A few Kashmiri scholars responded on Facebook to this video by Al Jazeera+, titled “Is India’s military presence in Kashmir an occupation like Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories? Since its a slight introduction to an important seminal conversation, Zeerak Shah captures the responses for Kashmir Lit.
“Kashmiris are not fighting a democracy; they are fighting an occupation,” remarks Ather Zia. “To downgrade Kashmir, by saying it is not an occupation by way of comparing it to Palestine-Israel, is not fair to Kashmir or to Palestine. The occupation of Kashmir is a convoluted beast hiding under the petticoat of democracy, and it needs to be unpacked in its own context. This cannot be done using Palestine as a backdrop. This kind of treatment is not fair to either of the two peoples.
This, in response to the AJ+ piece on Kashmir by Sana Saeed. But before going further, congratulations and respects are in order. It is commendable to think of Kashmir, the most forgotten dispute, and present it in a byte size on an international forum. It is much needed. So thank you AJ+ and Sana!
On a note of critique — Huma Dar and Muhammed Malik know that I talked about this — there are issues that need more unpacking so that Kashmir is not absorbed into the Partition narrative, but, importantly, we need to understand the nuances of how India operates in Kashmir as an occupation. While the Palestinian comparison may seem pertinent and resonant with audiences, it is not correct. In future coverage of Kashmir, these important aspects need to be emphasized so that Kashmir comes out of the morass of the bilateral dispute between India-Pakistan and the internal matter that India adamantly calls it.
For downright calling Indian control not an occupation in this clip, it should be noted that Kashmir scholars like Alistair Lamb (1991) have called India a ‘de facto occupation’, and this view has been bolstered by other political and legal analysts. Also, consider India reneging on UN resolutions (self-determination), forcibly controlling the area, rigging elections, its forces engaging in killing more than 90,000 people (combatants plus non-combatants) and 9,000-plus disappearances, on top of thousands maimed.
Moreover, one in seven Kashmiris is a victim of torture or has witnessed torture, as a study by MSF has shown. Further, Kashmir is one of the most densely militarised region with a soldier-to-civilian ratio of 1:8. These are all hallmarks of an occupation. And this is what the world needs to understand, and this is what future coverage on Kashmir needs. If we reproduce the same narrative that does not heed the devil in the details, we are not doing justice to those who are in the streets right now in Kashmir, giving their life and limb…
What set me on the path of thinking like I did is because the piece is headlined ‘Is India Occupying Kashmir?’ While it might seem to be a handy intro for international audiences, to a Kashmiri it puts it in a certain context and is geared to get an answer to or exploring that or which it is doing and, finally, it also terms it as not being one (such as the OPT). As for how the occupation is defined for OPT is meaningful — and I see where you come from, and that is fair — but it is also important to ponder upon the use of the word ‘administered’ for Kashmir as per UN resolutions. This is a different kind of system that was imposed upon the region as a temporary measure. The word ‘administration’ depicts a tenure and a certain form of a hold on the region India (also Pakistan on the other side) and putting the UN resolutions into practice. Much of what was under the ‘administer’ clause has been violated by India, by treating Kashmir as its own territory. ‘Administer’ does not indicate a permanent sovereignty upon Kashmir, and when we think about those nuances that largely remain unexplored (except for some scholars) till date, and when we think about how that translates into what India is today in Kashmir, we get a different picture.
As part of a group of Kashmir scholars who founded the Critical Kashmir Studies, this is exactly the aspect we are trying to research, write and debate upon. My comment for Sana Saeed is meant as an acknowledgment and appreciation of her attention, which is much-needed and precious to us, and also to draw attention to the nuances that we feel need to be emphasized in future coverage so that Kashmir is not subsumed under narratives shaped around the dominant and contesting nationalisms around it.
It is pertinent to understand Kashmir on its own; and emphasize that the Valley, especially, is ruled under a very unique system that wears the camouflage of democracy. Also, the genesis of Kashmir dispute is seen to be 1947 — yes, another Clapham Junction in the subcontinent — but that is also a shorthand, and this puts it in a different place than if we were to think about events before 1931, and the ones that led up to 1947. We, Haley Duschinski, Mona Bhan, Cynthia Mahmood and me, have co-edited a volume “Resisting Occupation in Kashmir” which presents new ways of thinking and writing about Kashmir especially thinking about its past, present and future under Indian rule.”
Mona Bhan writes: “Sana, thanks for this commendable effort! Much-needed, given the obfuscation around Kashmir and its politics in international media. I do feel, however, that the law versus justice binary weakens our arguments for why Indian control should be termed an occupation, at least legally (and why should we give up on the legality argument if there is indeed a way to establish Kashmir as a legal occupation.) In a workshop Critical Kashmir Studies organised last summer in Kashmir (that Ather refers to), we discussed precisely the structures/histories/laws/vocabularies that give us a legal foothold to call India’s military rule in Kashmir an occupation. It is critical to understand how occupation law has changed over time and become more expansive, both in terms of which actors it speaks for compared to before, where it was more state/military-centric, and also in terms of what forms of rule, controlad administrative arrangements it deems as occupations. While occupation law needs a lot of work still to make itself relevant and speak to multiple kinds of occupations across the globe, there are, however, portions of it that can be used to ‘legally’ identify Kashmir as occupied territory. So it is both legal and justice frameworks that must be foregrounded.”
Simu Kitchlew writes: “Firstly, a firm and sincere request to not assimilate Kashmir so easily into ‘India’, to point to very divergent histories of Kashmir and ‘British India’ at the moment of Partition (1947) — a divergence which leaves its haunting footprint all over the Indian Constitution and its Penal Code. (Although this insistence on correcting the usual ahistorical narratives of South Asia might sound pedantic, it’s anything but. It is a deeply ethical concern towards the histories of marginalised peoples across the world — histories that don’t get written by the powers that be — and an ethical commitment that our histories not get erased and elided by historiographies that mainly serve settler-colonial and imperial interests.)
Secondly, I’ve pointed to a little bit of the prior history of the intellectual and alliance-building work on Kashmiri and Palestinian Freedom Movements — work that, unfortunately, receives an amazingly hostile reception, especially amongst many prominent NRI academics and activists in the US, who act as gatekeepers to knowledge-production, as well as from the funding agencies who glibly mark us as anti-semitic. (This latter example was provided by Mona Bhan.)
Thirdly, I linked to a few academic sources where Kashmir has indeed been (correctly) identified as being militarily Occupied and colonised by India: the first is an essay by Mohamad Junaid in Kamala Visweswaran’s edited volume, ‘Everyday Occupations’ (2013), and the second is a piece from last year, by Partha Chatterjee, the doyen of subaltern history at Columbia University. Mona Bhan accurately extended my point by reminding us that the use of the terminology ‘Occupation’ pre-dates the 1990s — her grandfather, the famous lawyer, Pt Vaishnavi (in IoK) had been using not just the term ‘Occupation’, but also ghulāmī or colonialism to describe the relationship between India and Kashmir, since 1947. The overall point is that we need to build upon the better or the best, rather than concede the biased, the insufficient.”
Anjali Nath writes: “Agree, Ather Zia, with your additions to the piece, and your thoughtful critique of it. I think this is precisely what we were discussing at our AUB forum with Rania Masri a few months ago; resonance should be a way to foreground the material and infrastructural connections between occupied places, not a way to assess ‘more than’ or ‘less than’. The occupation of Kashmir is clear to Kashmiris, and to the Indian Army, which uses all means to brutally assert its presence — this is the essence of occupation.”