[Reader-list] ŒOn Kashmir, It¹s Essential To Listen Without An Agenda¹

SJabbar sonia.jabbar at gmail.com
Wed Nov 17 11:51:48 IST 2010

ŒOn Kashmir, It¹s Essential To Listen Without An Agenda¹
'There is need to have conversations with the government and other sections
in India'

³Psychologically speaking, the Kashmiris are already outside India and will
remain there for at least two generations. The random killing, rapes,
torture and the other innovative atrocities have brutalised their society
and turned them into a traumatised lot. If you think this is too harsh, read
between the lines of psychotherapist Shobna Sonpar¹s report on Kashmir,²
wrote political social-psychologist Ashis Nandy
<http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?267719>  in a recent column in
Outlook. Violent Activism by Delhi-based psychologist Shobna Sonpar is a
clinical study of men who walked the violent talk to achieve their goals.
Shobna¹s depiction of what goes on in the Valley makes Kashmir our own Abu
Ghraib where torture and humiliation of young men labelled as militants is
nothing out of the ordinary.

Nandy says Shobna¹s book should be a compulsory read for policymakers in
Delhi, ³used to reversing their telescopes so that things look further and
further away². It¹s a clinical gaze on traumatised people, he says, coming
as it does when fewer researchers are undertaking such studies. Following up
on these high recommendations, Anuradha Raman spoke to Shobna Sonpar about
her study. Excerpts from the interview:

The Centre¹s Kashmir interlocutors (Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M.
Ansari) have submitted their report. You must be aware of what they were
tasked to do. What would be your suggestions to them? What are the various
factors one needs to keep in mind before drawing up a roadmap for dialogue?

Interlocuting has to do with conversation and I imagine that the most
important task is to facilitate a change in the cliched discourses on all
sides so that a genuine conversation emerges. It is only through genuine
conversation that difficult issues can be talked about without
self-righteousness, raised hackles and sulks.

Listening without a personal agenda and without having to please some
constituency is essential, and hence the choice of a non-political team
seems wise. In my practice, I find myself urging warring couples to do what
it takes in their heads and in their emotional reactivity to maintain a
stance of respectful curiosity about the other instead of blame and
judgement. It is in the process of practising this that the ability to read
one¹s own subjective state without defensiveness and that of others without
assuming malign intent, a truly reflective space, becomes possible.
Psychologists call this capacity mentalisation. Also, there is the need to
have conversations with the government and other sections in India, which
perhaps poses a more formidable challenge.

Has anything changed in the Valley since Violent Activism was published
three years ago? If so, what has changed on the ground? Has the violence
been scaled up? 

Since the Amarnath land row, there has been palpable anger across the
Valley, particularly among the youth. What is different now compared to some
years ago is that the sense of victimisation, the hyper-sensitivity to
threats to Muslim identity, the outrage at human rights violations by
security forces are being publicly expressed by large sections of Kashmiri
society, including women and children, and not just by those who took up
militancy. What has also changed is the mood.

Ten years ago, when I first visited the Valley, my impressions were of a
collective trauma characterised emotionally by pervasive and intense fear,
insecurity, loss, despair and helplessness and socially by atomisation and
distrust. On my visit last month, my impression was of a degree of
assertiveness and even hopefulness, as well as of greater willingness to
form social networks. Thirdly, the activism for protest and resistance has
broadened to include violent (stone-pelting is not non-violent; people have
lost their lives and their eyes due to injuries inflicted by the slingshots
of security forces and stones hurled by protesters) as well as non-violent

How do you view the call for azadi from new sections of the population
(among the stone-pelters are women and children)? What does their
participation indicate?

The call for azadi from women is not new. Commentators like Rita Manchanda
point out that by 1990 Kashmiris were rallying in the streets, women in the
forefront, shouting Marde mujahid, jaag zara ab, vakt shahadat aaya hai (Men
of faith rise up, the time for laying down your lives has come).² However,
the participation of children and youth in large numbers in street protests
is new. There is a generational shift, the new generation has grown up
knowing violence, fear, loss and humiliation at close quarters.

What has the study yielded for you as a psychologist? And what were the
challenges you faced?

Several things come to mind. One challenge was to deal with the complaint
that trying to make sense of political violence is tantamount to justifying
such violence. My engagement in this study also pushed me to interrogate the
discourses about violence. Much of this discourse is taken up with
differentiating legitimate and therefore acceptable violence from
illegitimate and therefore Œbad¹ violence rather than the issue of violence
(of any kind) versus non-violence. It raised troubling questions regarding
the normalisation and Œmoralisation¹ of violence‹in raising and educating
children, as well as in maintaining discipline, honour and perceived
entitlements in personal, familial and social contexts. It also raised
practical challenges as to the socialisation into, and Œmoralisation¹ of,
non-violent modes of resolving conflict. I also wondered about the daunting
business of breaking cycles of violence that run on victimhood and revenge.
The lessons of Tibet and South Africa suggest the importance of a strong
moral authority and a containing moral vision that rejects violence.

You have presented accounts of 24 former militants, detailing the tortures
they went through at the hands of the security forces. How does the healing
process start?

The tortured need physical and mental help, and torture victims benefit
immensely from giving testimonies on human rights forums. But I think the
legislation on torture currently being discussed needs to be expedited.
Torture sustains the construction of a reality that fuels fear in the public
about enemies who must be eliminated at any cost. Let me take you to a study
in Stanford called the Prison Experiment where a prison-like situation was
simulated and where students took on the role of prisoners and guards‹the
study had to be abandoned after it was found within a week that the guards
were turning more and more violent and the prisoners increasingly passive.

Abuse and violence, I feel, are the creation of a system that provides a
higher authority which validates such actions that would ordinarily be
constrained by norms and ethics.

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