‘Perception management’ has been one of the mainstays of the counter-insurgency warfare. The logic goes like this: if you don’t want the political reality of your power over the people you control to change, then you must at least change how those people perceive their reality. If you tell a different story of violence, the pain and suffering will be felt differently.
There is nothing novel in this. The foundation of the advertisement industry from its inception lay in the supposed dichotomy between images and reality, in which reality is firmly grounded in the logic of profit, while images are infinitely plastic, infinitely malleable. This means reality will change only when the interests of the dominant powers shift, but images can be manipulated endlessly and at will—the more the images shift the better (something which in counter-insurgency manuals has acquired the dubious name ‘pluralizing the discourses’). There are two further presumptions involved: one, the people you control don’t have the capacity to really see through the thicket of images and discover their real situation; and, second, all politics is a play of images, and the winner is one who ultimately has control over the means of production of images.
The biggest trouble with this is that we still eat apples, not the pictures of apples. When a soldier slaps me, I may be led to believe I deserved it, but if it happens again I will begin connecting the dots of my subjugation. A farmer may truly believe in his head that the nation has come of age and is progressing, but the famine hits his gut, he writhes in hunger nevertheless. The point is that most people still live their lives within concrete situations, in a world of material difficulties and challenges, and they use and think with languages that they can relate with. They experience pain, anguish, and suffering in the world (and may also feel elated and happy at many times), a world that they seek to make better. So, even if the world they inhabit is saturated with images, they retain singular critical capacities to declare some images more accurate than others.
But not all people. Some, especially the ones who firmly believe in the logic of the separation of images and reality, and concede no autonomous, ontological ground to (often the Others’) reality, are invariably trapped in their own web of deception. For instance, I don’t believe people working with the Indian nationalist media are consciously manipulating everyone else. They may be urged into action, let’s say on Kashmir by the recommendations of the most recent (2012) Ministry of Home Affairs commissioned report ‘A Perception Survey of Media Impact on the Kashmiri Youth,’ (2) but they are already a receptive ground for such urging. They don’t need convincing. What I mean to say is that they don’t see what they do as manipulation, but believe it to be the obvious truth. The truth, which is only their truth. That is why there is a remarkable degree of consistency in their fabrications. Their lies are coherent, and that is why they never seem to require facts to base their analysis upon.
All this complicates how we, as Kashmiris, must look at the Indian media’s efforts in Kashmir. The recent spurt of media reports and articles on Kashmir in India, all laced with phrases like “secessionist constituency is diminishing“, young people are “moving on” and “Kashmir is happy,” is not based on a common script that went out of the ministry of Indian home affairs (which may be true), but the more mendacious script that is deep-wired into the unconscious of Indian nationalism.
Much of Indian intelligentsia refuses to believe (or acknowledge) that India’s control over Kashmir is purely based on a tight military occupation, that there is no ground, except pure domination, on the basis of which Kashmir should be under Indian control. The more than half a million of their soldiers in Kashmir don’t present them with a logical or ethical problem. In fact, the responsibility for the violence inflicted by the presence of this army is laid on us Kashmiris. If we weren’t so evil, so Muslim, so unruly, they wouldn’t have to kill us. Thus, they refuse to look at the terrible effect their unilateral and coercive insistence that we surrender to their sovereignty has had on the bodies and minds, and the past, the present and the future, of the Kashmiri people.
Instead of feeling guilty, since the entire Indian nation (at least those who possess citizenship rights) is culpable in the crimes committed against Kashmiris, they browbeat us to get rid of our ‘victimhood’. As if to become a victim was our choice. They don’t feel shame, not anymore. Several years ago an Indian American Kashmir-expert asked “Will Kashmir stop India’s Rise?” His obvious answer was ‘no.’ India won’t feel guilty anymore for establishing one of the deadliest military occupations in the world, and the world will have to deal with this newly assertive India.
But what is ‘victimology’ that we are told to get rid of? Is the word meant to state that we forget? That we mustn’t seek justice? In Kashmir, almost everybody has lost someone or the other during the last 25 years. 70,000 dead doesn’t mean only 70,000 have died. Each of them was someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s brother or sister, somebody’s father or mother, a friend for many, perhaps a teacher, a neighbor for others. One can’t count dead simply as numbers of people who were killed, but if count we must then these persons should be seen as emotionally and materially-invested relations that are lost forever, those critical nodal points that held families and neighborhoods and movements together. And if you include those who have become socially dead, because of debilitating injuries, economic devastation, or sexual violence, one can imagine how many people have been affected and marked for life.
Almost one-third of the population is psychosomatically affected in Kashmir, some of which they diagnose with Post Trauma Stress Disorder, (indeed there is no “Post-”, the trauma continues). But for people who believe in images they just see barren statistics. The banality of the barren statistics about death doesn’t shock them, far less give them any guilt. According to them many more women get raped in India, many more die in traffic accidents, why should we mention our dead or raped?
This is the “newly assertive” India, where assertion means violent silencing. Justice is an ever-receding mirage; you can’t even mention the crimes inflicted on you. Their upwardly-mobile journalists fly from the planes and ask us “how happy are we, despite the military presence?” They ask us if we are ready to “move on.” But from what to where? From subjugation to subjugation? What sort of a “move” is that? They see a Kashmiri smile, and they write tomes on how happy Kashmiris are. Perhaps it is just a case of over-analysis, over-reading between the lines, thus missing the forest for a tree. But I believe it is discomfort, annoyance with Kashmiris speaking back, writing back, telling their own stories.
We are also given free, long-distance lectures on democracy, but Indian establishment installs our ‘representatives’ for us: now Omar Abdullah, now some newly minted IAS bureaucrats. A word about brand marketing of IAS is due here. My contention is that as neoliberalism continues to remove traditional powers out of the bureaucratic sphere, that is, as Indian bureaucracy loses its former powers, more unreflective Kashmiri Muslims will join the ranks of bureaucracy. After India dismantled social spending programs, like Public Distribution System etc, the Indian elite no longer believes in the power of this old colonial and license-raj era profession. Decisions are made in the boardrooms of capitalists, financiers and investors. It is, therefore, not odd that a de-fanged bureaucracy will be outsourced to Kashmiris and other subversive or potentially subversive populations. That is why there is also no contradiction between the Indian polity becoming more Hindutva-ized than ever and more Muslims beginning to find jobs in bureaucracy. Overall, in the neoliberal set-up government itself becomes a shameless, direct handmaiden of capital, where the government’s role is reduced to being the advance clearing party before capital lands; which means the ruling classes don’t see real power—you know, the power to make crucial, directive decisions–in government jobs.
So, a historic opportunity has opened up for the subjugated to fill in these ranks. This opportunity is, however, only an opportunity to dissolve a people as people. An auto-dissolution, if you will, since the decision is made with full intention to serve the occupier state. It puts the potentially thinking vanguard out of circulation. The careerists delude themselves into believing that their “success” is a function of their ‘genius’ and effort, and as soon as they enter the services of the state, they pontificate to the people from whom they emerged. They don’t realize that their “success” is, in fact, directly related to the political subversiveness of the people to whom they preach to submit. If Kashmiris didn’t resist, there would be no need to placate them with these symbolic images, these shiny-skinned cardboard cutouts.
Now, we know there was a Shining India, but Kashmir was an exception to it, as the latter was not shining; it was in fact a dark spot. A re-branding is taking place, and therefore ‘Happy Kashmir’ will be the junior image of a refurbished Shining India. [A Ghalibian “humko maloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin…” would suffice here, but anyway]. Soon, we will find ‘Ecstatic Adivasis,’ ‘Radiant Dalits,’ ‘Jubilant Nagas,’ and ‘Exultant suicidal Farmers’ (just like the cricket leagues) join the chain of images to complete the circle of self-deception. At an event recently, a prominent Indian political scientist stated that Indian ‘democracy’ is a success story (he used the word ‘success’ almost three dozen times in his thirty minute talk) because it has been able to “contain” Kashmir and “Northeast”, “complicate” the caste question by creating a small class of Dalits vested in the present order, and “invisibilized” class politics from the public sphere (3).
The point is not that the measure of success is negative, that the so-called “democracy” has silenced the major political questions in the region, but the fact that such pronouncements are stated openly and guiltlessly. There is no guilt for the suffering inflicted on Kashmiris, for the continued humiliation of Dalits, or for the abandonment of the poor multitudes. The guilt is screened by images. It is all a maya jaal.
Kashmiri people are saying (at least I and the ones I speak to) that we don’t demand Azadi because we are sad. Azadi is not an effect for which a cause must be found. Azadi is the fundamental requirement for living a dignified life. That is what it is, freedom and dignity. Not the image of Azadi, but a substantive Azadi. And if it is true that we’re happy, it is not because of India, it is in spite of them.
 Here I use ‘insurgency’ to mean any form of progressive political subversion.
(2) See ‘A Perception Survey of Media Impact on the Kashmiri Youth’, by Navnita Chaddha Behera et al, June 2010.
(3) The talk was given by Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, at Columbia University, April 4, 2012.