A message to the British-Pahari youth of the UK
Why do some of us lose our tongues in the face of social and political injustice? This isn’t about being scared, or worrying about reprisals against one’s person or family; by speaking out against injustice, most of us, will never be in the firing line, especially when you live thousands of miles away from the arenas of the ‘conflicts’, or ‘injustices’. This is about observing an inconsistency in behaviour. As conflicts rage in a specific people’s backyard, the same people seem more concerned about the oppressed elsewhere. It seems they want to be involved in the “popular” causes, by joining the rallies of the established ‘victims’ and hanging out with their fraternities. They’ll even go as far as collecting money for the poor ‘victims’, and shedding tears over them, as they never once turn their gaze to their own victims.
As someone with roots in the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir, I suppose, one way of framing this conversation, is to look at my own experience. As Indian and Pakistani state-actors fight over my homeland – a piece of “territory”, and peoples in all parts of this State are wronged, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Sunni, Shia, people of no faith, whatever the ethnic or social backgrounds of the “Kashmiris” being victimised, my people in the UK seem to be more concerned about the “Palestinians” – (without minimising the plight of the Palestinians; both Palestinians and Israelis are victims of this egregious conflict).
So why do people behave like this?
Why are we concerned about some conflicts but not others? I don’t think its because we don’t know about those other conflicts; who hasn’t heard of the Kashmir Conflict? I think it’s because some people fare more important in our imaginations; we’ve created hierarchies in our minds, and we accord “victimhood” according to that hierarchy. If you think I’m making this up, ask yourself, why media companies hired by charities, feed into these anxieties, and handpick the “needy” for their “telegenic” qualities? They openly exploit the sorts of anxieties that are widespread; no one cares, because they get the job done. This tells us a lot about the society we live in.
You don’t think its odd, that, we instantly feel sorry for children who are “telegenic”, on the basis of something very perverse? Even in suffering, the same priorities are deployed by campaigners, as those employed by fashion or modelling agencies selling their products.
You don’t think that’s odd? Or am I making this up?
Let me frame this discussion through our experiences growing up, as we transitioned from youth into adulthood, (some of us at least) and then maturity, outside the world of “politics” and “conflicts”. It seemed life was so much less complicated when we were growing up, but yet, we still had a sense of power-relations; we understood the differences between the ‘in-crowd’ and the outsiders, and we knew who was cool and who wasn’t. And let’s face it, lot’s of people, gravitated to the cool kids, even if they behaved like complete morons. This would be akin to the differences between the dominant group in society and those existing on its fringe; even if individual members of the dominant group deserve censure, they still have social respectability on account of power relations people just take for granted.
How many of us are prepared to call these people out, because of their antics? It’s easy to criticise powerless groups, but how many criticise their more respectable peers for one or another “infraction”?
Is it because we want to appear ‘inoffensive’ to people who we look up to and aspire to be like, because of the clear social dividends that come by way of behaving like this? Do we value their ‘social connections’ so much that we think we could get ahead in life by ingratiating ourselves to them? So we want to belong to this particular group, as it’s easy belonging to this group; its place in society is guaranteed.
And so we think by telling them some home-truths, we could peril our own prospects especially when those being wronged are our ‘own’ people.
So we keep our mouths shut! Upward mobility demands it, we convince ourselves!
In many societies around the world, we have negative expressions for such behavioural tendencies; understandably the social phenomenon in question exists everywhere. It’s connected with power-relations; some people are important, others are not. The important people have power, social prestige and privilege, what we otherwise call the dominant group. The ‘not-so’ important people have none of this, and if you happen to come from the fringe of a society’s power structure – the fringe group, you want to join the ranks of the ruling class and you’ll do everything possible to get there, even if it means ‘poo-pooing’ your former lives.
Or at least that’s the idea behind social climbing, a pejorative expression used for aspects of upward mobility, which in itself, is not a bad thing.
For lots of us, back in the days when we were free-spirited adolescents, with little cares for the outside world, we used to look disfavourably on such people, but as we matured, we started to think of them as ‘aspirational’ and ambitious ‘go-getters’. Obviously, our formative years were free of contorted priorities. In many ways, we were positively ‘wet around the ears’, but naive and impressionable as we were, there was something inherently true about us.
In the decades that followed, a lot of that changed, and we became something else. We joined the rat race and we lost our values and principles, as we coalesced with the respectable members of society.
The school yard was a good place to see those dynamics unfold. Some ambitious kids gravitated to the ‘in-crowd’ – the cool kids, even if this meant acting contemptibly with the peers they grew up with, their childhood friends. As they got older, and started to think about their future prospects, they flew further afield into the realm where they had to lose even more of themselves to be like the people they admired.
But our adolescent years was also a time to be ourselves. For some of us, we were trying to find ourselves in the midst of people who were similarly trying to find themselves. No one really cared about saying the right things or being anodyne; what you said came naturally to you, if you happened to be wrong it wasn’t the end of a friendship. From this cadre, we had the beginnings of the contrarians and those who refused to be silenced.
They never once self-censored. They didn’t care about ‘social respectability’, or how they would be perceived by their peers.
But in the world of the upwardly mobile “go getter”, there’s a price for this kind of ‘authenticity’. In this world, our much-prided ‘vocations’ are little more than ‘careers’. We tip-toe around ourselves trying to placate our new ‘friends’ and ‘cultured’ peers. We want them to know we’re really like them, and not the people we were previously associated with; if ever the past-connection was to become known, god-forbid, we would be mortified! We want to positively efface ourselves of our former lives because this is the price for ‘fitting-in’, moving out of our old but natural personas into our new facade-ridden ‘identities’. If we mess up in this social environment, it’s as if the entire planet will combust!
Social climbing, and I’m speaking about the worst aspects of upward mobility in my mind, leads to intellectual-regress. The two are connected in so many ways that they’re really two sides of the same coin. You no longer think for yourself. You no longer speak for yourself. You content yourself with being a sheep of popular fashions, attitudes, of conventional wisdom, because it’s the safest option and you huddle with likeminded sheep who look the part, speak the part, dress the part, think the part. You fit in, or at least you think you ‘fit in’ even though you’re a sheep with nothing of ‘value’ about you as an individual. And so you’ll never speak up if something seems wrong because you want the permanent approval of your new peers, the ‘in-crowd’, in your mind – your group’s leading icons – because you’re scared of becoming exposed as an ‘imposter’! You positively self-censor to the extent of losing your intellectual integrity if indeed you had any left. You force yourself to view the world through the prism of outsiders, even as you are an insider to your community; the outsiders are your peers now. It doesn’t matter how they behave towards your former peers, even as they were less benign to your parent’s generation.
Over time you become someone else.
Behaving like this boils down to not having any personal integrity. We think it’s natural progression from our early years of trying to better ourselves socially. It isn’t. Trying to emulate those with ‘power’ because you formerly lacked it, is more about you than the people who have the power, and those who don’t. The dominant group in any society self-perpetuates because it has people like you wafting around it, and prepared to join at the cost of becoming its poor extension. Perhaps, if you do enough grovelling, they’ll let you into their inner sanctum and you wont feel the need to be ‘insecure’ all the time.
Hopefully, you’ll even forget about your origins. If you can’t, you’ll positively hate on your ‘people’ to prove that you’re not from them. A lot of what we read about ‘bad communities’, ‘bad groups’, ‘bad people’ is usually at the behest of people who’ve just joined the dominant group, as they hate on the fringe groups. You can literally sense these insecurities in their words or writings. Think of it like this, aristocrats couldn’t care one iota about the people at the bottom of the social pecking order, they are comfortable in their skin. They have nothing to prove. It’s usually upwardly mobile people from humble backgrounds, crucially when they morph into the social climber, who produce a lot of the dribble you read about the ‘dysfunctional communities’.
Clearly, individuals who behave like this have no intellectual integrity. To have intellectual integrity, you have to be invested in your own person, your own beliefs and you don’t care how uncomfortable your beliefs make people feel. You express your views because you genuinely believe them to be true whatever the social consequences of espousing them. We know from history, the people with the greatest chance of changing their societies are fiercely independent and their positively disliked by the powers-be because they refuse to become social climbers. They refuse to emulate those in power, and directly challenge them. It’s these sorts of people that change their societies for the better, and not the sheep who want to drape themselves in the flags of their ruling peers. When things go wrong, our self-hating social climbers try to find another powerful tribe they can join, and they start the whole process again of doing someone else’s bidding. They overcompensate to be like their new admired peers, even as they lose even more of themselves.
Hear me, when I say this to you, my brothers and sisters, you’ll never find contentment by being like this, because you don’t know who you are.
By becoming someone else, and ‘social climbing’ your way to some imagined social utopia, means you’ve never once looked in the mirror and said, who am I really? Where did I come from? By being yourself, you’ll start asking questions about your roots, your beginnings, your parent’s life stories, about your forebears and their struggles, about your neighbours, the people ‘hating’ on you. You’ll start pondering why some people are celebrated whilst others are not; why do we have ‘victors’ and ‘losers’, ‘rich and poor’, why does the world seem so unjust – was this all by accident?
And it’s then your mind will become perturbed.
But you’ll never self-hate again. You’ll have more self-respect.
Because you won’t feel the need to belong to the right ‘tribe’ for the sake of getting ahead in life. You will speak your mind because your words reflect who you really are, and you don’t need a tribe or a group to validate your social worth. Your personal experiences will validate your words, and that’s just fine. And if it turned out you were wrong in your observations, no biggy, you still had intellectual integrity, from which your personal integrity comes.
For our social climbers, no amount of social climbing and self-hatred of their former lives is ever going to bestow upon them personal integrity even though they hold fastidious to their new ‘social status’. If that’s the price they want to pay for losing themselves for upward mobility and social status, then I guess, their new peers are all the more welcome to have them! I just feel sorry for their children who are orphaned from the life-stories of their forbears and know nothing of their true origins, as they go on to look down at others who come from the same stock as their parents.
In sharing my thoughts, I am not speaking about the hundreds and thousands of people, from our wider society in Britain, who speak up against social and political injustice, even if it means going against their own social group, families and extended networks. The social and political equality we enjoy in Britain, by no means perfect, is the cumulative struggles of people who demanded rights for everyone else, because they refused to be ‘sheep’ merely accepting their dues on account of their backgrounds. They challenged authority, were ostracised, demonised, victimised, but they never gave up. Ultimately, they succeeded, and we now enjoy the fruits of their activism.
As for speaking about Kashmir, in the examples given, I am making the point, that Pakistan-administered-Kashmir is being exploited by Pakistan Officialdom (not ordinary Pakistanis), as the 1 million strong diaspora from this region in the UK is silent, with the sole exception of the pro-independence activists, a lonely group of hardworking persons of conscience, who I don’t necessarily agree with; I’m a democrat not a nationalist. But, I am confused at the near silence about what is happening in so-called Azad Jammu Kashmir. I believe this is because of the dynamics I explained in my post, as some well-placed members of the community choose to remain silent, because of an overarching sense of Pakistani respectability pitied at odds with AJK – a fringe place constantly demonised for being backwards and primitive. These imposed anxieties have weakened the resolve of the wider community to challenge Pakistan, as mainland Pakistanis in the UK have become gatekeepers to the community. However, we understand this imbalance, AJK and its diaspora are the biggest losers, not least because there is no shared sense of British-Pakistani fraternity between Pakistanis and the people from Azad Jammu Kashmir in the first place. The ambiguous nature of AJK, and its corresponding identity as a separate territory to Pakistan, controlled by autocratic actors in Islamabad, has not helped either.
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