Can Happiness and Resistance Go Together? Gowhar Fazili

Guest Post by Gowhar Fazili

Does resistance necessarily have a direct relationship with suffering and inverse relationship with pleasure and happiness? This is a question that is particularly significant for long drawn resistance movements facing a formidable enemy insensitive to and largely unruffled by the exertions of resistance.  The engagement with occupation often involves violent and non-violent struggle.  Both demand sacrifices that warrant shunning of such mundane pleasures and opportunities taken for granted by the populations reconciled with power.  If the struggle extends over multiple decades, it is bound to generate fatigue and disillusionment especially among those who have not voluntarily committed themselves to the life of endless self abnegation even while they may desire freedom from occupation.   While all people want to be free from the indignity of living under occupation and dominance, human nature puts limits on how far individuals and populations may be willing to stretch themselves in their denial of bodily desires and material pleasures that life has to offer.

It would be naïve to assume that the occupational state with endless resources at its disposal does not understand the limits of the body and would not simultaneously use trauma, fatigue, disillusionment and the lure of material desire along with the persistent threat of violence, to subdue any possible challenge to its hegemony.

Paradoxically resistance, apart from being driven by certain objective conditions of suffering and humiliation intrinsic to occupation also involves pleasure and a release of some sort.  The individuals and populations that rise up against illegitimate and unpopular political orders do experience an inner fulfilment of sorts in the process.  Not surprisingly revolutions have been referred to as ‘the carnivals of the oppressed’.   There is a certain romance to the freedom struggle which like conventional romantic love revels in pleasure achieved through sacrifice, loss and at its apogee – self destruction.  The lover seeks redemption or fulfilment through loss.   The enjoyment of such pleasure drawn from loss undeniably animates resistance.  To quote Iqbal:

Lutf-e sad haasil hamaari saai- be hasil mein hai! 

The pleasure of countless accomplishments accrues from our pointless struggle.

Yet again in Faiz,

Phir hameein qatl ho aayein yaaro chalo! 

Let us embrace the death yet again!

Yet resistance may result in heightened suffering as it forces the occupation to reveal its thinly veiled fangs.  The resultant suffering is often beyond the expectation of the resistance itself as it engulfs the whole subject population including those who may not be actively involved in subversion; who pay the price for passively hosting seditious feelings or for playing host to the segment involved in active subversion.

I am proposing a radical move to consider pleasure and happiness as an active means of resistance – such pleasurable experiences and happiness around which the subject populations may rally despite the prevalence of occupation, obliterating it through the process of exclusion and ommission.  Can happiness and pleasure be subversive?  If people were to deploy joyous means of asserting their identity and independence from the occupational state would that add to the repertoire of the possible means of resistance and confound the state?  If such practices were to effectively proliferate without degenerating into a meaningless bohemian orgy, would that be like mocking at the limits of power and oppression and thus weaken its stranglehold?

If subversive joy cannot replace subversive pain as the chief mode of resistance, can it at least fill in the gap between two tragic events and thus sustain continuous presence?

Should resistance subsist on suffering or harness joy?

Gowhar Fazili is a Kashmiri anthropologist based in Delhi

This text was originally uploaded as a ‘note’ by Gauhar Fazili on his Facebook Page on Tuesday, August 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm.

6 thoughts on “Can Happiness and Resistance Go Together? Gowhar Fazili”

  1. I do not think that resistance and happiness or joy are incompatible. Can one not enjoy music, dance, theatre etc. on a cultural plane while resisting on a political platform ? Can one not engage simultaneously in eradication of the social evils plaguing the society ? Successes in eradication of social evils, helping the society to come to today’s mores in preference to yesterday’s ways can give joy to a person even while one is unhappy with the political state of affairs. The name of Mahatma Gandhi may be anathema to many Kashmiris but he enaged in precisely such activities while continuing to resist the British. I know that acceptance of any social evils in a society struggling for freedom is difficult in view of the prevailing air of “We are the best” but reality could be otherwise. The Mahatma had the sagacity to accept the existence of many social evils present in the country..


  2. Very interesting, Gowhar. A few tentative thoughts: Perhaps we should make a conceptual distinction between “happiness” and “pleasure” since the two terms have distinct conceptual and semantic histories and explain distinct kinds of affect.

    As far as I know, for most of human history, until the European Enlightenment, collective happiness in this life was considered an accident at best and was to be prepared for and ideally achieved in the next life. By contrast, all forms of modern politics assume the possibility – indeed necessity – of instituting collective happiness in “this” life. And, as far as I know, most modern forms of emancipatory politics characterize collective happiness as a horizon or goal rather than a state of being within the struggle.

    Pleasure, on the other hand, seems to be have been included by emancipatory movements as a state of being within the struggle. This is arguably because one could take pleasure in pain (e.g. the ghazal and marsiya), aestheticize bodily mutilation (e.g. government patronized painting of martyrdom scenes in Iran at the height of the Iran-Iraq war) and eroticize death (e.g. Freud’s ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’). Martyrdom and its celebrations (e.g. Muharram; medieval European Catholic feasts commemorating the martyrdom of saints) are ritualized practices of collective pleasure in pain. But all of these are arguably also homoeostatic practices in the sense that they conserve the coherence and hierarchy of the society engaged in them.

    The question that comes to my mind, then, is whether perhaps a long-drawn resistance movement ought to re-fashion collective “pleasure” while letting “happiness” remain what it’s always been for emancipatory politics – a destination. This re-fashioning would entail re-ordering thus-far ritualized practices of pleasure (e.g. Muharram) and their thus-far “smooth” forms of public spatiality (e.g. traditional routes for mourning assemblies, Jantar Mantar protests, teach-ins at piazzas…) as “rough” ones (e.g. Tahrir Square).


    1. Thank you for taking a deep historical perspective spanning over civilizations. and teasing out the difference between happiness and pleasure. I was deliberately trying to under invest and leave them fuzzy in my teaser aimed more at activists rather than thinkers. But I would love to build on this theme seriously if I am able to find time in this life.


  3. No resistance can be brought with pleasure and happiness or never has a resistance brought these two! Resistance of any sort has always brought an unconditional tyranny and subjugation and division.

    The Author seems to have lost while writing this piece! It touches many different things at many places. It badly lacks the thrust.

    1) Tries to say come-by and go-by of sustaining the resistance.

    2) Thinking everybody naive but himself while saying resistance will be opposed by occupation with its resources. Needless to say it’s implicit to challenge an establishment.

    3) Not all revolutions are ‘carnivals of oppressed’! Few are instigated via various means viz religion, ethnic, against corruption and of course economic.

    Occupation, you are slapped from every intersection and milieu by resistance. Few do with stones, few by inking and others, as pointed above, by passively and increasingly hosting the seditious feelings for you. Resistance against suffering often generates “dry sand” effect, more the occupation clamps it within all tangible and non tangible vices more it lets itself out. Although I am in full agreement with the author, however, never has fatigue taken to the resistance he is subtly pointing to. Current situation witnesses and vindicates my assertion. Never were the demonstrations seen against unjustified execution of an innocent outside the periphery of resistance. Today’s movement is an absolute voluntary choice more meaningful than ever. Needless to say that today a subject and resistant – not necessarily a sufferer – understand any and all casuistry occupation uses to cast aspersions on just.


  4. Jehadi justice.Kashmiri freedom fighters bring about social reform, only difference being that Gowhar Saheb is a ‘kalam ka sipahi ‘ while these freedom fighters seek pleasure in more violent methods.Anyways Shuddhabrata , it is good on kafila’s part to raise the Amina Wadoud issue as it shold about any act of intolerance by people of various ideological shades.


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