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

  • Book Title:
 Islam Women And Violence In Kashmir
  • Book Author:
Nyla Ali Khan
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I belong to Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J & K), a highly volatile South Asian region that is endowed with reservoirs of cul- tural, social, and human wealth. I was raised in the radiant Kashmir Valley located in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The charm, splendor, and heterogeneity of the Kashmir Valley have enticed many a writer, historian, anthropologist, sociologist, benevolent ruler, and malevolent politician. J & K of the 1970s basked in the glory of a hard-won democratic setup, in which consideration of the well-being of the populace was supreme, marred by some political faux pas.

 The inhabit- ants of the state were neither intimidated nor hindered by the aggressively centrist policies of the government of India or the fanatical belligerence of the government of Pakistan.

Caught between rival siblings India and Pakistan, the people of the state, particularly of the Kashmir Valley, had constructed a composite national identity.

Kashmiris were heavily invested in the notion of territorial integrity and cultural pride, which, through the perseverance of the populist leadership and the unflinching loyalty of the people, had sprouted on a barren landscape of abusive political and military authority. I recall that period with nostalgia and mourn the loss of a deep-rooted and heartfelt nationalism.

 My maternal grandfather, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, popularly known as the Lion of Kashmir, reigned as prime minister of J & K from 1948 to 1953. When the pledge to hold a referendum was not kept by the Indian government, Abdullah’s advocacy of Kashmir independence led to his imprisonment. He was shuttled from one jail to another until 1972 and remained out of power until 1975.

During the period of Abdullah’s incarceration, Congress Party-led governments in New Delhi made covert arrangements with puppet regimes they had installed. Prior to the 1975 accord between the Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah-led National Conference and the Indira Gandhi-led Congress, Abdullah demanded the revocation of all central laws extended to the state that delegitimized the popular demand for plebiscite.

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The then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, forged an accord with Abdullah in 1975 by promising to partially restore the autonomy of the state by revoking certain central laws that had arbitrarily been imposed on J & K. The same year, Abdullah returned as chief minister of the state.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his National Conference won an overwhelming victory in the election of 1977, and he remained in office until his death in 1982.

Although my maternal grandfather has always been a large presence in my life, perhaps more in death than in life, I have been careful about not sanctifying the past. Memory is always filtered and pro- vides an interpretive version of the past, but the conceptual frame- work that I have deployed in my book has been useful in enabling me to begin the process of relieving myself from the burden of history.

The refusal to wallow in grief and a desire to deconstruct the Camelot-like atmosphere of that period impelled me to undertake this colossal cross-disciplinary project regarding the political history, composite culture, and literature of the state; and the attempted relegation of Kashmiri women to the archives of memory and their persistent endeavors to rise from the ashes of immolated identities.

I was further motivated to complete this project within the period stipulated by my publisher because of the plethora of mauled versions of history cunningly making their way into mainstream Indian, Pakistani, and international political discourses.

This book has no pretensions about being an exhaustive discussion of the intricate politics of J & K. It is my humble attempt at speaking truth to power by employing not just traditional scholarship but oral historiography as well. Despite my emotional investment in the issue, I have tried to veer away from the seductive trap of either romanticizing or demonizing certain political actors and initiatives.

All going well, this is just the first in a series of books challenging dominant, and not necessarily accurate, discourses on J & K. Finally, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan is a tribute to the resilient spirit of the inhabitants of J & K, which has made them persevere through catastrophes, upheavals, unfulfilled pledges, treacherous politics, and vile manipulations.

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They have emerged scathed but with an irrepressible desire to live and define their own reality. I hope to some day live that reality.

Several institutions and individuals have supported my project. I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to the College of Fine Arts and Humanities at the University of Nebraska–Kearney for its invet- erate support, as well as to the office of Graduate Studies and Research for awarding me two Research Services Council Grants, enabling me to conduct archival and field research.

I am especially appreciative of Don Ray’s technical expertise. Michael Springer, my graduate assistant, worked diligently. Jenara Turman, my proofreader, was an abso- lute asset. I am greatly appreciative of the visiting professorship offered to me at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, which gave me the flexibility I required to revise my manuscript.

I also learned a lot from conversations and e-mail exchanges with Krishna Misri, Neeja Mattoo, Hameeda Naeem, Parveena Ahangar, Shamim Firdous, Pathani Begum, Begum Sajjida Zameer, P.N. Duda, A. Wahid, Amar Nath Dhar, Mohammad Ishaq Khan, and R.L. Hangloo, and Mohammad Yousuf Taing. The Gujjar women I met with in the vil- lages of Mahiyan and Ferozpora were such a delight. I appreciate the critical care with which Professor Ashis Nandy at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi, read my manuscript and wrote the Afterword to this book.

I am thankful to all my interviewees in Kashmir for their time and willingness to talk with me about their years in the strife-torn state. My thanks to Ved Bhasin, editor of Kashmir Times, Fayaz Kaloo and Aijaz ul Haq, editors of Greater Kashmir, and Syed Ali Safvi, former associate editor of Daily Etalaat, for having provided me with public forums. Shuaib Masoodi of Rising Kashmir provided me with some extraordinary illustrations.

My debt to my parents, Suraiya and Mohammad Ali Matto, is enormous. They have always believed in me and my dreams with unwavering faith. My daughter, Iman, has enlivened my days with her unquenchable vitality and irrepressible energy. My maternal uncle, Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, uncharacteristi- cally gave me access to his archived collection of photographs and books. My husband, Mohammad Faisal Khan, gave encouraging comments on my work. Last but not least, I owe my inspiration to the undying loveliness and mystical beauty of Kashmir, which enlivens the soul and calls the wanderer to return.

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Conflicting Political Discourses, Partition, Plebiscite, Autonomy, Integration Despotism during the Dogra Regime and the Awakening of Nationalism

Maharaja Hari Singh ruled the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) with an iron fist and employed forceful means to extinguish the flames of an antifeudal nationalism. Dogra rule in the Kashmir Valley was particularly tyrannical and created stifling socioeconomic conditions for the populace. Although Muslims constituted a large percentage of the population of the state, out of thirteen battalions in Kashmir, just one was Muslim.

Muslims were disallowed from owning and carrying firearms and sharp instruments. Kashmiri Muslims lived in such circumscribed conditions and under such strict surveil- lance that they were required to seek a license to slaughter a chicken for an ordinary meal. There was a strict ban on cow slaughter in the state. The sheep or goats that Muslims sacrificed on religious occasions were heavily taxed, transforming the existence of these people into the proverbial albatross. Most edible items, salable artifacts, and ceremonial services were taxed. Kashmiri farmers worked as mere serfs on the lands that were bestowed by the Dogra monarch on his clansmen (Khan 1958: 5–7).

Because of their military and political supremacy, Dogras were endowed with high-ranking and lucrative positions in the military as well as in the civil services, in addition to their enormous landholdings. Muslims were denied the right to acquire an education;

excluded from the civil services; and disenfranchised and prevented from participating in political activities without governmental permission. Such unapologetically discriminatory practices created an endemic ignorance and conscripted existence for the Muslim inhabitants of the princely state.

In an endeavor to enable the formation of representative governments in Indian states, the All India States People’s Conference (AISPC)

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