A message to the British-Pahari Youth of “Azad” Jammu Kashmir
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 – lots of people are doing this anonymously – most of us, will never be in the firing line, especially when we live thousands of miles away from the arenas of the ‘conflicts’, or ‘injustices’.
I’m merely observing an inconsistency in behaviour, which can be a little hypocritical at times and bandwagonish.
Conflicts are raging in our own backyards, but some people are more concerned about the oppressed elsewhere. It seems they want to be involved in the popular causes of the mainstream, 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, downtrodden, and dispossessed ‘victims’, shedding tears over them, as they never once turn their gaze to the victims closer to home.
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 though. Yes, absolutely, Israeli children, mothers, fathers, the elderly are also victims of ‘conflict’).
Why do people behave like this?
Why are we concerned about some conflicts but not others? I don’t think it’s because we don’t know about those 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 in our societies; no one cares because they get the job done courtesy of the big fees they’ve accrued. The third sector is a huge income stream for big businesses in the private sector. This tells us a lot about the society we live in – a materialistic society where individuals are valorised because of their material possessions, fame, physical appearances, ‘backgrounds’, social status etc.
Not even dying people are spared from these considerations.
You don’t think it’s odd that we instantly feel sorry for children who are “telegenic”, on the basis of something very perverse? Even in human suffering, the same priorities are deployed by marketing companies for charities, as those employed by fashion or modelling agencies selling their products to consumers searching for their next “fix”.
You think alcoholics and gamblers are the only “addicts” out there?
Try it, don’t wear make-up when you go to work tomorrow, dump your high heals for flats; if you’re a man, shave your beard you’ve lovingly groomed courtesy of the changing fashions you follow. I’m not saying following changing fashions religiously is an addiction, far from it, I’m saying some peopl only function as part of a “herd”; the fear of “not following a herd” is a death sentence to them, and the societies we live in make this all the more possible.
Do you still think you’re an individual with your own opinions? Do you really think that the people you’re imitating just happen to be “amazing” on account of themselves? Do you merely choose to conscientiously follow their fashions because they enrich your life?
Or, am I making something out of nothing?
It’s never occurred to you, once, about the near absence of South Asian “British” models in British commercials, on catwalks, in British catalogues? But Asians are consumers, right? Asians are apparently smart, so they’re allowed to grace the studies of News Stations, or offer expert advice on medicine or nutrition. You don’t think there’s something perverse about how individuals from these diverse communities are being presented because of an imposed identity that renders them smart but “less-fashionable”, not “cool” enough for the brands being sold by the decision-makers in charge of marketing budgets?
Who are these people who decide these unjust policies and then set the budgets? Why are they never questioned about the fictions being imposed onto unsuspecting people?
There are implications for how these imposed group fictions are perceived in the wider society and how stereotypes are going to define an entire generation born and raised in the UK with priorities and aspirations of their own.
Stereotypes are dangerous when they’re mainstreamed
Think of it like this, why do people demean the “Indian” English accent? You’ve probably cracked a couple of jokes about the “freshies” from ‘back home’? Asians used to call them “typical Pakis” – TPs – before the PC police arrived and told us off for using deliberately hurtful and offensive language.
How things are different when a white person calls us “Pakis” – “OMG” – that’s racism!
But, no, you weren’t being racist when you laughed at the Indian or Pakistani accent, it just sounded funny to you. But have you ever laughed at someone speaking English with a French accent? Yet you’re quick to laugh at someone speaking English with a Nigerian or “African” accent.
You’ve probably never thought once about these social realities.
There’s no conspiracy though when I tell you that the world we live in is unjust and unfair. It is even more unjust to millions of ordinary individuals “imagined” on account of group-identities imposed on them by power-dynamics beyond your wildest imagination.
Most people are products of their environment, not because they are social animals interacting with their environment, but because they’ve never once questioned the things they take for granted as “common sense” truths or norms. They let the individuals with power do all the thinking for them – falsely equating this with some “correct” way of “being”.
When we were young
Let me try and re-frame this discussion through our experiences growing up, as we transitioned from youth into adulthood outside the social setting of 1st-world “politics” and 3rd-world “conflicts”.
Life was less complicated when we were growing up, it was blissful on account of not having to think too much! Yet we still had a sense of unequal power-relations; we understood the difference between the “in-crowd” and the outsiders, and we knew who was cool and who wasn’t, like “the nerds”. And let’s face it, lot’s of people, gravitated to the cool kids, even if they behaved like complete morons – the more obnoxious a “twat”, the more “cool” he seemed. This would be akin to similar antics within our wider society, between the dominant group and those existing on its fringe. Even if individual members of the dominant group deserve censure because they’ve behaved objectionably, the group still retains social respectability on account of power relations we just take for granted. My evidence?
People still gravitate towards this particular group.
How often does the media blame rich, powerful people on account of their “mainstream” backgrounds for the actions of individuals? How often do we blame respectable groups for the actions of their individuals? And yet, we are always criticising powerless groups, courtesy of mainstream media for the “criminal” infractions of their members. How many of us make a point of criticising the groups of our more respectable peers for one or another individual “infraction”?
You don’t think there’s something very rotten here? Why are we silent about such blatant inequality?
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 ‘social connections’ so much that we think we could get ahead in life by ingratiating ourselves to people with power – the “in-crowd”? We want to belong to this particular group, as it’s easy belonging to this group; its place in society is guaranteed, its status is celebrated effortlessly by the mainstream.
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 hallmarks of 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 dominant group 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. Becoming materially rich or socially affluent – the two are not the same – is not a bad thing, although one can see how such people start to distance themselves from their “past”, their original “peers”, even their “forebears”.
For lots of us, when we were free-spirited adolescents, with little care for our future prospects, we used to look disfavourably upon such people. But as we matured, we started to think of them as ‘aspirational’ and ambitious ‘go-getters’ because we now understand practically, the social dividends of such behaviour. Obviously, our formative years were free of contorted priorities. In many ways, we were naive and impressionable all the while there was something inherently honest about us.
In the decades that followed, a lot of that changed, and we became something else. We joined the rat race and we gradually lost our values and principles, as we coalesced with the respectable members of society.
The school yard was a good place to see these dynamics unfold. Some ambitious kids gravitated to the 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.
Our adolescent years was also a time, for some of us at least, to be ourselves. 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 simply because they had a different take on life. Social change usually comes through the originality of such people, whether people intensely detest them because of herd-mentality; if you think about it – it’s usually the herd that props up systems of injustice everywhere.
The contrarions never once self-censored though. They didn’t care about ‘social respectability’, or how they would be perceived by their peers; they said what was on their minds.
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 negative aspects of upward mobility, 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, society’s 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 are content to view the world through the prism of outsiders, even as you are an insider to your own community; the outsiders are your peers now. It doesn’t matter how they behave towards your former peers, or how prejudicial their views are, even as some of them were less benign to your parent’s or grandparent’s generation.
Over time you become someone else.
Behaving like this boils down to not having any personal integrity I’m afraid. We think it’s natural progression from our early years of trying to better ourselves socially (“progress”). 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, prepared to join at the cost of becoming its less-respectable counterfeit 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.
If you’re lucky in your own lifetime, you’ll forget about your upbringing. 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 ethnic groups’, ‘bad nationalities’ 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 redemptive words or “exculpatory” 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 trying to enter some middle class, from humble backgrounds, crucially when they morph into the social climber, who produce a lot of the dribble you read about ‘dysfunctional communities’ in our midst.
The mainstream media loves such stories because it’s a justification to despise the delinquents in our midst, it’s not as if the “narrators” are doing the “hating” from outside the fringe group. Nope. It’s the “good”, “righteous”, “well-balanced”, “progressive”, “objective” insiders that are actually doing the hating. “It’s not racist when the insiders are racist to their own members courtesy of those they now emulate”, they’ll say.
Individuals who behave like this have no intellectual integrity. It has nothing to do with progress or modern values. It’s about fitting in and proving oneself to one’s new peers.
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 – you are invested in your worldview – whatever the social consequences of espousing such ideas. As I’ve said, the people with the greatest chance of changing their societies are fiercely independent, and they are positively disliked by the powers-be because they refuse to become sheep, history bears out their struggles. These pioneers refuse to emulate those in power, and directly challenge them.
It’s usually these sorts of people who 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. And it’s not too late, you can still find yourself from amongst your own people – challenging injustice in your midst even as you refuse the demonisation of outsiders, the media, the social climbers about all those who came before you and put food on your table.
By becoming someone else, ‘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, their struggles, about 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.
You won’t feel the need to belong to the right ‘tribe’ for the sake of getting ahead in life. You’ll 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, terribly wrong, no biggy, you still had intellectual integrity, from which your personal integrity comes.
You’ll simply change your views, because it’s the right thing to do.
For social climbers, no amount of social climbing and self-hatred of their former lives is 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 welcome to have them! I just feel sorry for their children who are orphaned from the life-stories of their forbears knowing nothing of their true origins, now looking down at others who came from the same stock all those generations ago.
In sharing my thoughts, I am not speaking about the hundreds and thousands of ordinary people, from our wider society in Britain, who speak up against social and political injustice, even if it means going against their 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 become ‘sheep’ merely accepting their dues on account of their backgrounds.
You may not know their names, or the sacrifices they made for human rights and liberties, but this is why Britain has so much it can be proud of, even as it once had an Empire. These unnamed heroes challenged unjust authority (good authority is to be celebrated), were ostracised, demonised, victimised, their personal integrity assassinated, but they never gave up. Ultimately, they succeeded, and we now enjoy the fruits of their activism. This is one of the least celebrated aspects of British values, but it is symbolised in the idea of the “underdog”. We Brits love the underdog, and we should always be proud of the “underdog” status. Britons are an understated people and that’s just fine.
As for speaking about Kashmir, in the examples given, I am making the point, that Pakistan-administered-Kashmir (‘A’JK) is being exploited by Pakistan Officialdom (not ordinary Pakistanis. The vast majority of ordinary people, like ordinary Pakistanis, are good people whatever the illusory group identities unaccountable elites assume for themselves). AJK’s 1 million strong diaspora from the old Jammu & Kashmir region, now domiciled in the UK is silent, with the sole exception of the “Kashmiri” pro-independence activists, a lonely group of hardworking persons of conscience, who I don’t necessarily agree with because of their origin myths and politics; I’m a democrat not a nationalist, I’m at home anywhere in the world.
I am confused at the near silence of what is happening in so-called ‘Azad’ (Free) Jammu Kashmir whilst Pakistanis are quick to decry the crimes of India against Kashmiris in Indian-administered-Kashmir. I believe this is because of the dynamics I explained in my post, aside from politics and the national interests of countries; some well-placed members of our own community choose to remain silent, or side with Pakistan, because of an overarching sense of British-Pakistani respectability pitied at odds with AJK – a fringe place constantly demonised for being backwards and primitive. All manner of confirmation bias is sought to make the stereotypes stick. These imposed anxieties have weakened the resolve of the wider community to challenge Pakistan, as mainland Pakistanis in the UK, a tiny minority of unrepresentative actors have become gatekeepers to the British-AJK community. Howsoever 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 mainland British-Pakistanis and the people of ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir in the first place, regrettably I say. The ambiguous nature of AJK, and its corresponding identity as a separate territory to Pakistan, controlled by autocratic actors in Islamabad, has not helped. It’s time we accepted we do not originate from Pakistan but Jammu & Kashmir. We are Britons of Jammu & Kashmir (Pahari) descent and we take offence to being labelled Pakistani, because we’re not from Pakistan!
Articles, Reports on “Kashmir” from News Agencies, UN and Human Rights Organisations
First-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir calls for international inquiry into multiple violations