From Stones to Snowmen, Everyday Resistance in Kashmir Takes New Form

Protest is Kashmir is not just about clashes with the army or marches. Other forms of protest may not be as loud, but they are everywhere.

A protester throws stones towards the Indian police during a protest in Srinagar against the recent killings in Kashmir, August 9, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Files

A protester throws stones towards the Indian police during a protest in Srinagar against the recent killings in Kashmir, August 9, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Files

As it snowed heavily in Kashmir some weeks ago, resistance to recent violent developments took the shape of snow art. A Facebook user posted his photograph on the social networking site next to a snowman whose head was covered in a ‘kafiya’ – a headscarf. Written on its body were the words, “Don’t Pellet Me”.

The summer of 2016 saw a prolonged and popular uprising in Kashmir. In 2017, acts of resistance continue, but often take different forms. The blind and the wounded – like ”long walls of resistance” – seek to pierce through the heart of the People’s Democratic Party government, which made the unpopular decision of aligning with the BJP last year.

Descriptions and analyses of open political actions dominate accounts of political conflict. This is clearly visible in narratives presented by historians, political scientists, journalists, statesmen and leaders of popular movements. A battle between rebels and government forces or heavy stone pelting on the army in Kashmir makes headlines. Some of the most telling analyses of conflict underline under what circumstances groups in conflict resort to open political action. They explain why some groups, under certain conditions, would rather employ violent forms of political action – rioting, rebellion and other revolutionary movements – than embrace the less violent forms of protests – petitions, rallies, peaceful marches, protest voting, strikes, boycotts and so on.

But apart from these, there is a vast realm of political action that is almost habitually overlooked. It is ignored for at least two reasons. One, it is not openly declared in the usually accepted sense of “politics”. Two, neither is it a group movement in the usually understood sense of collective action. But much of the politics of subordinate groups falls into the category of “everyday forms of resistance”. These activities should most definitely be considered political, for they do constitute a form of collective action.

Kashmir has a long history of resistance. The open forms of struggle have been highlighted by the media. There are recent accounts of hordes of people gathering to rescue trapped militants, often without caring about their lives, of facing soldiers and pelting them with stones.

But little attention is given to the mild forms of resistance that Kashmiris in their everyday life engage in. American political scientist James C. Scott describes these forms of resistance as “weapons of the weak”. Oppression and resistance are in constant flux, and by focusing on the “visible” historic events such as organised rebellions or collective action, the subtle but powerful forms of everyday resistance are overlooked.

“The ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups are: foot dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage and so on,” Scott states.

These forms of struggle have certain features in common. Scott points out in his 1985 book Weapons of the Weak that these actions require little or no coordination or planning; they make use of implicit understandings and informal networks and often represent a form of individual self-help. They typically avoid any direct, symbolic confrontation with authorities. This means the purpose of many such techniques is to avoid notice and detection.

During the popular struggles of 2016, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said that only 5% Kashmiris engaged in protests and violence. It can be inferred from her statement that only 5% Kashmiris embrace open forms of confrontation with security agencies. Did she fail to recognise the mild forms of resistance that occur on a daily basis in Kashmir? Of course she did. Her statement was not only methodologically flawed, but also a deliberate attempt to brush off mild forms of resistance.

These “everyday forms of resistance” should most definitely be seen as political. Any account which disregards these actions is often ignoring the most vital means by which weaker sections express their political interests.

To understand resistance in Kashmir, one needs to look at those who do not engage in direct action. Take the example of children and parents. In villages or towns, when children fight, their parents get to hear of it. The child who beats up the relatively weaker child is ticked off with the words ‘Yehoi army woal heuv chukh, weich kya koruth yemis‘ – you look like an army cop, see what you have done to him. If a small child has been mischievous, the mother often says, “Aawoooii awoooii military wool trave nah kenh” – the army is coming, they will not spare you.

Why is a child who beats up another referred to as a military man? Why is a child threatened with army action? The idea behind these local phrases is that army men – who torture and kill common Kashmiris and often rape women – are a symbol of brutality. There are hundreds of examples of this kind of resistance in our daily lives.

The recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir has turned the arc lights on the use of pellet guns, which has blinded or impaired the sight of scores of Kashmiris, particularly the young. To express solidarity with pellet victims, people in Kashmir came out on the streets, everybody with one eye bandaged. This is also a form of resistance, one with a powerful message. Another form of resistance is name-calling, with the use of words found in the folk tales of Kashmir.

The list of this everyday form of resistance in Kashmir is a long one. As is the struggle. 

Muneeb Yousuf and Asif Ahmad Bhat are research scholars at the Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi.

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    Dissent takes different forms of expression. When ‘ visible’ revolts are suppressed, various ‘ covert’ forms of expressing resentment crop up. Many are related to artistic and literary expressions, satires, inventing jargon to express dissent and mock dramas in daily lives from children to elders. These are ‘ weak’ forms of resistance but can erupt like volcano at any opportune time and spread through out the state