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.
Note: Prof. Chatterjee’s statement to which I am responding here appeared initially in the Savage Minds blog linked above and then here: https://anthroboycott.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/partha-chatterjee-why-i-support-the-boycott-of-israeli-institutions/
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.