The Militarisation of the Everyday in Kashmir: The Impact of Securitisation on Post-Conflict Regions
The scenic Kashmir portrayed for its bare beauty in bollywood films, the Kashmir of prose and poetry, an analogy for heaven and revolution, a piece of land and a symbol of nationalism; Kashmir is marred with multiple and contending narratives. Decades of conflict and the ensuing suppression and brutality that the valley has been subject to have made it so that few Kashmiri voices have managed to make it out of the imbroglio. Those that do have put forward an altogether different reality than the romantic ideation in popular imagination, or the selective and stifling narrative used by the Indian state.
Haneen Farid (2022), student at King’s College London and a Kashmiri by descent, recounts travelling to the region that holds her roots, only to be reminded of the jarring normalisation of everyday militarism and violence that is characteristic of the place. She regales the sights that impeded her appreciation of the landscape, noting that, “Every time I looked out the windows of my car to appreciate the beauty of Dal Lake, the Hari Parbat, and the mountains around Dal Gate, I would catch sight of armed officers stationed every 500 metres or so.” (Farid, 2022) . This was prelude to the kind of discourse that she would witness around her over the course of her stay, a discourse that has proliferated down from the eldest to the youngest of Kashmiris, containing both explicit rage and desensitisation.
This is quite antithetical to the claims being made by the Indian state regarding the situation in Kashmir, specifically since the abrogation of article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had till 2019 granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir (as the Indian-administered part of Kashmir is known). Article 370 had ensured partial autonomy to the region, and its revocation as well as the informal and arguably haphazard way it was carried out has been subject to much controversy and consequent unrest.
Kashmir has been treated as a contested piece of territory since the Independence of India from British rule and the creation of Pakistan as a separate State. In the subsequent decades, Kashmir has seen little peace, with three Indo-pak wars (1947, 1965, 1999) having been fought over it. The insurgents that arose in response to the authoritarian methods of the India state, demanding justice and self-determination, have constantly been engaged in armed conflict with the Indian military stationed in Kashmir. The secessionist demands and insurgent movements reached their zenith in the 1990s, which were inarguably some of the most violent and bloodiest years for Kashmiris. The brutalism shown by the state towards Kashmiris, particularly Kashmiri Muslims, has coloured the conflict with a religious facet, which also reflects in the unjust treatment of the minority Kashmiri Hindus (the targeted violence against Kashmiri Pandits, for instance) in the region. Revoking article 370 was supposed to have brought around a semblance of “normalcy” in Kashmir, but extra judicial killings, religious tensions, limited freedom of press, and a high presence of military, do not corroborate with this ideal.
The very language used by the State to address Kashmir and Kashmiris in official discourse, let alone its actual actions in the region, make Kashmir a highly securitised area, despite all claims to post-conflict and post-resolution “normalcy”. This securitisation permeates the lives of Kashmiris to an alarming degree, so much so that mere legal or policy changes cannot pave the way for peace. It is apparent, for instance, in Atina Nssir Malik’s (2020) commentary on the games that are commonly played among the children of Kashmir; games that simulate the encounters between the military and the Mujahideen, wherein wooden sticks are fashioned into guns and stones into ammo; the side that has the last alive member standing wins. The ideas and language of protests, including slogans of ‘azadi’ (freedom) and acts of resistance such as stone pelting, have been co-opted into their playtime activity. This state of affairs is structural and intentional, and needs to be deconstructed as such. It is for this reason that Kashmir has considerable challenges ahead in trying to emerge from its post-conflict stage into a truly peaceful zone.
Securitisation and Militarisation: a Post-Conflict Context
According to Cunningham(2017), “a post-conflict context can be conceptualised as a transitional period bounded by past war and future peace.” They go on to assert that such societies and regions are characterised by a lack of political and social clarity. Despite a legal-political “integration” of Kashmir into India post the revocation of its special status, the ground reality of Kashmiris remains one bound in confusion; grassroots and local politics is neglectful of the needs of Kashmiris (Kumar, 2022), and the local voices that do speak out are muffled by regulative and restrictive journalism. Moreover, in popular media, news media, official documentation, and foreign policy, the running narrative around Kashmir is one of security. A cursory glance at the news emerging out of Kashmir will signify the extent to which “threat” forms the key part of the language being used to describe the situation. State actors quantify the situation as being one of explicit “threat” or “danger”, needing a considerable degree of military control to be kept in check. This forms a vicious cycle: one of perceived threats on the one hand being labelled so by State actors for reasons of self or national interest, justifying use of stringent and militaristic measures. On the other hand, these measures further reinforce the severity of the “threats” in question. It goes on such that the state measures in such post-conflict scenarios do not address the structural problems of the region, and only exacerbate the issue by crude militaristic and highly security oriented methods. Not merely is the military and its paraphernalia now a common and recurring part of the landscape it claims to protect, the violence it carries on Kashmiris at the behest of the Indian state is settling into the very fabric of the society in the region.
Everyday Militarism: Challenges of Transitioning
Contemporary Kashmir floats between this crude everyday militarism, and the sustained normalcy of everyday life. This state of affairs is precarious and ever subject to being riled into full scale conflict. Twice in the last decade events took such a turn in Kashmir that threatened near war with Pakistan; once when Indian army forces were attacked in the Kashmir region of Pulwama, and in another instance when article 370 was abrogated. While the relationship between India and Pakistan keeps evolving and transforming in light of such events, and dialogue, diplomacy, and foreign policy move in response to this evolution, their impact is disproportionately aggravating for Kashmiris in India. The sudden burst in discrimination and violence that innocent Kahsmiris residing in other parts of India, particularly Kashmiri students, had to face post-Pulwama is testament to this fact.
The type of “normalcy” in Kashmir is unique to the region. It is adaptive to the political violence that is fact of the life for the people of Kashmir. Kashmiri writer and researcher Bashrat Ali (2016), writes about the overtly monitored lives of Kashmiri people by the Indian army, “They have numbered our houses and categorised the localities. They have marked our streets, shops, playgrounds, even the apple orchards. They know the size of our courtyards and backyards, as well as the shape of our cowsheds. They know everything.” The region and its inhabitants cannot grow or prosper unless their basic sense of safety is fulfilled, and so long as Kashmir continues to remain a militarised zone, having such safety realised is not plausible.
In order to transition to a peaceful region, the rhetoric and discourse around Kashmir and Kashmiris will need to be tackled. So far the social mechanisms of Kashmir remain embroiled in the political interests of the State, it will continue its vague and tenacious journey as a post-conflict zone. Asserting military prowess, or changing its legal-constitutional status are alienating practices, not integrating ones. What it does is further the act of silencing the people of Kashmir, stifling dissent, and robbing them of the decision to choose.
Aatina, N.M. 2020, "Mapping children’s play and violence in Kashmir", Childhood, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 354-368.
Ahmad Dar, Z. 2020, Theatrics of Securitisation in Kashmir: People, the State and Kashmir.
Ali, B. 2016, I'll never forget the day Burhan Wani was killed.
Cunningham, A.J. 2017, "Post-conflict contexts and humanitarian organizations: the changing relationship with states", Journal of International Humanitarian Action, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1-10.
Farid, H. , Opinion – What I learned from the world’s most militarised zone. Available: https://thred.com/change/opinion-what-i-learned-from-the-worlds-most-militarised-zone/ [2022, October 8,].
Kumar, R. 2022, For Kashmiris, resolution to decades of conflict remains a distant dream.
Manmeha is a Master's student at the War Studies Department at King's College, London. She researched and wrote this article as part of the BizGees & War Studies Department Internship programme.