Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad
Election fever in Kashmir is over. Many separatist leaders customarily are out with statements hailing the people of Kashmir for not participating in the elections. Likewise, mainstream politicians also thanked people for defying boycott calls and turning up for the votes. Needless to say this time both the groups worked hard to drum up support for their relevant causes. The sanguine, hopeful and adventurous members from both the blocs with all eagerness were set for a big change.
Equally, optimistic was the timid, the subaltern and the marginalized for a transformation. However, routinely he was this time again baffled between the boycott calls and the slogans of transformation. But, the fascinating part in the election process and worth investigating this time is the response from the ‘rural’ population. Despite the heavy military presence, the rejection of polls by them is considered praiseworthy. Thusly majority of them are hailed as Azadi lovers, patriots and loyalists; contrary to this, some ill-fated souls from ‘backward’ areas and carrying ineradicable ink marks are publicly humiliated, stripped and abused. This overall unforeseen reaction from a “fickle public” actually prompted me to re-examine this changing scenario from the perspective of marginalized and corroborate the analysis with some selected cases from a forlorn district Kupwara in Kashmir where the participation in the recently held elections crossed 65% much higher than anybody’s guess.
Election participation many believe at least in the west, aims fundamentally to preserve and promote the ‘dignity’ and ‘rights’ of the individuals using ‘democratic’ institutions. It helps meet ‘social justice, foster economic and social development’ through the involvement of many. Elections indirectly also helps guarantee freedom of opinion through participatory and inclusive institutions. However, the rationale for election participation is quite opposing here. It is not about achieving political equality and exercising upon rational choices, it is not an act of betrayal and disloyalty as is narrowly seen by many, nor it is an obsession for India as is portrayed by some, it is but more about the weighty burden of the history, a reaction to the time proven deceit and the manifestation of a failure, unorganized, stratified and highly imbalanced society.
Election participation here is a form of anger which people generally and genuinely show for the other group which claims to represent the wishes and aspirations of people. It is a protest for secluding them in a tough terrain; it is a legitimate resentment for debasing sacrifices and relegating the tragedies. And, it is the reaction for the biases we continuously show towards the marginalized. There are other more appalling reasons as well, like the heavy presence of troops, abject poverty, miscommunication and illiteracy but we will attempt to briefly delineate on some considering Kupwara as a case.
Kupwara 100 km away from the capital city generally observes massive turnout in assembly and parliamentary elections e.g. 69 % in the last parliamentary elections. This huge participation in elections is considered by some as a good hint for India and apparently an undesirable omen for the other group. Consequently, this district started getting dubious distinctions from Azadi lovers who see participation in the elections as a mere act of betrayal and disloyalty to the movement. Therefore, voters with blue ink marks are chased, humiliated and tortured publicly: A kind of senseless, illegitimate and absurd onslaught on the timid population. The moral and ethical dimensions of Azadi and sacrifices are now being taught to this ill-fated, illiterate, sluggish population who otherwise has “no idea of sacrifices” using these weird tactics. On the other hand, India making pictures of long queues claims Kashmir as their ‘utoot ang’ never to be estranged. The fact, however, is that both these claims and narratives are facile, amateurish and devoid of ground realities. People vote not because they are lured by pro-India politicians, not because they believe in transformation as is portrayed by some in terms of ‘roti, kapda and makan’ but they vote because we have collectively disowned and disappointed them.
Disenchanted with their own sympathizers and dissatisfied with their hackneyed slogans and old phrases this lot vote not because they love India, not because they want Modi as their PM but because their valuable sacrifices are desecrated. In a situation where tragedies and sacrifices are not mattered, where community values are renounced, where materialism, opportunism is a norm, where community help for the disadvantaged is lost, where timid are trampled and subaltern crushed, where nepotism, discrimination, inequality is religion, where hypocrisy, duplicity and dishonesty is cherished, where fairness, tolerance, sympathy and empathy like things are disregarded , in this state people particularly the ‘marginalized’ purposely participate in any ‘contested’ show and attempt to shape his future, and try to give a vent to his anger and frustration. This unexpected development evident in Kashmir is but not a new phenomenon.
Marx in 1852 in an essay published in Die Revolution uphold the argument that “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” This new changing situation of huge participation in elections in Kupwara also resembles with the powerful analysis made by Karl Popper, who in his 1957 book against “historicism” argue that the “future grows determinably out of the historical situation”. In Kupwara too, it is the manifestation of the historical tribulations, a benighted past and the desolate present which actually forces people to vote. Fear of not voting, terror of not participating and the consequences of renouncing Indian-ness is something which the people of this district have witnessed nastily long ago. How can we forget the massacre of more than 30 people nineteen years ago by the Indian army for observing strike on India’s republic day in Kupwara? Similarly, there are other countless horrifying stories which over time institutionalized ‘fear, anger, frustration, and deceit’. And, it is here where our top brass elite-leaders, privileged analysts and advantaged scholars should morally restrain from issuing fatwas against this wretched population.
Without understanding the local context our pundits should honorably drop their slothful and lackadaisical method of representation and for the larger good should eschew producing ‘boondoggle’ material. People who are caviling on the participation of the ‘subaltern’ in the elections and declare it as a disquieting and disturbing aspect of the Kashmir movement cleanly reflects an indelicate way of evaluating things. Comparing this morti di fame which live in squalor and disease and grew up in mountains with the urban contemplators would qualify as a gross intellectual bungle, a moronic and inane exercise.
District Kupwara, which we all know strode in a long, rough terrain in starting the arms’ rebellion in Kashmir, has some other legitimate reasons for forming long queues at the time of election. A place where hundreds crossed line of control, thousands laid their lives, and innumerable languishing in different jails across India: Kunan –Poshpora mass rape victims are battling for survival, tormented orphans of Dardpora are crying for shore up, humiliated widows and survivors of massacres like Kupwara, Handwara are living a dejected life. And now this district, which has witnessed the tyranny and barbarism in its worst form actively, participates in state shows. This capricious climate in Kupwara vis-à-vis election participation indisputably throws up serious questions which we all should collectively ponder at. However, our ‘rational contemplators’, reflecting on these experiences from New York and London will not revolutionize the thinking unless they spare some time to understand the local context which is mired in sufferings, pain and vulnerability. They should rather focus on questions like why this yesterday’s unflinching soul is so feeble and frail today. What led his downfall and what made him so fragile and vulnerable?
Those who criticize the participation of this dejected population in elections and stop at saying that it is reprehensible should also turn their guns to condemn those who have forgotten and mistreated this heartbroken population. We should also admit the fact that collectively we have failed to uplift and encourage Dardpora like orphans across Kashmir, giving them packs of biscuits and sachets of sugar is not what they are striving for. Similarly, as a “nation” we are unsuccessful in morally supporting Kunan Poshpora like rape victims. What have we done for those millions of people who have suffered directly or indirectly during the ongoing struggle for Azadi? How many of Dardpora orphans are studying in our elite schools let alone Delhi and Madras? How many of us have shown courage to embrace the rape victims? Contrary to this, innumerable guys and hailing from elite families and had never visited these places are writing songs, novels, and research thesis on these ill-fated orphans and rape victims. Their tortuous past is a mere case study for our academic excellence. This is another possible reason that people here are turning their back. And the fact remains, the more we ignore and discount these people, the more they will continue to mark us down because to every action is a very powerful opposite reaction.
Moreover, these so -called backward people are very familiar with our depraved and immoral designs which are reflected from time to time through our opportunistic outlooks; they are informed about the squabble going on at the top- brass between our leaders. They are conversant with the trading of our tragedies; they are acquainted with the nexus among the networks. This also qualifies as a valid justification that they don’t give a damn to anyone who comes either to console or cajole them. At the same time this population is also indifferent to the state-sponsored waffle of thugs who not only sap their blood but also suck their resources. Thus, participation in elections by this feeble and uninformed population should not be judged from the face value of it, rather a deeper and nuanced understanding is wanting. To me participation in elections is not a choice, but a compulsion. Instead, bashing these poor souls on roads and on face book, it would be good if we all collectively try to understand this man better, because misinterpreting election participation may truly turn dangerous someday.
The author hails from Kupwara and is pursuing PhD at the School of Social Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or sheikhfayazahmad.blogspot.com