The Unending Dehumanisation of Kashmiris
How a three year old child was dehumanised and turned into a tool for political propaganda in Kashmir.
| Parsa Mufti July 2, 2020
In an episode of the popular British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, the military equips each of its soldiers with a mind-altering implant that allows them to kill “roaches”(sub-human beings) without suffering any guilt or emotional trauma. The device manipulates all of their senses, warping their perception of these people. His implant malfunctions, and he begins to see the “roaches” in their true form: normal human beings. It is revealed that the technology was pioneered because humans are “genuinely empathetic as a species” and empathy was an obstacle to effectively fight the enemy. The implant makes them look beasts, making it easier for soldiers to kill them in cold blood and feel no remorse. “It’s a lot easier to pull the trigger when you’re aiming at the boogeyman.”
In India, the boogeyman can be a Muslim, a Dalit or even a Bangladeshi migrant, also referred to as ‘termites’ by the Home Minister of the country. When politicians use terms like “termites”, they are engaging in dehumanisation. It is a tool often used by right wing nationalists to justify their bigotry and gloss over injustices. As humans, one of our defining traits is empathy and the converse to empathy is dehumanisation. Throughout history, the failure to recognise other people as fellow human beings is considered to be a fundamental enabler of violence. Cruelty and oppression often begin with dehumanisation- the inability of one person to see, understand and connect to another. This cultural regime is pervasive in the police and other armed forces in India and has enabled prejudices against certain sections of society.
Yesterday, a CRPF soldier and a civilian were killed and three soldiers injured in an attack by militants in North Kashmir’s Sopore. Immediately after the attack, the internet was flooded with pictures and videos of the three year old grandson of Bashir Ahmad, the deceased civilian, being rescued, consoled and offered chocolates by the officers. These pictures were also posted from the Kashmir Police official Twitter handle. By disclosing the identity of a minor witness of a crime, JK Police violated Article 74 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and breached the “best interests of the child” principle as required to be the basis of any action by the authorities under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a state party. The pictures of a minor were shared without the consent of the family and used to reinforce the ‘saviour’ image of forces in Kashmir, even though the family claims that Ahmad was dragged out of his car by the forces and killed.
Even though the cause of Ahmad’s death is still unclear, the incident raises pertinent questions: what are the motives that cause police officers to click and post pictures with a traumatised toddler immediately after a gunfight with terrorists? If chocolates were offered to comfort the child, was it necessary to record and advertise it on the internet, completely undermining his right to privacy? The reason is dehumanisation. For years, Kashmiris have been continued to be portrayed as anything but human: for politicians they are pawns to further an ultra nationalist agenda, for neighbours they are tools to score political points and stay relevant, for media they are terrorists, for liberals in India they are conveniently invisible and in this case, they are merely tools to cultivate and improve public image. A Kashmiri’s rape or killing evokes no emotion in people. The prejudice against Kashmiris is deeply entrenched in the minds of people and violence against them is seen as normal, necessary and in some cases even morally righteous. The failure to recognise someone’s humanity predicts indifference toward their suffering. The culture around us conditions us to recognise those different than us as lesser human beings or as objects and subsequently allows perpetrators to act out their violent impulses free of inhibition and without remorse. In most cases, Kashmiris are killed and maimed with impunity and in some cases, they are used as instruments to further propaganda. In this case, the child was not seen as an aggrieved human but a mere prop, exploited shamelessly for clout.
Similarly, when it comes to Muslims, Christians or Dalits, any encounter with people in uniform becomes us-versus-them. Some officers no longer see a human being. They see enemies. The problem lies not only in the minds of individual police officers, but also in the cultural regime of their department. Further, politicians control transfers and postings, thereby creating an incentive system that pits the price against the civilians. This has been especially true in the case of Kashmir, where police officers are notorious for resorting to extra judicial killings and inflicting torture for promotions and coveted positions.
In the last few years, we have been witness to how differences in colours, creed, caste, etc are undesirable. From the brutalities that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States to the brutality inflicted on a father and son in Tamil Nadu to the mob lynchings, almost every society has, spurred by a tsunami of shared prejudices on social media platforms has othered, discriminated and murdered. This cannot be combated by mere penalties or public shaming. It is incumbent on each one of us to look past superficial differences to find the commonalities that bind us. Ironically, injustice is an equaliser: it does not discriminate, nor should we. It is imperative to remember that the antithesis to dehumanisation is not merely calling out wrongful behaviour and condemning it, it is empathy. It is equally incumbent on us to correct hateful behaviour at the smallest levels. The media will continue to be enslaved by political masters and spread propaganda and the politicians will continue to divide and rule. The onus is on us to never buy into their malicious lies, to remember that we are all humans being irrespective of our differences and to correct hateful behaviour at the smallest level: call out friends and family for their prejudices, not with anger and judgement but with compassion. Justice is not just about addressing a specific wrong. It is much more than that. It is about ensuring that atrocities are not repeated. That requires a social transformation. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Let us realise the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Parsa Mufti is the Strategy Head of Samruddha Bharat Foundation and a lawyer.