Fear in the border regions of Jammu and Kashmir

Photo: Wikipedia

By Vinayak Bhardwaj

Another recent episode of targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri District has come to light where seven persons, including two children, lost their lives. The episode led to widespread discontent among the residents of the district with groups protesting in different forms. Killings such as these have been a routine part of both political and socio-cultural narratives in Jammu and Kashmir. To understand these more closely, I’d like to add some personal experience here since I hail from Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir. One of Rajouri’s neighboring towns, Poonch is bordered to the west by the LOC. Because Poonch is the closest to Rajouri, there is a sense of horror permeating the entire district in the wake of this catastrophe. When the border is shelled in these places, the same sense of panic fills the population. However, since February 2021, there has been an armistice and peace along the LOC.

After this tragedy, there has been a growing concern about what may happen if we were in their shoes. Due to this, most parents advise against letting their kids and even adults remain out late in the evenings: “6 baje tak ghar aajana, bahar halaat kharab hai.” Their vulnerability to terrorism and border shelling has led border residents constantly deal with the idea of “Halaat kharab.” During the growing season for maize, this subliminal terror that has been residing in the border people recurs every time.

Under normal circumstances, it is difficult to believe that one is not safe after six and must stay inside of four walls for protection. But this belief is crucial to the psyche of someone who lives in these places. The idea that we are being observed has now entered their minds and, in order to stop this subconscious surveillance from being conducted on them, they must stay inside their homes. Michel Foucault introduced the concept of “Panoptic surveillance.” One interpretation of it would be a state of continuous observation. In this case, the observer is decentralized, and no direct communication is ever had with the subject of the observation.

In essence, the Panopticon is a ring-shaped structure with cells embedded in its revolving walls and a watchtower in the middle. Although residents of the cell cannot see anything in the tower, they are constantly adjusting their own behavior because they are unsure if they are being observed or not from the tower. This idea is now unconsciously at work, especially for those residing in border regions, where terrorism and border issues serve as a panopticon for the local population. They monitor their own behavior unconsciously. Being a border native, I have seen these ingrained patterns at work for a very long time since these border regions either experience shelling or terrorism, or sometimes the two at the same time.

Therefore, the locals from Poonch, Rajouri, and other border regions linked to the Pir Panjal ranges are unconsciously engaged in conflict with an unknowable, unseen dispersed ‘power’. It is important for intellectuals in these regions to comprehend this unseen pattern operating on a psychological level in the social and cultural context of border regions. Although I currently reside in a large metropolis like Delhi, as a native of these border areas I do believe that my safety is increased when I am confined to four walls after six in the evening. Therefore, these occurrences, such as the murder of civilians in Rajouri district and border shelling in these areas, not only do significant harm on a physical level but also at psychological level.

The parents in these regions tell their children, “Halaat kharab hai vaise bhi, tu sahi time pe vaapis Delhi chala ja” (Return to Delhi safely and promptly, as things aren’t good here). As human beings, we all deserve to have the fundamental mental freedom to go outside and enjoy our lives as we see fit. The local populace shouldn’t experience any psychological hardship as a result of “Halaat Kharab” that is consistently present in these border locations.

Vinayak Bhardwaj, hailing from Poonch, Jammu and Kashmir, is pursuing his masters in English Literature at Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.


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