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Understanding Kashmir
By Muhammad Yusuf August 25, 2012
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Nyla Ali Khan, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Sheikh Abdullah’s granddaughter who edited The Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society and Polity, tells Muhammad Yusuf that the book seeks to provide a layered perspective of the Kashmiri conundrum, culture and society

In The Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity edited by Nyla Ali Khan, Kashmiri scholars of all disciplines undertake a new look at their homeland. Taking account of both mainstream ideologies and contrary discourses, the authors provide a set of visions for Kashmiri culture and society.
 
They underline the repercussions of India’s strategies, delineate the fundamental structural inequities in the Jammu & Kashmir polity, and analyse the effects of nationalist, militant and religious discourses and praxes on a gender-based social hierarchy.
 
The book offers a panorama of key cultural concerns of Jammu & Kashmir today, from the military aspects of the Kashmir conflict to the modern-day revival of indigenous cultural institutions.
 
The volume, running into nearly 300 pages, has won high praise from varied sources. It addresses various aspects of political, cultural, and socioeconomic life in Kashmir.
 
What sets this work apart from other works on Kashmir is that the authors of the chapters are all themselves academics based in the State of Jammu and Kashmir who are well-known, well-established, and well-respected within Kashmiri society, but who haven’t had much opportunity to reach an audience outside of Kashmir and outside of South Asia.
 
In this way, the project does the highly significant work of creating a space for subaltern scholars to project their voices, understandings, and interpretations to a larger audience. This is an especially critical project in the context of Kashmir.
 
The book provides a forum for scholars from Jammu and Kashmir to voice their opinions and articulate their arguments vis-à-vis the labyrinthine Kashmir issue.
 
Voices from Srinagar, Kashmir, and Jammu articulate opinions that deconstruct the dominant perspective, and these chapters, in questioning the status quo, enrich and make more nuanced our understanding of the political, cultural, and socioeconomic complexities of Kashmir.
 
Says Editor Khan: “Readers might find some of the arguments voiced in these pages perfectly legitimate and opening up a much needed space for analyzing the intricacies of the Kashmir issue; they might disagree with others or find them particularly opprobrious.
 
We certainly don’t intend to force any opinions down the throats of the readers. Speaking for myself, I aim to make more layered the understanding of the readers vis-à-vis the once paradisiacal, now dismal land of my childhood, my dreams, my political and spiritual awakening, and my hopes.
 
    “When I asked the contributors of Parchment of Kashmir to highlight their perceptions of the Kashmir conundrum and the notion of Kashmiriyat, I asked them to foreground their subjectivities, underscore their particular locations in the culture, and explain what was at stake for them in the arguments they were making. I wanted the writers to highlight the indigenous Kashmiri point of view.
 
I wasn’t looking for “dispassionate” or “objective” analyses, but the analyses of subjectivity, which is what the writers have done. In this cross disciplinary work, some perceptions present the reality of empirical situations, which can be restricting; in some the theoretical construct of Kashmiriyat is romanticised, but that is the revival of strategic essentialism in these fractured times.
 
“The concept of Kashmiriyat is not just cultural but political as well, which can be revitalised by the resuscitation of cultural institutions, and the redress of political grievances. Those contributors who have focused on the pluralistic identity of Kashmir are of the firm opinion that although caste and socioeconomic divides exist in Kashmiri society, they are not institutionalised or religiously sanctioned.
 
Although the authors of this collection have chosen not to focus on caste/class hierarchies, with which some readers might take issue, I emphasise that there is no monolithic “Kashmiri.” Kashmiri society, like other South Asian societies, is by no means egalitarian or non-patriarchal. There is also a rigidly entrenched gender hierarchy in Kashmir, to deconstruct which some substantive attempts have been made.
 
“The role of women in a conflict zone; the reconceptualisation of a woman’s identity in a politically militarised zone; intersections of class, education, ethnicity, religious identity in theorising a woman’s identity; women’s agential roles or lack thereof are issues that can no longer be relegated to the background. Any attempt to homogenise Kashmiri society or the politico-cultural discourse on Kashmir, would be a dangerously flawed exercise.
 
“People on the margins of society lack the same access to political, religious, cultural, and economic discourses and institutions as those in positions of privilege and power. It is important for readers to keep in mind that the contributors to this work are not making any attempt to homogenise the political, cultural, or social discourse on Kashmir, but are writing from certain positions.
 
A couple of the arguments in this collection might seem old hat to the “initiated” but are not known to the younger generation, which is not as familiar with the multiple discourses on the palimpsest of Kashmir.”
 
Khan has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches several courses, including South Asian Studies.
 

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