Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad on the ghost of elitism and the minnows of Kashmir
Imagine a subaltern caught between the horrors of armed conflict and the unpleasantness of elitism. Does not this state of affairs look like this: a vulnerable man imprisoned between the proverbial two evils of Scylla and Charybdis? Placed by fate or by calculated moves under such miserable conditions, what choices does this ‘human look-alike’ have? First, he may accept this given condition as a fait accompli and become a lifelong wounded being. Second, he may break the shackles, subvert the rules and set himself free from this disagreeable condition. Third, his resounding screams may slowly ignite a revolution which in turn would annihilate the existing exclusionary institutions.
The victims of armed conflict and elitism, like in the case of Kashmir, are incessantly trying hard to dismantle the cobweb of traps which have plagued them, so the exercise of their choice falls in the second category. In order to escape from the darkness of this diabolic world, they ceaselessly battle on every day. On one side they fight the oppressor while on the other side they resist the malevolence of their own elites.
By now the narrative of how we resist and fight the oppressor are very popular, and ironically, some of the most gripping narratives have been woven by none other than our elites themselves. To remain in vogue, they have mastered the skills of romanticism. They know the art of haggling in the market with ‘sentiment’ as a commodity. For the time being, I will exclude structuring another narrative about the brutalities of the armed conflict. Rather, my focus here is to explicate on the other evil, the ghost of elitism, which I see as perilous, loathsome and as catastrophic as the brutality of armed conflict itself. It is my assertion here that this second evil is directly posing us more immediate threats than the conflict itself. If the ultimate aim is to defeat the oppressor, fighting elitism becomes an obligation; a prerequisite for a revolution that would ultimately change the scenario. Therefore it is an essential part of this article to explain who these elites are. Do they really look like ordinary humans or do they possess some characteristics of a scary phantom? How different are they from the Marxian bourgeoisie and how do they trick people with delusions created with great astuteness?
In Kashmir, elitism is manifested in various forms. The diversity of elites present in Kashmir is enormous. Some can be seen selling the Divine; various others are busy commodifying victimhood. Several champion human rights; and a few are busy constructing romantic narratives about Kashmir itself. Here, we first want to draw a distinction between the good and the bad elites, however.
In Kashmir ,certainly we have our own brand of Marxian bourgeoisie, who control the means of production and expropriate local resources, thus amassing enormous wealth and affluence. This variety of elites can be mostly seen in and around the capital city (Srinagar) and traditionally have captured the proverbial business triangle composed of the Shawl, the Dal and the Hotel. There are other new entrepreneurs based in the peripheries and trying new capitalistic ventures. However, the difference between the two is that one is manipulative, while the other is somewhat scrupulous. This variety of elitism created out of the capitalistic culture, of course carries its own hazards with regard to climate, sustainability etc., but their contribution in holding back a revolution is not apparent.
The other form of elitism is based on religion. Here the ‘base’ in the Marxian sense is entirely conquered by religion and the discourse about God. This cult of religious elitism manifests itself in the form of few ‘torch-bearer religious families’ and has historically disregarded the human dignity of common people. These so called ‘custodians of religion’ have not only brutally subjugated the ‘lower classes’ but have also dishonoured the ‘sentiments’ of the people at certain critical historical junctures. Through historical compromises and coercions, almost all influential political, bureaucratic, academic, religious and social positions are occupied by this religious bourgeoisie – with certain exceptions.
To remain in vogue, Kashmir’s elites have mastered the skills of romanticism.
The third form of elitism is more deceitful and precarious. These elites are none other but our ‘conflict bourgeoisie’. They overtly represent the ‘intellectual class’ but clandestinely are working hand in glove with the oppressor. Their only job is to obfuscate and complicate the popular discourse. They have mastered the skills of romanticism and know how to trade in tragedy. The sufferings, pain and agony of the oppressed becomes grist to the mill of their industry. This group is more concerned about their own dividends than about the benefits the victims receive. During the past twenty years we have seen many such conflict-born intellectuals and media houses who have subtly sold the conflict without letting others know of it. These local and non-local ‘junkers’ through their politico-intellectual and economic supremacy are hard trying to capture the voices of dissent and through their noblesses-oblige are presenting distorted arguments by creating a misleading impression of the ‘real Kashmir issue’. Through novels, short stories, documentaries and well-crafted English write-ups, this ‘type-writer’ intellectual warrior believes that they have the monopoly over resolving the Kashmir imbroglio. Little does this aristocratic guild know that revolution is the prerogative of the subaltern. Words and pictures hardly ever won a battle. They overlook the fact that the fight against oppression becomes more powerful when it is more inclusive. When the poor man’s son ceases getting bullets on his scruffy chest, then only can romantic narratives find some legitimacy. This new cult of elites hardly ever accepts the fact that battle against occupation becomes more meaningful and fruitful when collectively ‘unlettered intellectuals’ and forgotten heroes are celebrated. They seldom appreciate the reality that the ongoing fight will make more sense when we communally eschew creating heroes and iron ladies out of our shared grief. In a time of war and misfortune, heroes and heroines are occasionally celebrated. Celebration follows after some triumph and until then everyone is a ‘conqueror’ and equally a ‘wounded’ one. In contrast to this, our ‘above the crowd’ intellectuals who have managed this Gramscian ‘esprit de corps’ through coercion do exactly the opposite of it. They have regrettably reduced the Kashmir struggle to a few individuals, road shows and Facebook posts. Peer appreciation for their arcane models and bizarre explanations about the Kashmir conflict is a new standard. They carry the impression that they have globalised the Kashmir conflict but the reality is totally different.
Therefore, we strongly believe that chanting ‘Azadi’ slogans in Cape Town and Brussels will hardly make an impact back home unless the same individuals have some tangible impact locally. Let us be very sure of the fact that Azadi won’t come to us unless we stop sending the poor to the grave and the rich to Geneva. We should not dream of any spring unless we discontinue sending our deprived kids to prisons and the privileged lot to Paris. We cannot put the onus of on-the-ground Azadi struggle on the shoulders of the poor and the obligation of creating off-the-ground romantic narratives on the rich. Real freedom will probably come to us when we effectively dissipate this unfair and malicious division of manual and mental labour. When prisoners get an opportunity to visit Paris, and those reserved for the graves get to know about Geneva, then only should we dare hope for an inclusive, egalitarian future. However, we are skeptical here about our ‘above the crowd intellectuals’ and I am really not sure if they would ever acknowledge this fact.
There are many other forms of elitism one experiences in Kashmir, but the most damaging and divisive forms are reflected above. Geographical location, place of birth, education, upbringing, language, and wealth determine the other forms of similar elitist manifestations. The poor man of Kashmir is not only subjected to various elitist discriminations but is also the first victim in the armed conflict. Not only this, his immediate existence, agency, culture and knowledge systems are relegated and ridiculed. Kashmir, as it is portrayed the paradise on earth, is in reality a hell entangled in different forces of discriminations and cruel hierarchies. The victims of these discriminations at the end have only one choice and that is nothing but to fight. When a person is trapped by his stringent survival needs, reasserting his form of politics becomes little thorny. The only way for these entrapped souls is to ‘educate, agitate and organise’. To resist and protest.
Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad is a PhD researcher at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU, New Delhi. He recently co-edited a book titled ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’ published by Taylor and Francis, Rutledge UK. He works on informal sector innovations in India and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org