Photos: Kashmir Reeuch Centre

        yla Ali Khan' s book 'Islam,
        W omen and Violence in
        K ashmir b...
cultural identity [p. 371. As an inclusive,   subordinat...
molested by army personnel [p.98].             Yet, as Khan goes on to demon-            archal culture, yet redeemed and ...
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Book Review: Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan


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Reviewed by Seema Kazi (author of `Between
Democracy and Nation: Gender and
Militarisation in Kashmir)

Published in the CONVEYOR, November 2009

Published in: Education
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Book Review: Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan

  1. 1. Photos: Kashmir Reeuch Centre N yla Ali Khan' s book 'Islam, W omen and Violence in K ashmir between India and Pakistan ' adds to the growing literature in this area, especially by women schol- ars. That the author is a Kashmiri wom- an and grand-daughter of Sheikh Mo- hammad Abdullah endows this work with special significance and relevance. Of equal importance is the author's use of a gendered frame and women's oral social histories as a means to contest dominant, patriarchal narratives of the nation-state , and envision an alterna- tive future for Kashmir based on Kash- mir's rich and enduring traditions of cultural syncretism. The first chapter provides a histori- cal and political background to the pres- ent impasse in Kashmir. Khan notes the "historical distortions and cultural depletions with which the histories of independent India and Pakistan are FAROOQ ABDULLAH DURING A ROADSHOW IN 1984: Nyla Khan replete" [p.7]. These distortions and depletions transformed Kashmir into (inset), who is also the grand-daughter of Sheikh Mohammad a symbol of 'secular' and'Islamic' iden- Abdullah, indicts Farooq Abdullah for the erosion of the popular base tity for India and Pakistan respectively. The chapter is interspersed with a sense of the National Conference that came to represent the interests of of loss and grief experienced by a Kash- Delhi in Kashmir, paving the way for militarization of the state in miri woman for her once idyllic home- 1990, and decries 'the exposure of Indian democracy as a brutal facade land that subsequently transformed into a particularly violent war zone that that has instigated disgruntlement and antipathy towards Inch "resembles a vast concentration camp, democratic procedures and institutions in the state' swarming with soldiers" [p. lo]. The second chapter uses a select range of scholarly literature to out- firmed the ethical principle of gender construct advanced by Sheikh Abdul- line the conflicting political discourses equality-an undoubtedly radical prop- lah's National Conference in order to around Kashmir. Most of what Khan osition given the time and social con- forge a unity among Kashmir s multiple discusses is fairly well known though text in which it was framed. One of the ethnicities and pre-empt encroach- there are several important points re- most illuminating points in this chap- ments on Kashmiri autonomy that garding the complexity of the issue ter pertains to the notion and construct were increasingly apparent during the that come up during the discussion, of Kashmiriyat that, as Khan explains, 1950s. Kashmiriyat embodies, among namely, Sheikh Abdullah 's 1944 Naya foregrounds a Kashmiri identity which other things, an equitable social or- K ashmir manifesto that, among other "involved culling selected cultural der; distributive justice; the centrality things, laid the foundations for a wel- fragments from an imagined past that of Kashmiri aspiration to any political fare state, elaborated mechanisms for would enfold both the Pandits and the resolution for Kashmir; the right of ensuring social and distributive justice, Muslims" [p.37]. Kashmiris to education, political par- advocated (and later implemented) Kashmiriyat, in other words, is not ticipation and self-governance, and the a programme of land reform , and af- merely a cultural, but also a political preservation of Kashmiri literature and CONVEYOR November 2009 61
  2. 2. SHEIKH MOHAMMAD ABDULLAH SIGNING THE LAND TO TILLER ORDER IN 1952 cultural identity [p. 371. As an inclusive, subordination of women-a philosophy the post-1947 period, some of which are cross-cultural construct, Kashmiriyat that "led to her being owned as much by also addressed in the first chapter. Khan unsettles that the narrow, competing the Pandits of the Valley, as Lalla Ish- is justified in her contention that It is nationalisms of India and Pakistan, wari, as by the Muslims of the Valley, as hard to deny his [Sheikh Abdullah's] forcing them "to confront an alterna- Lalla Arifa" [p.52]. For non-Kashmiris, contributions in carving substantial tive epistemology" [p.38]. the chapter provides a glimpse into the niche for the people of J & K, particu- Taking the argument further, Khan penetrating albeit profound verses by larly the Muslims of the Valley...and his uses the recitable Kaashmiri verse-form Lalla Ded and, by extension, Kashmir's battle against the political forces of In- or vaakh epitomised by the poetry of eclectic cultural legacy. Disappoint- dia and Pakistan" [p. 68]. She indicts Lalla Ded-an icon and symbol of Kash- ingly, the chapter ends rather abruptly Farooq Abdullah for the erosion of the mir's syncretic ethos-whose passionate without outlining the contemporary popular base of the National Confer- pursuit of self-knowledge, spirituality relevance between Lalla Ded's vaakhs, ence that came to represent the inter- and humanism was informed by a keen gender inequality and gendered vio- ests of Delhi in Kashmir, paving the way subjective awareness of patriarchal so- lence, and alternative non-national for militarization of the state in 1990, cial norms and women's subordinate constructs for Kashmir. and decries 'the exposure of Indian de- position to men in status, rights, pow- Chapters 3 and 4 describe the po- mocracy as a brutal facade [that] has in- er and freedom in medieval Kashmir litical machinations within Kashmir in stigated disgruntlement and antipathy [p.41]. Lalla Ded's spiritual and poetic towards Indian democratic procedures legacy combined with Kashmir's Sufi The author is justified in her and institutions in the state" [p.891. traditions to enrich Kashmiri culture Kashmir's collective tragedy is familiar and literature and preserve a distinct contention that it is hard to deny to residents of the Valley vet it is nev- Kashmiri ethos informed by diverse re- Sheikh Abdullah's contributions ertheless important to emphasise that ligious traditions. the 2008 Assembly elections have not Khan emphasises the political im- In carving substantial niche for altered India's relentless and ferocious port of Lalla Ded whose criticism and the people of J It K , particularly counter-offensive in the Valley: Bilal repudiation of patriarchy, feudalism, Ahmed Bhat can still die for refusing and religious hypocrisy was inextri- the Muslims of the Valey...and to hand over a box of apples to a CRPF cable from her simultaneous rejection his battle against the political trooper, and Abdul Rashid Mir can still of social hierarchy, conventional con- forces of India and Pakistan be killed in cold blood while trying to cepts of femininity, and gender-based protect a female colleague from being 62 CONVEYOR November 2009
  3. 3. molested by army personnel [p.98]. Yet, as Khan goes on to demon- archal culture, yet redeemed and res- In the final chapter, Khan addresses strate through conversations with cued by the sensitivity and support of the gendered contours of the military's individual women like Parveena Ah- her husband Abdul Rashid. Khan ends carte blanche in Kashmir where "over anger and Hameeda Nayeem, women by reminiscing on, and tracing the so- 5ooo women have been violated" even constantly breach a conservative and cial histories and active roles of, wom- as "mothers wait outside... gloomy cen- patriarchal social context to affirm po- en like Begum Akbar Jehan, Zoon Guj- tres to catch a glimpse of their unfor- litical agency and resistance. In con- jari of Nawakadal, and Jana Begum of tunate sons: "burqa-clad women [live] trast, female-led organisations such Amirakadal-all of whom symbolise in fear of the wrath of fundamentalist Dukhtaran-e-Millat "advocate the cre- women's empowerment-in contrast groups as well as paramilitary forces ation of a homogenous culture devoid to a present situation where Kashmiri bent on undercutting their self-respect" of the freedoms that Kashmiri women Muslim women are politically margin- within 'a maseulinsit discourse and have traditionally enjoyed" [p. 1051. alised and increasingly constrained by praxis [and] rigidly entrenched hierar- Khan writes of Mubeena Gani- gang rigid gender hierarchies. chical relationships between men and raped on the eve of her marriage in Culture, however, is a fluid and women" [p. loi]. 1990 and further punished by a patri- complex space, encompassing a wide range of experiences which Kashmiri Meh..j Bhat women can draw upon to assert sub- jectivity, agency and empowerment. By way of conclusion Nvla Ali Khan suggests "decentralised autonomy in the entire region as ...a feasible solu- tion to the political upheaval in the state" [p.1381-a suggestion that may, possibly, be refuted with passion by a great number of Kashmiris. Be that as it may, it nevertheless remains the case that Kashmir is tragic testament to the nation-state building projects of India and Pakistan. Even as Kashmir resists the cruel- ties and indignities inflicted by India and Pakistan, it must not succumb to the congealed concept of the nation- state that is the source of its ongo- ing tragedy, but draw upon its rich and layered history and culture to envision a future based on, as Ashis Nandy suggests, "a culture mediating between South Asia and Central Asia, between India and Pakistan, and per- haps even between Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism" [p.153]. The conclusion does not integrate the main arguments of gender. Khan could perhaps have made her cen- tral argument more forcefully: that a future Kashmir informed by, and premised on, the universal values of gender equality, tolerance and plural- itv svmbolised by Lalla Ded's vaakhs hold much greater promise and hope for its benighted people than obsolete forms of the nation-state. The absence of a combined bibliography for books Kashmir 's collective tragedy is familiar to residents of the Valley yet and articles is confusing for the reader. Nonetheless, Nyla Ali Khan's book is it is nevertheless important to emphasise that the 2008 Assembly an important contribution by a Kash- elections have not altered India's relentless and ferocious counter- miri woman towards increasing public understanding of one of the world's offensive in the Valley: Bilal Ahmed Bhat can still die for refusing to most violent, tragic and complex con- hand over a box of apples to a CRPF trooper, and Abdul Rashid Mir can flicts. I recommend it very warmly. ! still be killed in cold blood while trying to protect a female colleague Seerna Kazi is the author of `Between from being molested by army personnel Democracy and Nation: Gender and Militarisation in Kashmir' CONVEYOR November 2009 63