Author : Ayjaz Wani

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jul 31, 2018
Kashmir: Urgent need for revival of informal social control system

The murder of a 10-year-old boy, Umar Farooq, on 19 July 2018 has sent shock waves across the Kashmir Valley. The boy went missing on 16 July when he was on his way to the neighbourhood market from his home in Gulgam village of Kupwara. On the third day after his disappearance, his mutilated body was found a short distance away from his home. According to the villagers, his body was found naked, partially burnt, his left arm missing. Police said the body was “putrefied”. People from all shades of life condemned the gruesome incident. A district-wide shutdown was observed as a mark of protest against the crime and police constituted a special investigation team to apprehend Farooq’s killers.

At a time when the Valley is witnessing the worst-ever phase of the unending conflict, the growing number of societal crimes has once again posed a question on Kashmir’s age-old informal societal control system that emerged from centuries of practice of its unique syncretic traditions, mores, beliefs and social ethos. The unending conflict has dealt a severe blow to traditional informal social control system. Once a tranquil land of Pirs and Pandits, who represented Kashmir’s unique composite culture, the Valley of Kashmir today has fallen prey to drug addiction among the youth, domestic violence against women, psychological disorders and increased participation in violent acts by the radicalised youth through stone pelting and other forms of protests.

Social control is achieved through social norms, rules, social and economic structures. It is a prerequisite for enforcing an “agreed social order” that keeps chaos and confusion away from a society or community. The social control system is of two types – formal and informal. While the formal is enforced by the modern state apparatus, the informal system is enforced through socialisation at family and community level. It evolves as part of a larger social order, a belief system that conforms to the norms, customs, values and mores. However, in the course of social evolution, simplicity of social structures and functions often give way to complexity, where traditional social orders are subjected to multiple forces and pressures. These influences initiate ideas and actions facilitating the transformation of a traditional society into a modern society, effecting change from a traditional, rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrial society. The modern institutions – economic, political and societal – work to keep the modern society functioning and organised. However, in traditional or developing societies, despite such social evolution, informal social controls remain intact to always keep some degree of control over the behaviour of individuals of a community or society based on a set of belief systems.

Kashmir is also a traditional or developing society where, despite the social evolution, informal social control system played a dominant role and exerted a greater control over the individuals than the modern formal control system. The most important agents of informal social control system in Kashmir were the village elders, Hajis (who perform pilgrimage to Mecca), mullahs of neighbourhood mosques, Shaqdars (who keep eye on young people of a village/community against any deviant behaviour), and dignitaries of mazaars of their ancestors or the shrines. Learned men were revered and respected by the society because of their educational attainments. They worked as vigilantes and formed assertive groups that manipulated or eliminated societal deviants from influencing the behaviour of individuals at the community level. Based on the traditional belief system, these village elders exerted greater control over the human behaviour than the laws imposed by government. The young generation generally was kept informed about the social norms and set of behaviours by these elders in mosques and in neighbouring saloons and bakeries (naanwai). Such was their reverence and respect that anyone while walking along a road passed an elder, would change her/his direction, with eyes lowered.

If someone was found of any deviant behaviour, her/his information was given to the elders who would decide appropriate action. Village elders exchanged precise information as they carefully tracked the behaviours of other individuals, and developed a capacity to manipulate deviants strategically in order to satisfy the needs of society and social cohesion. At times, community elders even worked as consolers of the youth and saved the society from crimes, adultery, drug addiction, violence against women and other social evils. They also served punishments that included societal shame, ridicule, criticism and disapproval.

Since 1989, insurgency in Kashmir has devastated community relations and eroded its traditional informal social control system. Surely, the Kashmiri society is in a transition not only because of the unending conflict, but because of growing instability, crimes, drug addiction and radicalisation that were absent before 1989. The number of social deviant elements at village and community levels is rising at an alarming rate because of the failure of both – the formal as well as informal social control system. Firstly, the formal social control system that was in transition could not become dominant because of unending conflict. Secondly, it was not able to adapt to the different cultural and social setup of Kashmir that emerged post 1989.

The informal social control system lost their relevance because of the unending violence and conflict in the Valley. The village elders remained scared as gun culture became the dominant ideology that threatened their existence. The conflict led to an unavoidable deviance and delinquency within the society as traditional belief system and informal social controls were compromised. The IT revolution, social media exposure and emergence of crime as a social trend and has influenced the youth.

The other cause for the failure of informal social control system was that Kashmir witnessed the emergence and expansion of intolerant and radical Muslim organisations with different political orientations and agendas. The “Jamat-i-Islami,” emerged on the religious and political scene aimed at radical political transformation of the society with an inclination towards creating an Islamic state. The ideology has found its takers and followers in Kashmir, and its survival and spread bears testimony to this fact. Jamiat-e-Ahlihadis, another religious organisation propagates “puritanisation” since late-1980s. “Tableeg,” on the other hand, has been working on re-creating an “Islamic society” and establishing a “global-Muslim community” in Kashmir without creating a new “Islamic-global state”. These confronting religious ideologies have devastated the informal social control system at village and community levels. This has resulted into a new political contestation, creating fragmentation with deep radicalism in the society. People, especially the youth in Kashmir, now represent a radical form of “political Islam” which is expanding and deepening its roots. This has eventuated the increase in crimes and deviant behaviour against the traditional social mores, values, norms and customs. The Kashmiri society at the village and community level has been divided into these different religious ideologies and the traditional belief systems and informal social control system have been threatened. The reverence and relevance of village elders, who worked as the enforcing agents of the informal social control system, is diminished.

Today’s chaos and confusions in Kashmiri society are an outcome of the diminished informal social control system and the non-violent social ethos, which controlled conflicts, murders, dacoities, arson, drug addiction, drug trafficking, smuggling, wildlife trafficking, crime against women and children, corruption etc. The increased participation of the youth in street violence is a result of not only the influence of extremist ideology, but also highlights the total failure of the modern/formal as well as traditional/informal social control systems.

Today’s social system, that is riddled with violence, radicalisation and conflict, needs to be addressed through an urgent revival of informal social control system, which is prevalent in most modern societies of the world. As state tends to treat social control, ethics and management of conflict as separate spheres, the fact that they are correlated is often overlooked. Given the failure of the modern formal social control system, it is only the traditional informal social controls that have the potential to control socially-defined deviants.

State should give priority to informal social control system in Kashmir than dictate the modern formal norms so that the causes of violence, drug addiction, radicalisation can be rooted out. In Kashmir, neither formal societal control system could become dominant to curb the social evils nor did the traditional informal societal control system remain intact to bring about conformity to norms and laws by individuals.

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Ayjaz Wani

Ayjaz Wani

Ayjaz Wani (Phd) is a Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme at ORF. Based out of Mumbai, he tracks China’s relations with Central Asia, Pakistan and ...

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