Of Visual Imagery and Violence
KASHMIR UNDER SEIGE
THE TWO ARE LINKED AND WE MUST EXPLORE THE RELATION BETWEEN THE TWO, WRITES ZEESHAN PANDIT
The mounting anger in Kashmir must be analyzed deeply for it is neither based on recent events nor a result of mere provocation from external elements. In fact, it is based on a longstanding visual as well as actual experience of oppression and violence.
One of the ways in which oppression has become deeply ingrained in the minds of Kashmiri people because of daily visual experience of objects of warfare and war-associated persons.
According to psychologists, one of the ways in which human beings form ideas and retain memory is through imagery or making mental images in the brain. The world of advertising has capitalized on this fact, subjecting the public to "desirable" images and spending millions in ad campaigns. For example, an advertisement of a bank usually shows images of a bachelor with a car which connotes "success" or a family all-smiles in front of a new house which suggests "fulfillment." Hence, the ad featuring the name and logo of the bank together with images that suggest or represent the popular middle-class idea of success and fulfillment aim to convince people to choose this bank over others by promising to fulfill people’s common aspirations.
Images, or the things we see, affect how we think, remember, and act. What kind of images are Kashmiris exposed to? The common Kashmiri is subjected daily to images of warfare and oppression.
When a Kashmiri father goes out of his home every morning to buy bread for his family from the store at the corner of his street, what does he see? He sees an Indian soldier in full gear with a rifle. It is but natural for any human being in any place on earth to feel threatened when he sees another human being in close proximity carrying a gun. For what is a gun? It is a weapon. In addition, a gun is a symbol of power and violence. It brings up images of war and death. It is not normal for any peace-loving society especially in civilian areas to be constantly exposed to guns. This oppressive visual experience has grim effects especially on the minds of innocent Kashmiri children and the youth.
When a Kashmiri mother goes to buy clothes for her children at Lal Chowk, the main commercial centre in the city, what does she see? On the footpath, she sees men standing in full military gear carrying rifles. Seeing this, she is forced to walk on the road instead of the safer foot path. But on the already narrow road, she sees rows of barbed wire entanglements obstructing pedestrians and cars. And in a commercial centre, is it really proper to block parts of the road and foot paths with barbed wire? Barbed wires are commonly used in war trenches, and were ubiquitous in Nazi concentration and extermination camps. So, what does a historical symbol of oppression and Nazi war crimes such as the barbed wire doing in the middle of the road in one of the most popular and busiest high-end commercial centre of the Kashmir Valley?
When a Kashmiri family goes to Cheshmashahi Garden, Gulmarg, or Pahalgam to enjoy the blessing of nature upon their land and to relax in the company of loved ones, what do they see? On the way to these beautiful places, they are delayed by military convoy. They are also delayed and forced to come down from their cars for physical inspection and frisking. Then, upon reaching these scenic spots, they see numerous military bunkers and areas fenced by barbed wire. Surely, being stopped and frisked as well as seeing barbed wire and military bunkers don’t make up a relaxing atmosphere. Doesn’t a Kashmiri have a right to enjoy the beauty of his own land?
When a Kashmiri goes to his office, his hospital, or his school, his vehicle is usually stopped for "random security checks" by armed men in Indian uniform. In addition to the delay and disturbance caused by the "security check," he is further delayed by a military convoy consisting of 50 to 100 military trucks which does not give any way to any vehicle.
Hence, because of the ubiquitous military presence in the Valley, an average Kashmiri sees a whole lot of armed men in uniform carrying guns, barbed wires reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps, military bunkers, military trucks, and military road blockers every single day. In other words, to walk the streets of Kashmir is to be bombarded with images of violence and warfare as well as symbols of oppression. Since ideas are largely formed by images and influence the decisions we make and the steps we take, we can therefore say that the ubiquitous presence of Indian military forces in Kashmir is the strongest provocation for violence among the youth. This daily provocation for violence must be condemned and stopped.
Furthermore, with so many Indian soldiers walking streets freely carrying firearms, with so many barbed wire bunkers and road blockers everywhere you turn, Kashmir undoubtedly looks like one big military camp. Recent events complete the imagery of Kashmir as one big military camp because with so many Kashmiri youth killed by CRPF, it seems as if the Kashmiri youth is used for target practice.
Instead of blaming the recent spate of violence on "agent provocateurs" of separatists or elements from across the border, the government should look closely into the violence-stoking impact of ubiquitous military presence and activity, as well as their record of human rights violation in the Valley.
On one hand, Kashmiris are subjected to images and experiences of military rule and oppression in their daily life. On the other hand, national media subjects the public of India to images of Kashmiris beating up a police officer and wrecking police vehicles. These images stoke anger among Kashmiris because it makes obvious the fact that the national media has not shown images of the realities which Kashmiris experience such as police officers dragging their children from their homes and being showered with bullets at close range. The national media has chosen not to present images of sorrow and grief of the bereaved Kashmiri families who lost their loved ones at the hands of the CRPF and police. The national media has not shown images of the CRPF firing bullets at protesters. In cities all over India, violent protests happen but are never fired at. In Kashmir, protests are readily met with CRPF and police firearm. Furthermore, the national media is being unfair in representing fully armed police and CRPF as "victims" of mob rule while choosing not to show images of the innocent nine-year old boy who was killed by CRPF.
The government and the national media, if they truly upheld democracy and humanity, should have strongly condemned the killing of a nine-year old boy for it is an inhumane, dastardly act which is the epitome of utter disregard for innocent human life. Instead, the government has merely stated a reserved apology for the deaths of children and youth of Kashmir at the hands of the CRPF and the police. An apology is not enough.
In addition to a Kashmiri’s daily visual experience of violence and oppression, the bombardment of biased imagery by print and broadcast media by national media organizations stokes flames of anger, resentment, and frustration within the Kashmiri psyche. Peace-seeking persons, organizations, and authorities must address issues by delving deep into the roots of violence and conflict in Kashmir (some of which have been mentioned in this article) instead of readily putting the blame on so-called external forces and resorting to name-calling of protesters as ‘misguided youth,’ ‘agent provocateurs ‘or terrorists.
On the other hand, we Kashmiris must strongly guard our image as an organized and reasonable people who are strongly and justly protesting against oppression and human rights violation and strive to keep away from undesirable images of destructive forms of protests which are quickly distorted and capitalized upon by anti-democratic elements in the government and in national media. A protest is a legitimate way of practicing one’s freedom of expression. A government which respects the freedom of expression of its own people will provide protection to people who protest. A democratic government will listen to the sentiments of the people who are protesting. Unfortunately, the government has responded to protests in Kashmir by quickly labeling them as terrorist-instigated and by allowing the CRPF and the police to fire bullets to suppress freedom of expression.
The youth must also remember that beyond mere expression of sentiments of anger and frustration, ‘information’ and ‘education’ are key goals of protests. Through protests and other means, let us aim to educate our own Kashmiri brothers and sisters as well as enlighten the Indian public regarding our plight as an oppressed people.
( Zeeshan Pandith hails from Sopur and he runs a school in Srinagar. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Tue, 6 Jul 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 6 Jul 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 7 Jul 2010 00:00:00 IST
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