On January 4, 2022, the Critical Gender Studies program at UCSD published a statement, on their studied decision to disaffiliate from an academic, Prof XXXXX XXXXX. They are not the only program, group, or department at the University of California at San Diego to do so. The statement, temporarily taken down on February 5, 2022, succinctly described what ethical research in the colonized space of Kashmir should not be based upon and should not look like, with reference to the particular academic’s work, given the vast differentials of caste, class, religion, nationality, coloniality, and institutional and familial situatedness. In doing so the statement ipso facto modeled critical and decolonial feminist theory and praxis – sadly, terms glibly thrown around without doing the deep homework entailed. Sharing this statement, as-of-now unstated, for the sake of posterity.
CGS Executive Committee’s Statement Regarding Former CGS Faculty Affiliate, Dr. Saiba Varma
UCSD’s Critical Gender Studies Program understands the study of gender to be inextricably bound up with the interlocking systems of race, class, sexuality and nationalism. New faculty on the current Executive Committee bring commitments that are focused explicitly on ethically, intellectually, politically, and spiritually supporting the freedoms of all people. These commitments require the continuous interrogation of how our own positionalities shape our research questions, practices and access, and consideration of how research can intervene in, produce and reproduce systems of raced, gendered, and colonial violence. As scholars of Critical Gender Studies, we are committed to reflexively engage with our scholarship and the teaching offered in our program in ways that allow us to consider how we are implicated in reproducing various interlocking systems of oppression.
Given this practice of self-reflection and thinking about our complicity, we are specifically releasing this statement to address a serious issue brought forth by Kashmiri scholars and activists who disclosed that Dr. Saiba Varma, Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department and a former CGS Executive Committee member and Faculty Affiliate, had engaged in a serious ethical and political breach in her research practices.
A letter signed by “dominant caste Indian scholars, other concerned scholars, and everyone in solidarity with colonized people of Kashmir” to the publisher of Dr. Varma’s book in the US, Duke University Press, outlines the unethical nature of her scholarship and brings up one often obfuscated topic: that of caste and colonialism in scholarship on South Asia broadly and Kashmir specifically. The letter addresses “the ethics and politics of an upper caste Indian anthropologist who conducted research in Kashmiri clinics, demanded they speak in Urdu/Hindi (colonizers’ language) for their trauma to be translated in ways she could understand and then cultivated their stories of trauma from occupation for her book.” They emphasize that to work, as Dr. Varma did, “so unethically in Kashmir, on Kashmir, and moreover at the site of psychiatric clinics where traumatized Kashmiris might have harboured some hope of getting any support for their mental health…is not simply irresponsible scholarship and callous neglect about one’s own positionality…It is harmful scholarship.”
We also believe that Varma’s unrelentingly violent decision to work in this place, where the colonial Indian state intelligence apparatus had appointed her father (formerly a high-ranking official of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the highest intelligence agency of India and architect of torture, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism policies in Kashmir and elsewhere) and his colleagues to draw up plans that included torture, sexual violence, and counter-insurgency as instruments of war and everyday occupation was dishonest and deliberately misleading. Furthermore, Varma worked without disclosing these familial ties to the patients in whose sessions she sat, or to the psychiatrists and other Kashmiris she is accountable to as an Indian anthropologist working on Kashmir, teaching courses on decolonial methodology, and claiming to harbor a commitment to decolonial, anti-racist, and feminist of color politics.
As CGS faculty, students, and staff who carry on the critical legacy of our program, and of gender/sexuality departments across North America, we are committed to building and supporting ethical anti-colonial scholarship that is accountable to Black people, other racialized people, and Indigenous peoples here and transnationally. We understand this as a baseline requirement of being in solidarity with people fighting against multiple colonial occupations. As such, we affirm their claims that Dr. Varma’s work has produced extraordinary harm to the subjects of her research and to the anti-occupation struggles of Kashmiris, something that compounds other ongoing violence and trauma caused by the Indian settler state.
In addition to responding to the calls by Kashmiri scholars and activists to repudiate Dr. Varma’s research as part of a broader struggle against an intensifying Indian settler colonial rule in Kashmir since 2019, a crackdown against social media communications, and a pattern of arrests of prominent activists in recent months, CGS has disaffiliated from Dr. Varma, meaning that her courses will no longer count toward our major or minor. This may be a small act in the scheme of things, but we believe it is a necessary one as we work through our complicities and think seriously about who we must prioritize in our claims of accountability.