Resisting the fictions and Occupation
“And over the long run mere force, even if entirely at the disposal of the governing few, is not a sufficient force for governing consent. Human beings, if only to maintain a semblance of self respect, have to be persuaded. Their consent must be sustained by opinions. The few who govern take care to nourish those opinions. No easy task, for the opinions required to make the many submit to the few are often at variance with observable fact. The success of government thus requires the acceptance of fictions, requires the willing suspension of disbelief, requires us to believe that the emperor is clothed even though we can see that he is not.” Inventing the People by Edward S. Morgan
It is with the above mentioned lines that Edward S. Morgan begins to answer some extremely important questions that Hume once raised- what is it that brings about the wonder of easiness with which the many are governed by the few? How it is that men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers? Morgan’s main thesis is that governors invent stories, fictions that limit the rational as well as the sight of those who are governed to what they are required to see, far away from what they could otherwise see. It is this method, the churning out of enormous fiction, which allows the few to rule the many.
The fictions vary from as grand as Israel’s commitment to peace, while on the ground Israeli settlers, now numbering more than half a million, flow over the hills, swelling their gated and fortified towns, creating one “fact on the ground” after another to as trivial as Mitt Romney’s rhetoric on gender equality. However, there is a challenge and the challenge is posed by facts itself. Because the world is littered with facts, because it is not merely made of ideas but more so of facts, facts that are as concrete as matter itself, there is always a tussle between the political world of make-believe and the real world of facts. And, here we are led to more disturbing questions- what are facts, epistemologically speaking? Who owns them? Who presents them to us? How they are presented to us? And the most important, is there really a uniform world of facts out there, which is same to all of us, independent of our positions of power? Or, are facts invented too and turned into self-evident truths by those who control the power, the power of state?
S.A.R. Geelani and protesters at Namaaz-e-Janaaza in Delhi. Courtesy: Suvaid Yaseen
Closer home there is no dearth of these fictions, invented, continuously, by the Indian state. Fictions like Al-Faran hostage crisis, mass- murder of Kashmiri men branded as foreign terrorists, and countless fake encounters quickly come to mind. But, one such grand fiction that is of concern here, both to sustain the rule of the government and to satisfy- if I may use the now banal and repulsive term- the “collective conscience” of the Indian people, was invented some years back with the full execution of state’s might and power. Afzal Guru was the main character of this fiction. The individual, the family, and many others who wanted to challenge this fiction with their own facts ultimately resigned to the might of the state, helpless to counter the facts invented and enforced on them. As the prominent Indian Supreme Court lawyer, Kamini Jaiswal said, “as it always happens and we have seen it in the recent past, no lawyer was ready to appear because those lawyers who appeared were termed as anti-national, pro-terrorist. Their offices were attacked.” She further goes on to say, “He has not had a fair trial. If you do not have a fair trial you may go to the High Court, you may go to the Supreme Court, but your case has not been put across properly because at the High Court and the Supreme Court you are confined to what is available from the trial court. Give me a policeman for three days; let me torture him for three days and he will confess to any crime. He was made to confess. Supreme Court judgement has not accepted that confessional statement.”
I am sure Mr. Praveen Swami will not dismiss what Kamini Jaiswal has said as rhetoric. After all she is one of his own and has some credibility, if he would like to believe. Mr. Swami recently began his counter of Arundhati Roy’s article with the words of American politician, Daniel Patrick Moynihan- “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to his own facts.” I could not stop laughing at this, thinking in the vein of fictions and facts and how Mr. Swami, may be at times unknowingly, forgets to put on a garb to hide that he is a pseudonym for the state. Of course Moynihan and Swami, not to forget the likes of Arnab Goswami and many more, would tell us that no one is entitled to his or her own facts, that if we challenge the facts of the state with our own we will be declared outlaws, threatening the nation’s security and integrity. They would warn us that the repercussions of doing so would be dangerous and indeed they often are, particularly for those who do it outside the ambit of state’s institutions.
Protesters at Namaaz-e-Janaaza in Delhi. Courtesy: Suvaid Yaseen
It is also important to notice how these fictions, over a period of time, are turned into self-evident truths to the point where they aren’t even debated. Sealed and stamped with the state’s authority people take them as norms. Even the facts on the ground are moved and moulded in a way so that they resemble the fictions, in order to serve a purpose, whatever that purpose may be. If fictions stray too far away from facts, the “willing suspension of disbelief” from the minds of people can collapse, as Morgan tells us. I don’t want to deliberate here on how all this was done systematically in Afzal Guru’s case. To all of us who care about and believe that there are always alternative facts, different from those enforced by state, the story is wide open and by now a lot has been said about how the facts on the ground were casted to serve a purpose, to “satisfy the collective conscience” of India.
But, I would like to tell what happened to a bunch of us when, on the day Afzal was hanged, we went to peacefully protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. It is important in the line of argument of fictions and facts I have taken above. In a way all of us who went to protest there were challenging the fictions and facts of the state, of those who exclusively believe in them. I knew it was going to be dangerous but not how much. To put it simply, we were assaulted and brutally so. Under the palpating chant of hate and abuse, the Bajrang Dal activists, brandishing their menacing yellow scarves and protected by police, caught as almost one by one. They dragged many of us, put black mud on our faces, and beat us with heavy stones in their hands. They tore our clothes. That day I felt very vulnerable in Delhi, again. I had stopped feeling that way for some time now. It seemed like there was nowhere to run. Most of those who did not beat us up, watched from the pavements, laughing perversely and enjoying the scene. In the chaos, while I was still trying to make sense of what is happening, not able to run, I saw a female Kashmiri friend being chased by some Bajrang Dal men. She cried to me for help. I grabbed her arm and asked her to run as fast as she could. I did not realize that she was almost fainting. As we ran together a man with a yellow scarf and red colour on his forehead appeared right in front of a small exit that I could see. He caught me by my jacket and while standing in an orgasmic position hurled abuse at my female friend. At this point I realized we have to run no matter what and I have to get her out. As few of them started to beat me, I don’t know how we managed to pull ourselves off from their hands and run. What was shocking was to see others, who were protesting at the same venue for different reasons, like NH-4 widening and a separate Gorkhaland, mingle with Banjrang Dal activists and unleash violence on us. They all became unanimous in shouting, “Vande Mataram,” “Desh ke Gaddaroon ko, Goli Maro Salon Ko.” All of them perceived us as some sort of menacing enemies, as the fictions require them to believe, who need to be shot to death.
Protests at Jantar Mantar
However, having said all this, the danger will always be there. But, maybe it is by challenging facts and fictions of the state how a people can resist. Maybe there is no other way. We have no other way. Where there is oppression there is resistance. Where there is will there is counter-will. We have to counter their facts with our own facts, their version of our history with our version of our own history. In Kashmir we do this every day, every minute of every hour, when we breathe in the shadow of military barricades that define our life in the occupation. Every movement through the concertina is resistance, the defying of the fictions and facts of the occupying Indian state. And, this will go on either way- either we reach the goal of Azadi or our last cry for it dies under the weight of military occupation.
Asgar Qadri is a Delhi based independent researcher and writer. He has completed his Masters in International