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.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Why this Science Mania? An Open Letter to Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy from India-held Kashmir 

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad
PhD Researcher, Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU, New Delhi, India

Published in The Friday Times, Lahore

Dear Dr. Parveez Hoodbhoy,

Hope that this humble piece of writing finds you in good spirits. It is indeed a matter of enormous gratification for me to address this piece to an eminent writer like you. You have made unparalleled contribution to a wide array of topics ranging from physics to political science. I have hardly seen such a self-motivated ‘scientist’ who has passionately and convincingly authored publications on non-scientific and majestic topics such as those selected by you.  I will not dare question your intellectual reach in these fields of research but while reading your articles on science and innovation, I thought I should drop you a small query to seek further clarification on some significant questions which you otherwise negate forthrightly.
However, before going to my question set, I should admire your love for ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’ knowledge. At least from your writings, it appears to me that you are not only a strong aficionado of science but a sturdy science evangelist too. Dear Dr. Pervez, no doubt it’s good to promote the knowledge which is grounded in empiricism, but taking a firm stand that all other forms of knowledge are unusable and deceptive sounds too theatrical and clearly reflects our naivety.
In your articles, books, class presentations, etc. you seem to be very unhappy and dissuaded with your fellow citizens for their ‘non-scientific’ temperament. You believe that the only way forward for Pakistan is to invest everything it has in fundamental science. Science to you is panacea for all Pakistani evils or to put it differently, you see science as the elixir for Pakistan’s existence.  Your ardent articles for science promotion give the impression that you are a staunch devotee of Veneer Bush’s 1945 thesis. You advocate his linear model of science and innovation.  
Linear model of Bush, it’s to mention here postulates that innovation starts with heavy investment in basic research, then adds to applied research and development, and eventually ends with production and diffusion. It excluded, like you (Dr Paervez) exclude the other forms and sources of knowledge. That is why many influential economists and innovation theorists together vehemently rejected this model long ago. “Everyone knows that the linear model of innovation is dead”, claimed N. Rosenberg in 1970’s while writing his book The Perspectives of Technology. Very few people today try see ‘life’ in his dead model and certainly you are the one among those few. The only difference is that Bush advocated his thesis in the middle of the twentieth century while you are propagating the same litany of arguments in the early 21st century.
I really do not have any issues here. You can suggest Pakistan either to take a linear or a non-linear model of STI and repeat what America witnessed in the 1950s. But the problem strikes when you and scholars of your repute downrightly and compellingly relegate the other forms of knowledge and innovations. In innovation studies, we classify such “excluded” innovations as ‘informal sector innovations’, where science has little or no significance at all. Here, ‘self-made innovators’ experiment with their own knowledge and challenge the status quo. They sometimes scoff at formal knowledge structures and made successful attempts to demystify the esoteric knowledge models. And one such example of informal innovators is that of Mr. Agha Waqar Ahmad, the man who claimed to have invented a ‘water kit’ that equipped a car to run on water alone in Pakistan some years ago.
This “invention” created a big debate in Pakistan with some people supporting his claim and some just calling him another member of Pakistani charlatan, a quack and a practicing scammer. In your series of articles, you argued that this small creative attempt “has exposed just how far Pakistan has fallen into the pit of ignorance and self-delusion”. You termed it as a big fraud and compared his attempt to a bad smell. You had emphatically claimed that “the water fraud will be exposed soon enough and, like a bad posterior smell, will go away.” You went on assaulting and ridiculing your entire nation for Waqar’s “fraudulent” claim. Scientific frauds, you argued “exist in other countries, but what explains their spectacular success in Pakistan? You offered a very short and quick answer. “Our leaders are lost in the dark, fumbling desperately for a miracle; our media is chasing spectacle, not truth; and our great scientists care more about being important than about evidence. It is easy for them all to get away with this. As a nation, we have proven unwilling to do the hard work needed to learn to reason, to be sceptical, to demand proof, to understand even basic science. It is easier to believe the world is run by magic and conspiracies, to wish and wait for Aladin’s magic lamp. We live in the age of jahilliya.”
Now, here I begin my questions and I am sure you will have some time to clarify certain basic things you advocate so enthusiastically. First, why do you still believe that only science will convert Pakistan to Japan? And why there is no scope for informal maverick individuals to flourish or a platform for cross-pollination of ideas between formal and informal sectors of knowledge?
And if you still believe in what you write and preach, then how would you respond to the arguments recently put across by 2006 Noble Winning Economist Almond Phelps in his book ‘Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change (2013)’ and another popular economist Joyl Mokyr that the much touted industrial revolution in Europe was actually made possible by Waqar type informal innovators.
For instance, Joel Mokyr, the famous economic historian who has conducted promising research on the economic history of Europe, and specializes in the period 1750-1914 in his 2005 published book, The Gifts of Athena, contends the industrial revolution was possible because of a strong positive feedback from ‘propositional’ and ‘prescriptive’ forms of knowledge.  This co-existence of two different forms of knowledge, according to Mokyr, led to “virtuous cycles much more powerful than can be explained by technological progress or scientific progress separately” (p. 21).  With same intensity, Edmund Phelps writes that the advances in science were not the driving forces behind the exposition of economic knowledge in the 19th century. The economic paradigm change was, however, possible through grassroots indigenous innovations with no or little scientific knowledge. These innovations Phelps maintains transformed Europe during the 19th century. 
These examples can certainly raise a number of questions. Mokyr (2005) offers many tangible evidence of how important innovations during the British Industrial Revolution were generated by “hard heads and clever figures” which owed little directly to scientific knowledge. For example, the case of James Watt, who hardly knew anything about thermodynamics or the laws of physics, but improved his dexterity in a mechanic shop! Richard Roberts according to Mokyr, has been called the most versatile mechanic of the industrial revolution. Roberts never studied science and went on inventing the self-acting mule in 1825, “which automated the spinning machines invented in the 1770 and 1780s and became the backbone of the British cotton industry in the following decade, all the way to 1914” (p.65). John Mercer (1791-1866), another important informal innovator and one of Lancashire’s most successful colorists and dye specialist, according to Mokyr, was entirely self-taught and was nominated in 1852 as a fellow of the Royal Society in England.
Not only the first industrial revolution was made possible by informal sector innovations, innovators with limited scientific background set out the second industrial revolution also. The Bessemer steelmaking process of 1856, according to Mokyr, was made by a man who by his own admission had “very limited knowledge of iron metallurgy” (p. 86). This to the author was probably the “paradigmatic invention of the second industrial revolution.”  Considering the idiosyncrasy of these “ordinary” individuals, the “philosophies of enlightenment - echoed by Bacons, call for cooperation and sharing of knowledge between those who knew things and those who made them” (p. 35).  The Society of Arts founded in 1754 was set up to reward and recognize such unaided and unsung innovators.
Dear Dr. Pervez, considering the above flagged few examples will you please explain where lies the problem if scientists and those who claim to have adopted a non-scientific route to demystify natural laws collaborate? Where lies the blockage if innovations and knowledge creation structures within the informal sector are duly attended and recognized. Lamenting Pakistan for the maverick attempts of Waqar Ahmad seems too unscientific.
Further, in many of your lectures you seldom resist yourself from referring to the success stories of India with respect to science, technology and innovations (STI). Humbly would I want to bring to your kind notice that the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, in March 2000 has set up a full-fledged organization called the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) as India’s national initiative to strengthen the grassroots technological innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge holders from the informal sector. NIF claims to have pooled a database of over 225,000 technological ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices from the informal sector alone. Not only that, the President of India honors people like Waqar in the President house every year. 
To conclude, I would suggest that STI is certainly important, but it is not the only driving force for a nation’s economy and development. Knowledge from different sources should not be downrightly rejected. This obsession can have serious repercussions and unintended consequences. Rather than fervently advocating for one stream of knowledge, it would be great if we encourage the co-creation of knowledge and vehemently advocate for a positive feedback between different knowledge sources. Funding science is good, but leveraging the strengths of informal knowledge will doubly benefit, particularly in a country like Pakistan where more than 70 percent workers are engaged in the informal sector.  If we continue churning articles in support of one form of form knowledge, we are probably doing more harm than benefitting anyone. Our articles will be not less than gaudy pieces - extravagantly bright but low on taste!

The author hails from Kupwara, a district in India-held Kashmir, and is a PhD researcher at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU, New Delhi. Recently, he co-edited a book titled ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from the Global South’ for Taylor and Francis (Routledge), UK. He can be reached at

Friday, August 5, 2016

Random Thoughts on Kashmir

1) One can only laugh at the appalling naivety of some so called ‘political analysts’ of Kashmir who use the word ‘political uncertainty’ to describe present crises. Where is this damn uncertainty? Uncertainty, as we understand it is used in situations where the outcomes of a particular action can’t be predicted. Here, a six-year-old young boy and holding Burhan’s picture in one hand and a stone in the other can predict with certainty the outcomes of his action. Death or Aazadi ! No vagueness, whatsoever.

2) Signs of an effective revolution: First, enemy will try co-opt you through various forms of inducements. Second, he resorts to senseless violence on the streets, third, rampant arrests irrespective of age, gender and caste, fourth aggressive military action against media and the ‘intellectuals’. Fifth, attack on doctors and those delivering essential services. And sixth and lastly giving rambling excuses for the justification of the above actions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

‘First Boys’ of Proud Kashmir: Is that a reason enough to celebrate?

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad
 Bibi Ishrat Hassan

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

This small commentary is in reaction to an ongoing debate echoing loud through the columns of various local dallies in Kashmir related to the future of valley youth. While some “established” columnists have started touting the presence in foreign universities, of a handful of Kashmiri students hailing from few elite families and portraying it as something like ‘Kashmir at its zenith of achievement’. However, this drama of ‘Kashmir Shining’ is grossly overlooking and overshadowing the real prosaic picture of Kashmir. Is this spectacle of ‘elite success’ a deliberate design to ignore the dead present and dark future of millions of poor Kashmiri youngsters who are condemned to an unceasing struggle with the unfair institutional barriers erected and strengthened  by state and its elite masters ? Celebrating the success of few individuals hailing from certain elite families and applauding their “achievements” by overlooking the cobweb of deprivation and disempowerment the majority of Kashmiri youth finds itself enmeshed in, is certainly an intellectual blooper, a joke and a misleading discourse. Which generation are our columnists referring to in their articles as future change agents? As per our understanding, these are a handful of boys and girls whom the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has appropriately referred to as the “First boys” and “First girls” owing to their lineage with the privileged families, thereby having had an opportunity of studying in London, Germany and other expensive places around the Globe. Aptly, reflected in their book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions by Sen and Dreze and reasonably relevant to this ongoing misleading discourse is that “the privileged by and large do very well to their credit, they typically don’t waste opportunities. Their success comes, first, in the educational establishments themselves, and then in the world at large. The Country then celebrates with abandon the ‘nation’s triumphs’…Meanwhile the last boys, and particularly the last girls, can’t even read or write, not having had the opportunity of any kind of decent education”.
We ask, though politely, what about the millions of children who had not the advantage of being born in ‘royal echelons’ and are liable to go off-track without a capability of utilizing their talent in the hostile environment of the society they are a part of? What about the small, subaltern and underprivileged families who live a stressed life and can’t afford Convent/Biscoe brand of education, let alone the traditional Delhi wali padhayi or Washington stamped education’? We argue that through various tantalizing techniques, the elite in nexus with the state have irresponsibly sapped all of the intellectual capacity and have wasted the creative energy the underprivileged and underdog posses. Rather than trying to strengthening these threads each one of which is essential to the weaving of the social fabric, they have been pushed to squalor where they can barely recognize their innate capability.
The public intellectuals who should have been reflecting upon the social reality of dismally falling standard of public education in Kashmir ironically have resorted to a rhetoric by which they are sweeping the misery of majority under the red-carpet of the high accomplishments of an elite minority. Shall this scenario make for an assumption that these intellectuals and known columnists have never bothered to know the truth of our society or they are intentionally avoiding to reveal the factual scenario?  But we must realize that we are avoiding, at our own peril, the discussion about our universities, colleges and schools that are churning out an army of useless graduates without any market and non-market value. Who shall give voice to those voiceless, unsung and unheard Edisons and Einsteins living in oblivion in the peripheries and suffering because of the inimical tactics of the rich politics?

Going to USA and Tokyo is not a bad thing, we, like Sen and Dreze want to make it clear here that we have nothing against these First boys and First girls of Kashmir. We welcome their “making Kashmir proud” but what should be avoided is judging the overall performance of a ‘generation’ by cherishing the performance of minor elite, and ignoring the rest. Education, as it appears in Kashmir is right of everyone; everyone seems to be going to school or college but going to USA and Biscoe has always been the privilege of the selected few. Inequality, injustice and inhumane treatment of the financially poor classes is presenting a horrendous picture of Kashmir; a yawning gulf between the rich and poor is clearly visible in Kashmir and that is what we all should mourn. Discrimination, corruption, nepotism and favoritism by some kleptocrats have pushed the masses into a cobweb of inhumanness, a trap of poverty. Politics, education and decent employment is increasingly becoming the right of the elite. The subaltern, poor are mere small vegetables overshadowed by the big ones in a garden called Kashmir. Buttressing the arguments further, one can even refer to the recent trend of our so called “young turks” joining Indian politics too. Who are these young turks, if one may again ask this question politely. The answer will  same- our globally exposed elite fellows, who have managed to study in the west and have now come to dominate and capture income generating institutions back in valley, which they know are inherently mired with corruption and are great green pastures. This trend of rich joining the politics of the poor (politically) for expropriating the resources of the society (as we have seen in the past) is again somewhere closing the doors for our local Abraham Lincolns. You necessarily have to be filthily rich to join even an established political forum. These coercive and ‘extractive institutions’, where unfair- rules of the game are  explicitly being decided by certain elite individuals thus leaving behind a nation in misery, poverty, inequality and trauma are well in place in Kashmir too. The need of the time thus is not to celebrate the success of few, not to show infatuation for glitz and glamour rather to encourage inclusive institutions, which in return will help create a level playing field for all of us. It is time to descend from the ivory towers to face the ground reality and should fight for a just and fair Kashmir devoid of opportunistic trends and hackneyed discussions. 

Make innovation, not science, Kashmir’s focus

Let me begin with a small quote of Albert Einstein, which expressively summarizes the quintessence of this article here, ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift’. This quote of Einstein no doubt finds universal acceptance, it fits more to our settings however. Kashmir, as many would claim is seen as a place where ingenuity, creativity and ingenious thinking forms an important ingredient of daily life, is but, slowly and subtly converted into an addled valley; high on rhetoric, low on creativity. We are told that universities, fundamental science and hard-core research alone will unleash ‘another’ industrial- revolution after Europe here and every boost to our ‘cold, anonymous and uncaring technicians’ will in return solve all global ills. Wearing white aprons’, attending regular lectures, we are made to believe our ‘scientists’ are busy creating a society bereft of all diseases and hospitals. To put it differently, formal mode of knowledge production is seen as a panacea for all our difficulties, an elixir to our economic and socio-woes.  Seldom, are we encouraged to question the relevance and social-reliability of this rote-learning, hardly ever we doubt the effectiveness of this science-churning graduate- machine. Wholeheartedly, we have embraced the dangerous part of it by overlooking the informal, local and indigenous knowledge systems.

This exercise of wittingly recognizing and rewarding ‘wrong heads and hands’ will not only take Kashmir back to the stone-age, but will in the long run devour its complete ‘existence’. It will not only dehumanize us, but will convert us all prosaic too.  No doubt knowledge is the future, ‘science’ is the solution, but the way we produce and ‘use’ it, certainly is not the correct way, it raises more questions and answers none.  Having said that, I am no way undervaluing the power of knowledge here, but how this ‘power’ could be efficiently realized, channeled and used is my contention here. Before explicating on the topic further, let me clear some more haze about the term ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ first. My reference to science does not imply attributing a special status to it, because many of us even today would agree with Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's brilliant colleague, who spoke of science “as being nothing more than trained common sense”. For that matter, Nietzsche's claim that “science, with its reductionism and materialism, has deprived man of his special status” is still relevant in today’s context.  Science, no doubt is about ideas, is codified and in prescriptive form, is actually a small component of knowledge itself. Knowledge on the other hand includes both prescriptive and the propositional. To put it in a layman’s language, it includes both the science and everything else which is not included in the ambit of science. Without divulging much into this unsettled debate of what is science and what is not science?, I would rather like to couch my arguments on a famous Harvard University Professor’s research, Steven Shapin who in his seminal work ‘A Social History of Truth (1994)’ argued that “the gentlemanly constitution of scientific truth” in seventeenth –century England is explicitly grounded in an elite perspective.”  He contended that the birth of modern science occurred when gentlemen began to appropriate artisan’s knowledge and started to systematize it. Further, many historians, economists and sociologists have gathered strong and sufficient evidences, which prove that the much touted ‘industrial revolution’ in Europe owe little to basic science. Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Noble Prize economist would argue that the scientific advancements and headline innovations were not the real driving forces behind the explosion of economic knowledge in the 19th century. The economic paradigm shift was made possible through grassroots indigenous innovations with no or little scientific knowledge. Some notable examples in this regard include, James Watt, Richard Roberts and John Mercer. Without reading any science, they transformed whole Europe with their powerful innovations. Look for instance, this unlettered Richard Roberts who never studied science, went on inventing the self-acting mule in 1825, which automated the spinning machines invented in the 1770 and 1780s and became the backbone of the British cotton industry. Similarly, Lancashire’s most successful colorists and dye specialist John Mercer, was inducted into the Royal Society of England without cracking any science puzzle. To be precise, fundamental science alone cannot lead to any development.  

Now, let us come back to Kashmir. We have hundreds of local self-made inventors, unlettered and unsung who on daily basis with their creative ideas are trying subvert the formal rules, challenging the system and creating value out of trash. With no resources, no support, their innovations are creating diverse values ranging from social to environmental. At the same time, with huge resources our universities occupied in the paradigm of formal science seldom produce any substantial results. We have never come across any serious engagement between our universities and the surroundings in which they operate. Our apple, saffron, shawl, walnut, producing communities are rarely engaged by our universities. A big void is visible between our universities and the settings in which they operate. Regrettably, when we meet our ‘self-made inventors’ here, very few people are around to admire their ingenuity. They die, unheard and unsung. No doubt, of lately, some institutions, like EDC, GIAN, University of Kashmir has attempted to create a platform for our own Edison’s, but scaling up these innovators need a system support. Scaling up innovation is not one organization game; it needs actor-sector involvement. See, for example, Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, who is a serial innovator is struggling to commercialize his walnut cracking and pole climbing device. Rafiq Ahmad Ahanger, the genius innovator barely received any support from the state. So is the case with other hundreds of our Edison’s who hold the key for a new dawn are infrequently appreciated by the state. Instead of encouraging these innovators many of them ended up landing in various jails. In 1977, an innovator from Shalimar, Ghulam Mohammad Parry, was awarded patent for a period of 14 years vide patent no 146031 dated 26/03/1977 for an improved stove. Trying scale up his stove, he took a meagre amount of Rs.3000 as a seed money from the local Industries department. With no knowledge of the market and no support from the universities his innovation eventually failed to reach the market. With the result, he was unable to repay the ‘seed money’ and was sent to the Central Jail of Kashmir during the same time.  Much alike is the story of Ghulam Nabi Ahangar alias Naba Kamdi, who established a radio station at his home in Dialgam village Islamabad was harassed by state security agencies for creating out of the box solutions. 

If fighting poverty, diseases, inequality, unemployment forms the state agenda, ignoring informal sector innovators would be a great policy blunder. Local Science and Technology department whose role, mission and objectives we fail to understand thus needs a complete overhaul. In tandem with Kashmir University’s EDC and GIAN, they should take a lead role in exploring all the options to reach out to the local innovators. Banks, successful entrepreneurs, policy makers, lawyers and media be engaged for a long term collaboration. Innovations, let us be clear here, never happens in isolation. It needs an ecosystem of right institutions and a strong state patronage. 

Author is PhD researcher at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU, New Delhi and co-editor of ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from the Global South’ a book published by Rutledge, Taylor and Francis UK. For any kind of assistance with regards to any innovation please contact 9906485399. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Valley of hierarchies

Valley of hierarchies

Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad on the ghost of elitism and the minnows of Kashmir

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Imagine a subaltern caught between the horrors of armed conflict and the unpleasantness of elitism. Does not this state of affairs look like this: a vulnerable man imprisoned between the proverbial two evils of Scylla and Charybdis? Placed by fate or by calculated moves under such miserable conditions, what choices does this ‘human look-alike’ have? First, he may accept this given condition as a fait accompli and become a lifelong wounded being. Second, he may break the shackles, subvert the rules and set himself free from this disagreeable condition. Third, his resounding screams may slowly ignite a revolution which in turn would annihilate the existing exclusionary institutions.
The victims of armed conflict and elitism, like in the case of Kashmir, are incessantly trying hard to dismantle the cobweb of traps which have plagued them, so the exercise of their choice falls in the second category. In order to escape from the darkness of this diabolic world, they ceaselessly battle on every day. On one side they fight the oppressor while on the other side they resist the malevolence of their own elites.
By now the narrative of how we resist and fight the oppressor are very popular, and ironically, some of the most gripping narratives have been woven by none other than our elites themselves. To remain in vogue, they have mastered the skills of romanticism. They know the art of haggling in the market with ‘sentiment’ as a commodity.  For the time being, I will exclude structuring another narrative about the brutalities of the armed conflict. Rather, my focus here is to explicate on the other evil, the ghost of elitism, which I see as perilous, loathsome and as catastrophic as the brutality of armed conflict itself. It is my assertion here that this second evil is directly posing us more immediate threats than the conflict itself. If the ultimate aim is to defeat the oppressor, fighting elitism becomes an obligation; a prerequisite for a revolution that would ultimately change the scenario. Therefore it is an essential part of this article to explain who these elites are. Do they really look like ordinary humans or do they possess some characteristics of a scary phantom? How different are they from the Marxian bourgeoisie and how do they trick people with delusions created with great astuteness?
In Kashmir, elitism is manifested in various forms. The diversity of elites present in Kashmir is enormous. Some can be seen selling the Divine; various others are busy commodifying victimhood. Several champion human rights; and a few are busy constructing romantic narratives about Kashmir itself. Here, we first want to draw a distinction between the good and the bad elites, however.
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In Kashmir ,certainly we have our own brand of Marxian bourgeoisie, who control the means of production and expropriate local resources, thus amassing enormous wealth and affluence. This variety of elites can be mostly seen in and around the capital city (Srinagar) and traditionally have captured the proverbial business triangle composed of the Shawl, the Dal and the Hotel. There are other new entrepreneurs based in the peripheries and trying new capitalistic ventures. However, the difference between the two is that one is manipulative, while the other is somewhat scrupulous. This variety of elitism created out of the capitalistic culture, of course carries its own hazards with regard to climate, sustainability etc., but their contribution in holding back a revolution is not apparent.
The other form of elitism is based on religion. Here the ‘base’ in the Marxian sense is entirely conquered by religion and the discourse about God. This cult of religious elitism manifests itself in the form of few ‘torch-bearer religious families’ and has historically disregarded the human dignity of common people. These so called ‘custodians of religion’ have not only brutally subjugated the ‘lower classes’ but have also dishonoured the ‘sentiments’ of the people at certain critical historical junctures. Through historical compromises and coercions, almost all influential political, bureaucratic, academic, religious and social positions are occupied by this religious bourgeoisie – with certain exceptions.
To remain in vogue, Kashmir’s elites have mastered the skills of romanticism.
The third form of elitism is more deceitful and precarious. These elites are none other but our ‘conflict bourgeoisie’. They overtly represent the ‘intellectual class’ but clandestinely are working hand in glove with the oppressor. Their only job is to obfuscate and complicate the popular discourse. They have mastered the skills of romanticism and know how to trade in tragedy. The sufferings, pain and agony of the oppressed becomes grist to the mill of their industry. This group is more concerned about their own dividends than about the benefits the victims receive. During the past twenty years we have seen many such conflict-born intellectuals and media houses who have subtly sold the conflict without letting others know of it. These local and non-local ‘junkers’ through their politico-intellectual and economic supremacy are hard trying to capture the voices of dissent and through their noblesses-oblige are presenting distorted arguments by creating a misleading impression of the ‘real Kashmir issue’. Through novels, short stories, documentaries and well-crafted English write-ups, this ‘type-writer’ intellectual warrior believes that they have the monopoly over resolving the Kashmir imbroglio. Little does this aristocratic guild know that revolution is the prerogative of the subaltern. Words and pictures hardly ever won a battle. They overlook the fact that the fight against oppression becomes more powerful when it is more inclusive. When the poor man’s son ceases getting bullets on his scruffy chest, then only can romantic narratives find some legitimacy. This new cult of elites hardly ever accepts the fact that battle against occupation becomes more meaningful and fruitful when collectively ‘unlettered intellectuals’ and forgotten heroes are celebrated. They seldom appreciate the reality that the ongoing fight will make more sense when we communally eschew creating heroes and iron ladies out of our shared grief. In a time of war and misfortune, heroes and heroines are occasionally celebrated. Celebration follows after some triumph and until then everyone is a ‘conqueror’ and equally a ‘wounded’ one. In contrast  to this, our ‘above the crowd’ intellectuals who have managed this Gramscian ‘esprit de corps’ through coercion do exactly the opposite of it. They have regrettably reduced the Kashmir struggle to a few individuals, road shows and Facebook posts. Peer appreciation for their arcane models and bizarre explanations about the Kashmir conflict is a new standard. They carry the impression that they have globalised the Kashmir conflict but the reality is totally different.
Therefore, we strongly believe that chanting ‘Azadi’ slogans in Cape Town and Brussels will hardly make an impact back home unless the same individuals have some tangible impact locally. Let us be very sure of the fact that Azadi won’t come to us unless we stop sending the poor to the grave and the rich to Geneva. We should not dream of any spring unless we discontinue sending our deprived kids to prisons and the privileged lot to Paris. We cannot put the onus of on-the-ground Azadi struggle on the shoulders of the poor and the obligation of creating off-the-ground romantic narratives on the rich. Real freedom will probably come to us when we effectively dissipate this unfair and malicious division of manual and mental labour.  When prisoners get an opportunity to visit Paris, and those reserved for the graves get to know about Geneva, then only should we dare hope for an inclusive, egalitarian future. However, we are skeptical here about our ‘above the crowd intellectuals’ and I am really not sure if they would ever acknowledge this fact.
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There are many other forms of elitism one experiences in Kashmir, but the most damaging and divisive forms are reflected above. Geographical location, place of birth, education, upbringing, language, and wealth determine the other forms of similar elitist manifestations. The poor man of Kashmir is not only subjected to various elitist discriminations but is also the first victim in the armed conflict. Not only this, his immediate existence, agency, culture and knowledge systems are relegated and ridiculed. Kashmir, as it is portrayed the paradise on earth, is in reality a hell entangled in different forces of discriminations and cruel hierarchies. The victims of these discriminations at the end have only one choice and that is nothing but to fight. When a person is trapped by his stringent survival needs, reasserting his form of politics becomes little thorny. The only way for these entrapped souls is to ‘educate, agitate and organise’. To resist and protest.
Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad is a PhD researcher at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU, New Delhi. He recently co-edited a book titled ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’ published by Taylor and Francis, Rutledge UK. He works on informal sector innovations in India and can be mailed at