Nationalismis slowly losing its emancipatory value as the progressive inclusion of minority groups in public policy decision making has become a myth in itself. I have always maintained that the politics and carnage of minorities, especially Muslim identity in India, goes beyond the constructed rationalization of religiously prescriptive and deconstructed narrative of legislative Islamic discourse. It is, by its normative birth, focus on the knotty issue of electoral manifestation, and the violence on both, the psyche and body of the minorities has become an active semiotic territory of political narrative, which, when aggravated, creates a ‘psycho-political ripple effect.’ This article will elucidate the ripple effect created by the deeply ingrained inter-regional and inter-generational sense of injustice and trauma transmuted within and among Kashmiris, because of the ‘Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)’; a policy that provides complete impunity to the armed forces in Kashmir, and how diplomatic empathy can work as a successful catalyst in neutralizing the surge in insurgency and civil unrest in Kashmir.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act
The history of breeding insurgency in Kashmir goes back to the 1980’s, and since then, Jammu and Kashmir have been a propagating ground of separatist ambitions, demanding either complete independence or seeking ascension and amalgamation with Pakistan. Often called ‘Kashmir Intifada’, this insurgent group is a manifestation of the failure of Indian governance and inter-state diplomacy at the root of the initial disaffection and the coercive policies imposed on Kashmiris. Today, with more than 6 lakh security personnel (Army, Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed in J&K hinterlands, Kashmir has become the most militarized zone in the world, surpassing the combined presence of Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza strip and West Bank alone. The Indian security personnel have been implicated in multiple reports for torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of thousands of Kashmiris, and rape and sexual abuse of women in the valley with absolute impunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA); a policy that provides impunity to any member of the armed forces without the permission of the central government. This act legitimizes and normalizes routine violence on Kashmiris, while parturiating victims with dissipating subjective agency and no legal mechanism to seek justice.
Countless incidents of extrajudicial killings have been reported, and multiple unmarked graves have been witnessed; all with absolute impunity given to military personals involved. For example, a State Human Rights Commission inquiry in 2011 had confirmed that there were thousands of bullet-ridden corpses buried in unmarked graves in Kashmir. Of the 2,730 bodies uncovered, 574 bodies were identified as missing locals, in contrast to the Indian government’s confirmation that all the graves belonged to foreign militants. In the most haunting military violence imposed on Kashmiris, personnel of the 4 Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army were involved in gang rape of at least 40 women in Kunan and Poshpora villages in north Kashmir(February 1991), as they conducted an anti-insurgency operation in the region. Although the Press Council of India committee led by BG Verghese and K Vikram Raovisited the villages post the violence, but gave a clean chit to the soldiers, and the countless consecutive mass rapes by Indian soldiers followed – Chak Saidpora (1992), Wurwun (1995), Bihota (2000), Gujjardara-Manzgam (2011) etc. Post the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019; the situation has worsened.
The Psycho-political Ripple Effect – Violence with absolute impunity begets violence with stern liability
“You lock us up during the day. You lock us up at night,” a middle-aged man shouts angrily, wagging his finger. As the policeman ordered the man to go inside his house as Kashmir was under the longest lockdown of a union territory in the history of the Indian constitution, the diminutive old man stands his ground and challenges him again. “This is my only son. He’s too small now, but I will prepare him to pick up a gun too,” he said. This man belonged from Khanyar, a local town in the heart of Srinagar, which is famous for protests against military violence and Indian hegemonic rule in Kashmir. In the same report, Mr. Malik, a Kashmiri native, predicts that every Kashmiri will join them. “It was said that in every family one brother is with the separatists and the other is with the [Indian] mainstream. The Indian government has united the two.” To understand the unwavering commitment of locals – who are teachers, vegetable vendors, workers in local manufacturing outlets, fruit sellers, etc., and their determination to prepare their future generations to become insurgents, is mandatory. This is a direct result of the internalized trauma and feeling of injustice that has transmuted in and within Kashmiris– both inter-regional and inter-generational. But, what has caused this transmutation? To know this, it becomes imperative to explore the phenomenon of ‘psycho-political ripple effect’.
A ripple effect, in a simple term, refers to the indirect effect that expands out from the organic source and reaches areas or populations far positioned from its intended purpose. To understand this phenomenon in a political-social environment, one needs to deconstruct the psychological effects of the ‘initial political disturbance’ created within the system of a targeted group of civilians and how it propagated outward to disturb an increasingly larger portion of the population within the system. This ‘initial political disturbance’ is a manifestation of normalized violence by placing the Indian military under an impunity umbrella, which has methodized and regularized routine violent acts against Kashmiris, including detention of small children, curfews, extrajudicial killings, torture, gang rapes, kidnapping of civilians, etc. The trauma is no longer confined to the victims of Konan and Poshpora mass rape or restricted to the pain of the community of human rights activists like Jalil Andrabi, Zafar Mehraj, Burhan Wani and Farooq Sheikh, who were brutally killed by the military forces, or limited to the medical community who are attacked for providing medical care to the insurgents, or to the families of Kashmiris who has been a victim of extrajudicial execution or reprisal killing, alone.
The effects of this violence and the internalization of trauma has impregnated the psyche of most Kashmiris and has given birth to what I call is a ‘psycho-political ripple effect’ for future formations of popular resistance against Indian rule in Kashmir. With the institutional denial of justice, loss of subjective agency due to trauma, and erosion of indigenous Muslim culture, the mass-suffering has reshaped the response of Kashmiris towards military and political power. Here, military violence with absolute impunity is begetting violence with stern liability from the local Kashmiris, and the surge in insurgency activities is a testament of it. Apart from mass carnage and destruction like Pulwama attack (2019), Srinagar attack (2013), Amarnath Yatra attack (2017), Uri attack (2016), carried out by Islamist terrorist groups against the Indian militancy presence in Kashmir, many quasi-violence incidents has become a methodized way to confront Indian security forces. The effect of the political ripples is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of the locals that indulgence in the act of reciprocation against military force has become more imperative than the strategy to execute the ‘act’ itself. These incidents often involve collective participation of local Kashmiris demonstrating acts of resistance, which orthogonally represents assertiveness and visible symbolism rather than clandestine nature. The most common forms of this quasi-violence involve stone pelting at security forces, causing hindrance and interdiction of military operations to help the insurgents, attending insurgent funerals, etc. Although the participants are usually unarmed, the employed tactics are methodologically designed to incite, provoke, and coerce Indian security forces to dismantle the central government’s legitimacy and control over Kashmir. These quasi-violent ripple effect can be seen in Palestine as well, where Palestinians deploy the rock-throwing method as a mechanism to display resistance against IDF presence in their land. Psycho-political ripple effect can be witnessed in both of these conflict-infested geographies, where internalized trauma and feeling of injustice have transmuted among and within the native population – both inter-regional and inter-generational.
Incorporating Diplomatic Empathy to neutralize the surge in insurgency
It has been a year post the abrogation of Article 370. The surge in military brutality, human rights violations, increased unemployment, and a Rs 40,000 crore hole in the economy, has aggravated the spread of the psycho-political ripple effect. With Kashmir precariously poised between the two extremes, and an efflux of quasi-violent and strategic insurgent attacks on Indian security forces, it orthogonally points towards one thing – inter-state diplomatic failure. What diplomats and central lawmakers must consider is that the principle of “no negotiation with insurgents”, although seems logical, but fails to understand the primordial foundation of fortification of – what is terrorism? If insurgents and quasi-violent Kashmiri locals are willing to go against a robust military force and governance of BJP in power and risk the lives of self and other civilians, it only reflects that the cause of their insurgent activities is not being effectively addressed and is being alienated from mainstream political policies. The deeply ingrained inter-regional and inter-generational sense of injusticecaused due to impunity given to the Indian security forces in Kashmir has created psycho-political ripples that is manifesting into insurgent activities.
On the other hand, this internalization of trauma and conflict has also created a negotiating space of diplomatic activity through transmittal of empathy and the development of trust. For this reason, the traditional consultative decision-making process of negotiation from ‘top-to-bottom’ should be replaced by a ‘bottom-to-top’ diplomatic strategy where the principle of inclusion should be propagated, lessening the distance between the self and the other. Validating this, Marcus Holmes and Keren Milo (2016) writes, “Fisher and Ury’s (1983) classic work in negotiation theory notes the importance of what is now termed cognitive empathy in order to derive the interests that motivate one’s positions. Since negotiators do not have perfect information about their counterparts’ interests, those who do not try to take the other side’s perspective may fail to find rational conflict-resolution. Put another way, in order to rationally find a zone of possible agreement, both sides must understand the interests and positions of the other, including their best alternative to a negotiated agreement”.
Diplomats and lawmakers must derive a solution that not only neutralizes the surge in the insurgency, restore human rights, but also stagnate the spread of psycho-political ripple effect within the Kashmiri community to restore civil rest and prosperity. To achieve the optimum conflict-resolution that modern diplomacy seeks to attain, empathy with the interlocutor is opulent. Re-structuring the Armed Forces Special Powers Act by ensuring that security forces – the army, the Border Security Force (BSF), and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), are trained in using lawful use of force in accordance and alignment with international standards, and those who breach these parameters would legally held accountable. To gain credibility and trust among the civilians, it is crucial that a sense of justice is restored within the system, which would neutralize their inter-regional and inter-generational sense of injustice and trauma. This can be effectively achieved by the central BJP government, if they publicly commit to bring justice to all victims involved in human rights violations, which should involve legally prosecuting Indian armed forces, whether involved actively or participated in permitting the violations to be covered up.I remember reading an article about an elderly woman , who was one of the victim of Kunan Poshpora mass rape, and had died as she awaited justice to be served to her. Ghulam Mohidin, her son-in-law said, alleged that , “She died in 2010 as she was waiting for justice till her last breath, but nothing happened. The culprits are still roaming freely. Our family is still suffering ” he said. This psychologically intimate narrative reveals what I have been discussing throughout the article – the psycho-political ripple effect caused due to inter-generational and inter-regional transmutation of deeply ingrained sense of injustice and trauma, can itself become a synthesis to the initial theistic problem , which is the surge in insurgency in Kashmir ; if diplomatic empathy is tactfully and humanely deployed to neutralize these ripple effects by fortifying and preserving their human and constitutional rights. And, if diplomats and law makers fail to do so, these psycho-political ripples will multiple and increase exponentially, only to proliferate the psyche of the many generations to come by.