Mudasir Ali Lone & Tajamul Islam
Epistemic violence constitutes the very foundation of the pyramid of violence. The reason is that it is much more lethal, and has the power to transform the subjects or to rally an entire community against another based on the distortions scripted in the language in the form of histories, folk stories, and various types of literature. When such language becomes part of the politics of a state, it wreaks havoc for generations to come. One just has to look at ‘orientalism’ to know the scale and the magnitude of its power and influence.
For a much more focused study of knowledge and how one’s identity affects it, and how it can be manipulated, Miranda Fricker’s contribution to social epistemology in the critically acclaimed book, “Epistemic Injustice: Power and Ethics of Knowing” provides two significant tools for analysis: ‘testimonial injustice’ and, ‘hermeneutical injustice’. One deals with how disempowered, marginalized and oppressed people are considered ignorant, non-knowers meriting no attention and credibility simply because of their identity. Another deals with the gaps in knowledge—a community faces problems in articulating their experiences because of the lack of conceptual tools as the practices of language popularized by the people in the position of power are limited and not accommodative. It also means that even if the conceptual tools are available with the oppressed and the marginalized, they are not allowed to be used. The people of Kashmir face the onslaught of both of these practices. We suffice here with the exploration of the hermeneutical injustice or to put it more bluntly— hermeneutical violence.
Since this article addresses epistemic violence and /or epistemic injustice in relation to Kashmir one just has to think about the troubles involved in using the word ‘occupation’ in the context of explaining the daily experiences of Kashmiri people. The usual response from the people who control the daily behavior of the people through various mechanisms is illegal detentions and brazen use of violence. This conceptual tool, this basic tool that explains the relation between India and Kashmir faces censorship and has its grave repercussions. The word that reflects the reality, results in a serious backlash from the Indian side. So people are forced to look for alternatives that reflect reality to some extent and don’t expose them to state violence as well. The concept has a huge weight of centuries behind it, from reeling under various cruel monarchical/feudal rules to the infamous Sale Deed of 1846 in which Kashmir was sold lock, stock, and barrel to Gulab Singh to another misdeed of 1947 to the latest mislead of August 5, 2019, in which people were again locked, muted and blindfolded to further strip people of all the remnants they had somehow retained from all the historical misdeeds.
The censorship around the word ‘occupation’ and the inadequately-representing alternative usages that people look for to articulate their experiences provides a classic example of hermeneutical injustice. It plays out in multifarious ways and one of the noticeable practices includes shifting or subverting of the epistemic sphere of a word or a group of words. For example what is termed as ‘peace’ is nothing but the latent turbulence and what is generally referred to as ‘violence’ is nothing but an aspiration for peace. When such words that have opposite meanings in Kashmir are played out in media, it irks people for valid reasons. Agha Shahid Ali explains this through a phrase from Tacitus, “they make a desolation and call it peace”. Beating trumpets of peace and normalcy after the lives have been shattered would naturally be contested by the people and it constitutes not just epistemic injustice but epistemic violence also that tries, on the one hand, to normalize violence and on the other hand rob the terms of their sanctity.
Quite related to the concept of occupation touted as democracy are the terms that reinforce the legitimacy of occupation through the projection of another dichotomy of ‘normalcy’ and ‘disturbance’ or ‘violence’.
Normalcy and disturbance are false dualities in Kashmir which do not reflect in the realities on the ground or how the people think about it. This hermeneutic injustice serves to destroy the sense of understanding of their lives and the reality that surrounds them. A narrative is always set up where military occupation is presented as normal and the suffocating militarization of Kashmir projected as something that maintains normalcy in Kashmir. Anything that resists this occupation is termed as an attempt to disrupt the normalcy and when we look at it, this notion of normalcy actually translates into complete subjugation before Indian suppression and occupation. It tries to present brutal subjugation and humiliating submission of Kashmiris as ‘normal’ and anything that tries to reclaim dignity as a violent attempt at disrupting peace and normalcy. And to rebut that, an affirmation comes from people; that of course, people of Kashmir want peace and normalcy but how can there be peace and normalcy under military occupation as a military occupation is the very antithesis of peaceful existence and normalcy?
This brings us to the third stage of the corruption of dichotomies which necessarily follows from the above dualities: mainstream vs separatists.
This again is another successfully exploited false duality serving to distort the common sense. People contesting elections and working for the union of India are considered mainstream while those that resist it are termed as separatists or fringe elements. This subversion of meaning and corruption of terms is meant to create a kind of division that does not exist. If that were not the case, Kashmir would not have witnessed the largest military concentration in the world equipped with all draconian and colonial laws. The term separatist also implies that somehow the ‘union’ of Kashmir with India had any legitimacy in the first place and now there are some people who want to separate Kashmir from it, whereas the fact stands that the so-called accession of Kashmir to India was done at the whims of a despot against whom people had already risen up in arms. The accession has no morality and hence the ongoing Indian occupation of Kashmir is completely immoral. If there’s anything that’s mainstream in Kashmir, it’s the resistance against occupation.
One more spin follows for the grand enterprise of occupation which is to misrepresent the history and its critical junctures, and that includes terms like’ militarization’ and ‘militancy’.
Armed resistance or militancy is generally used as a point of departure in Kashmir—a departure from peace when the fact is that it is a colonial construct and successfully made as common sense. It, in plain words is making an abnormal thing normal and the natural uprising against it as abnormal. It is in close proximity with the dichotomy of normalcy and disturbance where the epistemic domains of both these words shift and mean completely opposite. Militarization rather than militancy is a departure or in other words, a continuation of the colonial legacy. Militarization is the stepping stone in the grand enterprise of colonialism in Kashmir. Armed resistance is the Kashmiri response to the Indian military occupation of Kashmir. The burden of non-violent struggle is put upon those people who are subjected to brutal military violence every day. All the violence in Kashmir emanates from the heavy militarization of Kashmir by the Indian state and armed resistance only aims to end that violence. Armed resistance is a response to violent subjugation, it’s counter-violence. Oppressed people don’t have the luxury of deciding the mode of resistance when the oppression is brutally violent. Armed resistance becomes inevitable in such a scenario. And armed resistance is as much valid and as much moral and as much legal as the ‘non-violent’ strands of any resistance because the motive and goal of everyone fighting the occupation in different ways is to end the violence that the occupiers inflict upon them and eventually bring peace and normalcy defined on their own terms.
When it comes to language about resistance in Kashmir, especially the armed resistance, we are often forced to use neutral language if not the statist one, to avoid repercussions. Although the term militant/rebel has no problem it’s not an assertive one, it’s pretty neutral. For assertion people in Kashmir use mujahideen or freedom/resistance fighters, but given the censorship they often avoid it. These things may seem small, but their impact is pretty significant. Seeing the usage of the assertive terms freely shows that the Indian war on people’s discourse has failed to make any impact. People fight these everyday battles in their language, as the language of occupiers can’t be allowed to take over the discourse of resistance.
Censorship and surveillance are also state mechanisms used to control the language of occupied people. The means through which people can express themselves are restricted. In the case of Kashmir, it can be seen in play through the restrictions on internet access and police summons to social media users over posts that don’t go well with the state authorities. Censorship of media is quite a common thing in Kashmir, it can be seen how journalists are forced to stay silent by booking them under draconian laws and newspapers are prevented from carrying certain stories through control of advertisements (a major source of revenue for newspapers). These things lead to a situation where nobody dares to question the state for the fear of repercussions and it leads to normalization of violence upon people, where tortures, beatings, and killings simply go unquestioned and even unreported.
Assault on language and robbing the people of their vocabulary, their terms, and their concepts is the first project to mute and disarm a population from articulating their experiences properly. It creates confusing binaries shorn of truth, forcing people to beat around the bush, blurring the sense of their understanding of their lives. To effect a change in hermeneutics makes violence natural and possible in all its manifestations. Language is important, its emancipation is important. The slogan of the right to self-determination cannot be achieved without first fighting for or asserting one’s epistemological self-determination. The right to epistemological self-determination precedes the right to political self-determination. It is the first pre-requisite in realizing a change and bringing about dignity to our lives.
Mudasir Ali Lone has a Master’s degree in Computer Science and his research interests are Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. He is from Pulwoem, Kashmir.
This essay is in continuation of Resisting the Language of Occupation