Human society is different from biological organisms or animal kingdoms because the former cannot be explained through universal laws, whereas the latter two follow universal laws and instincts respectively.
The reason why human societies cannot be explained through fixed laws is that humans are capable of creating complex social structures and ideas. It is this difference between human society and animal kingdom that makes a human being more an animal of ideas than of instincts.
Ideas are crucial for society’s psychological health because they enable them to protect themselves from the malaise that stems from a stagnant system. The basic question is: how are ideas born? Ideas are highly intangible expressions of tangible experiences of worldly life. To understand them properly, it is important to take into consideration the circumstances that give birth to particular ideas in certain social and political settings.
This article tries to situate Gilgit-Baltistan within the power dispensation structure of Pakistan, and attempts to take stock of the kind of ideas and political sentiments such a system creates. It will also help us dig deep into the political consciousness and diagnose the source of the real malaise that infects society and politics. So far, Gilgit-Baltistan has been viewed from political, economic and social perspectives, but no attempts have been made to explore the nature of the interface between political hegemony and social psychology.
Since its accession to Pakistan in 1947, the region has been kept in a perpetual limbo by the governments in Pakistan. Its liminal status has given birth to consciousness and ideas that determine its political, social and cultural landscape, and the psychological mindscape.
In the modern period, Gilgit-Baltistan followed a path that entangled it in a process that has compelled the region to experience the eternal recurrence of the same. The modern period in Gilgit-Baltistan began in the 1830s when Sikhs and Dogras from Kashmir started to intrude and gradually subjugated some principalities with the tacit support of the British Empire. The locals became subjects of exogenous rules and alien systems. Since the colonial and post-colonial periods, political alienation has taken myriad shapes. Gradually, that alienation permeated into every sphere of life, including politics.
The political alienation of the region has not manifested in mass movements because the local compradors are co-opted in the hegemonic structure. Despite changes to the names of the systems that governed Gilgit-Baltistan, the essential character of the hegemonic systems has remained immutable. The hegemonic apparatus has succeeded in maintaining a semblance of political contentment and containment by imbuing political consciousness in the hues of power.
This process of altering consciousness to serve the post-colonial hegemonic system has close affinity with the colonial strategies which changed the very structure of the sense and sensibilities of the colonised. Frantz Fanon in ‘Black Skin White Masks’ provides a psychological and philosophical analysis of the inner effects of colonialism on the colonised. The deep inferiority complexes develop a yearning in the colonised to become a copy of his master. In other words, the subjugated want to become a part of the structure that has deprived them of their agency.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, the infrastructure of domination tries to obliterate the experience of alienation from society by depriving people of a collective perspective and infusing in them a false sense of power. However, the feeling of political alienation silently keeps festering. Fanon thinks that in every society exists, “an outlet through which the forces accumulated in the form of aggression can be released.” The politically suppressed individual of Gilgit-Baltistan sublimates himself by exercising power within his family, tribe, region, religion and society.
Power and authority in Gilgit-Baltistan is distributed not only in governmental organs but is also more powerfully exercised on roads, in markets, schools, rituals, religious spaces, family structure, literature and behaviour. Because of this palpable presence of power in the objective and subjective worlds, people of Gilgit-Baltistan have modified their psychology and have surrendered themselves to power to secure themselves. It can be deduced that pervasive power infects private spheres as well – apparent in the emerging trend of ‘marriages of power’ in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Referring to Joachim Marcus’ study related to the structure of families and societies and their abnormal behaviour, Fanon agrees with Marcus, who claimed that “like all other human conduct, behaviour towards authority is something learned.” It is because of the role that power plays in families, tribes, religions and society that the political class of Gilgit-Baltistan in particular, and society in general, prefers to relinquish collective will for individual benefit. This also explains why seasoned politicians and elected representatives prefer lucrative jobs that come with administrative power over becoming peoples’ voice.
According to Antonio Gramsci, ruling class maintains hegemony through political and ideological means. It is a combination of coercion and consent. In this political schema, the state is seen as the coercive force, whereas the civil society helps achieve consent. In the post-colonial period, the Gilgit-Baltistan region started on a new trajectory of complete consent after its leaders decided to merge the region with Pakistan, in November 1947. With the passage of time, the region has witnessed an increase in the state’s coercion, and decrease in consent as the federal government wants to become the master of the region by dominating the political space.
Since the dissolution of the last princely state of Hunza in 1974, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan witnessed gradual disempowerment through different systems, packages and orders. The recently announced Gilgit-Baltistan Governance Order, 2018 is worse than the former ones because it divests the region of whatever power it had previously. Instead of consulting the local people in drafting the new order, it has been imposed in a manner typical of the imperial viceroy who governed the Indian Subcontinent. All orders claim to give more power to the region than the previous dispensations, but Gilgit-Baltistan gets neither de jure nor de facto powers for governing its affairs. This policy to manage the region through coercive instruments at the expense of political means has further aggravated the situation. It is fallacious to think that political malaise can be cured through administrative measures. In the long run, political void only breeds monsters. The emergence of sectarian forces is an outcome of keeping the region in an uncertain political state. If the next government too kept the region in a perpetual limbo, then these dark forces will extinguish whatever little exists of the civil society and its politics.
The War of Independence was fought to end all wars of the colonial era. But the post-colonial period has only allowed a semblance of politics to exist by inducting a cadre of local politicians in the hollow governance structure. Owing to the region’s dependency on the centre, the political leaders in the peripheries have become mouthpieces of their masters.
By making Gilgit-Baltistan politically and existentially mute, the state apparatus has snuffed the life out of the region’s society and politics. A politically poor and psychologically subjugated society like Gilgit-Baltistan lacks the capacity to give birth to new ideas. Such a society provides a fertile soil for dehumanising orders and sanguinary ideas to nourish.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Gilgit.