Politics of Innovation: The Neglected Dimension of Kashmir’s Struggle for Freedom
Dr. Sheikh Fayaz Ahmad
In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, a great figure of Italian Renaissance and a pioneer of realistic political theory wrote in his famous political treatise The Prince (1513), that ‘innovation’ is a must for both governing the people and for misleading the people too. To him, innovation is a resource for dealing with the change and overcoming the uncertainty. Certainly, he was not explicit about the technological innovations but his overt reference to the ‘process innovations’ can’t be unnoticed. Kashmir, a place where mases are governed through various forms of political novelties couched in political deceit, policy coercion, bullying and use of novel brute forces has also lead to a counter revolution noticeable in the people’s inimitable ways of responding to such vicious state actions. To put it differently, noncompliance manifested in knowledge generation and particularly in technology is emerging as a new norm.
Notwithstanding the market element in ‘innovations’, different communities have differently responded to state sponsored viciousness. To overcome the hegemonic and slanted narratives of the state and of its elites, communities across the world have developed indigenous knowledge systems to either escape the state oppression or to subvert the status quo.
For instance, ‘self-made inventors’ of Korea during 1920s-30s posed a very serious challenge to the Japanese colonialism with their local innovations. The local innovators not only upended the Japanese discriminatory narrative about the ‘universal’ characteristic feature of the technology but also effectively managed to connect these indigenous incremental inventive steps with the debates of self-reliance and Korean nationalism. The Japanese popular narrative of defining invention as a ‘universal activity’ bereft of local specificities, was annihilated by these home-grown inventors. The movement was so powerful and successful that the state managed elites began to shift their perspective to argue that “invention is a native process, culturally embedded, incremental, and could be undertaken by anyone who would persevere through the long process of trial and error”.
Likewise, after the armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro in Cuba against the right-wing authoritarian government faced a kind of technological drought. Because of an exodus of foreign companies and investment due to Fidel Castro’s new policies, there were no signs of invention. However soon after, Che Guevara assumed office as Cuba’s Minister of Industries, he simply introduced a new paradigm by offering the first strong ideological push. To subvert the dominant western hegemonic narratives of invention and innovations, Cuba offered strong defiance and noncompliance in the form of viewing the capital (T) -technology radically different from those of the west. They started breaking, re-creating things mostly from the scarp. In Technological Disobedience, writes, Ernesto Oroza, that this “reparation, refunctionalization, and reinvention show leaps of imagination in opposition to the concepts of innovation favored by the logic of Western mass production”. According to him, “Cubans began to bring this repair-mindset home, turning their own households into laboratories”. For instance, Orozo, writes that an “electrician would, during his day shift, repair the engine of a Soviet MIG15 jet fighter and, in the evening—faced with a country-wide shortage of matches—build an electric lighter out of a that pen and light bulb”. And it was precisely this technological disobedience which helped Cuba survive the turbulent times.
In Kashmir, where innovation and invention is perhaps not a norm but people historically have responded to state savagery very imaginatively. For example, after the Afghans invaded Kashmir in 1753, they not only destroyed the local industries but also imposed a very heavy tax system. Afghans who ruled Kashmir until 1819 not only adopted different domineering forms of resource appropriation but also introduced a new system of collecting tax from the weavers known as “dagshawl” or excise tax on shawls. Many historians noted, that this exorbitant and ridiculous tax system became “such a burden for the poor shawl weavers that some of them preferred death to the weaver’s profession”. In order to evade this unjustified and horrendous tax-system on Kani Shawls, two ingenious innovators introduced a radically different shawl and named it Amlikar shawl. This shawl would not only take less time compared to the Kani shawl in weaving but also remained outside from the ambit of this usurious tax system.
Similarly, what could be considered as the best example of the technological disobedience in Kashmir can be observed from the Radio-Station invented by Ghulam Nabi Ahangar in 1971. To counter what he termed as the state-propaganda, he surprised his entire community by setting up his own radio station at Dialgam. For his oddity and ‘irrational’ creative attempts, he was harassed and intimidated from time to time by the state and the non-state actors. The uses of singing lantern, invented by another self-made inventor Ghulam Mohammad Mir in 2007, are very peculiar. Mir, who belongs to a humble family in Kokernag, district Anantnag, was tired of the persistent embarrassment he felt every time the Indian army raided his house during the 1990s and found him sleeping naked. He decided to work out an idea to escape his complications. He developed a singing lantern, powered by a dry battery and a remote sensor that would alert him of human movement near his house in Sagaam village.
There are many other such unsung innovators from Kashmir who dared to disrupt the status quo by not complying with the rules of an ‘ordered’ universe, but by subverting them. Their choices are arbitrary and random and may thus not adhere to any definable criterion. In Economics and Culture, David Thorsby, would argue that these types of maverick acts are calculatingly anti- rational acts. Hence the choices, contends Thorsby these individuals make are ‘anti- rational choices’.
However, with deep guilt, I must acknowledge here that in Kashmir we haven’t effectively ever tried to capture such ‘recalcitrant’ and ‘disobedient’ creative attempts in the conventional Azadi discourse. The nuances of such anti-rational choices are not understood and wittingly outshined. This inattention has offered a good opportunity to various outside ‘sympathetic’ organisations to exploit or misappropriate the inventive and artistic potentials of our local innovators. Lately, we have observed that many non-Kashmir based organisations with the pretext of helping local innovators have started mishandling their innovations. To put it differently, local creativity is politically coerced and resolutely dampened.
The author hails from Kupwara and is co-editor of the book ‘Informal Sector Innovations: Insights from Global South’, published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis, UK. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9906542881.