Can You Hear Kashmiri Women Speak? Narratives of Resistance and Resilience is a new collection of essays by Kashmiri women, and edited by the writer and academic Nitasha Kaul and the anthropologist and poet Ather Zia. The essays explore, among various themes, the representation of women in Kashmiri literature; sexual violence and militarisation; India’s politicisation of the 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir, and arguments against hydroelectric dams in the region; women’s protests; and life in Kashmir in the aftermath of the effective abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019.
This excerpt contains Kaul and Zia’s preface to the book, as well as the academic Nishita Trisal’s piece on her experiences while writing against the revocation of the state’s special status. Describing the vitriol she received, she writes, “Besides, many suggested that I had no right to speak as a Kashmiri Pandit, especially on such a prominent forum, if I did not speak on behalf of the Kashmiri Pandit majority opinion (which, in my understanding, rejects any stance on Kashmir that does not name the Pandit exodus a premeditated ethnic cleansing/genocide).”
In December 2018, we put together the first-ever collection of essays on women and Kashmir by Kashmiri women themselves. This milestone in scholarly work fostered the hope that we would begin the process of “Knowing in Our Own Ways,” which was also the title of our introduction to the historic special issue of the Economic & Political Weekly Review of Women’s Studies.
Barely a year later, an unprecedented set of events in Kashmir focussed world attention on the resounding enforced silencing of Kashmiris. In August 2019, after a second general-election victory earlier in the year, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government pushed through a key manifesto promise of the Hindu nationalist political formation: the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy, via the abrogation of Article 370. In addition, the state was bifurcated and converted into a Union Territory, a move unprecedented in the history of independent India. All this was undertaken without any determination in, or by, the Kashmiri legislature or in consultation with the Kashmiri people themselves. It was also preceded by tens of thousands additional troops being flown into a region which was already very heavily militarised, followed by a complete communications lockdown. In subsequent months, some restrictions were lifted, but at the time of writing, Internet and post-paid cellphones remain shut, and mobility is periodically curtailed. Pro-India politicians who historically propped up the client governments have virtually all been detained and placed under house arrest. Resistance leaders, activists and civil-society members are also under detention.
The Indian government has argued that the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy was undertaken to pave the way for development and to root out nepotism and “terrorism.” However, among a host of other reasons that the BJP advanced for the revocation one stood out distinctly: that the annulment of special status would alleviate gender discrimination in Kashmir. The banner of saving Kashmiri women was advanced to maximum effect by the Indian government, walking in the footsteps of colonial powers which utilised such gendered pretexts for the annexation of indigenous lands. While women’s rights were much-hyped on the one hand, on the other, Indian politicians and the people at large had no hesitation in celebrating a manifestly patriarchal militaristic victory over Kashmir.