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Surveillance, Detentions And Politics of Fear: Managing Kashmir The Palestinian Way 

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As Israel incarcerates Palestinians and India continues to systematically Otherize and disempower Kashmiris—a reflection on the predicament of ethnic, religious and racial bio-minorities.

Events since September 11, 2001 have dramatically altered the political environment in the Muslim world, a vast and diverse region comprising the band of countries with significant Muslim populations that stretches from West Africa to the southern Philippines, as well as Muslim communities and Diasporas scattered throughout the world. The crafted paranoia of Muslims as the ‘perennial suspects’ with anything linked to terrorism is a stereotype that continues to pervade counter-intelligence driven efforts across territorial boundaries. This sustained campaign of Otherization through systemic epistemic racism manifested itself long before 9/11 especially in Palestine and Kashmir. And the continuum of such narrative violence not only undermine(s) and overshadow the political reality of Palestine and Kashmir but also produces a justification for Palestinian and Kashmiri bodies as killable others. 

When India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to revoke Articles 370 and 35-A from the Indian Constitution, scrapping the special rights given to the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, parallels were immediately drawn around the world but particularly in Palestine with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Contextually, both Palestine and Kashmir are legacies of British colonial treaties and arrangements as well as its cartographic and demographic manoeuvres. There are differences in the inception of their respective colonial occupations in the post-World War II era of a wave of anti-colonial movements in the context of decolonisation. 

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And drawing from everyday aspects of Palestinian victimization, survival, life and death, and moving between the local and the global, reading Nadera Shalhoub’s Security Theology, Surveillance and the Politics of Fear introduces and analyses terms like the “politics of fear” and the “security theology” within the Israeli settler colonial logic of elimination and erasure. This book deeply resonates with the modus operandi used by Indian state inspired from Israeli model to control Kashmir. The violent acts committed against Palestinians and Kashmiris in the name of “security necessities” and how such “necessities” like of surveillance and detention, in order to maintain and sometimes reproduce the Israeli and Indian political economy of control. 

Palestine and Kashmir:  Tragedy of Populist alt-right Muscular Nationalism 

In the case of Palestine, the Balfour declaration of 1917 declared British support for the Zionist project of a Jewish homeland. While historians have debated the politics of British support for Zionism versus its own interests in the Middle East during World War I, Zionism as a planned settler-colonial project was evident from that initial declaration of support by Lord Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, to Lord Baron Rothschild in 1917. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian has discussed these techniques of settler-colonialism as reliant on ‘security theology’, a racial and religious logic of superiority regarding a ‘secular’ Zionist nationalism, embedded in biblical claims and dependent on the erasure of Palestinian lives and dispossession of Palestinian land and resources.

 In the case of Kashmir, This achingly beautiful land, previously known in the West largely as the title of a Led Zeppelin jam, was ruled by the British East India Company and then sold the territory of Jammu and Kashmir in 1846 through the Treaty of Amritsar to a Dogra Hindu Ruler.  By 1947, given a long history of a repressive Hindu Dogra rule over a largely Kashmiri Muslim population, argues Historian Mridu Rai in Hindu Rule and Muslim subjects “there was already a Quit Kashmir movement against the Dogras”. Mapping Kashmir requires the use of special language and symbols-nomenclature such as “ceded;’ “administered;’ and “claimed” and the dotted boundary marking a cease-fire line-as markers of its contested and in-between status. To also understand, the Indian occupation of Kashmir operates as much through electoral democracy as it does through intensive militarization and institutionalized impunity that structures the conditions, possibilities, priorities, and life trajectories of Kashmiris inside and outside of the valley to what Adam Roberts refers as the “process” of occupation that is context specific and cannot be reduced to a singular “character and purpose” Kashmir is also a theatre of democracy in which elections are routinely held to foster the illusion of a representative and legitimate governance. These new expressions of normalcy, both discursive and institutional, shape the everyday-colonizing spaces of sociality and community, remapping time and space, and helping build an illusion of the everyday that is somehow sheltered from the scars of death and violence. 

War on Terror—A Killable Other

Surveillance, detentions and the politics of fear—a tripartite triangle shapes the security theology of Israel and Palestine to contain political dissent in the Modern world. Tracing the genealogy we see how nation state politics is based on the modern conception of the Westphalian model, which organizes and monopolizes violence under the exclusive authority of a sovereign state. This conception, Khaled Al-Kassimi asserts “only began to characterize global politics in the 19th century and more so at the beginning of the 20th century, contrary to the political myth that perceives the year 1648 as the moment where world state leaders monopolized, organized and structured violence.” The killings of 14-year-old unarmed Palestinians child Ali Abu Alia killed few days back in Al Mughair village near Ramallah by Israeli sniper mark a new chapter in the degradation of human life in Palestine and the Occupied Territories. Transpiring events such as these also makes one think about the continuing scandal of violent political Otherization in Kashmir, with complete indifference to the lives of the men, women and children who live there. In both cases, the targeted communities are Muslim though they are products of very different contextual histories with a common colonizer. The global dynamics of genocide are not, in spite of appearances, primarily about Muslimness. The obsession with projecting Muslims as a coordinated global category is a collaborative project of highly specific Western and Muslim political theologies. It should not be viewed as a self-evident, universal fact.

Indian state discovered an opportunity to frame its counter insurgency efforts in Kashmir within the wider context of the nasty brutish and long Americas war on terrorism. In doing so, successive Indian governments have tried to promote the idea that their counter terrorism efforts in Kashmir are to subdue a threat similar to that faced by Israel from Hamas. This is an attempt on the part of the government to distract from its own failings in addressing the genuine political aspirations of the majority Muslims in Kashmir. “Seen through the fog of the “war on terror” and the Indian government’s own cynical propaganda, the problem in Kashmir seemed entirely to do with jihadist terrorists” wrote Indian author, Pankaj Mishra in 2008. 

Israel too, like India, saw an opening, and since 9/11 has tried to exonerate its occupation by jumping on the global War on Terror bandwagon. Israel’s continued colonisation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza has relied heavily upon brandishing the Palestinian resistance as a threat to the survival of the Israeli state; while Israel remains the largest recipient of military aid from the United States (and is soon to receive the biggest US military package in American-Israeli history) and holds an unofficial nuclear arsenal. Though undeniable that the political instability in the region is the major reason of disturbance in the valley, the presence of 300,000 – 500,000 of India’s military and security forces, coupled with the hard-nosed attitude of every Indian government in the past 25 years, has robbed Kashmiris of any meaningful prospect of a peaceful future.

Surveillance and Control

Amid technologies of controlling bodies, there has been a strategic paradigmatic shift to ‘monitor’ all forms of political dissent. Behind the loss of lives, of continuing sieges and crackdowns in the recent decade in Palestine and Kashmir unravels the close counter insurgency alliance between India and Israel. This cooperation has deepened under the current populist ultra-nationalist regimes in both the countries and the alarming news of the spyware, Pegasus, being used to spy upon human rights defenders in India is another revelation of the closeness of the Israeli State as well as defence and surveillance companies to India’s State apparatus. A collaboration unravelling between BDS India, People’s Dispatch and NewsClick.in, offers an overview of the arms trade as well as security cooperation between India and Israel. It also shows how Israeli defence industry profits from the occupation, apartheid and colonialism against Palestinian people, and India’s purchase of these arms—around 50% of the total weapons export of Israel—finances this illegal occupation. In turn, this collaboration fuels the militarisation of Kashmir as well as other parts of India, creating the logic of ‘perpetual insecurity’.

Surveillance of Palestinian and Kashmiri ‘bodies’ have always been an integral part of Indian and Israel’s colonial project. Before the creation of the state of Israel, squads from the Zionist paramilitary group the Haganah roamed Palestinian villages and cities, gathering information on Palestinian residents. Such surveillance over Palestinian lives continued after Israel’s 1967 occupation of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Tools deployed included population registries, identification cards, land surveys, watchtowers, imprisonment, and torture. Although surveillance has always been a vital constituent of the ruling apparatus in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). 

Apart from the presence of more than 600,000 Indian troops and other visible markers of a military occupation, various surveillance units dot Kashmir’s landscape.Click To Tweet

Apart from the presence of more than 600,000 Indian troops and other visible markers of a military occupation, various surveillance units dot Kashmir’s landscape. There is a strong physical surveillance in place with a plethora of new technologies, such as phone and internet monitoring and interception, and CCTV, has enabled Indian state to surveil the population it occupies on a massive, intrusive scale and not even in educational centres are left due to sustained anti-India protests. Such panopticon that has been encircling Kashmir is a construction of the Indian state, which has been intensifying its mass-surveillance architecture in the region for over a decade. Indian state shifted its focus on social media to monitor what individual Kashmiris say and do, as well as to gather and analyse information on attitudes among the Kashmiri population more broadly. The recent upsurge in summoning people to police stations and counter-insurgency torture centres disabling social media accounts came as a by-product of the ‘politics of fear’ raising voices against the Indian state and brutalization of Kashmiri bodies, to visit police stations in one such example of the ‘controlling’ the flow of information. 

In November 2014, Vasundhara Sirnate, the chief coordinator of research at The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy wrote in an article in The Hindu: “An Intelligence Bureau official stationed in Kashmir told me that they were tapping 10 lakh phones in Kashmir alone by 2014.” Mobile telephony was introduced in India in 1995 and, owing to security concerns, was permitted in Jammu and Kashmir only in 2003. For the state, the arrival of cellular phones proved to be beneficial in tracking down militants. However, since 2008, a surge in mass civil uprisings and the use of technology for information dissemination, protests and mobilisation in the state have led to major curbs on mobile services and the internet. The government also relies heavily on human intelligence or “agents” embedded within the population. “Surveillance aided by technology is only a supplement and not a replacement to the human interface,” Rajendera Kumar the director general of police in Jammu and Kashmir. In Kashmir, tracking Social Media posts, columnists, or students actively involved in raising their voices against Indian atrocities in Kashmir and abroad is a surveillance tool used to identify and then curtail such voices of dissent. The recent cases of UAPA against two Kashmiri journalists, Gowhar Geelani and Masrat Zahra sharing their professional work on social media and students like Sameer and Aqib for democratically registering their dissent in Kashmir University  is an example of such cases. 

The Indian government also relies heavily on human intelligence or “agents” embedded within the population.Click To Tweet

Torture, Detentions and Politics of Fear

In many respects, the plight of the Kashmiris has parallels with the struggle of the Palestinian people: The militarisation of Kashmiri territory, clamping down on demonstrations (often violently) and routine detentions of protestors and activists is a reality the Palestinians and now Kashmiris know too well. While the conflicts in Kashmir and Palestine stem from different geopolitical histories, and each with varied level of success in achieving lasting peace and stability, the daily pressures of living under heavy military presence have made for similar experiences for both Kashmiris and Palestinians. Illegal detention and disappearances is the norm and Dissent is labelled as political blasphemy. It is estimated that since 1990, around 8,000 men “disappeared” while in custody or during crackdowns. In 2006, HRW reported a similar pattern of state violence and a disregard for basic civil liberties of the Kashmiri people that it had documented 13 years earlier. 

While a number of laws applicable in J&K allow for administrative detention, the most commonly used is the PSA.  Administrative detention is also provided for in other forms such as house arrest, as well as Section 107 read with Section 151 of the J&K Code of Criminal Procedure (1989).As the period of permissible detention is limited in these provisions due to availability of bail, they are sometimes used in J&K only to detain individuals while the paperwork for PSA detention orders or criminal charges are being prepared. PSA provides for detention for a maximum of two years “in the case of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State.” It further allows for administrative detention of up to one year where “any person is acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order”. A report by J&K Coalition of Civil Society (J&KCCS) and Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’ (APDP) said 662 persons, including a former chief minister and sitting MP, were booked under the PSA in 2019.

Laws like PSA enables the state to impose surveillance in Kashmir, with the aim of subduing the resistance. The unnecessary and excessive interference with, and monitoring of, detainees by police and military personnel even after their release from prison, makes detainees continue to exist in virtual confinement. The surveillance becomes so pervasive that detainees openly claim to experience imprisonment without actually being in prison. Also, their horrific treatment in prison –from forced cohabitation with criminals, to degrading and demeaning treatment inside the jails– is enforced with the intent of establishing Indian authority and making Kashmiri citizens fear. The experience of the Kashmiris with the Indian security apparatus would be irrefutably familiar to the Palestinian people. During their near 60-year long struggle against Israeli occupation, the Palestinians have undergone two uprisings (first and second intifada) that resulted in massive crackdowns in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the first Intifada, which started in 1988, a similar chain of events would occur; tens of thousands were injured protesting the occupation and over a thousand Palestinians were killed as the Israel Defence Forces responded with brute force. In November 1989, Israeli Human rights group Btselem estimated that over 1,700 Palestinians were detained, of whom many were held for prolonged periods and tortured during their time in detention. 

Since Palestine and Kashmir are both carved up by borders people of both the territories are swallowed whole. Stories are silenced and blood flows into rivers. Military checkpoints, armoured vehicles, and borders occupy not just the land, but penetrate deeper, into the psyches of people. Occupation is sophisticated. The diverse policies in order of a homeland—Palestine and Kashmir—occupied by hostile forces evokes emotions of fury, and humiliation. Discourses linked to torture and surveillance ring true with the experience of suffering in Kashmir and Palestine. Kashmir thus, is increasingly going the Palestinian way. To end on what Mahmoud Darwish mentions:

The killer looks at the ghost of the murdered, not in his eyes, without remorse. He tells the mob, “Do not blame me: I am afraid, I killed because I was scared, and I will kill because I am scared.” A few interpreted the sentence as the right to kill in self-defense. A few shared their opinions saying, “Justice is the overflow of the generosity of power.” As if the deceased should apologize to the killer for the trauma he caused him. Others said, “If this incident occurred in another country, would the murdered individual have a name and a reputation?” The mob paid their condolences to the killer but when a foreigner wondered, “But what is the reason for killing a baby?” The mob replied, “Because one day this baby will grow up and then we will fear him.” “But why kill the mother?” The mob said, “Because she will raise a memory.” The mob shouted in unison, “Fear and not justice is the foundation for authority.” (Darwish, 2008, pp. 85–86) 

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Mehraj Din is currently working as an assistant professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at the department of Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora, Kashmir. He obtained his Ph.D. in Islamic Political Theology from Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir. His work focuses on the nexus of theology, ethics, politics and its manifestation and culmination of discursive Islamic tradition, with comparative interest in contemporary Islamic and Western thought. He is equally interested in diverse intellectual and political movements in the Muslim world and has keen interest on the question of Islam in Kashmir.

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