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 observing an inconsistency in behaviour. As conflicts rage in our own backyards, some people seem more concerned about the oppressed elsewhere. It seems they want to be involved in the “popular” causes of the “mainstream” 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, 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’).
So 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 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 in our societies; no one cares because they get the job done courtesy of the big fees they’ve accrued – yup, 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 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”. What, 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. Now, I’m not saying following changing fashions religiously is an addiction, far from it, I’m saying some people can only function as part of a “herd”; the fear of “not following a herd” is a death sentence, and the societies we live in make this all the more possible.
So, do you still think you’re an individual with your own opinions? You think the people you’re imitating just happen to be “amazing” on account of themselves – 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 catalogues? 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 “less-fashionable” by the decision-makers in charge of marketing budgets?
You don’t think there’s going to be implications for how this identity is going to be perceived in the wider society?
Think of it like this, why do people demean the “Indian” English accent? You’ve probably cracked a couple of jokes about the “freshies”; we used to call them “typical Pakis” 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” – that’s racism! But, no, you weren’t being racist when you laughed at the Indian accent, it just sounded funny to you. But have you ever laughed at someone speaking English with a French 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”.
Let me 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, but 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 – people still gravitate towards the 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 their more respectable peers for one or another “infraction”?
You don’t think there’s something very rotten here? Why are we silent about such 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? So we want to belong to this particular group, as it’s easy belonging to this group; its place in society is guaranteed, it’s status is celebrated 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 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. 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 for 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 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 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 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 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, for some of us, 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. Social change usually comes through the originality of such people, whether people intensely detest them because of herd-mentality, it is usually the herd that props up systems of injustice.
The contrarions never once self-censored. They didn’t care about ‘social respectability’, or how they would be perceived by their peers; they said what was on their mind.
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 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, 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 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.
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 (of the dominant group). 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 one’s midst, it’s not as if, the “narrators” are being “hating” on the fringe group?
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 such ideas. As I’ve said, 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 – history bears this out. These pioneers 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. This is one of the least celebrated aspects of British values, and it is symbolised in the idea of the “underdog”.
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 because of their origin myths and politics; 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 British-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, a tiny minority of unrepresentative actors, 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 mainland British-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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