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


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Book review by Betty Harris, University of Oklahoma

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

  1. 1. world literature in review Obama-McCain election, another dedicated to his lucid prose, eye for moment of potential renovation. detail, and unerring curiosity. Mindful of tensions afoot, driving George Evans through the heart of the country, he San Francisco gets a crash course in Balkanized American politics and an irritated Nyla Ali Khan. Islam, Women, and Vio- public inflamed by talk radio. lence in Kashmir: Between India and Steinbeck had his famous Roci- Pakistan. New York. Palgrave Macmil- nante—a custom-made Wolverine lan. 2010. 234 pages, ill. $85. ISBN 978- camper shell fixed to the bed of a 0-230-10764-9 three-quarter-ton pickup—but Bar- ich made his trip in a humble Ford Kashmir manifests many of the geo- Focus rental. Steinbeck had French political tensions in South Asia— poodle Charley as a companion; between Pakistan and India, Islam Barich traveled alone. His trip is and Hinduism, nuclear war and dis- less relaxed than Steinbeck’s, and armament, British colonialism and he packs his time with encounters postcolonialism, women’s empow- and side trips, constantly taking the erment and women’s repression, pulse of a country he clearly loves, incorporation and independence. easily engaging with people from Nyla Ali Khan, deftly combining plebiscite for Kashmiris in Pakistan all backgrounds (a hallmark of his ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and and India to decide whether they work in general), sensing that per- literary analyses, dramatizes these wanted to pursue an autonomous haps something fundamental has geopolitical tensions in the every- existence, but the plebiscite never changed during his absence, but day lives of the people of Kash- occurred. The author’s grandfather, hesitating to criticize too harshly mir (or the former princely state Abdullah Mohammad, as the first before getting the whole story. of Jammu and Kashmir [“J & K]”). prime minister (1948–53), played an In the end, Barich seems bet- Early in the book, she discusses Lal- important role in efforts to create an ter equipped for cultural shocks la-Ded’s fourteenth-century poetic autonomous Kashmir and to address and changes than Steinbeck—per- representations of the beautiful its socioeconomic needs. This fact haps his adaptability is what dis- Himalayan valleys where Kashmiri gives Khan’s book a strong autobio- tinguishes their generational dif- people dwell. Although Kashmir graphical component. Through land ferences. has a Muslim majority, its popula- redistribution to the peasantry dur- He reaches San Francisco, tion includes substantial numbers ing Mohammad’s rule of the J & K, heart of his California roots (he first of Buddhists and Hindus. In state feudalism ended in Indian Kashmir, arrived there during the east-west formation, the Jammu and Kashmir but it continues in Pakistan, creating hippie migration of the 1960s), just National Congress adopted a more a situation in which there is uneven in time to witness Barack Obama’s secular nationalist approach that development. election victory. He’s rejuvenated was later challenged by the forces The status of women has by the trip (Steinbeck seemed worn of “religious fundamentalism and been inextricably tied to the vaga- down by his), glad to be back, and exclusionary nationalism.” Various ries of Kashmiri postcolonial his- ready for the next phase. Casting transfers of power, mostly undemo- tory. Women, whom Khan suggests a savvy eye on reality, he tethers cratic, have occurred in the colonial had greater empowerment during his expectations to what he knows and postcolonial periods, result- Mohammad’s reign, have experi- about human failings and limita- ing in Kashmir being a setting for enced the brunt of repression from tions rather than idealism (remain- political factionalism, Indian Union the Indian army and Pakistani insur- ing hopeful and open-minded manipulation and domination, and gents since violence started to esca- nonetheless). Long Way Home will Pakistani designs on the area. late in the early 1990s. Through the no doubt fulfill the expectations of In 1948 the United Nations colonial period, women’s differen- Barich’s many fans and admirers, Security Council voted to have a tial status with men was steadfastly76 ı World Literature Today
  2. 2. Nota Benemaintained. Women had limited literary tradition. More than 450educational and professional oppor- years of writing by some two hun-tunities; husbands had control of dred writers is organized in fivethe material resources of the family; principal sections: Colonization:women were expected to bear chil- 1537–1810, Annexations: 1811–1898,dren, consent to polygynous fam- Acculturation: 1899–1945, Upheav-ily arrangements, and be shunned al: 1946–1979, and Into the Main-and replaced if they could not bear stream: 1980–Present. In chronologi-children. cal order—beginning with Hispanic The recent anarchy initiated by colonial writers (Las Casas, Cabeza“government-sponsored militants de Vaca, El Inca Garcilaso, and elev-and foreign mercenaries” has mili- en others) and ending with the mosttarized male youth culture and, in contemporary writers (such as Junotturn, negatively impacted women’s Díaz and Mariposa)—are the essen-status. Women have experienced tial works of Latino literature in allthe brunt of human rights viola- genres. (About one-fourth of the Velma Pollardtions, including rapes, “custodial material is translated from the origi- Considering Woman I & IIdisappearances” and murders, and nal Spanish, although hybrid Span- Peepal Treebrutal interrogations. Thus, a class ish-English texts are unaltered.) A Pollard has published numerous novels andof women has been created who are sixth section, Popular Dimensions, collections of poetry throughout her career.victims of these violations. introduces some folk and popu- This special collection of short stories I highly recommend Islam, lar genres. The general introduc- brings together more than twenty yearsWomen, and Violence in Kashmir. tion (“The Search for Wholeness”), of writing in order to form a rich dialogueNyla Khan has written a very section and author introductions, through the passage of time.vivid, engaging, and insightful endpaper maps showing explora-book analyzing the development tion and immigration patterns,of the Kashmiri crisis through lit- and three appendixes underscoreerature, history, and ethnography issues of history, identity, and liter-while foregrounding the status of ary history that inform both Latinowomen. She leads the reader to a expression and the creation of thedeeper understanding of this com- anthology. (The appended mate-plex, continually unfolding crisis rial is a chronology of literature andand clarifies issues that will need to history, 1492–2010; a selection ofbe addressed as Kashmir moves on treaties, acts, and propositions; andits future path. translations of “influential essays” Betty Harris by Rodó, Vasconcelos, Paz, and University of Oklahoma Fernández Retamar.) Here we find foundationalThe Norton Anthology of Latino Lit- texts and other works of Chicano,erature. Ilan Stavans, ed. New York. Puerto Rican, Cuban American, andW. W. Norton. 2011. lxxi + 2,489 pages Dominican American literature,+ A1 A177. $59.95. ISBN 978-0-393- along with a few contemporary writ- Ralph Salisbury08007-0 ers from different backgrounds (Isa- Light from a Bullet Hole bel Allende, Ariel Dorfman, Jaime Silverfish Review PressThis long-anticipated volume aptly Manrique, Francisco Goldman, Dan- These poems stretch across Salisbury’srepresents the extraordinary scope iel Alarcón, and Felipe Alfau). Other lifetime and emphasize his Cherokeeof scholarship and aesthetics that interesting authors and selections heritage and culture. Each poem serves asone expects both from a Norton are Arthur Schomburg, William a “lens through which we may view anewanthology and from the Latino Carlos Williams, a scholarly essay the story of our American nation” (Joseph Bruchac). March – April 2011 ı 77