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Thinking Kashmir

Shiv Visvanathan ( teaches at the O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana.

Waiting is so much a part of everydayness, including waiting for peace, waiting for your loved ones to come home, waiting for curfew to end, waiting for the army to go home. Between silence and waiting one can create a narrative of the Kashmir conflict. Unlike the Holocaust or partition, which have the gigantism of epic memories, the sadness of Kashmir is forged, crafted out of thousands of little memories, unwritten diaries merging quietly together. It is this alchemy of memories that is struggling against government policy, which sanitises violence and erases memory to create this strange machine that moves from violence to violence in facile amnesia.

This project is an act of listening, of recording conversations of a worried academic with a small group of students from Kashmir. It seeks through their suggestions an alternative set of perspectives and categories that breaks the current impasse where Kashmir has almost given up on Indian democracy. Here, a scholar listened and learned from his students. This is a small harvest of his understanding of Kashmir. Thanks to Poonam Zutshi, Peerzada Raouf, Mohammed Tabish, Peerzada Muqeem and Misria Ali for their insights.

At a seminar on Violence and Forgiveness, psychologist Ashis Nandy was chairing and listening to presentations on Afghanistan, South Africa, the United States (US) and other communities. After listening carefully, he commented on the hollowness of international relations as a discipline, claiming that it was one of the emptiest efforts at thinking. He emphasised the gap between peace as a responsibility and the clichéd predictability of concepts like security. Peace, Nandy hinted, needed a different language, a different ethic of self-reflectiveness, maybe even a different idea of the social.

Nandy’s almost casually profound comments sound almost lethally accurate when we look at the discourse on security studies in Kashmir. The redundancy and repetitivity of concepts haunts these discussions in a way such that the discourse on security perpetuates the violence in Kashmir.

Kashmir as a story desperately needs to be retold not as narrative about boundary, insurgency, terror, and law and order, but as an attempt to articulate a dream of citizenship. One requires not a structural analysis of nation-building, but a phenomenology of pain, suffering, an anthropology of silence and memory, with a semiotics of citizenship and protest, and a people’s idea of democracy. There is a tacit world of democracy that we must understand, which stands between the said and the unsaid that needs to comprehend language, silence, the body, and the body language of pain and protest.

On Storytelling

Historians of partition will tell you that stories about the violence often begin with narratives about the train. The works of Saadat Hasan Manto are a good example. Often his stories would open with a line such as, “the train from Amritsar was seven hours late.” The train becomes the site, the embodiment of genocidal violence, the repository of future memories. Similarly, historians of Kashmir will one day observe how the violence of the last two decades began with the destruction of childhood, with the child’s first encounter with the army, with the brutality of the bully-boy state. They will tell you that the callousness of the army destroyed the innocence of childhood.

In fact, terror and security spell the end of childhood. It is children and women who remember violence in a poignant way. There is something wonderful about a child roaming free, enjoying a place. Memories are made of such forays and adventures. Friendships brew to a wonderful intensity through such experiences. Walking is the ultimate philosophical statement on freedom. To walk free and without threat is to be a citizen. Walking freely is one of the greatest entitlements of freedom and citizenship. To walk without being questioned, to walk free is virtually to dream free. When you suppress a walk, cage a body, you cage a mind. Violence begins when you destroy the innocence of walking. A colleague of mine related his story to me:

Let me tell you something about myself. When the army in Srinagar beat me up for the first time, I was 10 years old. Ask me why and I will tell you I don’t know. I seriously don’t. I was just walking on the road and a soldier decided to frisk me, then slap me, and then he and his fellow mighty warriors together kicked me. There was no social media then and I didn’t threaten them … The second time I was still 10 years old. The third time I was beaten up by the CRPF, I was still 10 years old, and the next sixteen times I was beaten up I was still 10 years old.

What one reads here is a standard socialisation story. It is rite of passage, not into adulthood or citizenship, but into what is an army town. There is little ethnography of the first memories of brutality and even less recognition of the repeatedness of brutality. Often, there is no reason for being frisked and beaten up. It is what one would call the tyranny of the streets. Earlier, there would be an occasional local bully threatening a child’s existence. Bullies were entities that we outgrow, but never forget. However, when a bully becomes official, a different form of organised violence is born.

A bully has limits, but an army officer as a bully, when he beats with impunity, he behaves with immunity; he is no longer a citizen. He is an uncontrollable tyrant, a tyrant of the street, a part of a network of tyranny we euphemistically call a security apparatus. Kashmir warns you that brutality corrupts, and absolute brutality corrupts absolutely. The corruption of violence is even more insidious than the corruption of money. Terror is commodified brutality. Official terror is as much terror as that of warring groups. State-sponsored violence has no claims to purity with which the security discourse and the security industry attempt to endow it.


The word security also sanitises violence in a dubious way. Official violence is considered as legitimate violence while the violence of the opposition is demonised. Such demonology often blinds one to the evil within. The language used is of epidemiology, of eradicating vermin. Violence becomes a form of hygiene, sanitising spaces. But, as you managerialise and technologise violence, you lose a sense of the pain you cause, you miss the phenomenology of brutality and suffering and fail to understand the immediacy of the experience. You talk of targets as if they were production quotas. Body counts and quotas hide violence, banalising numbers as a kind of duty. “So many killed today” has the innocence of a weather report, an act of god.

The destruction of childhood, the emptiness of waiting, the failure of the political, and the eventual lack of hope is what eats into the fate of Kashmir. At this moment, the political class, instead of responding creatively, creates what might be called the eternal replay of hopelessness. History is immediately abbreviated and we confront the immediate. Hysteria takes over and suspicions loom large. Every Kashmiri becomes suspect at that moment. The media as the prime hysteric is never analysed. The politics of anxiety is worked out as hardliners on both the sides claim prime time. Stereotypes are repeated, clichés abound, and they have nothing to do with Kashmir as it exists.

Kashmir could be seething like a cauldron, but it is already a tabula rasa in a Delhi that is more interested in the US and Europe. Kashmir is distant from Delhi given our elite’s imagined contiguity to New York and London. A dogfight in Brooklyn is far more important than a hundred dead in Kashmir. Fake encounters create a managerial rationale with which the elite are content. As Delhi readies to see no evil in Kashmir, the pain, the furious searching of the families, the silence, the rituals of mourning, the anger and loss of the survivors, and the desperation of families is ignored. As dissent, dissatisfaction, loss and anger brew in Kashmir, our middle-class elite pat their own backs for a job well done. No politician seems to make a mistake in Kashmir. Each protest is a potted history untouched and unconnected to previous histories. The politics of official narrative is lethal as it is enacted by media and policy experts. It is a politics of silence and forgetting. No one bothers about Kashmir between two protests. There is a Vietnamisation of Kashmir that we do not talk about. There is use of excessive force that creates temporary normalcy.

As one uses lethal equipment against our people, we justify excess by creating a demonology around hardliners. No one considers what happens inside each family as thousands of young men are arrested. No one writes about the families waiting day after day at the police station for their beloved ones.

Somehow, one senses that India does not understand the politics of worrying about your near and dear ones, the memory of waiting to see whether they have survived the day’s security checks, the humiliation, the funeral of friends, the brutality of the army, the million micro rituals of memory that create protest as we know it. It is this logic of memory that the Government of India dismisses lightly. Harassment, scrutiny, intrusion, interference, beating, surveillance, and humiliation, each memory is etched on the mourning wall of Kashmir, and the Government of India pretends ignorance.

Unlike the Holocaust or partition, which have the gigantism of epic memories, the sadness of Kashmir is forged, crafted out of thousands of little memories, unwritten diaries merging quietly together. It is this alchemy of memories that is struggling against government policy, which sanitises violence and erases memory to create this strange machine that moves from violence to violence in facile amnesia.

The body rather than the nation is the real site of Kashmir’s politics of being. Violence, pain and memory are different dialects inscribed on the body. A scar is violence, pain, memory, and becomes a polysemic mnemonic speaking all the dialects of suffering. The body also emphasises vulnerability and companionship. In not understanding the language of the body, security experts land up misreading the language of protest. The way the army intrudes into the ethical space of the body, imposing interrogations and body searches, inflicting rape and other forms of brutality, virtually inaugurates the descent of the body into the hell of the Kashmir imbroglio. The body literally becomes an embodiment of the fragility of personhood and citizenship. Because one begins with mobs and with the sense of the statistical, one loses the sense of a body’s sense of being and non-being in Kashmir.

If one begins with the language of the body rather than with the abstractness of concepts, one creates a space for empathy and understands the many dialects that silence, rage, despair, and hope speak in Kashmir.

Silence and Waiting

Silence is an interior monologue with oneself, trying to unravel decisions and choices. Silence needs a lexicon, a set of punctuation marks, a linkage to the sense of the unconscious to be understood. Democracy is too worried about participation and protest as overt behaviours to be able to engage with silence. Silence and waiting are located in time, but the historical or political time of politics has no sense of the subjectivities involved in silence and waiting. The way a time table for peace is proclaimed and altered, as hope is repeatedly composted, needs dialects of silence and waiting. Time, both as a form of violence and healing, needs to be considered. There is a polysemy to silence that the paranoia of a security expert refuses to understand.

Silence has depth, a life of its own articulating a relation that demands to be understood, articulating a relation between the said and the unsaid. A child’s silence and a woman’s silence speak differently. It embodies an interiority of pain, a struggle with the citizenship of despair that needs to be chronicled. Silence has an interiority of which security experts have little sense. This silence is abject; it ferments with time, with waiting, another ritual that needs a deep ethnography.

Waiting has not received its literary and philosophical due. A history of waiting needs to be written around Kashmir. Mourning articulates a sense of loss. It has an architectonic of grief, a sense of solidarity. Waiting is often solitary. It has silences. Its punctuation marks are agonising. The numbness of waiting blinds one to the epic demands it makes on us. Waiting is a dialect of its own, with its own sense of the body, its own sense of time, its own prayers of hope, and its sense of futility.

Waiting is a form of disempowerment. Waiting challenges the linearity of chronological time. It is pregnant with a different emptiness. Waiting defies the industrialisation of time. Waiting resists and resists control. There are no recipes for waiting. There is no pocket watch to measure waiting. Waiting embeds hope, but the futility of waiting can curdle hope. The history of waiting in Kashmir is yet to be written. We have a cascade of anecdotes, but once one grounds waiting, protest becomes a more comprehensible phenomenon. Kashmir, then, is understood as a hyphenation of a string of phenomena—loss of childhood, frustration of youth, waiting, protest, mourning, and a semiotics of militancy still trying to steer away from terror. The politics of everydayness needs to be mapped before we confront more visible effects like party, politics, and religion.

It is between silence and waiting that one can create a narrative of the Kashmir conflict. Kashmir is a conversation that has not taken place. It has been abbreviated, downsized, emasculated by a whole array of attitudes, frameworks, categories, and the failure of a cognitive, ethical, and political imagination that needs to be explored. The standard narratives of the oppression of Dogra rule or the so-called integration of 1947 do not keep as narratives. The focus has all too often been on nations and leadership, so that Kashmir in terms of a local, vernacular imagination, a decentred polity where Delhi or Pakistan do not define and determine the terms of discourse, is unavailable.

A syncretism of old and new possibilities is needed. The old-fashioned ideas of conversation and adjustment might make a new fashioned sense, as culture comes to the aid of political experimentation. Maybe, the speech of everyday life and the virtue of listening need a space again. All the aesthetic spaces of art, craft, architecture, poetry, and even religion in this aspect have to be opened up to heal the violence of the time.

Official discourse has to look at itself both as a reification of certainty and its breakdown, chronicling the stumbling that follows the discovery of expertise as a form of illiteracy. Security experts see violence as a temporary aberration, which the forces of law and order will rectify. The fact that this temporariness of violence has existed for over 50 years makes time feel meaningless. It is only when one creates a history of waiting, silence, of humiliation, that one can grasp the symbolism of stone-throwing.


A stone-pelter is seen as a sibling of a terrorist, but, in fact, he is a citizen crying out in despair. Terror is a statement that disallows the possibility of rational discussion. There is anonymity to terror. When a bomb goes off, one is not even sure who will be destroyed. Terror dehumanises ethical space, while the stone-pelter choreographs ethical space. The body is the site of protest. He stands with the crowd in solidarity, where each stone thrown is a mix of appeal, rage and despair, a desperate attempt to stir citizenship into an act of agency. Stone-pelting has a specific focus of protest. Terror is almost random in its consequences.

Stone-throwing is a ballet of resistance, a statement of protest going beyond silence. It is a people’s weapon easily wieldable by an eight year old or an 18 year old. It became a global semiotic act when Palestinians used it. A stone expresses the asymmetry between power and powerlessness. Given the disparity between stone and tank, stone-throwing is seen as non-violence. For the Palestinians, this was biblical irony as they reversed the story of David and Goliath by playing David armed with a slingshot against the Israeli Goliath. A little stone and a terrorist bombing are worlds apart, yet they inevitably merge in the eyes of a securitarian state. The stone was the weapon of the weak against the strong.

If one witnesses an act of stone-throwing, one senses the vulnerability of the thrower. He is no match for gun, grenade or pellet. It captures the spontaneity and solidarity of the crowd, creating a temporary space, an environment of solidarity. Yet, what one confronts is not recognition of the asymmetry of power, but a statement of excess as the military unleashes full force on the pelters. An army unused to crowd control uses force or defiance, creating heavy casualties. Yet, it also creates a politics of protest, giving the weak a sense of hope, an agency. Yet, the semiotics of stone-throwing, whether in Palestine or Kashmir, is deliberately misunderstood. By twinning the stone-pelter and the terrorist, one makes sure that democracy has little space for manoeuvre.

The very asymmetry of the stone against the security forces creates a drama invoking a sense of a children’s crusade. Stone-throwing is a last desperate statement of a non-violent people pointing out that the institutions of peace, of law and order, of appeal have broken down. When institution-building in terms of judiciary and rule of law break down, then to assume the army is engaged in nation-building seems surreal. Stone-throwing is a ritual of protest, of solidarity, mingling all the loneliness and silence of Kashmir. It combines a sense of a wake and a carnival, a cathartic act of desperate communication with Delhi, a message that things could have been different. It is a marker, where, on one side lies the world of conversation, empathy, negotiation, where face meets face, and on the other side is the continent of terror where violence escalates schizmogenetically.


The destruction of innocence begins with childhood, but the repetition of violence, the continued humiliations of ordinary people that corrodes citizenship, spreads like an epidemic through adolescence. The ID card, which is a mark of citizenship, becomes a marker of humiliation. There is no such thing as a legitimate citizen; there is only a legitimate card. When identity becomes the pursuit of constant identification, citizenship empties out further.

There is also reciprocity to violence that one must understand. When one watches security forces, especially the army, there is a sense of the official, of men in uniform doing duty. There is a pomposity to the rituals of the army. It is the very rituals of intrusion, frisking, and constant surveillance that make security an everyday gauntlet of humiliation rather than an assurance of entitlements. Security is impersonal, brutish, organised and brutal. It does not have the consoling power of safety. Safety has warmth, while security has emptiness. Safety grows with trust, with a sense of reciprocity, of openness, but security unfolds a panopticon, a regime of surveillance. There is also a paradox wherein the army, which is supposed to protect us against the enemy, the external threat, creates that profound inversion where every resident is a potential enemy.

Security, like terror, has an element of organised excess, which makes the rituals of democracy brittle. Security asks a citizen to suffer security in silence. Complaint, protest, anger, and irritation, which are all normal reactions of normal citizens to intrusions in their daily life, are now taboo. The silence of citizenship as submission thickens till it becomes a stew of anger, of overflowing discontent. Security analysts see protest as reactive, a knee-jerk response to official violence. They fail to see the sheer layers of grievance that have been fermenting below.

To be subject to constant surveillance is to live in constant humiliation and it is the rituals of humiliation that lead to the drama of protest. Memory becomes crucial because all a child sees is constant, redundant crudity of an army destroying the normalcy, the playfulness of citizenship. Students walking together are suspect. Couples stealing a romantic or private moment are suspect. Citizenship becomes empty and corrosive turning to a perpetual irony of humiliation. All a child remembers is the bullying, the brutality and officiousness of the army.

To protest in such circumstances might be a sign of health rather than that of treason. When even basic rites and rituals of civility are ignored, a citizen has to protest. A Thoreau or a Gandhi or a Václav Havel could argue that. You do not need the shrillness of a Yasin Malik. In this moment of humiliation and isolation, the crowd, the warmth, the eloquence of the crowd becomes the only Linus’s Blanket of consolation.

To pelt together, to protest together is often to restore a sense of being together. A crowd becomes a larger than life version of yourself and, because it is larger, the army might think twice before touching you. Pelting a stone against the state is like unfurling the inner flag of freedom in yourself. In its compressed concreteness, a stone carries the tangibility of humiliation and the potency of protest. Maybe, only a Frances Ponge can celebrate it. You do not throw a stone. In a ritual of protest, you pelt it. The togetherness of stones is semiotically the togetherness of helpless citizens. The army, Delhi, and our think tanks are too illiterate to understand it.

If I were to write a history of freedom, create a museum of resistance, I would begin with a pile of stones. Our experts forget that when a child pelts a stone, they are questioning authority in a transparent way because what a stone communicates is their sense of despair, vulnerability, and their feeling of brittleness before the pomposity and brutality of the state. A stone is a mnemonic, a reminder to the state of all it has ignored or been indifferent to. Why does a stone acquire lethal quality only in Kashmir? Stone-throwing crowds are a dime a dozen in India, and our police handle them every day. Yet, in Kashmir, every stone pelted becomes a lethal threat to the state. Security always plays on the irrationality of anxiety. Hysteria, as the official hyperbole, destroys any rationality or reflexiveness in the response. The worlds of distance, the many utopias of expectation and hope between a grenade and stone are fused irreversibly in the discourse of security.

Protest is often the drama of the body asking the body politic to return to its former integrity. Protest knows it is a flow that can dissipate or dry up. Protest knows its temporariness. Yet, it tries to reach out to the government as a scream, a cry of anger in pain, a distilled movement of agony telling a regime that sensitivity and speech are still possible. What is a symptom of pain is read as an index of threat, what is an attempt to speak a dialect of democracy is now read as a threat. The very act of misreading protest forecloses the possibility of democracy. The security specialists in Delhi, oozing their technocratic machismo, might be a greater threat to democracy than any crowd in Kashmir. It is time that democratic theory psychoanalyses the language of security for its anxieties about democracy as disorder, its lack of trust in the resilience of a people. When one of my students says, “I protest so I can remain Kashmiri and Indian,” the tone deaf establishment refuses to listen.

Kashmir’s years of protest were choked in silence, while news of terror is immediately amplified by the state itself. Protest is the spontaneous violence of the crowd, while terror is organised, calculatedly excessive, and sees protest as effete, even feminine. Terror summons immediate media attention. Protest might be quickly subdued and forgotten. Protests in Kashmir have gone tired with waiting.

The noise of protest, the scream, the shout, the eloquence of the clenched fist, the crescendo of pain often mutes the other tropes associated with it—silence, waiting, searching, the agony of helplessness. If protest is an interjection mark, it is calibrated by silences, the silence of living in a regime that does not know how to relate or respond, the everyday waiting, hoping your menfolk and children will come home, realising that the label missing is a blanket rubric for all the violence, and the forms of dying. Rape needs no justification. Beating a citizen unconscious is celebrated as sovereignty. It is the power of immunity which allows you to invade and destroy a body. Waiting is not just waiting for family; it is waiting for normalcy, waiting for the violence to end. Waiting and silence are stretched in time. On the one side memory thickens with each blow, each act of humiliation, and on the other side, power is an act of forgetting what one has done to a people. It is as if Kashmir has to nurse its trauma, its wounds in silence, waiting for justice, waiting for normalcy, waiting for citizenship.

I remember two students of mine, one who pretends Kashmir does not exist, and the other who acts as if her Kashmir died decades ago. One erases being, one exiles being to an untouchable past. But, for both, cauterising Kashmir is better than waiting for normalcy to return. Between silence and erasure, they have wished away a problem. Two Pandits who seem to say, “I lobotomise therefore I am.” Doubly exiled, from Kashmir and from India, they are creating a double antiseptic that sanitises pain. Two wonderful Kashmiris, who began by feeling, “I am from Kashmir, therefore I am,” two decades later, they admit quietly, “I erase, therefore the rest of me can be.”

I still remember another story of a physicist, a Kashmiri Kaul, who preached Immanuel Kant and worked on particle physics. He epitomised secularism, eulogised a secular Kashmir. His identity badge was his secularism and his science. I met him 10 years later and his language had changed. It was one of loss, of mourning for the fate of the Kashmiri Pandit. His secularism had shrunk and all he could talk about was the fate of his community. As one watched him, quickly one sensed a double missingness—the missingness of his community waving quietly to the missingness of his former self. Kashmir is a compound of too many small tragedies, erosions, erasures and suffering like a skin that bears the traces of each damage.

One has to admit that the right and left battering each other over symbolic capital does not exhaust the polysemy of Kashmir. Kashmir is a model for understanding different cultures. One sees this in the politics of memory as the politics of representation in art, poetry, film and photography—an examination of the potential.

Memory can be problematic enough, but the politics of memory can be even more traumatic. When pain becomes an ideology, it moves from fundamentals to fundamentalism. It literally decides who can suffer and who can theorise about pain. In this battle of the left and right, Sahmat and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, authenticity lies at right angles to ideology. Neither side realises that pain is a commons, that suffering cannot be patented. It is not the exclusive monopoly of a people. Each side problematises the other in claiming to itself the cosmopolitanism of pain and justice. Where one sees pain, the other dubs as tactics, what one calls history, the other dubs as erasure.

As an old friend of mine—U R Ananthamurthy, a storyteller—once warned me, storytelling is creative and plural. One cannot provincialise pain. Pain needs vernaculars and dialects. Pain needs a cosmopolitanism of solidarity, of empathy, where Kashmir can understand Lebanon, Bosnia, and can seek to grasp an Auschwitz. What one needs is the plural memory that talks of all sides. Memory anticipates justice and when memory is one-sided or replete with erasure, justice is doomed. There is no Pandit justice or Muslim justice. There is justice, but there is a Muslim narrative and a Pandit narrative. To destroy storytelling is to emasculate justice. Truth-telling and storytelling create the preludes for justice.

If you want to make Kashmir a part of India, then you cannot have a Kashmir with caveats and qualifications, a Kashmir under laboratory conditions. A Kashmir open to media has to be a plural Kashmir, and a plural India. We cannot have a whole that is less than the parts. We cannot have a nation state that imposes strictures on every aspect of Kashmir. A civilisational Kashmir and a civil society Kashmir has to be part of a triptych with the Kashmiri state. Secularism and syncretism will be both parts of the new order. If memory is a forest of symbols, the state cannot reduce it to a meagre garden. Memory and erasure haunt Kashmir in equal measure. Democracy as an act of storytelling has to create the rights, the spaces for each kind of memory.

The low voter turnout has to be seen in this same symbolic vein. Kashmiris who flocked to earlier elections are now saying elections mean little if they are decontextualised from the rest of democracy. A single digit turnout is surreal within an Indian situation. Once again, it is a clear-cut statement that democracy is not working and security has brutalised democracy. The confidence in India as a democratic project is decreasing. It is when India loses the semiotic battle that Kashmir will be lost. The voter turnout is a last, desperate early warning signal that India is bumbling over Kashmir. One has to recognise the nature of the scandal. To paper it over and say that fear was the key, is to refuse to understand a people.

To read every act of collective mourning as a message of militancy is obtuse. What Delhi needs is not a security consultant parading body counts as a sign of effectiveness, but a hearing aid, a translator or a communication expert who reads a scream as a cry of agony uttered by a human being in pain. Surely, citizenship is entitled to that. Maybe, Kashmir just needs someone to reach out and console it, to emphasise compassion that clinical concepts of violence control may not possess. Maybe, it needs someone to remind us all that prayer and protest as acts still emerge within a domain of faith, while terror might have moved beyond it.

Suggestions for Peace

There are two immediate projects one can suggest. The first is a greater intervention of civil society in Kashmir. I am not arguing merely for a civil rights report. Such an investigation has an episodic value, but, once complete, it almost becomes discontinuous with society. The rest of India has to open out to Kashmir, bridge the world between the inanity of tourism and the emptiness of terror. One has to recover the everydayness between such spaces by reimagining Kashmir. For example, universities could create summer schools in Kashmir, research collaborations, and small rituals of exchange where Kashmir is not always reduced to a problem. Peace has to begin in the playfulness of mutual discovery.

The university as a world of knowledge systems owes a particular apology to Kashmir for constructing a field called security studies. As a mix of policy objectification and machismo, security studies is a travesty of a knowledge system, more a servant of power rather than an analysis of it. It is full of clichés clothed in paranoia, which perpetuates the banality of the analysis.

Kashmir has to become a site for a debate between democracy and the national security state. Terror and its companion security have to be faced, questioned and that act of questioning has to be transparent. In fact, Kashmir has to become a site where the democratic imagination renews and experiments with concepts like development, security, and sustainability. Everydayness creates new narratives, where the sheer act of conversation, listening and storytelling creates the possibility of alternatives. Sometimes the world of expertise reifies reality, creates an artificial language that shuts out the world of everydayness, of ordinary language, the wisdom of common sense, and shrugging of messages from it as if they were hypochondria. Through this act, it sustains the iatrogenic nature of problem-solving, where the analyst has to become the case study. Unfortunately, humility and expertise rarely go together.

A student of mine—a young poet struggling with Kashmir and international relations as a master’s subject—put it acutely: Peace, he said, cannot be objective, something rational derived from a social contract or based on a cost–benefit analysis. Rationality has its place but one needs something polysemic and plural. Peace cannot be linear; it must be a composite with the strength of composites. Peace must be contradictory, multifaceted, full of tensions, and wants and gossip so that one can quarrel, debate and engage with it. Peace, he seemed to suggest, needed competing theories of societies and through an act of complementarity, peace emerged.

Even grumbling about peace is an engagement with peace. It becomes a way of being involved with it. It must have something for everyone to own up to. It must be constitutional, but built out of tacit categories, and understand everydayness. Peace is not a target, it is a process. It is not a building, but a tool and a toy, like a kaleidoscope. It is both robust and fragile; after all, a kaleidoscope is a bit of cardboard, a few rubber bands, a bunch of broken bangles sticking hopefully together. Peace is a perpetual hypothesis, tested and verified every day. A people’s peace cannot be an experts’ peace. Kashmir is a plea, an invitation for civil society to invent a durable peace. It is a gift to the future of Indian democracy.

Updated On : 27th Sep, 2017


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