Women’s critique of insurgent nationalism in Kashmir: Nyla Ali Khan

We have received Dr.Nyla Ali Khan’s article as a response to the discussion that we organised last week on IndiaResists.Com:

Is the “Azadi” slogan in Kashmir exclusivist?: Two Kashmiri women discuss

Is the “Azadi” slogan in Kashmir exclusivist?: Two Kashmiri women discuss

In any prolonged conflict-situation, truth acquire multiple facets and sides. We present two different viewpoints by Asha Kachru and Inshah Malik – a Kashmiri Pundit and a Kashmiri Muslim – and hope that this would trigger some meaningful discussion on the issue

Read full story »

It is the need of the day to narrate stories of Kashmiri women combating the modernist as well as the traditional discourses of female gender construction. Responsible feminist scholarship on Kashmir would make an enormous contribution to the plethora of work on the subject by considering the assertion of Kashmiri women’s agency as historicized moments in a particular geographical location. Without a rich body of scholarship on Kashmiri women, transnational, comparative, and diasporic studies would be impossible. It would be erroneous to impose a “collective identity” on “Kashmiri women” without considering how Kashmiri women, including those in the diaspora, see themselves within the arbitrary and shifting contexts of regional, national, communal, and transnational identities.

For the further delineation of my purposes here, it might be beneficial to quote Chandra Talpade Mohanty, who succinctly observes in the Series Editor’s Foreword to my book Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan, “Militarization, environmental degradation, heterosexist State practices, religious fundamentalisms, sustained migrations of peoples across the borders of nations and geo-political regions, environmental crises, and the exploitation of women’s labor by capital all pose profound challenges for feminists at this time. Recovering and remembering insurgent histories, and seeking new understandings of political subjectivities and citizenship has never been so important, at a time marked by social amnesia, global consumer culture, and the world-wide mobilization of fascist notions of ‘national security’” (xii). Concurring with Mohanty’s acute observation, I consider it incumbent upon responsible feminist scholarship on the Kashmir imbroglio to underscore and analyze not just the gendered violence that has bedaubed the landscape of post-1989 conflict-ridden Kashmir, but also the capacities of Kashmiri women to imagine alternative possibilities for the future.

I am not suggesting a hegemonic, North American, white middle-class feminist agenda as the reference point to gauge the import of other feminist concerns. On the contrary, I emphasize a politics of identity that would allow for the recuperation of the heterogeneous Kashmiri subject, which would undermine any attempt at homogenization. Although I am wary of the construction of a monolithic “Kashmiri” female subject and well aware of the repressive politics of a homogenizing cultural nationalism, I do not wish to forestall the possibility of a unified subjectivity as the basis of nationalist politics. But I caution the reader against eliding specific, varied, and unique forms of agency deployed by Kashmiri women in times of relative calm, conflict, political turbulence, resurgence of nationalism, and internal critique not just of state-nationalism, but insurgent nationalism as well. Although every instance of the resurgence of nationalism in Kashmir has strategically employed the term “women” to further engender this category of subjects, I reiterate that there is no monolithic “Kashmiri woman.”

Organizations like Dukhtaran-e-Millat and Daughters of the Vitasta, its Kashmiri Pandit counterpart, are glaring illustrations of those manifestations of the armed rebellion and counterinsurgency in Kashmir that are striving for exclusionary and patriarchal nationalisms. It is important to point out that women in vigilante groups, which are more reactionary than revolutionary, are unable to climb to the highest rung of the hierarchy. This dismal fact is borne out by Anjum Zamarud Habib, one of the founding female members of the Hurriyat organization, a conglomerate comprising separatist organizations of disparate political ideologies bound by their insistence on the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir. In her poignant memoir, Prisoner No. 100, she agonizingly observes that she wasn’t given access to the top tier of the organization, nor did her male comrades try to expedite her release from Tihar jail in Delhi, Asia’s largest prison complex, where she languished for five years.

I often find myself asking if the militarization of the political and sociocultural ethos of Kashmir will enable female politicos in the Legislative Assembly of J & K to assert themselves as political agents to reckon with. I would be doing the reader a disservice by limiting my theorization of the Kashmir conflict and the subsequent brutalization of its ethos to the history and experiences of non-mainstream women. The intellectual agenda of scholars working on Kashmir, particularly those located in the diaspora, is defined by the histories and perspectives of non-mainstream or non-state actors. I too have been guilty of relegating the distressing experiences of some female state actors, in the interests of maintaining “objectivity,” to the background.

Therefore, before I conclude, I scramble to write about a female member of the J & K Legislative Assembly, Sakina Itoo, affiliated with the political organization that was founded by my grandfather in 1939, the National Conference. Sakina’s father, Abdul Salam Itoo, a devoted National Conference worker, was assassinated in the early 1990s by a militant outfit that had pro-Pakistan leanings and espoused an ultra-conservative religious ideology. Sakina, who was then in medical school, took the plunge into mainstream politics. In the political climate of the late 1980s and early 1990s, those who had not supported accession to Pakistan in 1947 were on the ‘wrong’ side, and the National Conference had assertively opposed accession to the then newly-formed nation-state of Pakistan. I might be critical of current centrist policies of the National Conference, but that hasn’t prevented me from commending Sakina’s courage for having donned her father’s mantle at a precarious and perilous time in Kashmir politics. Currently, Sakina is the Minister for Social Welfare in the J & K cabinet. Her undoubtedly intrepid decision to join mainstream politics in Kashmir at a chaotic, frenzied, and precarious time is, in my opinion, a forceful critique of insurgent nationalism. Although Sakina has risen from the grass-roots, it remains to be seen if the increase in female participation in the Legislative Assembly in J & K in 2008 will facilitate the creation of forceful positions for Kashmiri women in decision-making bodies.

 

 

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan is Visiting Professor Department of English , University of Oklahoma.  She is the author of two books, including The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism and Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between Indian and Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • However, i want to make just a few points that I did previously too in the earlier piece. Nyla calls her piece ‘women’s critique’, and here itself the question that must come unfolding is how does she define this category called “women”. Is this to imply (women) just because of their gender have a special insight? unlike men and that insight is pitched against (masculine nationalism). If that is the proposition that she wants to propound, than in response why must women of (nation, class, religion, language or creed of authority) clearly critique the ’emasculated (nation, creed, religion, language) alone. And the bizarre neutrality it tries to highlight is actually a cover up of the fact that (nationalism and feminism are in bed together more obviously so when the joining line of both is “political power”.

  • She could have pushed her critique a step further by looking at the Sakina Itoo’s case, her joining the hegemonic mainstream national conference party that is presently allied with the occupation as a forced/compromised choice and ideologically a capitulation of feminist ideal. But alas she continues to be an apologist for the National Conference despite her assumed academic posture.

    akina Itoo is a galring example of Democracy’s (read herd-bank-politics) flawed institutionalization of demagogically exploitable naivety of masses. Se was installed, more for having the “Itoo” prefix in her surname, signifying a pseudo continuum of the status manufactured by her father which would basically furnish the preservation of the NUMBER of the hands balloting for NC in that area. To call Itoo’s inclusion into herd-politics “a forceful critique of insurgent nationalism” is like terming Rahul Gandhi’s Inclusion into Congress as a significant example of “deconstructing Hindutva Nationalism” in India. Sad and perturbing analysis.

  • ?1) khan mentions chandra mohanty’s warnings against “militarization” and “the world-wide mobilization of fascist notions of ‘national security’,” as “profound challenges for feminists at this time,” yet refuses to actually engage with these notions! with not more than 500 militants left, even by indian estimation, is the “militarization” in kashmir coming from the “militants” or the ~700,000 occupying forces?! had khan dissected the “fascist notions of ‘national security’” she would’ve had to talk about the AFSPA, PSA, POTA, TADA, and the whole alphabet soup that deprives kashmiris in general of their legitimate political rights, and long before 1989. that would have been rather inconvenient, as then the conspicuously missing word OCCUPATION might have slipped in!

    ?2) was Anjum Zamarud Habib ever a vigilante? if not, it’s rather disingenuous to mention “It is important to point out that women in vigilante groups, which are more reactionary than revolutionary, are unable to climb to the highest rung of the hierarchy. This dismal fact is borne out by Anjum Zamarud Habib…”

    ?3) khan says,”I often find myself asking if the militarization of the political and sociocultural ethos of Kashmir will enable female politicos in the Legislative Assembly of J & K to assert themselves as political agents to reckon with.” yikes! seriously?! how in the world does the “militarization of the political and sociocultural ethos” of any society **enable** the political agency of women??
    in case of kashmir, as pointed out in 1) above, this militarization is that coming from the occupying forces and there has been TONS of scholarship demonstrating an inversely proportional relationship between the two! cynthia enloes’, now canonical, “bananas & beaches” in fact shows how accelerated militarization *invariably* results in an increase in the rates of prostitution, decline in women’s empowerment, and the over all disintegration of social fabric wherever such military bases are established!

  • 4.”The intellectual agenda of scholars working on Kashmir, particularly those located in the diaspora, is defined by the histories and perspectives of non-mainstream or non-state actors.

    5. beyond the fluff (i’m sorry) the only thing i can excavate here is khan’s assertion that “Sakina is the Minister for Social Welfare in the J & K cabinet. Her undoubtedly intrepid decision to join mainstream politics in Kashmir at a chaotic, frenzied, and precarious time is, in my opinion, a forceful critique of insurgent nationalism.” and this despite khan’s own “criti[que] of current centrist policies of the National Conference”!

    unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, do not know much about Sakina Itoo or her politics, except that i) she’s with the NC; ii) she’s in the current collaborators’ regime; and very importantly iii) women’s political agency and empowerment at large cannot be measured using the calculus of tokenized presence in an extremely unpopular and corrupt regime, when thousands of mothers seek their disappeared sons, thousands of widows thousands of orphan kids languish in poverty, thousands of raped women never get justice, and thousands of men languish in jails, get tortured, killed, or plain “disappear” (conveniently for the regime)! the category gender *cannot* simplistically be applied to women alone, when our men have been the targets of unspeakable cruelties.

    ?6) and finally, khan’s logic of employing sakina itoo’s participation in NC and in the current cabinet as evidence of a “forceful critique of insurgent nationalism” leaves me bewildered. as an analog, one could make the (equally fallacious) claims that hina rabbani khar’s appointment as the foreign minister of pakistan is a forceful critique of balochi nationalism, or margaret thatcher’s presence in 10 downing street was a forceful critique of the anti-imperialist anti-racist feminist movement!

  • I think Khan lands herself in a trap by simultaneously speaking about the heterogeneous Kashmiri subject and yet employing “Kashmiri Women” as a category, despite her own insistence to the contrary. This reminds me of Urvashi Butalia’s edited volume “Speaking Peace: Women’s Voices from Kashmir” which had out of a total of 16 essays just one by a Muslim Kashmiri woman. Much has been said and done in the name of “Kashmiri Woman”–and often she has been portrayed as if she exists in a separate Kashmir, where no military exists, where they hate their husbands sons fathers brothers, where they would prefer to live under India but for their men’s cruelty. Kashmiri women do exist, and they think, act, respond, direct, but when Indians (or those advocating permanent accession with India) speak about them, it is to put “Kashmiri woman” to political uses–a use which is fundamentally based on the idea (and hope) of Kashmiri women having no ‘agency’.

    Not only is it deeply disingenuous to suggest women’s agency in Kashmir can be discovered only in their critique of “insurgent nationalism” but the choice of examples fails badly. First, by speaking of ‘insurgent nationalism’ she completely hides the fact that it operates as a people’s movement within a highly militarized context that has its own dominant nationalistic aims, albeit an unpopular one, hence forced down the throats of people. Sakina Itoo is not a critic of the Indian nationalism or the military occupation, in fact her entire politics is based on an opposition to the millions of Kashmiri women who aspire like Kashmiri men to live a dignified life of freedom. NC has never had any major women leaders at top. It has passed from grandfather, to son, to grandson–no wonder Khan is languishing in academic wilderness… And even if Itoo is a minister it is because her “father was a dedicated NC worker”. Then to suggest Itoo, a medical student (sent to medical school on her father’s cash) is a “grassroots” worker is laughable. And what minister did she make!–a “Social Welfare” minister (also known as anganwadi mantraliya)… A giant leap for women in Kashmir!

    Zamrooda Habib’s thinking and position in pro-freedom ranks is incontestable. No one can claim Hurriyat allowed women to be decision makers in their organization, yet pro-freedom activism in Kashmir is addressed to all Kashmiris–including women. There are groups like DM, whose social conservativism I disagree with but not their political stance on self-determination. Itoo on the other hand is no revolutionary–neither is Nyla Khan for that matter–as both seek to continue the undemocratic Indian rule over Kashmir.