Satire, and Politics of Silence

Greater Kashmir

What is humour? For centuries, philosophers, psychologists, writers and scholars—from Plato to Rene Descartes to Sigmund Freud to Arthur Koestler—have been trying to find a comprehensive answer. In simple language, humour refers to the artistic method used by an individual to show folly, vices, and shortcomings of certain elements in the society with the use of ridicule, irony and other methods. Most of the time, the purpose is to suggest improvement. The most common means of expression is drama and literature, but these days, it can also be found in different forms of media like visual arts, films, political cartoons, social media, as well as blogs. Satire and humour has been a popular form of expressing political emotions like hatred, jealousy, love etc against the political establishments of past and present all over the globe. In other words, it is an alternative mode of expression to bring forth the bad governance and selectiveism of government and its leaders.

There is an old Arab saying that ‘Humour is to speech what salt is to food’. Satire and humour can be traced back throughout history. The role of satirist in the words of Jonathan Swift is ‘to mend the world ‘as far as they are able,’ ‘correct vices and reinstate virtues.’ Most of the writers believe that 400-word ‘tongue-in-cheek’ article is sometimes a lot more readable than a 1,000-word opinion piece – and if written well, could be read by a lot more people. Sometimes satire can make a better point; can bring out the ridiculousness of a situation in a much better way through creative analogies.The players like Jonathan Swift, Voltaire and Daniel Defoe were able to write more straightforward and direct satires of their times. These writers exposed the sad reality of ‘human cruelty’, ‘divine right of monarchs’ and the counter their political establishment by writing powerful political satires and humours. Similarly, the book Unreal Elections is a beautiful satire on Indian politics that give funnier side of the politics amid the cacophony of heated debates in India.

Same is true of Jammu and Kashmir. Politics and society in J&K since the days of partition have undergone enormous change. In conflict ridden J&K, where young people have grown up witnessing violence in their public spaces, there are multiple problems. In fact the ‘Politics of K-Conflict’ and the policies of New-Delhi vis-à-vis ‘mainstream’ and ‘separatism’ gave birth to political satire and humour in Kashmir. The saga of destructions and the atmosphere of perpetual fear and frequent mournings perhaps left little room for the funny bones to grow in the valley. However, people turn to humour for a temporary relief from the stress that the conflict delivers.In fact, most of the people in Kashmir are having appetite for listening the humours and satires that criticize the anti-people policies. The love for humour and satire among the people of Kashmir dates back to decades. The humour element has been inseparable for a Kashmiri society. The comedy genre in the Kashmiri Television industry goes back to  Doordarshan days and has only grown and flourished with the entry of internet. Tyndale Biscoe one of the famous European residents who later established a school in Kashmir wrote about the nature of Kashmiri humour in his 1921 memoir: ‘The Kashmiris have a virtue, a very important one – viz. the saving grace of humour.’

However, with the arrival of social media and global changes; it is easier to generate the humour and satire and reach out to the larger people. Facebook, Tweeter, WhatsApp, Tiktok, YouTube and Instagram and many other social networking sites have further amplified the scope of satires at present times in Kashmir. People now generally share those news items and content that take gentle dig at ongoing political establishment and its allies. The young generation of Kashmiri comedians has been producing humour of different genres from sarcasm and satire to dark humour, finding thousands of takers online. Making memes and dubbing videos or writing witty jokes are no more a part time activity, but a fully-fledged job of a talented army of youngsters cashing in on the art of making others laugh. Entertainment brands like Jajeer Talkies, Kaeshir Joke, and Comedy Circus of Kashmir have thousands of followers on social media platforms. These satirists force society to introspect and to look into fads and fancies.

The content of the satire and humour is majority times Kashmiri but sometimes the material is in English, with a little Kashmiri thrown in; sometimes it’s the other way around. But the context is almost always rooted in the political tussles of the troubled land.There are people who are of the view that humour is the only way to bring back smiles and laughter to the stoic faces of Kashmiris deprived of a normal existence. The fact of the matter is that a smile is the ‘most expensive commodity’ in Kashmir these days due to the unending violence in the region.

Tailpiece: Humour keeps us going. And for Kashmiris to end the politics of silence, we need to be reborn as Nazir Josh, popularly known as Ahad Razz, or ‘Charlie Chaplin’ of Kashmir.

Javid Ahmad Ahanger is doctorate in Political Science from Aligarh Muslim University.

Anayat Ullah Mugloo is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political science, University of Kashmir.