Looking Afresh at Kashmir - Intrinsic, Prudential or Systemic?

September 19, 2010
Somik Raha

Resolving Kashmir,  Vikram Chandra from NDTV felt courageous enough to host a dialog on Kashmir in "The Big Fight." The entire exchange would have been funny if it had not been so tragic. Leaders, who should be setting an example for others, no longer valued listening to each other. It was far more important to shout and be heard in sound-bite land to get a few cheap claps.

Some things stood out in this discussion. First, two speakers on two opposite ends of the spectrum tried really hard to bring in magnanimity. One was an erstwhile separatist (Sajjad Lone, Chairman of the J&K People’s Conference), who said (paraphrased), "Give the Kashmiris their freedom (reduction of army presence), and then see what they do. They are a large-hearted people." The second was an army general who had served in Kashmir, who agreed, "Confidence is like a mirror. When you place confidence, it comes back to you." The army decided that they would relax all their rules during Ramzaan. There was an overnight reaction in the valley with people saying they hadn’t seen this face of the army. Nothing happened during that time, and there was reciprocation.

I found myself remembering the British strategy of bringing up the "what will happen to the minorities if we leave you to your own devices?" question, sowing mistrust in the hearts and minds of their subjects, and ultimately paving the way for partition. I heard the same argument from the Indian side - it is a great way to break up any meaningful dialog with the other side, but it was disingenuous of the British to use it, and if we Indians start using it, then it is equally disingenuous of us to do so. The British subjects (us) harmed ourselves tremendously by buying into this argument. The Kashmiris, if they buy into it, will also harm themselves tremendously. The British have paid a huge price for their bad decisions of the past. One does not talk about colonial Britain with much respect, and the British themselves deepen their apology for the sins of their ancestors with each passing generation. Nothing lasts forever, and all power is ultimately going to collapse. When that happens to India, do we want to be like the British, unable to look at our past with our head held high?
There is a far more serious problem in the kind of dialog that has happened so far. It has to do with the kind of values were are preoccupied by. Values can be of three kinds: intrinsic, prudential and systemic. Intrinsic values are those which touch us to the core of our identity, and are ends in themselves. Prudential values apply when we have a story around why something is good for us. If we can’t tell why something is so important, and yet it affects us at our core, we are probably talking about intrinsic values. And then there are systemic values, which come from following the rules we’ve created for ourselves. For example, brushing our teeth is prudential, but brushing in the morning and night fulfills a system we’ve created for ourselves to get to the prudential value. The loss of a life of a young teen in the Kashmir protests affects the protestors (and many others) at the core of their identity. Indeed, people are intrinsic values. At the prudential level, we can reduce the value of that life and look at all the practical aspects that surround the loss of a young life - how the family loses a potential wage-earner, the community loses a valuable contributor, etc. At the systemic level, the number of protestors dead went up by one. 

These distinctions on value are adapted from the work of Robert Hartman, a professor who escaped Nazi Germany and gave his life to creating distinctions on value that would prevent the value confusion of the Nazis. In particular, Hartman defined people as “intrinsic values.” If we accept that people are intrinsic values, then anything that uses people as means-to-an-end or to fulfill an ideology does not respect the intrinsic worth of people, and contradicts the ground we stand on.

The discourse on Kashmir has been all about systemic values and at times, prudential values but never really on intrinsic values. On one side, we find a system (the constitution of India) held supreme over the intrinsic value of people. On the other, we find a refrain for “azadi” which sounds eerily like another system over the present one. The biggest danger to humanity occurs when systemic values are treated as intrinsic values. What are our intrinsic values in this situation? Can the principles of political rhetoric help us discover them, and be faithful to them? I think not, for I can’t find any principles in political rhetoric, contrary to what political science professors would like to claim.

I find, however, a lot of guidance in the spiritual tradition of India, rich with intrinsic values, based on the recognition of the unity of all existence. What that means is that when we hurt someone, we hurt ourselves. Well - there’s a thought. So, if the Kashmiris are hurting, we are too, provided our "I" includes them. If there was one message in the spiritual tradition of India, what would it be? I find it to be "freedom." Every spiritual master, every path, even the atheist Charvakas proclaim loudly, "Be free." 

We spend our lives trying to understand how to get to meaningful inner freedom, and most of us don’t really know how to get there. But, we do know what impedes our journey. The biggest impediment is coercion, which generates extreme negativity and binds us into cycles of anger and revenge. We would not like to be coerced, and so it makes little sense to coerce others. 

In the refrain of the Kashmiri youth and their leaders, there seems to be a big cry for space, for the fresh air of non-coercion. Whether that non-coercion will lead to inner freedom is uncertain, but we can be certain that coercion is going to remove all chances of getting to freedom. How is the coercion of India justified? Is it really the security situation? From all accounts, the military has the courage to relax its rules, and the people of Kashmir have the courage to accept the gesture. There is something far more sinister at work here. It is the very ideology of a nation that is challenging India’s position here. One that the speaker Gautam tried to shout out in the program. Never mind that the one who talks about listening to Kashmiris would not give one second to listen to any of the other speakers and shouted the loudest. 

We have come to a point where there is an elephant in the room. One that I have seen no one in the Indian media question. It is, "Does the idea of a nation-state the way we know it make any sense?" Does India make any more sense than Pakistan? Only after answering this question can we come to the question of whether independent Kashmir makes sense. And no, this is not one of those unanswerable philosophical debates. There is no country anywhere on this planet - there are only people with operating systems in their heads, and it is in these operating systems where the idea of a nation exists. Is there any logical principle in how these boundaries are drawn? For anyone entertaining such a thought even remotely, a quick look at British logic in partitioning India resolves all doubts. So, let us discuss the undiscussable - does the idea of a nation make sense? Not really. The dogs and cats have more freedom in moving between India and Pakistan, but not humans. How could that possibly make sense? How could arbitrary lines drawn in the mud define who we are and what we fight for? When little kids do this, we laugh and say, "how cute." Do we find ourselves cute when we behave the same way?

I am not the first to question the idea of nations. Tagore did it eloquently, where he felt patriotism was a curse upon his country, as it invariably triggered mob fury and led to wars. He was looking at Europe and was prophetically worried about India. He wrote, "I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for Right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a God is to bring a curse upon it."

Now what did Tagore mean by "country?" He referred to the ethos of India which was far beyond anything fathomable to the British empire, and, I believe, far beyond the grasp of our current political system. He wrote, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,

"I do not think that it is the spirit of India to reject anything, reject any race, reject any culture. The spirit of India has always proclaimed the ideal of unity. The ideal of unity never rejects anything, any race, or any culture. It comprehends all, and it has been the highest aim of our spiritual exertion to be able to penetrate all things with one soul, to comprehend all things as they are, and not to keep out anything in the whole universe – to comprehend all things with sympathy and love. This is the spirit of India… India is there to unite all human races." 

The India that proclaims the ideal of unity is not contained in the constitution that defines the Republic of India, neither is it embodied by the busy administration that calls itself the government of India. It is also not represented in the logo on our passports. No, that India can only be found in the deepest stillness of our hearts. It is a land beyond time. It is also beyond the sophistry of the intellectuals, and yet, it is directly accessible, at any time of the day. The visa to this India is given when there is an opening in our heart. When we stand up for unconditional acceptance. When we say we are proud to be an Indian, we are not referring to our government at all (who we criticize five times a day). We are instead referring to the infallibility of the human spirit as it has manifested itself in the local area that we call India. 

Compared to this vast view of India, the nation-state of India looks like a bad joke that we have played on ourselves. By the same logic, the nation-state of Pakistan does not make sense, and neither does the nation-state of Kashmir or any other part of this planet. All of these are games we are playing with our minds. Only when this is accepted is there any chance of transcending the games and finding real solutions. 

When we start at the level of intrinsic values and accept that we have erred by going away from our deepest held values, we will find that the sleeping spirit in every human being on every side of the divide is stirred awake. It will engage and respond in ways that we cannot predict and shouldn’t try to. We have to align our decisions with our values, not because it will give us better outcomes, but because that is the only way of being true to ourselves. This is about who we want to be. 

The usual academic counterargument will likely begin - we leave ourselves open to the terrorists who will take advantage of any softness to entrench themselves, and then where will we be? I don’t know, but it couldn’t be much worse than where we are right now. Every academic argument made so far has already been made before, and tried in some way, shape or form. If we stopped trying to game each other and started looking at our values, we might find that we have more resources within ourselves than we think to listen and love, instead of shouting and hating each other. We need to question the practical value of having nation states in their current form and whether we can exist politically in other forms that do not involve drawing children’s lines on the ground. The ultimate test of practicality involves honoring the timeless adage, "what goes around comes around," and asking, are we comfortable receiving what we are giving out? If not, what seeds must we give to our neighbors that the wind will eventually blow back into our garden? How about unconditional love, for starters?
Somik Raha has a Ph.D. in Decision Analysis on the topic, "Achieving Clarity on Value." He believes that you can believe what you like. So he believes that people in this world are good. He believes that in a free society, peaceful and honest people should be left alone.
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