An Anatomy of 2016 Protests


A conventional and clichéd explanation of the 2016 protests that have rocked Kashmir and which have held Kashmiri consciousness in total and absolute thrall is that these are manifestations of grief and anger over Burhan Wani’s killing. This, however, is a reductive, mono-focal explanation which isolates and reduces a very complex phenomena to the killing of the popular and charismatic militant commander. Our assertion is not meant to suggest that Burhan’s killing was a non factor but that it was a catalytic spur to deeper and more profound forces.  

While the original source of these forces can be traced to Kashmir’s history- both modern and pre-modern-the immediate locus of these forces appears to be the 2014 Assembly elections which can be characterized as the Great Fraud played on Kashmir and Kashmiris. A caveat is in order here: isolating the 2014 elections as a major factor is not meant to elevate elections in Kashmir as the major foci around which the politics of Kashmir revolves. Elections and electoral politics in Kashmir revolve around patronage politics and the disbursal of patronage.

However, elections 2014 were special in the sense that these came about at a time when Kashmir was in transition- politically, socially, demographically and even economically but especially in terms of identity.. The backdrop to the elections was the “ soft separatism” ( which in retrospect turned out to be a bogey) card played by the PDP. Soft separatism entailed eking out space in the interstices of mainstream politics and separatism. It could be that some people in Kashmir, weary of the conditions that have obtained in the Vale since the past two and a half decades  may have desired an honorable exit and sought a space that would honor Kashmiris’ aspirations and also lead to some Modus Vivendi.  However, this was not to be. 

The PDP sought votes on the platform of resisting the far right Hindu nationalist forces-the RSS and the BJP- but then , in a complete volte face, allied with these forces. The Kashmiri collective conscious and aspirations was played with or even marauded. 2016 protests are a manifestation of this Great Deciet and Burhan Wani’s killing brought the latent anger to the fore.

Four psychological processes appear to have at work here: projection- attribution of collective conscious of Kashmiris, unacknowledged thoughts and feelings to a person or an idea- dissociation, shutting out of unpleasant thoughts out of conscious awareness- and displacement, that is, the process of moving one’s fears and concerns from a highly conflictive and anxiety provoking situation to one that is more comfortable- followed by a great betrayal.

Kashmir and Kashmiris have been in the throes of conflict since decades now.  This has taken a toll on our psyche and collective conscious. Given this, Kashmiris may have sought to dissociate from the conflict and dissociate negative memories emanating from and projected their aspirations on the mainstream political class, to some extent, for some kind of an honorable solution but these expectations were betrayed by the PDP. The result has been a retreat into identity and the politics of ethnicity and identity premised in turn on the fear of losing Kashmiri identity by the onslaught of far right forces. A process which psychologists call the, “attribution process” wherein “ the judgment of blame, causality and responsibility” has fallen the PDP-BJP alliance. The discourse that this alliance generated an identity struggle in Kashmir accruing largely from history and the political context that obtained in the vale after 2014 elections. What we have now in Kashmir is a pure form of identity based ethnic conflict at odds with the dominant power structures of the state.

From a larger perspective then, what is and has taken place is first a deconstruction of Identity where on account of the forces of attrition, identity appeared to have become multilayered- albeit under compulsion and stress accruing from attrition or, in other words, to a “compromised identity, to a reconstruction of a purer form of Identity and identity politics. The 2016 protests serve as both a spur and a validatory process for this reconstruction of Identity in Kashmir. The question is what form this identity reconstruction can take place and what will be its consequences?
Nothing can be foretold with certainty but given the “Us” versus “ Them” dynamic that identity deconstruction and reconstruction beget, it may be that the idiom and form that this identity maight be articulated is what may be called “Islamo- nationalism”. That is, it will be admixture of Islam and nationalism in Kashmir. The consequences that will accrue from this is the shrinking of the main stream space in Kashmir and a more intense set of demands and even action towards concretization of Islamo- nationalist demands. This assumes poignancy at a time when  Kashmir is in transition and a new cohort of young Kashmiris are taking centre stage. 

Another set of consequences that may emerge is that the state will become more dominating and domineering despite its disembeddedness from society leading to more intense conflict or re-militarization of the conflict. All in all then, protests 2016 may turn out to be portentous of a new Kashmir where Identity would be more intense and salient adding to the zero sum dynamic that already defines the conflict in and over Kashmir. This, more than anything else, appears to be the real and abiding message and meaning of the 2016 protests- well and truly a watershed in the modern history of Kashmir.

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