A critique of the Orientalist tendencies of India | #36

When we think of Orientalism, the European conquest comes to mind, the Britishers in India and elsewhere, or be it the French or what have you. However, by detaching from the terminology for a moment, one looks at the patterns themselves, of not just the West in the East, but of anyone anywhere; this framework of expansion of the patterns of actions that are mostly accepted as reprehensible, academically or popularly, allow for a broader and much more encompassing understanding of similar reprehensible structures around the globe.

In 1853 Karl Marx wrote the piece “The British Rule in India”, a man who was fully aware of the havoc Britishers were bestowing upon the Indian subcontinent, nevertheless, he considered the British rule in India to be a boon in disguise. This is now very well known as an Orientalist text, as Marx believed that although Indian civilisation lost its backbone, its sustenance and culture, what was ultimately lost were the ancient, barbaric and unregenerate customs of India. This reminded me of an event of history that I witnessed personally just like most people alive right now; the abrogation of Article 370 and 35a. A lot of events have happened in Kashmir by the post-independent India, but this one particularly resonated a grave Orientalist tendency; force justified through social and moral change. Now this tendency is a broad one, so broad that even the Geneva convention can very well be categorised as Orientalist, however this tendency particularly embodied the post-abrogation Indian feelings towards Kashmir. Marx believed that the power that brings about a social revolution/change, that which Britishers employed in India, is one that is of a superior civilisation; a view that had the undercurrent assumption that the oppressed were simply backwards, that they couldn’t have developed on their own and the Occident (the Britishers in this case) had to bestow a favour upon the Orient (India in this case) of developing them, through whatever means found necessary. This assumption has some extensions that are prominent in Oriental studies; exoticism. The Britishers viewed the Indian subcontinent as a place of exoticism as well, this is something I had been observing for a while post-abrogation, although the intricacies had been brewing prior. Kashmir is always viewed as a place to wonder about, to view the place as containing fragile beauty and an exotic aura; this was overtly displayed post-abrogation, when we witnessed the Indian lens of viewing Kashmiri women as “exotic” (in the Oriental sense), they openly favoured the “snatching” of Kashmiri women. Now this tribal tendency of demanding women for obvious sexual reasons has already been in practise by the Indian Army in Kashmir, and other exoticised places like Assam, unlike the non-exoticised places, which are not blatantly subjugated like Delhi, Kerala and else. Exoticism of a place is a self-imposed, almost self-manifesting trait of the Occident that which is accompanied by oppression and compromised knowledge production about the Orient.

Through Marx’s text a profound insight is gained into the thinking of an Orientalist; that self-proclaimed superiority of a civilisation (which includes moral, legal, social and economic) can be imposed by force on another that is viewed as backward and weak by the powerful. Now if this isn’t something that the Indian Union believes in and or is willing to collude to; then why the rule in Kashmir, and if not this view then what justifies the years of atrocities and havoc the government of Indian Union committed (and continues to commit) in Kashmir; ranging all the way from the penetration into the boundaries of Kashmir and celebrating it, to forcibly penetrating (rape) the women of the land in their mass rape cases such as the one of Kunan and Poshpora and later on denying it. Even when Article 370 was abrogated, people clinged onto one reason or the other to justify demolishing the last pipeline of Kashmir’s separate essence; that was of law, that Indian law will finally be fully applied in Kashmir. If not Orientalist, that they view their law as superior and ready to expand and willing to dominate a region for its expansion and rejoice over it, then no clue can be derived of what is more reverberant of a coloniser tendency; that not a law, but all laws without debate or discussion shall be shoved down the throats of the Kashmiri people without consent of the people of the land; unless the aforementioned superiority has finally manifested in full form, needing no disguise but display of flamboyance to the world. It is projected that finally an enlightenment will occur to the Kashmir region in effect of the imposed laws and that development (economic or social) will accompany it. It is mirroring the Britishers who thought of it as a favour upon the Indians (through hiding the non-consent of the people of the land towards the imposed rule and thus laws) to strike them with their regulations and structure as if a divinity had popped up in their civilisation that which’s orders are of objective standard, that which will save the Indians from themselves and which will bloom these “backward” people, the same exact authoritarian and classically Oriental trait is displayed by the Indian rule. The similarities are uncanny but conspicuous once the terminology is detached from the patterns, so as to unravel a set of structures that are no different in their illness and imposition of power, than a classic Occident. What justification is there to these actions, but that there is denial, there is no objective legality involved that which’s route one might take; if the thought persists nevertheless, refer to this.

Deciding on the oppressor-oppressed relation in context of India-Kashmir relationship, one might encounter that the idea of oppression is one that is fallible with no clear knowledge of it available, that if there is subjugation where are the reports, the mainstream coverage of mass rape and genocide, or fake encounters and illegal detentions (even according to Indian law). One of the main pillars of Orientalism is the knowledge structure of the Occident. Just like when the British Philosopher James Mill wrote about the history of India whilst being in the Anglo-Indian subjugation driven soft beds in the British lands, claiming that “sufficient stocks of information was now collected” for him to write about the ones his land was subjugating, India also claims the same; an all-knowing knowledge structure by itself that doesn’t need the voice of the victims of its “development” to be heard or have any fruitful representation of. India’s information banks (at least the ones that are made public) are consciously Orientalist, the entirety of the history of Kashmir and its voice is drawn from Indian institutionalised power pieces.

One might make the contention that given there are no “proofs” of oppression in Kashmir, no “proof” of mass rapes and genocide, no “proof” of fake encounters but that the only thing the sympathising news is is propaganda, it is concluded that the rule of the Indian Union is fair, and accompanied by much needed “development” and “protection”. To unpack this contention Michel Foucault’s works are of importance, upon whom Edward Said rests his concept of Orientalism. Foucault notes that the discourse which is circulated, generated and ratified by the institutions of the powerful (in this case India) is the discourse which gains acceptance as the truth. Thus the discourse of Kashmir by the Indian Union, with all its prejudices, ideologues and problematic understanding of the people of the region gained validation as being the truth hence becoming the mass understanding of the issue of Kashmir. Now the Saidian concept works on three broad areas, firstly that Orientalism is a way of thought, on how thoughts run about the Orient; secondly it is an academic discipline, that the thought manifests itself in the generation of academia; and lastly and perhaps most importantly, that Orientalism is a corporate institution for dealing with the Orient. That corporate institution is something that India does not lack in whatsoever, in fact it overpowers its Western allies in; with its IT cells, newsrooms debates, paid media and Bollywood.

The discourse on Kashmir is validated through the institutions of the Indian Union which represent, what I’m going to refer as neo-Occident (a power and or region reflecting the same tendencies as the traditional Occident whilst not being from it). To reiterate, Foucault pointed out that the knowledge generated by the powerful is validated through that very trait of being powerful, Said extents it by propunding that Orientalism is a corporate institution for dealing with the Orient. Now the neo-Occident’s (going by the definition aforementioned) institutions, that which include legislation and the judiciary, the educational institutions, the seminar halls, newsroom debates and authoritatively favourable allies working with the neo-Occident, they all work in nexus to connect the power with the knowledge it produces. It solidifies the spoken, written and propagated information of the neo-Orient (having the counter definition of neo-Occidents, aside from the directional region, in this case Kashmir) by the neo-Occident as the truth about the former on one hand, while on the other it enables the neo-Occident to justify its rule and domination by using the extracts of the traditional Orient. Thence, proposing the neo-Occident as the rightful power and the high civilisation while projecting the neo-Orient as backward, and in need of protection by the neo-Occident (because of its apparent high standard) and needing to be developed from its own customs and traditions thus giving out the conclusion, that which was also reached by the European colonisers, that rule is justified not because of legalities as much or even economics but because the rule is the morally right thing to impose by force. What is essentially happening in the discourse on Kashmir are these Orientalist tendencies that the Indian Union displays overtly but is always looked over because of the terminology restricting the traits of bias, prejudice, oppressive nature, among others to the West, disallowing the recognition of such patterns in other countries, such as India in this case.

Recognition of Orientalism is not the only step that Edward Said prescribed, he formulated a concept to disrupt such ways of thinking, their power (and thus knowledge) structures, he called it “contrapuntal reading”, this in the case of India-Kashmir relationship would be not to view the texts solely, because the texts themselves are all reframed and enabled through the power structure of the former, but rather do a reading, so to speak, of the voices of the Kashmiris, that which have been fruitfully (for the Indian Union) been shot at, literally. The assumptions of neo-Occident must be thrown out, that which whatever might be, for there to be any room for any reading whatsoever.

Bibliography

  • Orientalism by Edward Said
  • The British Rule in India by Karl Marx
  • Preface to Volume I, The History of British India by James Mill

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