Micro-Aggression Theory, Victimhood Culture and Article 370 as a Counter Radicalization Tool
For argument’s sake if we keep the violent insurgency problem in Kashmir aside for the reading time of this article, Kashmiri politics is primarily characterized by politics of identity and culture. While there are deep problems with defining culture and cultural analysis, sociologists and cultural theorists still attempt to theorize about cultural politics. One such theory is the micro-aggressions theory. Micro aggression is a term coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans. In 1973, MIT economist Mary Rowe extended the term to include similar aggressions directed at women, and those of different abilities, religions, etc. She also used the word micro-inequality to describe an inequitable treatment of another person in a manner that is not overtly “aggressive”, yet which might stem from negligence, ignorance, or what we now call unconscious bias. Eventually, the term came to encompass the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor and the disabled.
When conflicts occur, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning observe in an insightful new scholarly paper, aggrieved parties can respond in any number of ways. In dignity cultures, like the ones that prevailed in Western countries during the 19th and 20th Centuries, “insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery,” they write. “When intolerable conflicts do arise, dignity cultures prescribe direct but non-violent actions.” The aggrieved might “exercise covert avoidance, quietly cutting off relations with the offender without any confrontation” or “conceptualize the problem as a disruption to their relationship and seek only to restore harmony without passing judgment.” In the most serious cases, they might call police rather than initiating violence themselves. “For offenses like theft, assault, or breach of contract, people in a dignity culture will use law without shame,” the authors observe. “But in keeping with their ethic of restraint and toleration, it is not necessarily their first resort, and they might condemn many uses of the authorities as frivolous. People might even be expected to tolerate serious but accidental personal injuries.”
The culture on display in Kashmir, a much amplified version of a college campus, by way of contrast, is “characterized by concern with status and sensitivity to slight combined with a heavy reliance on third parties. People are intolerant of insults, even if unintentional, and react by bringing them to the attention of authorities or to the public at large. Domination is the main form of deviance, and victimization a way of attracting sympathy, so rather than emphasize either their strength or inner worth; the aggrieved emphasize their oppression and social marginalization.” Victimhood culture “arose because of the rise of social conditions conducive to it,” they argue, “and if it prevails it will be because those conditions have prevailed.”
This week has seen a whole host of debates with respect to the NEET and Sainik Colony regards the special status of Kashmir. The genius of the special status guaranteed to the state of J&K lies in its political message incorporated by the framers of the article. The essential message of the article to the Kashmiri public is that the Indian union has never predicated its strategy on Homogenization of Kashmiri culture and full integration of the Kashmiri people can come about only with political resolution and gradual phasing out of the article in unanimity with the special legislature and people of the state.
Majority of radicalization in the valley takes place on the false premise that India wishes to homogenize Kashmiri culture and identity. This point is debatable because India herself is a union of different states. In factuality, the framers of article 370 wished to acknowledge the special status of J&K to stem the feeling of alienation seeping in the valley due to existence of a long term conflict. The utility of the article lies in the fact that it negates the radical narrative that the Indian union is not fair and therefore Kashmir should resist Indian forces. The article nullifies the irresponsible use of the factually incorrect phrase ‘Indian occupation of Kashmir’. The article also provides special space for the growth of the Kashmiri socio-economic ecosystem to grow without competition from other states within India. The article is strategically important against Pakistan who claims in international fora that Kashmir does not enjoy any autonomy within the Indian state. The article also provides strategic space for Kashmiri dissidents to moderate their positions and manage a better transition to the political mainstream.
The special status however, does not legitimize use of violence against the state. It does not justify self-imposed Kashmiri isolationism and it does not recognize separatist politics. The following remarks by CM Ms. Mufti are prescient in that regard. Ms. Mufti said before taking oath as the Chief Minister, she was asked not to ally with the BJP, but she responded by saying that in 1947 the state had already acceded to the whole country, which included the saffron party.
She elaborated “But what we have to see is how to protect our identity. Those things which the God has given us and the constitution of India has given to us, we have to protect them. Recently, there was a conference in Delhi where Chief Justice and all the justices of the country were present. I told them only one thing that Jammu and Kashmir’s special position under Article 370 is part of Indian constitution,” she said. The Chief Minister, however, said that for protecting the identity of the state, the impression that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is very bad, needs to be changed.”
The special status of Jammu and Kashmir is indicative of the fact that radicalization in South Asia is enmeshed with the problem of identity and barring political resolution, politics of identity continue to dominate Indian politics both at the ground and the top level. Any comment on a separate identity of Kashmir can therefore rightly or wrongly according to individual discretion be taken as a micro-aggression which is then exploited by radicals to radicalize youth. The framers of article 370 seemed to be cognizant of this fact.
With progress in conflict management, the Indian state needs to have a look at this tactic of micro-aggressions that is invoked by all sides in the Kashmiri conflict. Once the narrative is changed towards a dignity culture, strategic gains can be made by all sides in the political resolution of the problem.