The Routledge Handbook of Critical Kashmir Studies (New York: Routledge, 2022) edited by Mona Bhan, Haley Duschinski & Deepti Misri
By A. Adams, Missy Drew, Fatemeh Nasr Esfahani, Leith Ghuloum, Anna Goorevich, Natasha Hernández, Nina Kaushikkar, Vaishnavi Kollimarla, Pauline Maison-Dessemme, Nada Mohamed, Tahmina Sobat, Allie Thek, Nithya Rajan, and Richa Nagar
Let me cry out in the void, say it as I can. I write on that void: Kashmir, Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir, Cashmir, Cashmire, Kashmere, Cachemire, Cushmeer, Cachmiere, Casmir. Or Cauchemar in a sea of stories? Or: Kacmir, Kaschemir, Kasmere, Kachmire, Kasmir. Kerseymere?
– Agha Shahid Ali, “The Blessed Word: A Prologue”
They make a desolation and call it peace…
–Agha Shahid Ali, “Farewell”
This co-authored engagement emerges from the initial responses and reflections offered by twelve members of a foundational Feminist Studies graduate seminar on Feminist Knowledge Production at the University of Minnesota, that were later interwoven, revised, and expanded by two members of the AGITATE! editorial collective. This course was taught in Spring 2023 by Richa Nagar, and it asked: How might a commitment to grappling with anti-coloniality and justice push us to know, imagine, make, and be differently in relation to academic knowledge making? What might it mean to consciously disrupt modes of scholarly engagement that pursue research, representation, and writing as extraction, while learning to surrender ourselves to an endless journey of co-evolving epistemic practices where refusal, reciprocity, vulnerability, relationality, and collectivity can guide our approaches to knowledge making? How can we become part of journeys that are committed to co-making knowledges for justice without seeking fixed answers or closures and without giving up hope? These questions guided us as we immersed ourselves in the pages of the Routledge Handbook of Critical Kashmir Studies (hereafter, Handbook)—edited by Mona Bhan, Haley Duschinski, and Deepti Misri—and as we wrote five sets of reflections on each section of the volume in preparation for an international webinar organized by AGITATE! Journal to discuss and celebrate this volume in April 2023. We offered our reflections alongside Elora Shehabuddin, Daanish Mustafa, Antonádia Borges, Emina Bužinkić, and Sara Musaifer who also presented their engagements on each section of the Handbook. Each of us grappled with the text from our individual locations and experiences, even as the course and the event created a space to collectively appreciate the ways in which the essays in the Handbook disrupt, challenge, and reimagine knowledge making. The polyvocal notes that we offer here are a result of this intermittent chorus.
For us, the seminar participants, AGITATE!’s webinar on the Handbook was an eye-opening experience, an unsettling and mesmerizing way of unlearning and relearning, one where pedagogical practice could not be separated from the ongoing co-creation of knowledge. Most of us can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of times we have had a reading assigned in an educational institution that mentioned Kashmir, let alone readings that center Kashmiri voices in the ways that the Handbook does. Even from our diverse positions and commitments, it is our responsibility to consider what this absence implies for the academy as well as the commitments to transnational solidarities that are often invoked in liberal arts educational spaces. The summaries, insights, connections, elaborations, and questions that we present here emerge from our initial journey with such concerns—not from a desire to gain expertise, but as a humble commitment to: (a) build connections across times, places, and struggles; and (b) commence from our disparate locations a rigorous engagement with questions of settler colonialism and anti-colonial resistance in Kashmir. We organize this essay in the same order as the five sections of the Handbook: (a) Territories, Homelands, Borders; (b) Militarism, Humanism, Occupation; (c) Memories, Futures, Imaginations, (d) Religion, History, Politics; and (e) Armed Conflict, Global War, Transnational Solidarities.
In their Introduction to the Handbook Bhan, Duschinski, and Misri offer a powerful summary of the complex politics, challenges, and possibilities that define the terrain of Critical Kashmir Studies. The growing interdisciplinary field of Critical Kashmir Studies which the Handbook seeks to document and consolidate centers Kashmiri voices and perspectives to challenge the occupation of Kashmir as well as the statist narrative of the region’s past, present, and future. It places perspectives from literary and cultural studies, feminist studies, cultural anthropology, socio-legal studies, history, and geography into a systematic conversation with settler colonial studies and critical indigenous studies. The editors offer theoretically and empirically rich insights that embody a multi-locational and transborder vision for epistemic justice: a coming together of commitments, courage, and conversations with a shared goal to resist the ever-rising violence of dominating knowledge around Kashmir. The questions, issues, histories, and agitations discussed in this Handbook take on new urgency in light of the Indian government’s unilateral abrogation of Article 370—which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status—in 2019, and the intense criminalization of Kashmiri academics, journalists, and human rights activists through anti-terror laws that have made it virtually impossible for Kashmiris to write or speak against the Indian state. In relation to the ongoing conversations in our seminar on feminist knowledge production, the introduction modeled for us a collective project where people strive to care, forgive, and learn with one another. It is the same sensibility that we bring to this writing.
In the first section, Territories, Homelands, Borders, the contributors examine the settler colonial violence unleashed by imposition of borders and the extension of national territories, while also highlighting the resistance of communities in Kashmir and alternate imaginaries of citizenship, belonging, land, borders, rights, and pleasure. The opening chapter, Idrees Kanth’s historiographic analysis of “Peasant Imaginaries and Kashmiri Nationalism,” draws on documents and diaries to address the struggles, resistance, and achievements of peasants in Jammu and Kashmir. He describes the historical events that led Kashmiri peasants to build a consciousness of their material realities and the ways in which they resisted and advocated for themselves in pre-independence times, during the Indian independence movement, and in relation to post-independence India. He pays attention to the local particularities and non-economic factors, such as the peasants’ loyalty to their leader, Sheikh Abdullah, and points out that while the literature has systematically ignored Kashmiri peasant uprisings and their political organization, the emergence of community consciousness among peasants is fundamental to understanding the current state of affairs in Kashmir. A significant engagement with the field of Subaltern Studies from Kashmir, this chapter delves into the peasants’ movements and their influence in the region’s broader history and the construction of the Indian state.
In the context of the Indian government’s systematic denial of the political and civil rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the second chapter “On Naya Kashmir,” by Suvir Kaul, turns to the Naya Kashmir manifesto—a document written in 1944 that calls for fundamental rights such as universal franchise, women’s equality, land reforms, and freedom of expression. Kaul examines how the manifesto continues to influence ideas of freedom/Azaadi and an alternate vision of citizenship for Kashmiris today. Although the Naya Kashmir slogan has been appropriated by the ruling-BJP as a propaganda tool to mark Kashmir’s integration into India after the arbitrary abrogation of Article 370, it is rooted in the socialist and communist commitments and the anti-feudal, anti-monarchical politics of 1940s Kashmir. Even though the National Conference party and its leader Sheikh Abdullah, who crafted this document, compromised on the ideals of the manifesto after coming to power in 1947, Kaul argues that we must pay attention to this “program of action centered on the people of the state” and developed by a Kashmiri leader and organization (39). Using the framework of rights, citizenship, and nation (rather than state), this progressive document lays out the rights of the citizens, which are comprehensive in their coverage of labor, healthcare, education, and gender equality. Naya Kashmir provided a framework of equal citizenship and opportunities for all Kashmiris without distinctions of caste, religion, and class; declared that Kashmiri women were equal citizens with the right to education and work; and envisioned economic equality through abolition of landlordism and redistribution of land to the tillers. Despite the great breadth and scope of the Naya Kashmir document and the challenge of capturing its nuances in a book chapter, the author succeeds in illustrating the manner in which this historical document is fundamental to making sense of Kashmiri people’s political and social aspirations today.
In the following chapter, “Closing the Frontier? Extraction, Contested Boundaries, and the Greening of Frontier Politics in Ladakh,” Alka Sabharwal discusses the political and economic factors at play in the borderlands of Ladakh and deploys the framework of “frontierization” to trace historical processes of settlement and consequent dispossession of land among the indigenous Changpa pastoral people of Changthang region in Ladakh—the state’s frontier. By tracing the resistances of the Changpa against feudal hierarchies and exploitation in Pashmina trade in precolonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods, the author argues that the Changthang region is not a “neutral, bicultural borderland of passive give and take” but rather “a contested physical space that has been shaped by an active historical agency” (50). Policies framed in the language of environmentalism and wildlife and resource conservation, in fact, served to further disenfranchise and displace the Changpa people from their homelands. More crucially, these processes have acted as a pretext for further militarization of the region, or as Sabharwal puts it powerfully: “the rise of ecological paradigm in Changthang appears to have come to merely add an ‘environmental twist’ in the existing frontier politics” (56). The author does a remarkable job of illustrating how the (post/neo)colonial dynamics in the region are used to construct an idea of the nation, with detrimental consequences to the indigenous people of Changthang.
The work of reconciling nation, identity, and war is messy and often littered with harrowing stories of death, pain, and loss. The very concept of the border, especially that of a state, necessitates harsh meditation on violence and its role in consolidating state power. Despite their necessity, studies into the function and form of power across states and bodies often lose sight of the people (dis)placed within. This is where Khushdeep Kaur Malhotra’s essay, “Kashmiri Sikh Women and their Experiences with Conflict” intervenes. It is a critical reconsideration of the place of Sikh women in our understanding of violence, conflict, and the loss of life, homes, dignity, and rights in Kashmir (61). As we engage with the horrors of a violent state and multiple massacres, what of the women who are left to continue living? How do we address the horrors of violence without hearing the stories and lives of those living in its wake? Malhotra’s essay focuses on the stories of Kashmiri Sikh widows and young women who bear intergenerational trauma of the Chittisinghpora massacre in 2000, which has been erased in the Hindu-Muslim framework through which the conflict in Kashmir is viewed. This chapter is a powerful addition to the burgeoning body of Kashmiri women’s stories written by Kashmiri women scholars. It brings us to a core understanding of how Sikh women in Kashmir navigate life at the intersection of masculinity and militarism while piecing together the myriad allegiances, solidarities, discourses, and religiosity in their daily lives. Ultimately, Malhotra attempts to answer the question: “Do you know how Kashmiris remember?” (Kaul and Zia 2018, 33). Even as the discourse of this massacre is reproduced and commemorated, the stories and struggles of women survivors who live with its trauma are erased, and justice deferred infinitely. Territory, place, and the state are all cogent concepts to study, of course, but the space itself is rendered inert and lifeless without those who inhabit it. Further, in shaping discourse through the words and multiple (transgenerational) precarities of Sikh women, the author deftly weaves the themes of marginalization and tragedy with fracturing inter-communal political and social solidarities. Ultimately, the author calls into question the modes by which we establish global and regional discourses: Who is called to engage in a discourse? Who does the canon ignore or leave behind?
In “Disabling Kashmir,” Deepti Misri integrates disability analysis into Critical Kashmir Studies and confronts the violence of the Indian state by demonstrating how disabling Kashmiris is a deliberate tactic of Indian occupation. Misri shows the many forms of violence inflicted by the Indian state on Kashmiris and its debilitating effects—blinding through pellet guns, torture tactics like electrocution and rape in prisons that result in PTSD and other physical and psychological disabilities in victims and their families, as well as health crises caused through disruption of internet and health communication (72). Drawing on the “biopolitical model” within disability studies, Misri shows how Kashmiris have been and continue to be targeted for debilitation as a population rather than at the individual level (73-74). Militarization debilitates also by disabling “social and infrastructural environment and modes of healing and wellness” (75). And once the Kashmiri body is rendered inert, the discursive disabling of Kashmir reinforces the relegation of Kashmir to the global and regional periphery through a history of class/caste stratification. Here, we are offered another critical intervention. Misri argues that a disability analysis must also account for the ways in which Kashmiris have contested the continual debilitation of Kashmir and countered the state’s “disability-positive rhetoric” that pretends to be inclusive of Kashmiris even as it continues to blind, maim, and debilitate in myriad ways (78). Misri demonstrates that Critical Kashmir Studies has much to offer disability studies, a field that is seeking to decolonize itself, by complicating the global north/global south binary.
In the final chapter of the section, “Hortus Interruptus: A Time for Alegropolitics in Kashmir,” Ananya Jahanara Kabir engages the legacy of the discursive construction of Kashmir as a “territory of desire” (82) and an enclosed garden or “gulshan” through folk songs, poems, tropes, and visualization. Foregrounding how such an imaginary of Kashmir becomes the stage of Indian colonialism as well as how it circulates within Kashmir as a collective lyrical memory, Kabir uses the Bollywood film, Haider, (2014) and the creative work of Asiya Zahoor to understand responses to it (82). In the context of the physical toll of long term conflict, and specifically the toll on women’s bodies, Kabir asks if a new temporality, “a time for alegropolitics, or the political potential of the traumatized, violated body seeking to extract from horror a defiantly resistive joy,” is possible in Kashmir (82). While each previous chapter mentions or centers storytelling in some way or another, Kabir asks: How do we tell the story of Kashmir? How do we know these stories are of home in the first place? More centrally, what are the stories we tell of Kashmiri femininity/womanhood? Kabir engages song, literature, film, and other modes of storytelling to remind us of the means by which Kashmiris call our attention to another time, another place, another home. These stories do their political work by telling us what Kashmir is, does, feels, and sounds like; they present the status quo, while also serving to interrupt that same status quo. Kabir makes us attentive to the ways life in Kashmir—with its political, social, and aesthetic entanglements—is recorded. The work of calling attention to the interruption of pleasure, to the reconstruction of Kashmiri life, and to the foregrounding of Kashmiri relationships carries the reader into the rich Kashmiri habitus, reconstructing the hitherto told and retold tales about pleasure and womanhood in Kashmir. Further still, these stories resist stereotyping and dominant narratives regarding Kashmiri pleasure and joy, reflecting a deeper concern with storytelling as a core means of establishing meaning across space.
The four chapters in the second section, Militarism, Humanism, Occupation, encompass everyday practices of resistance in four intertwined domains—political, legal, commercial, and emotional. Deploying ethnographic and archival approaches, these chapters illustrate the realities of living under constant political crisis, uncertainty, and occupation. The authors discuss how the Indian state controls Kashmir through practices of militarization and surveillance, including emergency laws and juridical and extrajudicial tactics, and how these practices ultimately consolidate and normalize political domination and state terror in Kashmir. Authors in this section explore how Kashmiri resistance challenges not just the violence inflicted on Kashmiri bodies but also the erasure of histories and geographies that challenge Indian state narratives through recalling, remembering, and renarrativizing alternate histories (Bhan, 93). Here, we offer brief summaries of the four chapters and then reflect on the ways in which they have inspired us to see rituals of mourning and grief as co-constitutive of resistance.
In “Claiming the Streets: Political Resistance Among Kashmiri Youth,” Mohd Tahir Ganie introduces us to the different modes that Kashmiri youth utilize to resist the state. He illustrates how successful intergenerational transmission of political consciousness in Kashmir has turned the youth into key political actors in the movement for Azaadi. In the following chapter, “The Writ of Liberty in the Courts of Kashmir,” Shirmoyee Nandini Ghosh and Haley Duschinski expose “juridical evasion” in courtrooms and the normalization of emergency laws in Kashmir to demonstrate how habeas corpus—also referred to as the “writ of liberty”—legitimizes state terror and arbitrary detentions of Kashmiris. “Trade, Boundaries, and Self-Determination” by Aditi Saraf, focuses on the role of trade and exchange in the Kashmiri self-determination movement. Saraf shows the vital political role that historical trade networks and relationships play in mapping relational affective spaces and spatial imaginaries in “frontiers” such as Kashmir that exceed the cartographies of India and Pakistan. Lastly, in “Sensory Remembrance: Retelling the 1990s in Downtown Srinagar,” Bhaveneet Kaur explores sensory and embodied remembrance of loss and the place of such emotional, intimate, and invisibilized practices in political movements. Kaur points out how it is the often overlooked modes of remembrance that give us the keenest insights into the experiences of those living in Kashmir and how grief becomes a form of testimony against arbitrary killings that are routinized in contexts of military occupation.
In a nutshell, the second section provides a nuanced picture of the ways in which different powers (e.g., legal, political, and the media) are at play in oppressing the Kashmiri people, and how Kashmiris cope with Indian occupation while also resisting it. The chapters push us to reflect on resistance and its entanglements with mourning, grief, and remembering the dead. It is to this dimension to which we now turn.
Resistance, Mourning, and Loss of Self in Kashmir: Advancing a Discussion
“Resistance,” writes Maria Lugones (2003, x), “hardly ever has a straightforward public presence. It is rather duplicitous, ambiguous, even devious. But it is almost always masked and hidden by structures of meaning that countenance and constitute domination.”
Whether implicit or explicit, resistance often offers us two kinds of insights: on one hand, it offers a way to understand and theorize opposition to oppression. On the other hand, its everydayness imparts a layer of invisibility and renders it an ‘ordinary act,’ especially when actions that are considered quotidian or acceptable in other contexts are criminalized under conditions of occupation and militarization. For example, gossip between youth circles about unjust conditions in Kashmir becomes an act of resistance. Leaving the house not knowing if you will come back becomes an act of resistance. Cussing the system also becomes an act of resistance. These modes of resistance give us an insight into an ontological state of those who live under oppression: they do not know what it is like to not resist, because resisting is to them a mode of living, of coping, and of being.
The chapters in the second section insightfully imagine resistance without being trapped in its romanticization by western media and Anglophone academia, and without slipping into flattened understandings that reduce resistance to a familiar formula. Resistance happens when Kashmiri lawyers use habeas corpus petitions “as a remedy in thousands of cases of enforced disappearance…and illegal detention, especially under preventive detention laws” (Ghosh and Duschinski, 116). It happens when the bazaar and traders not only shut down their business in support of protests but also implement their own shutdowns to frame political demands (Saraf, 131). It happens by mourning those who have passed away—for example, when Nasir’s mother uses her son’s pheran as a prayer mat (Kaur, 141).
Some forms of resistance felt very close to home to some of us—for instance, the youth who throw stones, create counter-maps, and engage in protest photography. Despite their limited power and their positionality, these resistors find ways to “make social life possible” (Ganie, 100). Such resistance inspires us to undertake a transnational counter mapping of resistance. For one of us (Nada), the images of Kashmiri protestors invoked painful memories of Palestinian and Egyptian protestors, memories that can never really become a past for her. Here, Nada shares two examples: the first is an excerpt of a poem about stone throwers by the Palestinian writer, Abdel Nasser Saleh. The poem originally written in Arabic—translated by Nada for the purpose of this reflection—belongs to the genre of Palestinian resistance poetry, and emphasizes the role stones play in resistance.
The second example, an instance of protest photography, is an image of an anonymous Egyptian protester taken by the Egyptian reporter, Tarek Wagih, during the January 2011 Egyptian revolution. In this photo, still widely circulated in the Egyptian social media, the photographed protester stopped a tank with his body in an effort to prevent it from attacking a crowd of protesters. Wagih is one of the only two people to know the identity of the photographed person who chose to remain anonymous to highlight his role as a protestor, rather than claiming the status of an individual hero.
The chapters in the second section present tragic narratives of the killing and loss of Kashmiri youth—powerful reminders of the permanence and continuity of Indian occupation as well as the resistance of the Kashmiri people. They also give us a palpable sense of the many painful forms death and pain take in conditions of prolonged occupation and conflict. They can come in the form of being labeled as “anti-nationalist” or “misguided elements” or “separatist syndicate or psychologically disturbed youth” (Ganie, 103). When Kashmiri youth’s struggle for liberation is portrayed in such a manner, it causes them to be wrongly and harmfully perceived as criminals. For many, a loss of self occurs in the form of arbitrary detentions in prisons and custody and the consequent state of “limbo through deferral, delay, and non-adjudication” (Ghosh and Duschinski, 117). Thus, Kashmiri protestors face epistemic injustice, and this Handbook serves as a form of epistemic reparation for them.
As in many war-torn nations, mourning in Kashmir is deep, endless, and a part of everyday life. Bhavneet Kaur calls this “perpetuity of grief” (140)—a powerful concept that conveys how the lives of generations are intertwined with constant sadness and loss. Mourning happens when people cannot say proper farewell to those who leave the home one day for work or to run an errand and are arrested or killed. As Sharib’s mother says: “At one moment he was standing here at the kitchen window joking with us and giving us bumtschoent and mutton that he got for dinner. Just a few moments later, he was lying dead on the floor of the bakery” (Kaur, 142). Loss of self also happens when one doesn’t know when to expect a goodbye, or when one lives in a constant fear of losing their loved ones. The governmentality of the Indian state in Kashmir, based on violent methods of militarization and suppression, has inflicted extraordinary violence on ordinary people, leaving deep wounds in Kashmiri souls and memories. As a result, the practices of remembrance have become integral parts of lives and allow an alternate recounting and retelling of what it means to live, die, mourn, and remember as part of a seemingly endless struggle for Azaadi.
Hegemonic knowledge-making privileges are typically reserved for the academy, NGOs, or governments, all of which are shaped by imperial and colonial processes. Section three of the Handbook, Memories, Futures, Imaginations, destabilizes this realm by exemplifying the ways in which such hegemonic knowledge production is challenged in Kashmir. Through food preparation practices and changing menus, popular plays and fiction novels, memories and aspirations, stories and places, this section explores “how Kashmiris remember their past and dream their future” (Misri, 149). Below, we reflect on the ways in which the chapters in this section have invited us to grapple with what memories, futures, and imaginations could mean, both in the Kashmiri context and in our work.
The authors look to varied sites of knowledge production—including sports, food, comics, fiction, and poems—to democratize who, how, and on what terms knowledges and their meanings are produced. The everyday lives of people in Kashmir are often absent from narratives about the region. The authors in this section look to the quotidian to understand the anti-colonial imaginaries and their articulations in Kashmiri lives. For example, in “Cosmopolitanism, Food, and Memory,” Anisa Bhutia focuses on one Tibetan restaurant in Kashmir as a case study to explore the dynamic meanings of identity, memory, gender relations, and politics. Food and people’s relationships with it, although seemingly apolitical, are potent ways in which people construct their multifaceted identities in a complex geopolitical context. By looking at the lives of the Khache (Tibetan Muslim) community through food, Bhutia demonstrates how “food has the capacity to tell the history and the present of a community” (171). Huzaifa Pandit re-examines the work of Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali—with whose words we began this reflection—outside the binaries and imaginaries through which they are often read in “The Country of Privilege: Problematizing the Country Without a Post Office.” The motifs, imagery, and nostalgia in Ali’s poems are read in all their complexities and contradictions to grapple with questions of colonization, class, and complicities within Kashmir.
In “Playing Cricket in Eidgah: Affective Labor in Kashmiri Childhood(s),” Sarbani Sharma illustrates how play becomes an avenue for children to express their emotions, political understandings, and aspirations. Sharma examines the experiences of Kashmiri children, whose childhoods unfold in a context of conflict and disrupted education. Children become targets of militarized violence, and the everyday act of playing cricket assumes highly politicized meanings. Far from being rudimentary, sport becomes an important socialization that constructs, resists, and reifies political identities. Destabilizing the figure of the Kashmiri child in mainstream and statist discourse, Sharma shows how the act of playing—pretending to be a famous Pakistani cricket player, for instance—demonstrates how children can express agency to make meaning of their world, and negotiate the complex terrain of nationalism in a place like Kashmir (223).
Understanding settler colonialism through memories and ‘play’
In “Playing Cricket in Eidgah: Affective Labor in Kashmiri Childhood(s),” Sarbani Sharma challenges the dangerous binaries created by the Indian state, where a Kashmiri child is presented either as a “a passive victim of violence or a criminalized child innately attracted to violence” (231). It reminded me (Vaishnavi) of children playing cricket in my neighborhood in Delhi, the political seat of the settler colonizer—India. I recalled conversations that my friend and I tried to have with them on 26th January, India’s Republic Day, in 2020, the year that protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) were at their peak. We thought that conversations with the children would allow them to have a greater understanding of the violent nature of the aforementioned actions by the Indian government. We knew that this would not be an easy task as our neighborhood in West Delhi is dominated by people from the dominant castes who hailed mostly from the Hindi speaking northern belt, and tended to support the Hindutva politics of the government. Nonetheless, we decided to try.
After the usual festivities, where children danced to the tune of patriotic Bollywood songs and participated in different competitions, we went to the boys to ask them if they had some time to chat with us about what was going on in the country. One of the boys mocked us, “Kyu aap kahin tukde tukde gang ke toh nahi ho?” (Why, hope you are not a part of the tukde tukde gang?). We were shocked at this language, especially from children, yet chose not to react.
As we continued our conversations sitting in a circle, the ‘casual’ jokes of the children or their threats to each other, circled around comments like, “Tu zyada mat bol warna tujhe peet kar Pakistan bhej dunga” (Don’t talk a lot, otherwise I will beat you up and send you to Pakistan). During the rounds of introduction, when the turn of a boy who was from a Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) family came, another kid started to shout, “Arrey yeh toh Pakistani hai.” Such verbal violence is unfortunately common towards Kashmiri Muslims. In this context, however, this comment identified the boy only by his association with Kashmir, and not even his religion. When the children showed almost no interest in engaging with us, we wrapped up the conversation.
While the whole incident made us feel hopeless, it threw light on the kind of discourses that children from dominant communities growing up in Delhi were exposed to, and how these got expressed in their humor and play. The chapters in section three—”Memories, Futures, Imaginations”— drew my attention to the ways in which the media and education system in the settler colonial state of India are shaping a new common sense, in order to justify and sustain India’s militarized occupation of Kashmir.
The other chapters in section three, illustrate the pitfalls of understanding the geopolitical context of Kashmir solely through a two-dimensional oppressor versus oppressed narrative. These authors show how the persistence of this binary erases the diverse voices and dynamic realities of those who are most affected by the violence in Kashmir. Democratizing knowledge production, as these chapters illustrate, is key to challenging binaries and cultivating a more inclusive knowledge space.
Amit R. Baishya’s chapter “Dogs of War, War Dogs: The Afterlives of Manto in Two Kashmiri Graphic Novels,” reflects the “absent presence” of Kashmir in the Pakistan-India binary within which the imaginary of Kashmir is located. Baishya explores this absent presence through the work of the acclaimed writer Saadat Hasan Manto while also considering how the work of contemporary Kashmiri graphic novelists disrupts this imaginary. The accession of Kashmir to India led to the first Indo-Pakistan war, which divided Kashmir into two parts, with India controlling the southern and western parts, and Pakistan controlling the northern and eastern parts. Even though none of these accessions or divisions reflect the will or desire of Kashmiri people, this narrative persists: a war between nations. A line on a map. Kashmir is seen as a tabula rasa, a clean slate, its pre-colonial histories erased, a name and a provocation that can only be represented as a space of contestation between India and Pakistan. Baishya undertakes an intertextual analysis of the motif of stray dogs in Manto’s work which represents Kashmir only as a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Bashiya analyzes how this erasure is countered and critiqued in two contemporary Kashmiri graphic novels, especially Tamasha-e-Tetwal (2013) by Helal and Parrey, compelling the readers to confront what is lost through the ahistoricization and erasure of Kashmir. By erasing memory, the violence is erased as well.
Baishya, in passing, makes a connection between colonial occupation and another “contested territory” —Palestine’s Gaza border—and the war between Egypt and the alliance of Britain, France, and Israel. Kashmiris and Palestinians share the everyday realities of militarized borders amid settler-colonialism. In both contexts, the people, their memories, and their rich histories are lost. Intifada, Palestinian or Kashmiri, becomes narrativized as terror. Haris Zargar in “Cached Resistance: The ‘Unheard’ Narratives of Militancy in Kashmir,” challenges the official narratives of militancy in Kashmir which focus on the “how” and “when” but not “why” (208). Through oral testimonies of the kin of militants killed in “encounters” with Indian military, Zargar shows how the families’ memories of these young men reveal an alternate account or counter history of the political history and insurgency in Kashmir. Together, the chapters of this section illustrate how everyday acts of remembering, recalling, cooking, playing, and reading counter and resist epistemic violence and erasure.
The exploration of the interplay amongst Religion, History, Politics in the fourth section of the Handbook provides a unique window into the function of religiosity, collective, and cultural memory in resistance movements. As Kashmiris strive to preserve their lives and culture in the face of neocolonial militarized occupation, they draw upon both religious identities and cultural memories. Yet, as the authors point out, this form of nation making is not without limitations and drawbacks. The irony inherent in the role of India as both postcolonial and a colonizer underscores the complex and often contradictory work that goes on in the formation of cultural identity, particularly in a context of military occupation; it underscores how cultural mores, historical memory, and political reality are co-constitutive. This section demonstrates the compelling interplay between historiographical material and collective memory as two sites where either national or cultural identity is being crafted. The authors underline a significant clash between two different versions of history. The politically charged history crafted and circulated by India anchors India in an inherently Hindu-Sanskrit tradition, while using aspects of Kashmiri identity (through historical and religious figures) as devices in a myth-making process to justify India’s settler colonialist practices. This representation erases the complex context and multiple forms of violence in which contemporary Kashmiri people find themselves, while also invalidating their collective memory, which often goes unrecorded in formal registers.
Several essays highlight the complex and often contradictory role of religious identity and belief as a site of solidarity and resistance. In “Religious and Political Power in Kashmir: Recollecting the Past for the (Post)colonial Present,” Dean Accardi explores the role of religious sainthood and asceticism in Kashmir, but finds that the divorcing of local religious figures, revered by both Hindus and Muslims, from history and ‘the real’ leaves them open to appropriation by the ruling forces. Such appropriation shifts focus from “the will and needs of the Kashmiri people to upholding an abstract notion of […] Kashmir’s true cultural heritage,” with the end result being that the “political paradigm can be easily co-opted by other political elites” (250). Accardi shows how local saints and their hagiographies are used to construct a Kashmiri past—exemplified by religious harmony, coexistence, and a syncretic ethos—that erases the subjugation and exploitation suffered by Kashmiri Muslims for centuries. Because there is a degree to which religion is inherently ahistorical and even alogical, it can be assigned a history that suits the Indian nationalist narratives and agendas, as it seeks to construct Kashmiri culture as a subset of Indian culture and nation (248).
One question that these chapters raise for us is whether and how religion can be a stable site of resistance. One of us (Allie) brought up Urmila Pawar’s observation in her autobiography, Aaydan (translated as The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs) that the Ambedkarite mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism was an extraordinary act of political resistance which moved the people away from old superstitious mores and religious subjugation. By the end of Pawar’s writing, however, Pawar’s village is turning back to old superstitions instead of moving on to a more critical humanist standpoint. In Pawar’s book and the essays from the Handbook that examine religious identity, religion provides a framework for solidarity and action, allowing for community-building and the recovery of a larger cultural memory. However, the religious as a site of political action has exposed edges that leave it open to appropriation and diversion in a way that actually moves the people away from their envisioned future. Inherent to the Kashmiri struggle is the question of how to maintain a cultural identity in the face of relentless tactics of epistemic and cultural annihilation based on religious discrimination without anchoring so tightly to it that new vulnerabilities are created. Umer Jan’s essay, “Examining Sacred Necropolitics as Popular Resistance in India-Controlled Kashmir,” examines religious and cultural practices and identity, and how they transform in a context of occupation and violence by looking at the practices of commemoration and veneration of martyrdom. Jan shows how modes of veneration reserved for martyrs—including, separate burial spaces, the mixing of celebratory and mourning rituals at funerals in which mourners jostle to touch the body of the martyr, and the circulation of recordings of phone calls made in their last moments—become ways in which necropolitics of the Indian state, its power to dictate life and death, are resisted. Irrespective of whether Shahadat (martyrdom) advances the struggle for Kashmiri freedom, it is an undeniable part of the resistance: it is agency, a coping mechanism, and a common ground for Kashmiris living under military occupation.
How does one make a history, then, without becoming trapped in its own confines? Gowhar Fazili’s position in “Liberal Silence on Kashmir and the Malleability of Ethics in India,” that the ethical, moral and intellectual foundations of the Indian nation-state and post-colonial society do not allow for marginalized groups to make rights-based claims, may elicit some skepticism. However, the larger situation he describes has important implications for other marginalized groups in India as well. India’s fight for independence from the British required, as most of them do, a surge in nationalism and acts of cultural history-making that has turned out to be unstoppable in the postcolonial milieu. (One can easily trace the same process in the United States’s own independence and postcolonial culture, to say nothing of the recruitment of Christianity in justifying chattel slavery—a point B.R. Ambedkar explicitly made in his rejection of Christianity as a religion that oppressed castes could convert to). Highlighting the lack of outrage against the denial of Kashmiri rights in Indian society even among so called “liberals,” Fazili traces this lack to malleable notions of truth and ethics derived from hegemonic Hindu upper-caste/brahminical cultural regime.
Additionally, there is the question of shifting geopolitical boundaries in Kashmir, leading to significant diasporas and the loss of sovereignty for Kashmiris. The appropriation of Kashmiri culture and religious spaces (such as the shrines of saints mentioned in the chapter by Accardi), demonstrates the commodification of certain aspects of Kashmiri culture in service of the Indian government’s right-wing national narrative and its vision of a nation unified through Hindutva. Yet, the chapters in this section show that even as India engages in its own acts of memory-making to aid its colonial project in Kashmir, Kashmiris are also producing histories and practices that counter the oppressive historiographical process of erasure performed by the Indian state and Indian historians. As such, the endeavors of these chapters’ authors are all the more politically charged: through the scholarship produced in this Handbook, a significant epistemological justice-making process takes place.
In his chapter, “Tehreek History Writers of Kashmir: Reconstructing Memory at the Margins of Postcolonial Empire,” Mohamed Junaid highlights Tehreek— “the term Kashmiris use for their historical and cross-generational movement for self-determination” and which Junaid extends to include “the persistent oppositional perspectives shared as an explanatory framework among Kashmiri intellectuals who justify the goal of self determination” (252-3). Widely read in Kashmir, Tehreek writers counter India’s ideological claims about Kashmir and shape the political subjectivities of ordinary Kashmiris (253). Read alongside “Remembering Home, Imagining the Future: Changing Meanings of Home for Kashmiri Pandits” by Ankur Dutta, and its premise of “righting a wrong” about Islam in the medieval period, this section makes us attentive to the different ways in which Kashmiri people record both lost and new memories and histories. What emerges from the fog of Indian state discourse is a counter-movement that opposes the monolithic conceptions of historical records used by India to craft their national, post-colonial identity. This process and its subsequent patterns are visible in this book as a whole, and can also be identified in other contexts.
Maps and postcolonial cartography have inscribed and reinscribed the legal limitations of claim-making and belonging, and re-entrenched imperialist framings of Kashmir as a bilateral and territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. These maps never represent Kashmir as an independent, sovereign territory or state; rather, Kashmir’s subjecthood has been at the mercy of British, Indian, or Pakistani control. A major theme that emerged in our discussion of section five, Armed Conflict, Global War, Transnational Solidarities, concerns the legal limitations for “stateless people” presented by the territorial lens that frames Kashmir’s sovereignty. This section complicates the commonly held idea of Kashmir as a regional territorial dispute, a narrative that erases the right to self-determination of Kashmiri people.
In her contribution to this section, “Kashmir, Feminisms, and Global Solidarities,” Nitasha Kaul invokes multiple Kashmiri identities and experiences to discuss the possibility of “not one Kashmir, but many,” and articulates the need to understand Kashmir as “sensately experienced—in history, in memory, in pain, in loss, in desire, in longing, in suffering, in chanting, in awaiting, in celebrating, in mourning—by the very bodies of the people who are the ‘Kashmir issue’” (368). The work of reframing the question of Kashmir through a global rather than a regional or competing national lens leads the authors of this section to engage poetic and creative articulations of Kashmir. Their engagements urge us not only to put into conversation multiple expressions of Kashmiri identity across different locations, but to also consider the violence inflicted by India’s militarized occupation of Kashmir and Kashmiris with similar settler colonial occupations and the accompanying struggles for self-determination elsewhere. By refusing Kashmir as an abstract space of territorial control and sovereignty rights and by heeding the body and the relational community, the authors demand that we learn to center the struggle for Kashmiri self-determination while never failing to confront the everyday violence that Kashmiris experience.
In “Third World Imperialism and Kashmir’s Sovereignty Trap,” Haley Duschinski and Mona Bhan show how such maps reflect “third world imperialism,” which “produces a trap for stateless peoples aspiring for sovereignty and self-determination in a system…built to exclude them” (324). Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) scholarship has demonstrated how international law “legitimizes, reproduces, and sustains the plunder and subordination of the Third World by the West” (Duschinski and Bhan, 323). Duschinski and Bhan extend this critique of international law, arguing that formerly colonized nations practice “third world imperialism” or “postcolonial colonialism” (Osuri 2019, quoted on 355), exemplified by India’s occupation of Kashmir. Third world imperialism is maintained by the international legal order, represented by such organizations as the United Nations. The authors articulate how the international dispute over Kashmir was founded on a legal conflict between India and Pakistan over the validity of the Jammu and Kashmir maharaja’s provisional accession to India (326). When the UN attempted to pass resolutions to resolve the dispute, it privileged claims of sovereignty over self-determination, confining resolution of the dispute to competing claims by India and Pakistan and without including any option for Kashmiri independence (Duschinski and Bhan, 328). Eventually, from the 1950s onwards, as the Kashmir dispute became overshadowed in the international legal and security realm by Cold War politics and conflicts (Zia, 355), the Security Council moved forward “without examining the legal validity of accession” (326).
The UN’s weak response to Kashmir’s accession to India domesticated the Kashmir dispute, granting India unchecked imperial control over the region. Such a response to Kashmiri claims to self-determination exemplifies how international organizations have been upholding the superiority of nation-states at the expense of “stateless people.” In this sense, the Kashmiri struggle for liberation is intimately aligned with other struggles for self-determination such as those of Palestinians and Kurds. Duschinski and Bhan point out that Article 370, which aimed to codify, albeit temporarily, the special constitutional relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and India had much to do with the need to complete India’s “constitutional consolidation” (330). The authors argue that the sovereignty trap isolates Kashmir from the international community, as Kashmir’s territoriality is negotiated by the demands and imperialisms practiced by states within the subcontinent.
In this context, we are reminded of lines from Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali’s poem “Farewell,” with which we opened this collective engagement. In a dialogue between a Kashmiri Muslim and a Kashmiri Pandit, Ali writes the lines quoted in our epigraph which reflect on how the destruction wrought by the UN’s inaction, and the violence inflicted by India and Pakistan in the name of “peace,” have limited collective imaginings of liberatory futures for Kashmir and its people. These lines call upon us to move away from the violence of the international state order, and towards envisioning Kashmiri self-determination.
Chapters in this final section illustrate how the Indian state has inflicted biopolitical violence against Kashmiris through tactics such as denying access to water rights and prolonged internet lockdowns. For instance, Duschinski and Bhan cite the erasure of Kashmiri sovereignty through the Indus Water Treaty, wherein Kashmir’s access to water is dependent on the outcome of Indian-Pakistani water disputes, jeopardizing the survival of the Kashmiri people (332). The Indian state’s increasing utilization of internet lockdowns to suppress challenges to its hegemony, as demonstrated by the seven-month internet lockdown in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, as well as the more recent internet lockdown in the state of Punjab, further serves to isolate the Kashmiri people from the global community and their personal connections. Other forms of biopolitical violence, including the denial of equal access to water routinely enacted by the Indian state, have been exacerbated by the Indian abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent annexation of Kashmir. Both of these issues parallel Palestinian experiences under the Israeli state as examples of “postcolonial colonialism” via technologies designed to create and suppress “killable” bodies (Shakhsari 2020; Wilcox 2015; Zia 2018). In creating the isolating conditions for extrajudicial, state-sanctioned violence, the Indian state has rendered the Kashmiri body into one that can be maimed (Puar 2017) and killed, evidenced by the mass blinding of Kashmiris, including children, in 2016 (Osuri, 348).
While the struggle against state violence and occupation in Kashmir has not received the regional and transnational solidarity that it deserves, the Kashmiri diaspora has mobilized transnational networks in support of Kashmiri people and their liberation. The last chapter of this section, “Kashmir Diaspora Mobilizations: Towards Transnational Solidarity in an Age of Settler Colonialism,” by Hafsa Kanjwal explores the tensions and dilemmas inherent in diasporic mobilization around Kashmiri self-determination through an examination of the US-based, Indian-occupied Kashmiri Muslim diaspora movement. Kanjwal writes, “an engaged diaspora must remain cognizant and accountable of its privilege, engaging in continual reflection on the ways in which acts of (mis)representation may enact epistemic—or actual—violence on Kashmiris” (383). “For the Kashmir diaspora,” writes Kanjwal, “the challenge, now, is how to engage in advocacy through more sustained means” (388). Kanjwal invites us to reflect on our participation in imperialist and settler-colonial projects within the diaspora, through Kashmiri-Americans’ engagement in respectability politics and with US imperial actors in the foreign policy realm. In a technologically oppressive climate, diasporic mobilization remains critical. Ensuring that such mobilization does not overshadow Kashmiris experiencing direct occupational violence is equally important. Here, too, one can draw parallels with the Palestinian liberation movement and activism by Palestinians in the diaspora, as there is a similar affective connection towards a “homeland” that invokes the question of the “right to return” after exile. Kanjwal stresses the importance of “foregrounding the will of the [Kashmiri] people” (392) and balancing the “call to action” in such a way that Kashmiri perspectives are centered in self-determination discourse.
In “Sanctioned Ignorance and the Crisis of Solidarity for Kashmir,” Ather Zia examines the crisis of solidarity with Kashmir and how sanctioned ignorance perpetuated through Indian state discourses preempts solidarity from Indian civil society. Zia describes how Indian discourse on Kashmir frames its autonomous status as enabling a “virulent Muslim patriarchal structure that perpetuates gender injustice,” inviting a “brown version of Western imperial feminism” (359-360). This connects back to “third-world imperialism,” an operating logic underlying solidarity formation. The question of the crisis of solidarity and its connection with feminist discourses is also taken up by Nitasha Kaul, in “Kashmir, Feminisms, and Global Solidarities.” Rather than ruminating on “women’s issues”—something that has been taken up by the Indian state to cast Kashmiris as backward and further its anti-Muslim agenda—Kaul reflects on the relationship between the terms: ‘Kashmir’, ‘feminism,’ and ‘solidarity.’ Her reflection highlights the limits of solidarity with Kashmir from Indian feminists and Indian Muslims (367). The political expressions of Kashmiri women are suppressed by Indian feminist and liberal interventions, replicating the dichotomous tension between the “West” and “Islam” over the female body. The Indian liberal and feminist silence on Kashmir, and the lack of support for Kashmiri self-determination, are informed by and mirror Western imperial forms of feminist “solidarity” and its expressions of global hegemonic power.
These aforementioned articulations and explorations of solidarity from multiple sources invite us, as people committed to diverse paths of feminist knowledge production, to ask: how can we advance the work of the authors of The Handbook of Critical Kashmir Studies by struggling against imperial forms of feminist solidarity so that we can build and sustain a commitment to supporting self-determination and radical, liberatory politics that repudiates the settler (post)colonial state and its violence?
We end this collective reflection by returning to the theme of mourning that reflections on the second section inspired. The tragic narratives, the loss of self, the death, and arrests are significant not only because they birth tears and grief; rather, the work of claiming the past-present-future of grief and mourning is itself a crucial form of resistance. In “Sensory Remembrance,” Bhavneet Kaur highlights how some acts move beyond linguistic expressions of remembering to shape a political narrative: keeping artifacts, holding on to the belongings of a loved one who has passed, and even silence. Remembering and mourning become reminders of an unjust system, an insistence that we won’t forget, we won’t forgive, and we won’t stop resisting. Our role as readers, too, must move beyond “pity” or “feeling sad.” Indeed, our responsibility extends to us becoming more aware and uncomfortable, more critical and angry, more vulnerable and open.
We dedicate this collective reflection to our incoherent thoughts, screams, silence, and everything in between. We offer our words to those who have died, who have been imprisoned, who are fighting in the streets, who live to mourn and remember, as well as to those who educated us through the narratives and stories they have included in this Handbook.
لم يَمُتْ أَحَدٌ تماماً ، تلك أَرواحٌ تغيِّر شَكْلَها ومُقَامَه – محمود درويش
No one dies fully, these are souls whose shape and rank changed
Questions for ongoing reflection and engagement with Critical Kashmir Studies
FIRST, given the sensitivity of the topics discussed in the Handbook, how do we undertake painful ethnographic work that deals with open wounds? How do we address and acknowledge the emotional effects, and not just methodological challenges, of pursuing these questions on scholars who are embedded in contexts of occupation, violence, and oppression, especially when engaging in such projects can have personal and political consequences?
SECOND, what is the reader’s role in the narrative? What is the relationship between the visibility of memory and the potential for the future? What can “we”—as academics and citizens of the world—do to ensure that we are presenting a truer image of the struggle for liberation in Kashmir, one that is not influenced by colonial or settler logics and projects? How can we more ethically navigate our positionality as scholars, teachers, storytellers, and receivers and makers of knowledge when it comes to unlearning and relearning about Kashmir and its people? How can we ensure that the work of democratizing the knowledge around the Kashmiri struggle for liberation continues in spaces ruled by governments, NGOs, and others? What are the dangers we must be prepared to face?
THIRD, given the status of the colonial struggle in Kashmir and the position of this collection as a form of epistemological assertion, how does the Handbook open up new conversation(s) about the complexities of publishing perspectives on Kashmir from specific locations (for instance, Routledge)? How might particular locational realities foreclose some conversations?
- Tukde Tukde Gang is a pejorative political catchphrase used in India by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to accuse their critics of allegedly supporting sedition and secessionism. Whereas the words “tukde-tukde” refer to breaking or cutting something into small parts, the phrase “tukde tukde gang” highlights the alleged intention of the gang to divide the country. This ‘gang’ includes people who support liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation.
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