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The myth of 'structural violence' in Kashmir

I was chatting to a couple of distant relatives when they asked about the situation in Kashmir, knowing that I have researched and written about the place extensively. Before I could answer, they clucked their tongues sadly and shook their heads, saying people must be so poor and without any amenities.

I was so startled that I didn’t know how to respond. But it helped me to understand that the common discourse about Kashmir in their circles—about killings and oppression—must have created an impression of economic misery.

The fact is quite the opposite: the Kashmir Valley is far and away the wealthiest part of the Indian subcontinent. Kashmiris live, study, and trade in all parts of India, and domestic lifestyles in the Valley are on average noticeably more opulent than elsewhere in South Asia.

Yet, two factors create a very different impression. One—pictures and descriptions tend to show the very poorest Kashmiri homes. Two—people assume from the commonplace use of terms like occupation, repression and colonization that the place must have been reduced to abject poverty.

Such unfocused impressions are counter-productive. For, it is important to understand the realities of Kashmir if the place is ever to find peace.

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<strong>Security apparatus is not 'structural violence’</strong>

One problem is that it has become common for those who write about the Kashmir situation in an academic style to talk of 'structures of violence’ there. Some of them use the term to refer to the extraordinary security deployment in the Kashmir Valley, and to the barbed wire, barricades, frisking, and searches that go with that deployment.

Since some of those writers labor to equate the situation in Kashmir with that in Palestine, perhaps they borrow the term from academic literature on Palestine.

It is true that the extraordinary security checks, barricades and other paraphernalia that the Israeli state deploys in Palestine resembles the deployment of forces in Kashmir to some extent. But that obvious physical presence is not actually the sort of situation to which the term 'structural violence’ is meant to refer.

In the Palestinian context, the term would refer to systematic economic deprivation, political disempowerment, and societal marginalization of Palestinians. Kashmir’s political class too has been marginalized since the constitutional changes last August, but there has been no economic deprivation or social marginalization—at least yet.

In fact, I was amazed at the extent to which the Indian state apparatus went out of its way to save the apple crop when it was threatened by militants a couple of months after the constitutional changes. The Center sent in the state-run NAFED to buy up the crop that orchardists were prevented from transporting.

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The irony is that Kashmir thrives on what amounts to a dole economy of government salaries and pensions—paid to a large extent through Central grants. A substantially larger proportion of the population lives off government pay than elsewhere. Thus, in terms of economic structures, the place thrives off Indian resources rather than the other way around. Structural colonization would entail the colonizing power sucking out the economic resources of the place.

The result of economic well being is that <a href="https://archive.indiaspend.com/cover-story/indias-new-1-jk-surpasses-keralas-life-expectancy-except-at-birth-64335"><strong>life expectancy in Jammu and Kashmir</strong> </a>(J&amp;K) is the highest among all Indian states. This is the opposite of places that suffer structural violence: Life expectancy in the West Bank and Gaza is 74 years, compared with the Israeli average of 83 years. And African Americans in the US have a life span of 75 years compared with 78 years for White persons in the US.

Indeed, in terms of its visible wealth, Kashmir presents a stark contrast to Black ghettos and Native reservations in the US.

<strong>Gender, caste, tribe, and ethnic identity </strong>

The term 'structural violence’ was perhaps first used by Johan Galtung in 1969. It has been used since then to refer to social, economic, and cultural deprivation of particular sociological groups. It refers to norms, patterns and privileges that marginalize or restrict the opportunities and rights of those groups.

Women, for example, may be said to suffer in general owing to societal norms that place the workload in homes primarily on them, or the dangers and difficulties they face to commute to sites of work or education, or from unequal scales of pay or opportunities for promotion in the workplace.

In some parts of the world, certain castes, religious groups, or tribes may be said to face structural violence, including statistically measurable differences between their life spans, or rates of infant mortality, and those of dominant identity groups.

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Linguistic and other ethnic groups certainly suffer structural violence in many countries. Kurds in Turkey are at a measurable disadvantage, for example. The current surge of protests around the theme 'Black Lives Matter’ in the US highlights another major case. Academically, the term would describe the decreased chances of a Black person in the US getting a job, admission to a preferred educational institution (particularly in the past), access to certain clubs or localities, or unstated restrictions on moving to certain suburbs.

Native populations in the US, Canada, Australia, several countries in Latin America, and elsewhere face structural violence in their job and educational opportunities, access to healthcare, health indicators and life span, or access to justice.

People living in certain remote or sparsely populated areas, too may be said to suffer from structural violence. In the context of J&amp;K, this would apply to those who live in mountain areas or the Chenab basin—in fact, most places other than the bowl of the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu-Samba-Udhampur area.

<strong>Structured discrimination within </strong>

Many of these structural paradigms of disparity with regard to gender or caste or tribe apply within Kashmiri society too—internally.

For example, the last census showed distressing evidence of probable pre-natal sex selection. The 2011 census found 889 females per thousand males in the state, compared with 940 for India overall. The child sex ratio had plummeted from 941 in 2001 to 862, indicating that sex selection is a relatively recent trend, and so could worsen over time. That is probably why life expectancy in J&amp;K is the highest in the country for every age group except at birth.

Data also showed an extremely high incidence of manual scavenging in Kashmir, compared with other parts of India. The disparagement of certain caste groups, sometimes referred to as Sheikh or Watal, for example, is well known in Kashmir.

Unequal respect and opportunities for certain linguistic-ethnic groups, particularly some Gujjar and Bakerwal groups, is obvious to the extent that most Kashmiri-speaking citizens would accept the fact, at least privately. The economic disparities faced by residents of most parts of the Chenab basin is obvious to the few who visit those areas.

Within Indian society as a whole, Kashmiris as a group sometimes suffer the same disabilities in terms of renting accommodation as other Muslims do. And people from all parts of J&amp;K (including Hindus from the Jammu area) are sometimes mocked as 'terrorist.’

However, broadly speaking, they do not face the sort of disparaging taunts that people from states like Bihar do. In fact, those taunts are perhaps more common within Kashmiri discourse (about migrant workers, the forces, any non-Kashmiri, and dark-skinned others), than in other parts of the country..