Tactical Talk (Opinion) Dehumanization of the Kashmiri people – the most effective tool to be able to commit war crimes.
By: Helene Sejert
The Indian oppression and occupation of Kashmir is one of the worst in history, yet spoken about in a way where the victims need to carry the blame for the brutal force used against them. Or the conflict is not spoken about at all, even if it’s 70 years and still ongoing. Since -1989 as many as 70-95.000 Kashmiris have been killed and mass-rapes, disappearances and torture are wide-spread exercises for the Indian army. The face of occupation takes different shapes, it can be the cruellest executions at point blank, but also the everyday humiliation in having to show your ID-card when you are walking down your own streets, or being interrogated for hours for no reason at all.
Do we see it? Does it leave us sleepless and determined to end the injustice? Do we call for a change, even after having seen a glimpse of the young pellet victim’s bullet ridden bodies, maybe on a 22 seconds news flash? Gaping holes, large as craters on skin that was perfect a moment ago. Blood-stained eyes that are sprayed with pellets and never will see again. And we don’t see their plea for justice.
“You in the West spend plenty of money on dogs, cats and sometimes even guinea pigs, but us, us you don’t see. We live in this burning inferno, or rather trying to live, but for you, we are worth far less than animals”
~Palestinian doctor during attack on Gaza 2014 and also said by Lost Kashmir History
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What we instead see is a very selective outrage, always determined by the colour, residence or religion of the victim. In our minds we seem to believe that ‘brown people’ don’t suffer as much as we do when they lose their children, brothers or mothers. That a child blown to pieces, is forgettable for a mother in Gaza, or waiting in vain for your loved ones for decades renders less grief for Kashmiri mothers. That the bodies pierced by pellets won’t haunt a father and the bullets buried in young chests doesn’t leave scars in sisters. Maybe because we somehow do view their lives as Non Grievable. Maybe because we all are wrapped in and protected by powerful differentiating norms/frameworks that determine whom of us are worth crying for and lift to the headlines.
Judith Butler has written extensively about the need (for governments and media) of framing events (war, racism, intolerance, hate and injustice) that individuals (and states) legitimise, by simply wrap the atrocities with a nicer looking parcel. Warfare looks far better when framed and smoothed up. War, torture, occupation, siege, massacres and all kind of intolerance wouldn’t have been possible to be executed without a solid consensus about, and acceptance of, it to happen. The consensus to hate enough to harass, maim and kill takes a lot of influence from policy makers, to become a strong societal norm. Butler is having a philosophical twists, when trying to find a common denominator that could explain why some lives seem to be worth more than others. Why violence that normally would have put the world media in a complete spin, politicians condemning and public opinion demanding change, just happen silently in the periphery, almost unnoticed as if the ones exposed to violence barely didn’t exist.
Humiliation is a strategy to mask the unjust and exploitative nature of an oppressive activity. It seeks to disempower and disable its victim. It assumes many forms; verbal and nonverbal. The practice manifests in social, cultural, economic and political contexts. It is most powerful in the realm of ideas where it ‘discourses’ itself as legitimate. This legitimacy makes humiliation appear as a just desert, thereby making opposition to it illegitimate (Kashyap 2005).
Looking at the discourse that has unfolded around and about the people of Kashmir, and the discrimination and injustice they are subjected to, must awaken the same questions within us.
We need to dare these vigorous frames our societies wrap us in. Need to remove the blinkers and realise the profoundness of how unfair and dangerous it is to give in to the pressure of the masses and the fear we are fed by oppressive states.
To do that we have to look at these norms and understand how they are constructed, and interwoven in our society’s fabric of belief systems. There are number of suggestions about what these frames/norms really are. Many agree, however, that framing is an important component in the construction of various types of arguments. To simplify it, a society, or a group, need to create some kind of meaning and understanding of the information they possess, and that meaning is built up and presented in a certain way. Frames are thus socially constructed, and trying to “hold, convey, and determine what and how things are seen” and they are constituted, and at times recreated, which gives a repetitive nature. This said to illustrate the depth of these beliefs, and how they hold up, but also take seize of the ‘norm-fabric’ of societies, groups and individuals. Because it is these structures/frames that dictate who already have a life and is worth being grieved for when we lose them, and who we don’t shed any tears for.
Journalists, politicians and the academic discourse are carriers of the current norms and media plays a big role in upholding what we shall or shall not view as cornerstone ‘material’, as opinions to hold. The opinions expressed by a few, and in these times they are radical, leaders is not just cheap chat, spread for the wind. It is reflections of the society we live in and an extension of the hate that is growing in every corner of our streets. These few get a free ride by media who gives them a platform to ventilate their hate, and then social media heat up the topic further. And as the emotions run wilder, the limits to decency are passed, the words used get more and more emotional (and hateful towards “the other”), it appeals to an even broader group. Fearmongering in action. Since emotions are put in the equation, politicians and media, who stirs up this fear, can benefit the sympathy from a large group of people who doesn’t grasp that the fear for the enemy (in this case Kashmiris) we are fed, is not based on reality and evidence, but exactly these stirred up baseless feelings.
Spillmann & Spillmann have studied how we create (or let ourselves be created by) “enemy images”. These constructions are, according to them, deeply rooted perceptual estimations:
* Negative Anticipation – All acts of the enemy, in the past, present, and future become attributed to destructive intentions toward one’s own group.
* Putting Blame on the Enemy – The enemy is thought to be the source of any stress on a group. They are guilty of causing the existing strain and current negative conditions.
* Identification With Evil – The values of the enemy represent the negation of one’s own value system and the enemy is intent on destroying the dominant value system as well…and must, therefore, be destroyed.
* Zero-Sum Thinking – What is good for the enemy is bad for us and vice versa. Stereotyping and De-Individualization – Anyone who belongs to the enemy group is ipso facto our enemy.
* Refusal to Show Empathy – Consideration for anyone in the enemy group is repressed due to perceived threat and feelings of opposition. There is nothing in common and no way to alter that perception (Spillmann i Artz 2004).
After a while, we get numb. We don’t hear how it sounds like when Kashmiris are called animals, terrorists, fanatics or worse, because this language and discourse has become so familiar. So rooted and accepted. So intertwined in our society’s culture of belief systems. Our reactions are formed by the current political atmosphere and the norms our society wants us to hold.
This is seen in the number of crimes committed towards Kashmiris that are just flickering by, In the Delhi news-room’s extremisms and access to our living-rooms, in politician’s rhetoric and the explosion of online hate. It is also seen in our incapability to feel something for the mother in Kashmir who waved goodbye to her son 22 years ago, and now sits every day with his photo in her lap and wonder if he is dead, or captured and tortured somewhere she can’t reach him. It is seen in our lack of viewing Kashmiris through any other lens than that of India, which means stripped of normal human attributes.
We have thus adopted a set of frames, where we in large accept the way people are represented in media and by the current dominating discourse. This means that the words we use about them, the stories we chose to tell about them, the images of them we accept and also not counter, the emotions we associate them with, the ways we classify and conceptualize them, the values we place on them, are all emotions/reactions within that framework (Hall 1997).
Unmasking the frames that differentiates us, and determines who is grievable or not, needs a critical approach and a change in the common belief system individuals and societies holds. That takes more than just a quick thought. It takes an acknowledgement that these norms exist, are unfair, and a strong will to correct the errors that are alarmingly acute to address.
This might look like an impossible task, but let’s keep in mind that several hundred years of colonial oppression was brought to an end quite recently, and that apartheid, a concept that still causes politicians the world over to shiver, also was dismantled not long ago. Neta C. Crawford has focused on the aspects that led to the demise of colonial projects. According to her, it was neither the money, the glory, nor other incentives, or lack thereof, which in the end brought about a fall of the colonial bastions. Instead, it was “the persistence of reformists delegitimising and declaring oppression as abnormal, which through an incremental process managed to institutionalise the opposition of slavery, colonialism and apartheid”. This of course as a support to the people struggling on the ground in colonised and oppressed countries, their part will always be the main determinative force.
The same methods can be adopted by us, by identifying the frameworks that attempt to legitimise and maintain oppressive policies and norm production. Once the latter are identified/unveiled it becomes possible to work in the direction of dismantling these frames so that the darkness and brutality of oppression, whether on the ground or as verbal slandering, can give way to humanism and thoughtfulness and most of all to justice.
It took decades to change the view of the “oriental”, during the process of decolonisation. In the start it was a handful people who challenged the current arguments, which were consolidated since hundreds of years. With time they managed to put forward valid ethical arguments and appeal to a larger audience. When the new norms started to win ground, governments were also forced to make statements and avoid destructive policies.
We are blessed with another set of tools. We can use the magnifying glass and gather information and pass the injustices we witness on, in the speed of light. We can get information directly from countries under occupation, and from people subjected to racism and violence. And we can lean on historical experiences and struggles, to seek motivation and methods to how these struggles were brought to an end. We can, if we want, bring about change and refuse to serve a few mighty in the current waves of abuses directed at Kashmiris and other people who suffers injustice. That takes a full stop zero tolerance. It also takes that we report every single occasion when we see or hear the hate. Because, when you are bullied in school, a psychological reflex is to get used to/accept it. To be silent. To not cause more trouble (to yourself). There are different reasons for this, the obvious one is of course the risk for repercussion. Many measures are taken by India to muzzle the Kashmiri voices. Journalists are being harassed, trashed and jailed for reporting the atrocities.
Bear in mind that this is not a call for victimisation, not a plea for bare sympathy with people. It is a call for us to take back a hijacked discourse and treat every human with the same respect, and the same basic set of rights.
There are only two choices. Either we can continue being silent and accept the status quo, and thereby hate and discrimination, or we can challenge that status quo with all the power we possess.
The challenge and cure would in this case be a large dose of reality, thoroughly examined and respectfully revaluated, until it takes the shape of a new discourse. A framework where we can feel shame, despair, fear, depth of injustice and sorrow for each humiliated, injured and killed human. To complete that cure, we must emphasise the ‘every human’ and include even Kashmiris in it. Not as a scope. Not as a headline when attacks are executed. Not as a curse-word. Not as a victim. Just as an obvious part of that connection beyond the frames that differentiates us. A place where our lives are valued the same, cried for the same, and justice is served as universally as we claim it should be. It really is as simple as that.