Viewpoint: Kashmir—A Violent Postcoloniality

Viewpoint: Kashmir—A Violent Postcoloniality

Amrita Ghosh

The Kashmir conflict derives from the catastrophic partition of India in 1947 that also marked the ending of British colonialism. Before Partition, Kashmir was one of the largest “independent princely states”, (1) which was predominantly Muslim in population, but was ruled by a Hindu King, Maharaja Hari Singh. Kashmir had a rich syncretic past with influences of Sufi Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism influencing the region that marked a harmonious existence of Hindu and Muslim people. Post 1947, a random border was dictated under the aegis of Cyril Radcliffe and Kashmir fell into a curious liminal space between India and Pakistan. The popular leader and the eventual chief minister of the state, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, wanted to cede Kashmir to India; however, in late 1947 the Pakistani army invaded Kashmir to claim the land. Hari Singh and Abdullah, supported by Nehru, the then new Indian prime minister, officially joined India seeking the Indian army’s help.

After prolonged fighting, in 1949, UN intervened and endorsed a plebiscite for the Kashmiri population to determine which country they wanted to belong to, but till this day the vote has not taken place due to the politics in the region, and the space of Kashmir has slowly come to be known as “India controlled Kashmir” or Pakistan controlled Kashmir” and some parts of it are even claimed by China.(2) This volatile border between the two nuclear nations is a poignant reminder of the rushed boundary alignment and an unending trauma for the Kashmiris.

Caught between India and Pakistan, Kashmir eventually saw a gradual rise of armed militants in the late eighties calling for azaadi (freedom in Urdu) from the Indian state. The turbulent nineties also witnessed the mass exile of the Hindu community, with a section of people claiming Kashmir to be merged with Pakistan. Since then, the Indian state has declared an endless war on the region and Kashmir has become one of the most highly militarized spaces in the world. Kashmir, since the nineties, has been a violent war-torn suspended space in which the identity of the Kashmiri people is constantly under erasure by an occupation that holds human lives under harsh control.  It is a space that is defined primarily by state machinery and laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Disturbed Areas Act (DAA), which allow for policies of impunity to raid, arrest and kill subjects.

Connected to this conflict, there has recently been a plethora of writing from Kashmir, all in English, that has emerged as a significant presence in literature. In the history of Indian cinema, Kashmir has always retained a space of exotic beauty and locale where the narrative of romance and desire played out. Films like Kashmir ki Kali (1964), Junglee (1961), Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) to only name a few underscored this idea of a space of beauty and escape, diminishing the Kashmiri subject and relegating Kashmir to a stereotyped essence. Emerging Kashmiri writers have recently been attempting to situate the discourse on Kashmir in an alternate paradigm.

In her book, A Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir (2009), Ananya Jahanara Kabir reveals how the tragic history of Kashmir has been framed within a discourse of fantasy in which Kashmir becomes the postcolonial nation’s “fetish of desire” in the construction of a narrative of paradise that dwells in the nation’s imaginary but is starkly denied by the reality on the ground. The emerging and current literature on Kashmir (written by Kashmiri writers from and outside Kashmir), highlights the war-torn region, underscoring the human element in the fictional works that get erased in the hegemonic state narratives.  Some of emerging literary works on Kashmir are Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator (2011), Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night: A Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir (2010), Siddhartha Gigoo’s The Garden of Solitude (2011), Nayeema Mahjoor’s Lost in Terror (2016), Shadows Beyond the Ghost Town  (2014) by Shafi Ahmad, Half Mother (2014)  by Shahnaz Bashir, A Long Dream of Home, By Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma (2016), and most recently Zooni Chopra’s The House that Spoke (2017) , to name a few in this fascinating growing body of literature.

These literary works represent Kashmir and Kashmiri subjects through the covert and overt gaze of state violence. These texts illustrate Kashmir as a unique postcolonial space, not just grappling with a conflictual territory and aftermath of colonialism since independence, but caught between the nation-states of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is a space of “necropolitics”  (politics of death)—using Achille Mbembe’s phrase (4); thus, Kashmir emerges as a “deathworld,” where continuous strategies of state surveillance and violence lead to maximum massacre of subjects. This constant and continuous gaze of violence leads to the Kashmiri subjects’ social or civic death and in this, the subject hangs between an aberrant space of life and death.

These literary productions, mentioned above, form a rich body of work from both male and female Kashmiri writers that bear testimonies of the brutalities of the Kashmir conflict. Using Mbembe’s words again, these texts are reminders of Kashmir as a postcoloniality which is in a “state of injury” within a “unique inflection of terror” where terror from a gaze of violence becomes a way of life. Such a postcolonial space, as analyzed through the emerging literature presents how sovereign power is constructed and established in emergency zones like Kashmir through violent techniques of biopower. Some of the literary works also provide an important narrative of the idea of postcolonial witnessing of trauma, a critical difference between the narratives of remembering versus not forgetting. This is especially so in the case of the exile of Kashmiri Pandits who become refugees in their own land after leaving their homes in the Kashmir valley due to rising insurgency in the nineties. The literature from both sides of the Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim divide gives a glimpse of the conflict from varied perspectives and nuances that construct this postcolonial emergency zone.

1. There were approximately five hundred princely states under British reign before the Partition that were “independent” by nature but paid subsidy to the British Raj and were indirectly governed by the Empire. They still enjoyed more autonomy than other parts of India and Pakistan.
2. Kaul, Nitasha. “Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory.” Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. Ed. Sanjay Kak. New Delhi: Penguin. 2011. 189-212.In the essay, Kaul points out that present-day Kashmir is occupied by India, Pakistan and China. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir form the Northern areas or ‘Azad Kashmir’ as it is known; India Occupied Kashmir constitutes of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, and remote areas of Aksai Chin and Shaksam Valley are occupied by China in the Xinjiang region. (Kaul 189).
3. Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture. Vol. 15(1): 11-40. 2003.


Amrita Ghosh is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University, Sweden. Prior to this, she has been a lecturer at Seton Hall University, New Jersey and is the co-founder editor of Cerebration that strives to bridge the gap between academia and non-academic circles. Ghosh’s published works have been in the field of postcolonial literature, gender and border studies. She is currently working on literature from conflict zones, especially Kashmir. This article is taken from her larger work on emerging literature from Kashmir which is in process to be published at Review of Human Rights journal. 

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