An elementary understanding of an ‘ally’ would mean a “person who wants to fight for the equality of a marginalised group they’re not a part of.” But, when it comes to places of conflict, effective ally-ship can become exceedingly tricky. In many cases, the lines between allies and oppressors remain blurred. With so many political stakeholders on the witness stand, it becomes imperative for an effective ally to hang on to one’s individual volition and navigate politics without falling off the deep end on the left, or being taken in by centrism or conservatism. In this article, I try to list out the ways you can become an effective ally, without taking up space of the marginalised, in the resistance movements against authorative forces that are prevalent in Kashmir today.
- Understand Your Privilege
To be privileged, does not mean that you’ve got it easy in life. It just means that there are some things in your life you will never have to go through or worry about because of your social position in society. A large part of understanding your privilege is to unlearn. It’s the constant habit of criticising, challenging, and finding out why are things the way they are. However, the point of unlearning is not to fall into an endless pit of guilt, which in effect, results in most of us feeling disempowered. Remember! Unlearning problematic things takes time and effort. The process of understanding your privilege will not be easy, so you are bound to make mistakes. And that’s okay!
How can you help?
The Black Lives Matter movement emerged again this year; every post was followed by bail funds, petitions, and donation links. In Kashmir, even though considerable testimonies have come out, a commitment to change through actions is yet to be seen from allies. A major part of exercising your right is to take initiatives. Your job as an ally is to take action and facilitate avenues that are knowingly made inaccessible to marginalised groups. This would include building resources, both structurally and academically. A rather advantageous side of being privileged is that, contrary to many Kashmiris living around you, your voice matters. Use your privilege to amplify Kashmiri voices by mentioning their work, spotlighting them, and hiring them, but none of it in a tokenistic way. And while you’re doing that, consult with them. Bringing in diverse ideas on the table especially from people at the margins will go a long way in your efforts to be an effective ally.
Lastly, understanding privilege also entails holding your community accountable for their actions. But, a great deal of it actually comes with holding yourself accountable. Detaching oneself from the consequences of actions does not make an effective ally. In fact, in this case, your political position in comparison to a fellow Kashmiri will always be more beneficial to you. And that is what makes allyship complicated in this context. Can people who are sustained within a community that is actively oppressive ever be allies to the oppressed? That’s one question I’ll leave unanswered.
However, it is vital to acknowledge that in our case, allies do play a part in sustaining non-coercive hegemony either through their passive association with governments or as active citizens who vote in the country. So the next time, someone messes up, don’t refer to them in the third person. Instead, take accountability for their actions, be mindful, and do better.
- Listen, Read and Educate
Kashmir is witnessing a time in history where every way seems to be leading into a blind alley. The new Domicile Law that allows Indian citizens to buy the property and become permanent residents in the contested region has been reckoned by many as the ruling party’s first move to tamper with the Muslim-majority demographics of Kashmir. The uncertainties looming over us have created an indefinite fear which as one may see, will be actualised in the foreseeable future. We’re way past the phase where tokenistic advocacy and mere words will make a substantial shift.
But words do matter, and so does listening. This one sounds easy but is often the hardest to follow. It’s not enough to just understand your privilege; it’s taking the steps on educating yourself, challenging oppressive systems with your privilege, and correcting your family members and peers when they are being oppressive. Thankfully, we are living in a time where it’s possible for us to learn everything and anything under the sun. From a position of privilege, an effective ally can listen and support stories that emerge out of discussions online and offline. Most importantly, when people in marginalised groups tell you about the oppression and tyranny they’re facing because of their identity, believe them wholeheartedly.
Listening is also helpful if you want to create something meaningful in the ongoing discourse. A simple way to self-regulate your allyship is to make sure that when you “discuss social injustices that you don’t experience, you remain objective“. For example, as a fellow classmate/work colleague you shouldn’t be subjectively advocating for grievances against Kashmiris, as you never experienced injustice firsthand. Instead, listen to what they have to say and amplify their voices.
Apart from this, building a discourse and respecting safe spaces help too. If you are well-read or know of ways to help, it is your responsibility to pass it on, instead of gatekeeping it to earn woke points. Once this discourse gains momentum, a substantial change can come, especially on the narrative being built around Kashmir. A lot of decisions, being made in India are based on public opinions. As an ally, you can stop this vilification of certain communities especially for Kashmiri who persistently live under hostile uncertainty.
As a Kashmiri, I often find myself being tasked with educating ‘allies’ about the realities of a community living not so far from them. For the greater part, it is not anyone’s responsibility to be your educator on social issues, especially those who are going through it. You have access to a plethora of knowledge that is otherwise unavailable to Kashmiris. Remember, there is neither an onus that lies on the oppressed to prove that oppression exists nor a responsibility to school you.
Good Places To Start:
Stand With Kashmir, has curated a list of resources that you can look at.
The Kashmir Podcast: A biweekly podcast bringing in stories of resistance and resilience from the people of Kashmir.
The Kashmir Syllabus: A compilation of a list of sources for teaching and learning about Kashmir. This is an interdisciplinary working syllabus that includes academic scholarship as well as literature, memoirs, and journalistic pieces.
- Speak Up, But Don’t Speak Over
It is everyone’s place to call out injustice. When a community is silenced for speaking about the persistent oppression they face, it is necessary for allies to speak up. You have to use your voice and privilege to educate others, but make sure to do it in such a way that it does not speak over the community members that you’re supporting or take credit for things they’re already saying or doing. The need for speaking over often comes from instead a ‘savior complex’, that often disregards Kashmiri’s of being thinking beings. This is particularly true when the discussion around Kashmiri Women’s rights is set off.
As an ally, your work is to put yourself in a position of support, rather than in the position of a savior. How to know whether you’re being an ally or a savior? The next time you engage in a conversation about Kashmir, step back, and check if whether you’re trying to add something meaningful to the dialogue or control it.
In various instances, Kashmiri experiences and testimonies have been trivialised, and sometimes with allies constantly overstepping, the prime objective gets lost. And a little too often it feels as if no one hears what the community is saying unless it comes from the mouth of an ally. And lastly, acknowledge and appreciate constructive criticism.
- Don’t Romanticise, Don’t Reduce!
There’s nothing ‘romantic’ about conflict. And that’s one thing effective allies need to acknowledge. As I delve further into the narratives being built around Kashmir, I find myself being surrounded by many who appear to be allies but are actually doing more harm than good (unknowingly, I hope). Being an ally for Kashmir has many perks. To begin with, you’re on the right side of history, but before anything else, it sells. The Kashmir narrative is sold by many who practically build a career out of miseries and oppression a community is facing. Kashmir has seen a fair share of instances where allies, form exploitative relationships commodifying on its grief and cultural capital.
In 2019, Raw Mango came under scrutiny when they launched a fashion campaign, Zooni, directed by Avani Rai just weeks after the abrogation of Article 370. Even though Raw Mango was quick to issue an apology on their social media, the sorry really missed a principle point. It is not a question of ‘public sentiment‘ or ‘timing‘ as the post suggests, but of appropriating Kashmiri culture and reducing its people to exotic props to capitalize on. Farah Bashir, a former photojournalist with Reuters, and an independent researcher rightly points this out by stating that
“Besides that, it’s deeply problematic and pornotropic as it reinforces a certain image of a Kashmiri woman. Gone are the days when a Kashmiri woman was reduced to being an object that “needed to be loved and adored”. A resilient Kashmiri woman somehow just does not seem to fit that hegemonic bill, that fantasy. She is the one who negotiates with militarization on a daily basis. She braves pava sprays and tear gas, she is the one who faces pellets, the one who goes looking for her siblings and children in jails, the one who looks for her husband subjected to enforced disappearance, she is the one who has spent years in jail, she is an academic who has been detained without any charges. What she is not- is someone who poses with the utensils in her home after a CASO, or with the remnants of a fighter jet where she further loses her agency. It is nothing but additional violence that a Kashmiri woman must endure in form of a different narrative.“
The photographer in question, Avani Rai has since then come under criticism on many instances for photographing and capitalising on some “non conflicty, non-politicy photographs of Kashmir“. The irony of her work lies in the fact that despite photographing women and children, through barbed wires, and capturing funerals, in a classic melancholic B&W filter; she ‘believes’ that her “work is not to do with the politics of the Kashmir conflict, it is to do with the pain and suffering of a people whose voice has been taken away, torn long between borders and uncertain destinies… ‘Exhibit A’ has a single argument — let them speak” as though both are isolated realities.
As an effective ally, is it vital to understand that instead of capitalising on people’s grief and actively stereotyping women of conflict, we ought to be more sensitive of the different historical contexts, values, and experiences that others live in. Your artistic freedom should not come at the expense of stealing someone’s agency or reducing them to being incapable of ‘thinking’ or ‘acting’.
Another issue that can be flagged being closely related to this is the convenient dissent that people have adopted as a response to the Kashmir conflict. The most important job of an effective ally is to avoid reducing our movement to specific issues even though all are ought to be discussed individually. Reducing the aspirations of a community as a post Article 370 issue or communication blockade issue conveniently erases the long history of oppression that Kashmiris have faced. If you can’t support and stand for everything, begin by acknowledging and forsaking convenient dissent.
This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to this list are welcome in the comments section.
Featured Image Source: Cutacut