ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Kashmir: Dead Men Do Tell Tales

 

The web version of this article corrects a few errors that appeared in the print edition.

The story of three graves in Kashmir encapsulates the saga of collective mobilisation in the Valley and the direction in which it has veered. The first, closed after a magnifi cent state funeral, has to be now guarded against the people of the region. Still open, the other two await bodies that have been buried in Tihar Jail.

Several travelogues in the 19th century, mostly by Europeans, described the vale of Kashmir as a land of mystery and its people as lotus-eaters. While reflecting on the natural beauties of the Valley, they also, sometimes unknowingly, spoke of the oppression of its inhabitants by their rulers. In postcolonial days, the Indian intelligentsia and Indian media constructed a different Kashmiri – one so naive as to be influenced by “outsiders” and “foolish” enough to believe he understood what was “good” for him. Any departure from this construction was seen as an exception and further proof of Kashmiri naivety and foolishness. Kashmiris were told that they did not know what was “best” for them, and when they tried to shape their destiny, they were said to be influenced from outside. Thousands of pages have been written about “foreign hands” working in Kashmir, and numerous azadi (freedom) agitations over the last seven decades have been said to reflect Kashmiri “waywardness”. Thus even peaceful protests by the inhabitants of the Valley were termed “agitational terrorism” because they threatened to topple the “happy Kashmir” image so adroitly projected by the rulers. However, Kashmiris with their passion for freedom and enduring resolve to achieve it have not only rejected such constructions, but also actively resisted them.

Historically, whenever and wherever people have collectively challenged state power, they have been dubbed “alienated” and “irrational” mobs, given to “fickleness” (Smelser 1962). But recent studies on the civil rights movements of the 1960s and scores of other campaigns clearly demonstrate that people who participate in protests are neither alienated nor disconnected. Instead, they are strongly linked to and grounded within the social fabric of their communities, and this, in turn, is an important element in their mobilisation (Johnston and Noakes 2005). In other words, people mobilise and participate in protests on the basis of their understanding and interpretation of everyday political and social problems. Such collective behaviour expressed through protests and movements is not a mechanical reflex response to certain events, but essentially a purposive and goal-oriented engagement (Crossly 2002). It follows that to understand such phenomena one needs to examine the meanings the participants and actors attach to the events that trigger them. In Kashmir, where such mobilisations have erupted frequently, right in the face of the structures of power, it is important to understand the meaning the people attach to certain provocations.

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