‘Rock on’, Pragaash!
What does it mean to be free?
How long can force, threats of force and social boycotts stop the spread of ideas and arguments? New Delhi did everything it could - naming, shaming and maiming - to banish the azadi sentiments of Kashmiris: clearly, it has failed as azadi continues to remain a popular political sentiment in Kashmir’s heartland. Artistic expressions and ideas are as strong as those of nationalism. Will the opportunistic coming together of Kashmir’s Sarkari Grand Mufti, liberal dissident Mirwaiz, radicals such as Asiya Andrabi and Ali Shah Geelani be able to muffle the Kashmiri youth’s demand for azadi to express themselves? While the CRPF may have no business in Kashmir’s cultural landscape including organizing rock festivals, I will fiercely defend the rights of the three young school-going Kashmiri girls to participate in rock concerts. If we, as a society, don’t defend the rights of our children to sing and dance, there is something fundamentally wrong with us. The silver lining, of course, is that the more Kashmiris I speak to, the more I realize that there is very little support for this ‘silencing act’ inside Kashmir.
Words as performatives
In analyzing the ongoing ‘Pragaash’ controversy, some analysts have argued that there is no need to bother with the Grand Mufti’s fatwa as he is not considered to be a major religious figure nor are his words taken seriously by anyone. The problem with this line of thinking is that it stops short of understanding the impact of the spoken word. Words, let us face it, are not merely words. They have to be seen and understood as ‘performatives’ or actions in themselves. If words are understood as actions, then words spoken by those with the ability to influence and mold the opinions of others will have even more seriousness and consequences. While one might choose to ignore the words of the Grand Mufti, the words of liberal, young leaders such as the Mirwaiz have the power to influence the minds of people which then result in certain actions.
The embedded illiberalism of the Fatwa
Notwithstanding the fact that telling people not to sing is illiberal enough, what is even more illiberal and indeed profoundly patriarchal is the fact that there is a deep-seated gender bias in the campaign against Pragaash. The self-appointed conscience-keepers of Kashmir’s morality were not unnerved when Kashmiri boys played rock music. Only when the Kashmiri girls started doing the same did they realize the indecency and the threat to Islam in it. What is to be noted, as many analysts have pointed out, is that there is a clear emphasis on the ‘girls’ morality’ by the anti-Pragaash brigade. Hence the Kashmiri girls are not merely deprived of the opportunity to express their artistic talents but also deeply discriminated against. How can the Mirwaiz demand that he be heard by the world and New Delhi when he clearly deprives the children of his community of their to be heard?
Azadi from repressive ideas and ideologies
Azadi is a laudable virtue and the consistent fight for it is even more laudable. But azadi is not just a political rallying point, it has to do with every aspect of a community’s existence - political, emotional, cultural etc. Hence, while the Kashmiri struggles for political azadi, he/she should also fight for azadi from the clutches of repressive ideas, ideologies, leaders, and worldviews. How can you fight for azadi when your very thinking and politics have run counter to the fundamental imperatives of azadi? How can your demand for azadi be legitimate in the eyes of the world, whose conscience you so often invoke, when you delegitimize the freedom of expression of the children of your community? Azadi will surely become an unviable political call the moment it becomes a restrictive, discriminatory tool of political convenience at the hands of its vanguard.
Why jail youngsters?
The Omar government has a habit of going for the overkill. Media reports suggest that a number of school-going youngsters have been booked by the J&K police for threatening Pragaash on facebook. Not only that such police action makes absolutely no sense for the simple fact that youngsters have impressionable minds and they tend to react emotionally when people in authority make emotional arguments about religion and culture. How on earth can the J&K police jail school students for what they have written on facebook when indeed this is a direct result of the provocative statements made by some people who assume moral and religious authority? Minors should at best be warned, not jailed. But then what can you expect of a government that justifies the incarceration of minors under the Public Security Act?
Is Kashmir being Talibanised?
Of course not, and the people of Kashmir will tell you that. Kashmir is a victim of too many protectors. It is an overprotected society: while some people protect it in the name of national security and public safety, some others protect it in the name of morality and religious piety. The ordinary Kashmiri merely wants to live like a normal human being, with simple pleasures and ordinary dreams. It is the guardians- local, national, religious, moral etc. – who try to demonise Kashmir, Kashmiris and the other. And despite all this, Kashmir will continue to be a liberal society.
Freedom of speech and its discontents
Let us not miss the irony here. The most ironical spectacle of the past week has been the self-righteous Indian media’s unrelenting battle cry for freedom of speech in Kashmir. While that is surely a noble cause, they habitually forget about Kashmir’s consistent demand for ‘freedom from fear’ which, in a sense, forms the basis for all other kinds of human freedom. For the most part, the mainstream Indian media defines the genuine aspirations of Kashmiris in terms of what contributes to the national interest of the Indian state.
Finally, a caveat. If the argument is about how to negotiate modernity and alien cultures in Kashmir’s local politico-cultural space, which indeed is a necessary debate, then the tenor of the debate has to be drastically different. But let us be clear that in this age and era, no society/culture can afford to be an island; we will have to learn to accept the other, assimilate the values of the other, promote one’s own, and tolerate cultural mutations, even as preserving the core elements of what we are and what defines us. There is no getting away from that.
(Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 9 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 9 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 10 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST
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