Dear Prof. Chatterjee, When Will You Engage with the “Discomfort” of Indian Occupied Kashmir?

Please Read the Report,
Please Read the Report, “Structures of Violence,” at…

Dear Prof. Chatterjee,

I heartily applaud your decision to boycott the colonial & apartheid state of Israel. And I do this especially as a conscientious citizen of the world and as a Kashmiri born outside of Kashmir due to the catastrophic ethnic cleansing of 1947-8, engineered by the Brahminical (though not Brahmin) Dogra ruler of the erstwhile princely state and the newly “independent” Indian State, when up to 1.1 million Muslims were massacred and forcibly exiled out of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. That means about one third of the total Muslim population of the larger princely state of J&K was eliminated from the area that came to be under Indian Occupation, by state complicity. This figure is disproportionately high given that the total population of J&K was less than one percent of the population of British India and presents a contrast to most, though not all, accounts of Partition 1947 violence in Punjab and Bengal, which was largely construed as spontaneous or unplanned. Moreover, up to 25,000 Muslim women from J&K, mostly from Jammu, were abducted and raped as a part of this genocide — a distant aunt of mine amongst them, who bore three children to an abductor. (And these women, comprising almost a quarter of the total number of women abducted during that time, though coming from less than a single percent of the overall population, never became a part of the “subcontinental” feminist accounting of the Partition, as done by Urvashi Butalia.) I reveal this in part to explain why your statement of solidarity with our fellow Palestinians, struggling to dismantle a brutal Occupation, feels even more intimate to me.

In that spirit, I hope I am permitted to point out an inaccuracy in your statement above, which inevitably leads to further inaccuracies of inference that you also make therein, but most of all to an underlying assumption which perhaps unwittingly commits an epistemological and discursive violence on the oppressed and resisting peoples of another Occupied territory — Kashmir. And Kashmir is, sadly, not the only area militarily Occupied by “postcolonial” India, though it remains the MOST MILITARIZED one in the entire world, even beyond Afghanistan, Iraq et al.

You write unproblematically of Kashmir and Tripura as the only two “states” of India you have not visited. Please let me point out that to call Kashmir, Tripura, and many other areas like Assam, Manipur, Nagaland et al as “states of India” is as uninformed at best and discursively as violent at worst as calling Israel the sole democracy in “Middle East” and denying the nakba while ignoring the ongoing Occupation of Palestine.

You assume “that people on the street in Kashmir would regard [you] as just another “Indian” – perhaps a tourist out to have a good time while caring nothing about the hardship of the local people, or worse, a shady character sent out on a sinister security-related assignment.” This is not completely true. Many of us Kashmiris would regard you not just as an “Indian,” but more accurately and more insightfully as an extremely privileged, male, rights-bearing citizen of “Brahminical colonial India” — one capable of knowledge production, no less!

Moreover, the category “Indian tourist” in Occupied Kashmir always already comes with the connotations of “colonial nationalist pilgrim.” The “hardship of the local people” foundationally arises from the genocidal colonial Occupation of Kashmir, which is the precise apparatus that enables the rapid degradation of our fragile Himalayan ecology and the comparatively easy and “safe” presence of Indian tourists at the expense of the right to dignity & life of Kashmiris ourselves — hounded as we are by the prima facie colonial laws called AFSPA, PSA, et al, and the hundreds of thousands of mocking, abusing, and humiliating jackboots lining all “tourist” paths (consider Amarnath as a perfect example).

This colonial Occupation of Kashmir and its structures of violence — replete with unmarked mass graves, routine use of torture and sexual violence, massacres, forced disappearances, and “fake encounters” — remains currently mostly unquestioned by, and invisible to, even the most critical of Indian intelligentsia, thus pointing to perhaps a subtle unacknowledged, uninterrogated nationalism amongst those otherwise apprehensive of nationalism. During the ongoing Occupation, both material and discursive, Kashmiris have suffered through various projects of Indian academia where commonly used ethical guidelines like the Human Subject Protocol are thrown to the wind. In this context, any scholar — unlike Gautam Navlakha amongst a few others, for example — who does not ethically engage with the oppressed Kashmiris and our struggle for freedom is justifiably considered a “shady character sent out on a sinister security-related assignment.” The fact is that the simple presence of an Indian in Kashmir poses a “security-related assignment” for the Occupying Indian forces, and carries potentially “sinister” repercussions for us, Kashmiris.

Prof. Chatterjee, you profess a “discomfort” with even a defanged version of the “presumptions” above. However you have also claimed that “no matter which country I have visited, I have rarely failed to recognize the signs of colonial superiority.” May I then respectfully ask you to please visit Indian Occupied Kashmir, outside of the embrace of the fawning collaborators, and engage thoroughly with the “discomfort” that might arise from a recognition of your own “colonial superiority” bestowed by the Occupational apparatus. After all what is learning and teaching but a loving openness to radical discomfort and the ethical undoing of our own privileges.

Three years ago, Prof. Joseph Massad, had seriously asked me in Exeter why he didn’t hear anything about the Occupation of Kashmir from Indian star academics like yourself. I had responded that I was the wrong person to ask that question. Today, however, I ask that question of you. I truly hope you will respond.

Best wishes,

Huma Dar

Note: Prof. Chatterjee’s statement to which I am responding here appeared initially in the Savage Minds blog linked above and then here:

Post Script 1: Here is a response from Prof. Partha Chatterjee to the letter above, “On Kashmir, Tripura and Other Such Places,” received via email a few hours ago. Sept 10, 2015.

Post Script 2: Here’s a critique of Subaltern Studies in the context of the freedom struggle of Kashmiris written by Pothik Ghosh as a response to the open letter to Partha Chatterjee above. This piece was written first as a Facebook comment a few hours before Partha Chatterjee’s response to the open letter was received or posted online.

3 thoughts on “Dear Prof. Chatterjee, When Will You Engage with the “Discomfort” of Indian Occupied Kashmir?”

  1. from Facebook, here’s a comment that typifies some of the hostile responses received on my open letter above:

    Indian Scholar X: Despite believing that Kashmiris should have the right to decide whether they wish to remain within the Union of India or secede from it, the thought of calling Jammu and Kashmir, or for that matter any other place where there is a nationalist (if I may use that term) movement within the Union, colonies of India instead of states would not have occurred to me either. I guess, despite knowing better, the Survey of India’s map of the Union is so deeply embedded in us that the thought of its constituent units being anything other than its legitimate states is almost impossible. As is imagining that we are to the Kashmiris what the British were to us.

    But, reading all three articles (and Pothik Ghosh’s article I could not understand at all), I wonder if it would not have been more accurate to use the term Kashmiri Muslim instead of Kashmiri alone. As far as I know, the Kashmiri Pandits, who too have been forced into exile, do not think of Jammu and Kashmir as being occupied by India. So, by not making that distinction, is there not a danger of denying the Pandits their Kashmiri identity? After all, they could argue that the Pandits were residents of the state long before the arrival of Islam and, therefore, have as much, if not a greater, claim over it. And despite the efforts to change the demography of the state mentioned in the articles (and I did not know about that genocide), Jammu and Kashmir remains 68% Muslim and 28% Hindu (as per the 2011 Census data on religion released a few weeks ago). Maybe, by making this point, I am just reproducing the limitations of that nationalist frame, but since it struck me, I thought I should mention it.

  2. Response from Huma Dar:

    1) that the Survey of India’s map of the “Union” is so deeply embedded in most privileged and literate Indians — and I agree with that observation — is sad beyond the usual prima facie nationalist aspects. this in particular is a mythical map, beyond most others, that requires most other maps of the region to be censored and banned from entry into the “India” thus imagined!

    2) “Indians” are to most Kashmiris as the British were to most Indians. i put scare quotes around “India” to highlight that not only is the concept itself problematic, but that it doesn’t account for the wide variety of peoples who’d like nothing to do with it, as well as the vast majority of “Indians” who are themselves oppressed under the colonial brahmanical entity — do check out the colonial genealogy, though with heightened draconianism, of most of the alphabet soup that has enabled our ongoing genocide under Indian occupation, AFSPA, PSA, TADA, POTA, UAA, etcetera.

    3) that most “Indians” don’t even know about the state-sponsored ethnic cleansing & genocide of Muslims from the area under Indian Occupation speaks volumes about the colonial nature of Indian education as well as the complicity via silence of most Indian historians, political scientists etc. this violence is stark not only because it was very clearly state-sponsored, i.e., by the Dogras and the Indian State, but also because the numbers are disproportionately higher and 1-sided, when compared with the violence that occurred during the partition of Punjab and Bengal in 1947.

    on a related note: not a single “communal death” or communal riot occurred in the Kashmir Valley, the Muslim-majority and the most densely populated part of the princely state of J&K, as a backlash or part of this ethnic cleansing. i.e., Kashmiri Pandits were pristinely safe. this is the reason why Gandhi called Kashmir the “ray of light” in the darkness of partition. however he conveniently forgot the ethnic cleansing of 1-1.6 million Muslims from Indian Occupied J&K via massacres in, and forced exiles from, Jammu, and harsh imprisonments and forced exile of many politically active Kashmiri Muslims from the Valley itself. the total population of the entire state of J&K was about 4 million at that time, 3.2 million being Muslims (data from 1941 census which was itself projected from the actual one conducted in 1931). two-third lived in the area that is now under Indian Occupation, which was thus emptied of about half of its population, all Muslims. and yes, it changed the demography of Indian Occupied J&K, especially that of Jammu.

    4) Kashmiri Pandits (~4% of the valley, ~2% of all of J&K) have *every right* in the world, and have been asked umpteen times (including by all the leaders of the freedom movement), to return to their homeland and participate in any plebiscite that takes place to exert their right to self-determination: whether to be fully independent or be with India or Pakistan. the Kashmiris or “Kashmiri Muslims” (as you would have me differentiate) have also repeatedly demanded a thorough investigation from the Indian state into the Pandit exile, the massacres where they were targeted, as well as the large-scale massacres of Kashmiri Muslims that followed immediately after the departure of the Kashmiri Pandits… surprisingly, or perhaps not that surprisingly, to no avail. (the total number of KPs killed since the 1989 armed phase of the Kashmiri freedom movement is 219 by the official records of the Occupying state.)

    when you write: “the Pandits were residents of the state long before the arrival of Islam and, therefore, have as much, if not *a greater, claim over it*,” the first part is self-evident and has been amply present in the discourse of all freedom fighters and pro-freedom parties, as stated above. that the Kashmiri Pandits should potentially “have a greater claim” over Kashmir implies that because my ancestors reverted to Islam say 7 or 800 years ago, they therefore have a “lesser claim” is prima facie Brahminical, islamophobic, and inaccurate. analogous to most parts of South Asia, the Muslims in Kashmir, up to 85% of us, are of entirely indigenous descent. the rest might have one paternal ancestor many generations ago — a fact amply represented in our surnames. for example, my surname “Dar” is mentioned by Kalhana, our earliest historian, as a a form of “Dhar,” and being of Naga origin — recorded as the earliest inhabitants of Kashmir.

    5) significantly enough, connected to the point 3 above, NO Marxist or subaltern historiographic study has been conducted so far by the Indian academia to do a class and caste analysis of the Kashmiri society, especially the differential patterns of landholdings over the past couple of centuries by the various castes & religious groups, the quite radical land redistribution act that was promulgated in 1950, and the shifting patterns of hegemony & dominance within Kashmiri academia, bureaucracy, army, media etc. that one of the only anthropological studies of caste in Kashmir was done by T.N. Madan, which unselfconsciously draws an analogy between Kashmiri Muslims & Dalits, speaks a lot — at least for those who understand something about the pernicious caste system.

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