Reviewed by Anayat Ullah Mugloo
Kashmir and the future of South Asia
(ed) Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jalal
published in 2021 | 162 Pages
by Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group
South Asian politics is splintered by diverse narratives jockeying for position! To a certain extent, it is discernible that South Asia has remained a hotspot for militarisation, violence, conflict, and resistance, more importantly since decolonization. President Bill Clinton after he visited India elegantly remarked, “The most dangerous place in the world today, I think you could argue, is the Indian subcontinent and the line of control in Kashmir.” Few others acknowledge that the South Asian subcontinent is possibly the future nuclear flashpoint! In the South Asian region, we have two major truculent players (India and Pakistan) fighting each other on an everyday basis to secure legitimacy to their claims by displaying their military, diplomatic as well as economic might. However, this book at its best an attempt that seeks an answer to the unfinished legacy of partition and the festering wound it created, i.e. Kashmir problem. It seeks to explore the impact of such a psychological division on the political imagination of India, Pakistan, and more importantly Kashmiris; and looks into how India and Pakistan imagine Kashmir’s presence within their respective fold, and how resistance is viewed by Kashmiris, and how the unending Kashmir conflict is viewed in the global scenario. It shows how the cultural, historic, and political space of Kashmir persists, as the people of Kashmir and their cultural, literary, and artistic productions cannot be contained within the reigns of the countries through which this country is divided. It continues to haunt the postcolonial national present. The book also examines how long-term resolution demands a commitment to historical forces, political actors, and social groups that are beyond the nation-state. These writers used an approach focusing on the people of Kashmir rather than standard statistics and national security concerns.
This book is divided into ten chapters with different titles revolving around a common cause that is Kashmir conflict. The introductory chapter entitled ‘Introduction: freedom’s open wound’ by Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal discusses the historical narrative concerning the modern-day ‘Kashmir crisis’. It also highlights the colonial legacy of the Kashmir crisis as well as sets out a foundation to discuss the entire volume. ‘Kashmir scars: a terrible beauty is torn’ by Ayesha Jalal articulates a proposal for a just peace based on the idea of a sovereignty-association and the dialectic of power and principle. It had been offered as an evocation of opportunity for a grand historic compromise on the subcontinent’s most divisive issue. ‘Cups of nun chai: 2010-ongoing’ by Alana Hunt is based on conversations with Kashmiri’s over Nun Chai (a local name of salted-tea served in the morning). This approach reads the situation against the grain and presents the underneath of the Kashmir conflict that had remained unexplored so far. Such conversations gently but surely forces the audience to think outside the old and tired Indo-Pakistan national security-dominated narratives and take cognizance of the human tragedy that has been ongoing in Kashmir for decades. ‘The state of Azadi: Voices from Pakistan-administered Kashmir’ by Anam Zakaria argues that the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is rarely viewed through the lens of those living outside the Valley. Countering the conventional narratives on the Kashmir dispute, she turns the gaze on the forgotten victims of this long-standing conflict – the people of the Pakistani administered part of the disputed state known as “Azad Kashmir. She argues that oppression is not only the everyday discourse of Kashmir Valley alone but we have such rage and alienation at the military checkpoints and authoritarian controls by the Pakistani state in Azad Kashmir. Saiba Varma’s ‘Affective Governance, Disaster and the Unfinished Colonial Project’ provides a nuanced understanding of the language of humanitarian care that masks military repression by a postcolonial state. She highlights how the colonial attitudes of state officials are buttressed by the complicity of India’s national media; and portrays the ironic dialectic between the state’s humanitarian gestures and military repression. In the ‘Infrastructures of Occupation: Mobility, Immobility, and the Politics of Integration in Kashmir,’ Mona Bhan analyses the implications of hydroelectric power projects in substantiating the Indian state’s territorial claims on Kashmir. Bahn’s ethnographic research on tunneling toward development shows how the state negates popular conceptions of environmentally friendly development in addition to raising the chilling specter of future water wars in the subcontinent. Mridu Rai’s ‘Narratives from Exile: Kashmiri Pandits and Their Construction of the Past’ unravels the predicament of Hindus from the Valley who were forced to leave in 1990. She shows how a collective memory was constructed following the displacement. Rai skillfully brings out the internal contestations within the Pandit community and how today’s dominant narrative is closely intertwined with state power. ‘Kashmir imaginings of freedom in the global arenas’ by Shahla Hussain argues that despite the Indian doggedness that Kashmir is an internal matter, the global diaspora of Kashmiri’s has been playing a role in internationalizing the issue and providing a much-needed fillip to the ongoing resistance in the Valley. Her essay reveals how the situation in both parts of Kashmir continues to impact the politics of Kashmiri emigrants in countries like Britain and the United States. She also highlights the role played by transnational actors, ideas, and movements of anti-colonial resistance in Asia and Africa, most notably Palestine, since the 1960s in fashioning Kashmiri ideas and strategies of resistance, freedom, and social justice. Niya Shahdad’s ‘Kashmir and the Fire This Time,’ is a deeply touching and moving portrayal of the utter dehumanization of life in Srinagar following the clampdown of August 5, 2019. The mass arrests of ordinary people with no links to either militancy or politics; the midnight knocks that stole teenage boys from their sleep; the impunity with which thousands have been hoarded away into prisons within and outside Kashmir; the inability to communicate with one another or the rest of the world–these are the grim realities on the ground that Shahdad so poignantly captures. In the concluding chapter entitled, ‘Conclusion: Healing the wound’, editors of this volume, Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, conclude that the Kashmir problem is an unending conundrum, and mere participation in elections doesn’t mean the end of deep-seated alienation! To them, the solution lies in the inclusion of Kashmiris as active shareholders of both miseries and benefits, and then only a path towards progress can come.
(Reviewer: Anayat Ul lah Mugloo, Doctoral candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir. He can be reached at: muglooanayat2[at]gmail.com)