by Lina Wood
Heading towards Srinagar downtown. The mobile vibrates. Come directly to the CCS office. The police have cancelled the talk. The Indian scholar Mridu Rai was supposed to speak on “Languages of Violence, Languages of Justice: the State and Insurgent Kashmir” this afternoon. A few hours before the event was to take place at Hotel Grand Mumtaz, the government threatened the management of the hotel against holding it, thus exemplifying that the title of Prof. Rai’s talk continues to be of great practical value in muzzled Kashmir. A press release from the organizers, J&K Coalition of Civil Society, later on reads: “Under the law, there is no requirement for any permission for holding such an event at a private venue. This ban is consistent with the government’s policy of disallowing academic, cultural and political activity in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Alternate space is provided. The two rooms of the small JKCCS office are packed with people. On chairs, on the floor, on the balcony, gathering in the window frames. Mridu Rai settles in a corner: “I quite like cozy spaces. We’re okay. The state doesn’t want us to speak, but can’t stop us. So, here we are. The title of my paper and everything has flown out of the window, I’ll talk off my head.
“Michel Foucault spoke about the dangerous individual, and how the state constructs that creature. The dangerous individual is the violent individual. The Kashmiri has become that violent individual, each one of you, sorry. You’re all very dangerous people. In Kashmir you can only be violent, otherwise you are not a Kashmiri. If you are a Kashmiri and you are violent, you are not allowed to be a Kashmiri. Both of these things happen.”
“One of the most dangerous aspects of a language, the language of violence, as it is perpe- trated by the state, is through precisely what is has done today: Silence. To remove voice from the people; to make sure, that this voice can only be heard in terms in which the listener wishes to hear it.”
“2010, when over 170 young children were killed here and were called violent I wondered whether the Indian state had forgotten was violence meant. When nobody got punished for it, I wondered whether the Indian state remembered what justice meant. For me, starting work in 1989, 2010 became just the culmination of the most grievous outrage that the Indian state has perpetrated against your people, your dangerous lot, you crazy people.
“What is the language of violence? We imagine that someone who picks up a stone and throws it at a fully armed, armed to the teeth individual, is violent. Why? Because that man has a right to be violent. That boy has no right to be. Absolutely not. The languages of violence are created by the state itself.”
“After 2010, that was so shameful, even the Indian state had to take some measures. It got away with it, pretty much, but it needed to do something, so it sent 3 lovely people, three ‘interlocutors’. In the very first page of the report, they describe what they’ve found in Kashmir as a sense, a long and deep lasting sense of victimhood. Victimhood? Sorry, which Kashmir did they visit? You get it? You are either violent or a victim. That’s the only kind of justice you can expect. You’re going to be saved from yourselves.”
“On the second page they talk about what they’ve found on major demands of Kashmiris. And I think there were 7 or 8 points. Each one of them carries the word freedom, azaadi, azaadi, azaadi, azaadi, azaadi, but not one of them speaks about political freedom. So, freedom to get your milk everyday, that’s what Kashmiris want? Of course you want that. Who doesn’t want that? But the main freedom, the main demand for freedom? This is the justice the state is going to give you: It is going to ignore your major demand. Because you don’t deserve it. Because suddenly now we remember you as the violent Kashmiris who don’t know how to demand their demands properly.”
“There is no justice for you, forget about it. Sorry, bad news, you’ll never get your azaadi as long as this state exists. It’s just not going to happen, that’s the way I see it. How do you then overcome this language of violence? How do you do that? To me, that’s the big question. Because I don’t want to hear that Kashmiri resistance is a dead letter, because right now, it looks like a dead letter to me: Because of the way this whole problem has now been reconstructed, reshaped, molded, refashioned, twisted, and tortured into existence. I don’t see how you’re going to get your azaadi. I don’t see it. Except that it has to happen. Because there is no other challenge to the might of this state.
“The violence in the case of Kashmir has become almost invisible. If it doesn’t even require you to be violent to be coded violent, what kind of language of justice do you expect? The only justice you are going to be given is the one that speaks through AFSPA, that speaks through the Public Safety Act, through PSA and AFSPA, because you are dangerous, you are violent. Your whole history has been reconstructed through, as one instance of violence after another. So don’t seek justice because this is never going to be given to you. It’s important to sit back and think about the language you are using.”
Audience (A): “The fact that I stayed back, it shows that I have hope. The problem is, what would you say to people like us when we start to get so pessimistic that we start to say I had enough of this. Because a lot of my friends, a lot of people I’ve grown up with, basically started saying: This is not for me. We’ve cried enough tears of blood. We finally want to let go.”
Mridu Rai (MR): “See, it’s not for me to say. It would be irresponsible of me to tell you what you should do. I can say whatever. Yes, of course, go ahead; keep the struggle going. But I don’t have to live here. It’s very easy for me. Arundhati Roy has made this point very well, she is absolutely right. There is a moratorium in the Western press regarding Kashmir. There is an absolute deafening silence. You have to break that. If you’re thinking about alternatives, you have to break that. The best way to have a lively discourse is to speak to as many people as possible. And you can do that. This is not the 1970s. Because the larger number of people you speak to, the more vivid, the more lively your changes are.”
A: “Kunan Poshpura… 125 names of actual officers who were there that night, 32 medical records of women who have bite marks on all parts of their bodies, 21 days after it happened. What they have hidden for 23 years. How do you even get the material out, when the state claims nothing of that sort took place and no such documents exist?”
A: “What can a common Kashmiri do then?” MR: “I don’t know. See, I don’t know how to answer this question. All I can tell you is what you’re doing right now, is going to take you nowhere. I don’t know how to take you… You have to find your own answers. I know that every opportunity I get – I see, you care about Kashmir, I’ll talk about Kashmir, but it’s not the lovely little stories you want to hear. The Indian state, my state, my government perpetrates this kind of violence. This is what it does in the name of some of the highest ideals. And I say this to Americans as well. Your government allows my government to perpetrate these kinds of atrocities. I don’t know how to break through this wall of silence, I just don’t know. But it has to be broken, that’s all I know.
A: “I think, the clearest language that Kashmiris have always been speaking, is the language of the right to self determination. What more clarity do you need than that? We’re not divided in that!”
“I can’t say we’ve got to keep the fight going, because that’s not for me to say, but as long as you are still resisting there is no stasis. How can I have a solution? All I believe is that, I will never be silent. I only get a few arenas in which to speak. And I’ll speak there!”
Lina Wood is an independent filmmaker and researcher, engaged with video projects in Europe and South Asia. contact via: firstname.lastname@example.org