The Land of Lalla-Ded: Politicization of Kashmir and Construction of the Kashmiri Woman

By Khan, Nyla Ali | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2007 | Go to article overview

The Land of Lalla-Ded: Politicization of Kashmir and Construction of the Kashmiri Woman


Khan, Nyla Ali, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Over the years, tremendous political and social turmoil has been generated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by the forces of religious fundamentalism and by an exclusionary nationalism that seeks to erode the cultural syncretism that is part of the ethos of Kashmir. Kashmiri women are now suffering from some of the more predictable afflictions of women caught in conflict situations: psychological trauma, destitution, and acute poverty that put them at increased risk of trafficking. The ethnographic field research, which I undertook, was a method of seeking reconnection sans condescension by simultaneously belonging to and resisting the discursive community of traditional Muslim Kashmiri and Gujjar rural women. This contiguity among disparate histories engendered a historical identity formed in a hybrid space as well as a pluralistic vision of the world, not the fixity of a glorified vision of the past in terms of gender roles, societal roles, or cultural identities.

Keywords: Kashmiriyat, Nationalism, Syncretism, Lalla-Ded, Sufiism, Ethnography, Agency

Introduction

In a post 9/11 world, in which the uncritical essentializing of people from the "Third-World" has been legitimized; Iraq and Afghanistan have been dehumanized in an attempt to disseminate enlightenment in those "dark" regions; the discourse of "honor killings" is prevalent in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and has carved a niche in Western academic discourse as another instance of the incorrigible bestiality of the Orient; inciters of communal riots on the Indian subcontinent enjoy the patronage of political bigwigs as evidenced by the relentless persecution of Muslims during the riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002; the rhetoric of hate and binarisms pervades the politics of the "Third-World" and of the West. In such a scenario, feminist activist-scholars seek to reinterpret the repressive frameworks of military occupation, nationalism, proto-nationalism, patriarchy, and fundamentalism that essentialize the identities of postcolonial and transnational subjects. A configuration of the outer boundaries of "civilization" as chaotic and unwieldy glorified the dominance of these privileged centers of power. In order to achieve this outcome, the dominant order created structures that catered to its unquestioned authority. These privileged centers of power have always constrained reality by imposing their ideological schema on it, which underpinned their powerful positionality. Their ability to conjure images and re-etch boundaries that served their set of beliefs, has rendered them a force to reckon with. Similar ideas were expounded by the two nuclear powers on the Indian subcontinent, India and Pakistan, to attribute to the subjugated Kashmiris an inferior intellect, a lineage, and a mystique that allowed the dominant regime to manipulate the Kashmiri "Other" as a stereotypical and predictable entity. The rebelliousness of the Kashmiri subject was to be contained by a recognition of his nature which was said to be structured by contraries: savagery and obedience, cunning and innocence, mysticism and manipulation. A clearer statement is needed in the next paragraph about the linkages among the above and the subject of analysis.

Using self-reflexive and historicized forms, drawing on my heritage and kinship in Kashmir, this essay explores the construction and employment of gender in secular nationalist, religious nationalist, and ethnonationalist discourses in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. I question the victimization and subjugation of women selectively enshrined in the social practices and folklore of Kashmiri culture, such as limited educational and professional opportunities; the right of a husband to prevent his wife from making strides in the material world; the kudos given to the hapless wife who agrees to live in a polygamous relationship; the bounden duty of the woman to bear heirs; the unquestioned fight of a husband to divorce his barren wife; confinement of the woman to her home where she is subjected to material and emotional brutality; the hallowed status of the woman who conforms to such cultural dogmas; the social marginalization of the woman who defies them; the status of woman as a fiefdom facilitating political and feudal alliances; the exclusivity of cultural nationalism; the erosion of cultural syncretism; the ever-increasing dominance of religious fundamentalism; and the irrational resistance to cultural and linguistic differences (Butalia, 2002; Kishwar, 1998; Madhosh, 1999; Rai, 2004; Whitehead, 2004). …

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