KASHMIR — Human beings, citizens, people or Homo Sacers Living A Bare Life?
- Swarajbir
KASHMIR — Human beings, citizens, people or Homo Sacers Living A Bare Life?

A recent article by Dr Swarajbir, Editor, Punjabi Tribune, and one of the leading influential voices of our times in this region, has caught the imagination of the larger intellectual world. A number of our readers who have an equal felicity with the English language had asked us to get it translated so that it can be made accessible to a much wider audience.

PUNJAB TODAY is happy to bring you this thought-provoking piece that brings out the socio-political matrix in which today’s KASHMIR becomes possible, a paradise reduced to a Bare Life.

This translation has been undertaken at PUNJAB TODAY’s own initiative.
— Editor

KASHMIR — Human beings, citizens, people or Homo Sacers Living A Bare Life?
A FEW YEARS AGO, a friend opened for me the wonders of the intellectual world of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, particularly the concept of "the state of exception" that he had developed.

Some of his constructs engage the readers with some troubling queries: how does the State or kingdom gain sovereignty; how, in order to maintain its hold over power or extricate itself from a state of crisis, it can run roughshod over civil liberties and rights and could even deprive a large populace of all human rights. He calls this the State of Exception, a state where all notions of rights can be diminished, superseded or altogether rejected in the process of a government stamping its authority.

He postulates that any State derives its sanction from some piece of law but when caught in a certain tough situation, the first response is to suspend the law, thus ushering in the State of Exception. Effectively, such a state invests one person or government with the power and voice of authority over others, extending well beyond the existing legal parameters.

But what about the people who get caught in this State of Exception? 

Agamben, addressing how this prolonged state of exception operates to deprive individuals of their citizenship, says that in these circumstances, only the ruler decides which section of people can be allowed to intervene in the political life of the State, and which people will be allowed to merely live their physical lives, to the utter exclusion of all that which constitutes their humane being, i.e., the power to think and to play out their emotional self. 

He calls this "bare life", a life bereft of all notions of human values, sensations, securities, a life just of the body.

Much of mankind's history is a story of destruction, cruelty, atrocities and pain and travails of people.

Lust for wealth and power has never allowed people to live without fear of their peace being disturbed for any significant length of time.

Much human blood has been spilled in the name of one or the other alleged high ideal, often couched in terms of race, religion, colour, community, country or national interest etc.

The tale of atrocities heaped upon people in the twentieth century is much too long: two world wars, the excesses of colonialism, the concentration camps backed by Nazis and Fascists peddling the Final Solution to the 'problem' of Jews, the critics of Communism pushed into the icy recesses of Siberia, the deadly bombs that rained over Vietnam and many other untold and unspeakable tragedies. No list can be exhaustive, and any description will give goosebumps to any reasonable student of history.

In order to wipe the entire Jewish population off the face of this Earth, they were stuffed in concentration camps which were nothing but zones of exception. Agamben considers these camps as a naked example of the logic of sovereignty.

The inhuman conditions obtaining in such camps become a reality of life while notions of law, Constitution, rules and conventions are suspended and lost to people. No more do the subjects have the power to ask about the state of the law.

He termed these conditions in the camps as "conditio inhumana" and the state of the people caught in these as the "state of exception." He terms those who live this physical life sans the life of mind or any sense of security as "Homo sacer."

Agamben, referencing the language of ancient Roman Law, defines Homo Sacer as one banned from the life of religion and of politics. He basically denotes the living dead, all of whose rights as a citizen stand revoked. He cannot participate in any lawful activity because he has been excluded from it. He is someone outside of or beyond the law. Counted, but excluded.

It is lawful to kill them, but they are outlaws. He needs to constantly fight to stay alive or find himself expelled from the State.

Agamben thus says that the Homo sacer is differentiated from the Homo sapiens since he lives a bare life in a State of Exception.

Today we need to ask if the life of the residents of the Valley of Kashmir has not been reduced to the "bare life” depicted in the writings of Agamben?

In respect of Jammu and Kashmir, the provision of Article 370 was abrogated through a means  that seemingly gave an impression of being legal/constitutional; the explanation being offered is that the proviso was temporary in nature (even though the Supreme Court had said years earlier that even though the provision was temporary, its effect was one of permanence.)

The extraordinary speed and hurry with which this provision was scrapped and Jammu and Kashmir was reduced to a Centre-run Union Territory, that bears no precedent. The people of Kashmir were not consulted at all.

Clearly, citizens of the area were rendered as inferior and powerless, or in other words, Homo sacer.

People have been stripped off their fundamental rights, including that of freedom of speech, writing, publishing. The judicial forums of this country are mum. The law of the country has been suspended for these Homo sacers through the law of this country. People are being told that the State is sovereign; that its logic is right and correct; that only its logic is the valid one; whatever is happening was not as per law or the Constitution but in keeping with the logic of the State. Law or Constitution can be tweaked as per the logic of sovereignty. 

Agamben saw the concentration camps meant to render extinct the Jews as places where what happened is outside of the juridical concept of crime and is simply omitted from consideration. The camps proved the unlimited power, the sovereignty of the State as well as the logic of sovereignty. People were forced to live a life that had no meaning.

Agamben says that now, apart from fighting the Nazis or the Fascists, the conditions mandate a battle against the logic of power advanced by State as well as the logic of sovereignty. 

Today, when the regime tells us that there is peace in Kashmir, we need to ask what kind of peace is it that the people living in "conditio inhumana" are now enjoying? What kind of peace makes sense to people who remain incarcerated inside their homes and have no means or power to speak up and express their feelings? What kind of peace the State gives to the citizens where the sick are crying out for want of medicines?

The daily wagers normally do not have enough to help them tide over for five to seven days. What are they going through?

The poor often find themselves in a hapless state in the hospitals even in 'normal' times. Now that Kashmir's hospitals are not receiving any patients, we need to ask where are the patients? Where are the daily wagers finding work? Where are the labourers?

Where are the people? Abdulla Hussain, in his novel Udaas Naslen, dealing with the partition of Punjab, has portrayed those times so poignantly and yet so precisely:

नंगी शाखों पर परिंदे खुराक की उम्मीद में बैठे हैं और एक दूसरे को दिलासा दे रहे हैं।
नीचे उनके खुदाओं के कारवां अपनी हम्दो-सना गाते हुए गुज़र रहे हैं,
पर पेड़ कहाँ हैं? 
मैं दुनिया के चौराहों पर बैठ के भीख मांगता हूँ 
और दुनिया में पैगंबर आना बंद हो चुके हैं 
अब लोग सिर्फ कहानीयां  सुनाकर चले जाते हैं
पर लोग कहाँ हैं?
Where are the people? What should be written? Nothing that is being written or can be written can depict the lived reality of the people of Kashmir. We are living in an information deficit zone. The government is telling us one thing, while we feel that the ground reality is different.

What are these ground realities? Is it so, as the regime wants us to know and believe, that a majority of Kashmiris are happy? Or is it true, as some journalists have been bringing out, that a veil of silence has fallen over the Valley, there is anger, a storm brewing inside hearts and a false calm ready to explode?

This government is our government, isn't it? Surely, it could not be telling us untruths of this scale? Then, what should we write? A blank space stares at you in this narrative, for this is the space in which nothing can be written. No words can fill this void. Those words just haven't come out of the Valley yet, we haven't heard them yet. The virgin space is awaiting those words, the quill is not yet equipped to write these out.

[This space awaits the narrative of the Kashmiris who are currently locked up inside their homes, and who, the State tells us, are too happy with the government’s move to change their land, lives and more.]

This is a space that betrays a void, helplessness, utter powerlessness. The words remain unwritten, unscribbled. This blank space staring at you represents the "conditio inhumana" space in which Kashmir finds itself living today: a civilisation turned into Homo Sacers in a camp called the Valley of Kashmir, earlier known as Paradise on Earth.

(You can read the original in Punjabi by clicking here: ਕਸ਼ਮੀਰ: ਅਲਪ ਜ਼ਿੰਦਗੀ ਜਿਊਂਦੀ ਲੋਕਾਈ)

The author is Editor, Punjabi Tribune.

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