The newly-inducted deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Kavinder Gupta, has termed the Kathua case, where an eight-year-old Bakarwal girl was gang-raped and murdered in a temple, a ‘minor issue’. The statement, made in Hindi, reads in short: “Ek chhoti si baat hai, Rasana (the village where the incident took place) … Mujhe lagta hai ke Rasana ke case ko itna bhaav dene ki zaroorat nahi hai” (Rasana is a minor issue…I feel we need not give the Rasana case, undue importance).
Despite the callousness behind the statement, Gupta is inadvertently (and politically) accurate. Kathua case is a ‘minor’ issue in more ways than one. Not only was it a grotesquely orchestrated rape against a minor girl, but everything else about the incident is fiercely – and politically – minor. The Bakarwals, as a nomadic, Sunni Muslim community, are the most ‘minor’ among the many nomadic tribes of the region. They are provincially minor, belonging to the Kashmir region. They are minor in both India and Pakistan, since the map of their livelihood cuts across national boundaries. They belong to mountains, more than nations. The territorial and numerical language of nations that divide people into minority and majority will always treat people like the Bakarwals as minor. In India, the Bakarwals gained the status of a Scheduled Tribe in 1991. But it is not mere statistics or status that makes them ‘minor’. They are minor in relation to the legal and majoritarian demarcations of the nations they inhabit and disrupt by their presence and movement. Being ‘minor’ isn’t about an identity, but a condition.
Several magnitudes of vulnerabilities
People who are nomadic don’t have a single address. They literally belong to a landscape. What makes them minor is a combination of convergent facts. It includes the de-territorialised identity, their means of livelihood, and their geographical mobility. They are thrice as vulnerable: For being Muslims in today’s India, for having an unstable source of economy, and for transgressing regional boundaries. The prime motive behind the act of horror committed against the minor girl, as suggested by newspapers, allegedly involves spreading fear in the tribe, so that they leave the Rasana area of Kathua district.
This is how those who fall under the category of migrants, refugees and ‘foreigners’, people who are generally stigmatised as “outsiders” in the territorialising lexicon of the nation-state, face violence as a means to terrorise them out of their place. The thought that seeks to drive out these vulnerable people from their dwelling and uses murder to intimidate and force them into considering such a ‘minor’ catastrophe, tells you how the nation is designed to encourage violence in the name of securing its territories of power. That such an act is possible, and such a thought, thinkable, tells you what the nation has in store for people – it not only does not consider ‘its’ people, but does not consider ‘even’ people.
The birth of the ‘minor’ in nation-states, where ‘minor’ does not merely stand for an identity but its several magnitudes of vulnerabilities, is the biggest political and ethical question mark on the nation.
Minor is not ‘mere’
What the deputy chief minister said is not an anachronism. It merely reveals the prevalent mindset of nationalist politics. What the minister, however, doesn’t know (and it is impossible for him to know), is that what is ‘minor’ is not ‘mere’. The ‘minor’ is a serious issue the moment politics defines (implicitly or by spelling it out) what is ‘major’. For what is considered ‘major’ politically most often defines the interest and will of the majority, of what is more phenomenally called majoritarian/ism. To politically divide issues as ‘major’ and ‘minor’, to reinstate the mindset of the majoritarian by invoking the ‘minor’, is precisely what leads to a nation’s propensity for fascism in many forms.
Someone needs to tell the minister that the ‘minor’ in a nation-state is not to be considered less demanding of attention but rather comes prior to all other (‘major’) demands. By their magnitude of vulnerabilities or in their actual state of anguish (in the case of the Bakarwals by the horror committed upon one of their girls), the ‘minor’ are made ‘minor’. It is only by treating the ‘minor’ with respect, with enough political attention and will, that a nation fulfils its first ethical duty. In every nation, it is the state of the ‘minor’, invented forcibly outside her will and desire that defines the health of what is considered ‘major’. Unless the nation, in true fascist spirit, declares itself the custodian of majoritarian life and aspiration alone, it is bound to hear and address the plight of what it pathetically considers ‘minor’, without decency. The ‘minor’ comes before the ‘major’, since ethical duty warrants reversing the values of political majoritarianism. In other words, it is a reversal that pays attention to those who lack power.
The pathology of a nation historically stems from its majoritarian paranoia. It is regarding what the nation desires to exclude, tame, discriminate, violate and ignore in the name of ‘minor’. The nation, by declaring a people (and their issues) ‘minor’, demeans their existence by trying to minoritise them. This is both technique and mindset, where politics is run by the language of a feudal patriarchy, where all other ghosts that make up the violence of majoritarian paranoia, come to reside. Yes, Kathua is a ‘minor’ issue, but what it demands is not – and never – minor. A minor response to Kathua will be barbaric.
Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is a poet who teaches at Ambedkar University, Delhi.