An Extract from Islam, Women and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan

By Nyla Ali Khan

I belong to Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a highly volatile South Asian region with rich reservoirs of cultural, social and human wealth. I was raised in the splendid Kashmir Valley located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The charm, splendor and heterogeneity of the Valley have enticed many a writer, historian, anthropologist, sociologist, benevolent ruler and malevolent politician. J&K of the 1970s basked in the glory of a hard-won democratic set-up, in which consideration of the well-being of the populace was supreme, marred by some political faux pas. The inhabitants of the state were neither intimidated nor hindered by the aggressively centrist policies of the government of India or the fanatical belligerence of the government of Pakistan. Caught between the rival siblings India and Pakistan, the people of the state, particularly of the Kashmir Valley, had constructed a composite national identity. Kashmiris were heavily invested in the notion of territorial integrity and cultural pride, which, through the perseverance of the populist leadership and the unflinching loyalty of the people, had sprouted on a barren landscape of abusive political and military authority. I recall that period with nostalgia and mourn the loss of a deep-rooted and heartfelt nationalism. But the refusal to wallow in grief and a desire to deconstruct the Camelot-like atmosphere of that period impelled me to undertake this cross-disciplinary project regarding the political history, composite culture, literature of the state; the attempted relegation of Kashmiri women to the archives of memory, and their persistent endeavors to rise from the ashes of immolated identities. I was further motivated to complete this project because of the plethora of mauled versions of history cunningly making their way into mainstream Indian, Pakistani and international political discourses. This book has no pretensions to being an exhaustive discussion of the intricate politics of J&K. It is my humble attempt at speaking the truth to power by employing not just traditional scholarship, but oral historiography as well. Despite my emotional investment in the issue, I have tried to veer away from the seductive trap of either romanticizing or demonizing certain political actors and initiatives. All going well, this book is just the first in a series of books challenging the dominant, and not necessarily accurate, discourses on J&K. Finally, Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan is a tribute to the resilient spirit of the inhabitants of J&K, which has made them persevere through catastrophes, upheavals, unfulfilled pledges, treacherous politics and vile manipulations. They have emerged scathed but with an irrepressible desire to live and define their own reality. I hope to someday live that reality.

In chapter one of my book, Conflicting Discourses on the Political Landscape of Jammu and Kashmir, I delineate the origins of the Kashmir conflict and the perspectives on it. I look at the d is course of Kashmiriyat as a significant attempt to form a national consciousness in order to name its cultural alterity through the nation. In the second chapter, Cultural Syncretism in Kashmir, I analyze the recorded poems and paradigmatic sayings of Lalla- Ded, a Sufi mystic. I retrieve the rich details of Lalla-Ded’s life that have been relegated to the background in the documented version of history. I incorporate hitherto unpublished opinion s of scholars of Kashmiri and Urdu literature as well as of scholars of mysticism in the Kashmir Valley on the impact of Lalla-Ded on the Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit communities. I also foreground the revival of indigenous cultural institutions in J&K. In chapter three, Political Debacles, I underline the repercussions of India’s anti-democratic strategies in the State which instigated oppositional and dissident responses. In chapter four, Militarization of the Landscape of Indian Administered Jammu and Kashmir, I delineate the fundamental structural inequities in the J&K polity, exacerbated by political and military intrusions of the Pakistani administration and the engendering of political resistance. In chapter five, Negotiating the Boundaries of Gender, Community, and Nationhood, I analyze the effects of a nationalist, militant, and religious discourses and praxes on a gender-based hierarchy. I write about the radical political and socioeconomics changes in the role of Kashmiri women between 1947 and 1989. I report the reminiscences of two of the three surviving members of the women’s militia, which was formed at the height of the struggle against political and military tyranny. I address the traditional freedoms and prerogatives of Kashmiri women in the land of a spiritual luminary like Lalla-Ded.

I have chosen to deploy oral evidence in my book, which has allowed me to approach events, notions, and literatures about which there was meager evidence from other sources. The use of oral history has empowered my interviewees/correspondents, people of J&K, in significant ways, bringing acknowledgment of hitherto disregarded opinions and experiences. In some instances, I have taken the liberty of reproducing e-mail responses, which I received from my interviewees, verbatim. I was keen on providing personal reminiscences from participants about landmark events without mediating between oral evidence/historiography and more elitist versions of history. My primary goal is to ensure that future generations of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir don’t forget because if we stop remembering, we stop being.

Nyla Ali Khan, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Nebraska-Kearney, USA. She is also the grand-daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, the first Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and later the Chief Minister of the State.

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