Nandy says Shobna’s book should be a compulsory read for policymakers in Delhi, “used to reversing their telescopes so that things look further and further away”. It’s a clinical gaze on traumatised people, he says, coming as it does when fewer researchers are undertaking such studies. Following up on these high recommendations, Anuradha Raman spoke to Shobna Sonpar about her study. Excerpts from the interview:
The Centre’s Kashmir interlocutors (Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari) have submitted their report. You must be aware of what they were tasked to do. What would be your suggestions to them? What are the various factors one needs to keep in mind before drawing up a roadmap for dialogue?
Interlocuting has to do with conversation and I imagine that the most important task is to facilitate a change in the cliched discourses on all sides so that a genuine conversation emerges. It is only through genuine conversation that difficult issues can be talked about without self-righteousness, raised hackles and sulks.
Listening without a personal agenda and without having to please some constituency is essential, and hence the choice of a non-political team seems wise. In my practice, I find myself urging warring couples to do what it takes in their heads and in their emotional reactivity to maintain a stance of respectful curiosity about the other instead of blame and judgement. It is in the process of practising this that the ability to read one’s own subjective state without defensiveness and that of others without assuming malign intent, a truly reflective space, becomes possible. Psychologists call this capacity mentalisation. Also, there is the need to have conversations with the government and other sections in India, which perhaps poses a more formidable challenge.
"(The Kashmir situation) raises troubling questions about the normalisation of violence. The discourse pits ‘legitimate’ violence against ‘bad’ violence." Has anything changed in the Valley since Violent Activism was published three years ago? If so, what has changed on the ground? Has the violence been scaled up?
Since the Amarnath land row, there has been palpable anger across the Valley, particularly among the youth. What is different now compared to some years ago is that the sense of victimisation, the hyper-sensitivity to threats to Muslim identity, the outrage at human rights violations by security forces are being publicly expressed by large sections of Kashmiri society, including women and children, and not just by those who took up militancy. What has also changed is the mood.
Ten years ago, when I first visited the Valley, my impressions were of a collective trauma characterised emotionally by pervasive and intense fear, insecurity, loss, despair and helplessness and socially by atomisation and distrust. On my visit last month, my impression was of a degree of assertiveness and even hopefulness, as well as of greater willingness to form social networks. Thirdly, the activism for protest and resistance has broadened to include violent (stone-pelting is not non-violent; people have lost their lives and their eyes due to injuries inflicted by the slingshots of security forces and stones hurled by protesters) as well as non-violent strategies.
How do you view the call for azadi from new sections of the population (among the stone-pelters are women and children)? What does their participation indicate?
The call for azadi from women is not new. Commentators like Rita Manchanda point out that by 1990 Kashmiris were rallying in the streets, women in the forefront, shouting Marde mujahid, jaag zara ab, vakt shahadat aaya hai (Men of faith rise up, the time for laying down your lives has come).” However, the participation of children and youth in large numbers in street protests is new. There is a generational shift, the new generation has grown up knowing violence, fear, loss and humiliation at close quarters.
What has the study yielded for you as a psychologist? And what were the challenges you faced?
Several things come to mind. One challenge was to deal with the complaint that trying to make sense of political violence is tantamount to justifying such violence. My engagement in this study also pushed me to interrogate the discourses about violence. Much of this discourse is taken up with differentiating legitimate and therefore acceptable violence from illegitimate and therefore ‘bad’ violence rather than the issue of violence (of any kind) versus non-violence. It raised troubling questions regarding the normalisation and ‘moralisation’ of violence—in raising and educating children, as well as in maintaining discipline, honour and perceived entitlements in personal, familial and social contexts. It also raised practical challenges as to the socialisation into, and ‘moralisation’ of, non-violent modes of resolving conflict. I also wondered about the daunting business of breaking cycles of violence that run on victimhood and revenge. The lessons of Tibet and South Africa suggest the importance of a strong moral authority and a containing moral vision that rejects violence.
You have presented accounts of 24 former militants, detailing the tortures they went through at the hands of the security forces. How does the healing process start?
The tortured need physical and mental help, and torture victims benefit immensely from giving testimonies on human rights forums. But I think the legislation on torture currently being discussed needs to be expedited. Torture sustains the construction of a reality that fuels fear in the public about enemies who must be eliminated at any cost. Let me take you to a study in Stanford called the Prison Experiment where a prison-like situation was simulated and where students took on the role of prisoners and guards—the study had to be abandoned after it was found within a week that the guards were turning more and more violent and the prisoners increasingly passive.
Abuse and violence, I feel, are the creation of a system that provides a higher authority which validates such actions that would ordinarily be constrained by norms and ethics.
Apropos of her interview ‘On Kashmir, it’s essential to listen without an agenda’ (Nov 22), being a psychologist, Shobna Sonpar sees and studies the dark spaces in the human psyche. However, one can understand the human issues in Kashmir in less intellectual terms. Almost 30 years ago, a friend and I hopped on to a bus in Srinagar, almost on a lark, in a deviation from a carefully scripted guided tour. The occupants sensed in a flash that we were—one uses the term advisedly but with more than a tinge of regret—‘Indians’. There was an involuntary intake of breath and a sense of such hostility that we were off the bus in a matter of minutes. Trust and governance deficit, reaching out, alienation—we can, and probably will, keep talking for decades.
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
Kashmir has become a ladder for unknown people to gain fame. Sonpar doesn’t talk about the genesis of the Kashmir conflict; the rape, brutality and arson inflicted on Kashmiri Hindus; nor does she talk of the nationalist urge of the Jammu and Ladakh regions, and the discrimination being meted out to them by the Valley-based Muslim rulers.
Almost every day, Pakistan is subjected to terrorism of some kind—from Afghan jehadists, from local Taliban and Al Qaeda, from Sunnis and Shias. Besides, there are clashes among various political groups, tension between the isi and the civilian government, between religious orthodoxy and secularism, not to mention regional separatists such as the Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns and other tribals who have little say in a Punjabi-dominated regime. In these circumstances, the best course of action on Kashmir is to make the Line of Control the international border, and get on with life.
S.S. Kere, Richmond, US
The present situation in Kashmir (and not other parts of J&K) is a result of the dual and cheap politics played by Muslim leaders themselves. Their slanted, faith-based propaganda misled the masses and this has, unfortunately, become the ‘situation’ as it’s understood nationally and globally.
K.L. Mahaldar, Jalandhar
Kashmir issue can be solved by withdrawing the special previlages of J&K under article 370, integrating it fully and converting the present LOC into Indo-Pak BORDER with a new name for the state- JAMMU PRADESH. Pakistan can keep POK as Kashmir. All the citizens of JAMMU PRADESH who are unhappy to be in India can migrate to KASHMIR in Pakistan similar to the migration which occured in 1947 but exicuted in a better planned way by India. Thus Pakistan can be happy that they have KASHMIR to themselves.
In independent Kashmir or Pakistani Kasmir, Kashmiris has no future. As a matter of fact , independent Kashmir is foolish idea. Kasmir cannot remain independent for one day. Pakistani army will take it over. Possibly that also hugely serve US strategic scheme in the region. Reason US is ambiguous on the subject & Obama weaseled out with generalities when asked about it during his visit. Peaceful , prosperous Kasmir's hopes lie with it's total integration wioth India.
Foregn interests could fuel unrest in Kashmir because Indaia failed to truly govern the place.
An independent Kashmir is a pipe dream. Neither India nor Pakistan will allow it - for strategic reasons. After the loss of Bangladesh in 1971, even the claim of Pakistan to represent the Muslim majority areas of South Asia rings hollow.
Almost everyday Pakistan is subjected to terrorism from across the border from Afghanistanand from home-grown elements, from the Taliban, from Al Qaida, from Sunnis, from Shias, against Sufis, against Muhajirs, clash among various political groups, tension between the ISI and the civilian government, between religious orthodoxy and secularism, not to mention regional separatists such as Sindhis, Baluchis, Pashtuns and other tribals who have little say in a Punjabi dominated regime.
Under these circumstances, the best course of action for all concerned is to make the Line of Actual Control the international border, and get on with life.
Again and again, India has failed to take steps to integrate Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the country. Taking the issue to the UN was only the first mistake. Why is there Article 370 more than 60 years after accession of the state? Why didn't the Govt prevent the Pundits from being driven out of the valley? Nobody hears a squeak from the Govt about the sad fate of the Pundits.
After the war of 1971, why didn't India aggressively take steps to integrate J & K with the rest of the country: make it possible for other Indians to buy land there, and establish businesses, etc.
After more than 60 years India still lacks the ability of hot pursuit of cross-border terrorists who enter and create havoc with impunity. India is still seeking attaboys from US, UK, etc. At this rate, India will still be dealing with this problem 50 years from now, except in the Northeast there will be an added problem of a Chinese land grab.
I am really shocked as how Outlook allows columnists like Anuradha Raman facilitate propogandists like Shobna Sonpar to make most unsubstantiated allegations and seek to defame those that protect Indian democracy and the rights of its people from those who seek to establish a criminal religious state.
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