’. In his 2014 New York Times article, he described these people as “young, aspiring to a higher standard of living and more liberty, seeking either reform or revolution”. However, forecasting the fate of these revolutions has become more difficult than ever.
Many would argue that these square revolutions are nothing but merely anarchic and chaotic crowds. For instance, the noted journalist Simon Jenkins, in an article published in The Guardian in February 2014, would contend that present day square revolutions around the globe symbolise failure, not hope. He claims that the motives behind such revolutions are essentially negative, those that oppose power.
“Crowds destroy but seldom build” asserts Jenkins.
Coming back to Kashmir, one could also discern that these Jenkins-like arguments are mostly propounded by state planted writers and paid intellectuals who would argue that the on-going movement is nothing but a kind of muddled and rebellious struggle funded and fuelled by Pakistan. This is far from the truth. The reality is that, for the first time, Kashmir is witnessing a synchronous struggle which is not confined to urban squares but is ubiquitous in all corners of the Kashmir valley, including Chenab and Ladakh. Aptly described by A G Noorani, this is a revolt against India, not one of the “periodic” eruptions in Kashmir.
Furthermore, we are cognisant of the fact that some of the most successful revolutions (like the ones witnessed in Cuba and Nicaragua) were initially driven by small, urban, radicalised youths. However, what we are witnessing in Kashmir today is dissimilar in nature. Yes, young and energetic, but not-so-radicalised youth (far from urban settings or bourgeoisie background) are bidding to give a new direction to the on-going movement. It appears to be a people’s revolution that is mostly concentrated in the rural areas.
However, the commonality among those successful revolutions (like Cuba) and Kashmir lies in the support system offered by the peasants, farmers and rural people to its ‘guerrilla forces’. In both cases, villages have offered varied forms of assistance to its “guerrilla” forces when it was needed. In fact, Burhan Wani, a commander of the Kashmir-based Hizbul Mujahideen who was killed in an encounter with the Indian security forces on July 8, 2016, is widely celebrated as the rural ‘Che’ of Kashmir. He was born and raised in a village in District Pulwama. For more than six years he survived untraced in the rural settings of southern Kashmir.
Notwithstanding the positives of the on-going movement, one cannot shy away from pointing out certain flaws visible in the movement. First and foremost, a severe disconnect between the Kashmir intelligentsia and the people who fight on the streets is very apparent. Certainly, many writers, columnists and academics have produced a number of articles and well-argued papers but, given the esoteric nature of most of these publications, the message seldom reaches the masses.
This disconnect can also be explained in other ways.
First, many genuine writers do not want to contribute out of fear of being apprehended. Second, a sizeable number of good writers are co-opted and are put on different state pay rolls. They are bestowed with foreign fellowships and are entitled to various other prized positions. Third, a few of them are conveniently not offered a space where they can contribute.
This disconnect has greatly affected the on-going movement. To invoke the famous American political scientist Samuel P Huntington here, revolutions have been characterised by an alliance between the intellectuals and the peasants, united by a common objective such as nationalism, something that is critically out-of-place in Kashmir.
Second, the movement seems to be creating its own classes. For example, different groups of ‘conflict bourgeoisie’ in various forms are emerging. They overtly represent the ‘intellectual class’ with different forms like ‘peace lovers’ and ‘cultural activists’ but clandestinely they are working hand-in-glove with the state. Knowingly, they are strengthening the state narrative of the Kashmir imbroglio. That is why most of them are received with high admiration by various forums within and outside India.
Third, the leadership of the resistance movement has utterly failed in finding new ways of resolving this long pending conflict. They stick to the same old hackneyed road maps full of strikes. It seems that the entire leadership is circumscribed to calendar politics entirely. This approach of leading a movement has certainly diminished all the chances of exploring any out-of-the-box solutions. Educated and well-trained youths are seldom attracted and new leaders are hardly ever nurtured in the separatist camp.
It seems as though the leadership of the movement is restricted to a few individuals and not to the institutions. Thus, individuals appear significant, not institutions. To conclude with what Fidel Castro had argued; a ‘plan of action’ is a prerequisite for a successful revolution, which is perhaps still a far dream where Kashmir is concerned.
Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad

The author is a full-time PhD researcher at Jawharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the co-author of a book titled 'Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from the Global South' published by Routledge, Taylor and Francis, UK.