State of the Tehreek: Thoughts on the Present

As a student of Kashmir’s modern politics, I see the Tehreek movement as a historic struggle for Kashmiri self-determination that began with the emergence of mass politics in 1931 and has continued into the present. Tehreek has always been ideologically diverse and has included, at various points, socialists, Islamists, secularists, liberals, and others who wouldn’t fit any of these descriptions. Yet, one or the other of its constituents has often claimed to exclusively represent the movement—from the Muslim and the National Conference in the 1940s to the JKLF and the Hurriyats in the 1990s. Tehreek’s predominant worldview has been shaped by the perceptions and realities of the geopolitical context in which Kashmiris live. Before 1947, it was the British-protected Dogra rule, marked by economic exploitation and marginalization of Kashmiri peasantry and artisanry. After 1947, it was primarily the Indian state (and to some extent Pakistan) and its hostility toward the idea of Kashmiri self-determination.

Despite ups and downs—from mass consciousness Continue reading

A Kashmiri View of Pakistan: solidarity without demands

For the last several years, scholars, journalists, filmmakers, writers, and activists have examined the violent and vindictive nature of the Indian military occupation in Kashmir. Their work, along with years of involvement in the mass movement for independence, has helped people in Kashmir, who experience the splintering effects of the occupation in their daily lives, make a coherent sense of the oppressive order under which they remain trapped. Kashmiris have become clearer than ever about what is best for their future—and India plays no governing role in it.

In the aftermath of the new uprising in Kashmir that began in July 2016 with the killing of a popular guerilla commander and the brutal crackdown on the protests that followed, people in Kashmir understand there is no ground left for debate with the Indian state. Continue reading

The freakish banality of state violence in Kashmir

This summer while visiting my parents in South Kashmir, I was caught in a confrontation between Indian soldiers and Kashmiri protestors. Struggling to find my way to safety, I found myself in the front yard of a house where a group of women was anxiously peering over the wall. “They may blind our children with their pellet guns, but it is India that has lost all eyesight,” a woman told me, handing me a glass of water, as we both wiped tears off our faces. She was worried about her son, who was protesting in the street. Indian soldiers were shooting straight at people, yet she could not bring herself to prevent her son from going outside. As the thick fumes from exploding teargas shells wafted into the front yard, she said: “How will I face the mothers whose children have been killed?” Then added, solemnly, “It is now or never.”

Days earlier, I had heard about the death of a young man, Aamir Nazir, from a nearby town. Continue reading

Is it really so difficult to hear what Kashmiris are saying?

Among a series of articles that have been written on the Kashmir uprising of 2016, Chitralekha Zutshi’s piece, “The new wave of anger in Kashmir is not just about poor governance but about preserving an identity“, published recently in, took me by surprise.

The author makes two broad assertions: first, that the “new militancy” in Kashmir lacks elements that can be called “politics,” and, second, the “new anger against India” is about “preservation of an identity” newly tinged by a “particular religious colour”. Put together, the author’s argument can be summed up as suggesting that the militancy in Kashmir in its new form has no concrete demands that can be politically met but rouses protest based on perceived threats to signs of religious identity.

Having just finished more than a year of fieldwork in Kashmir, Continue reading

The restored humanity of Com. Burhan Wani

On Friday evening, the news of Burhan Wani’s killing arrived in my phone with a picture of his dead body. The picture was gruesome, taken from an angle meant to amplify its gruesomeness. Given the way Kashmiri rebels have been depicted in the visual culture of the Indian military occupation, I didn’t expect Burhan’s killers to show respect for his body. For years, police and military photographers have circulated pictures of dead Kashmiri militants that show them disheveled and bloodied, with torn clothes and limbs out of joint, presenting the figure of the Kashmiri rebel as a wild, hunted felon. The intent has been clear: criminalize their thoughts and bodies and show them as existing beyond the pale of society and humanity. It is easier to kill that way, easier than what the occupation has already made possible.

But Burhan had created his own visual counterculture. In image after image, and video after video, the young commander was seen not as a figure on the run, but one who seemed to truly enjoy his life among his comrades. Continue reading


“JNU,” as it is now, is an event. It is no longer simply an institution, or even a place made exceptional by its unique tradition of activism/protest — one that requires defense or saving. It is a rift opened by the words Kashmir ki azadi tak (‘Until Kashmir is free…’). It is a possibility that is presenting itself, to dissolve the “national conscience” in India which passed a death sentence on Afzal, and to end the silence on Kashmir, which can no longer be silenced.

Our esteemed teachers in India and beyond, who have spoken in defense of JNU and against the fascist crackdown, remain caught up in seeing this event only as an opportunity to preserve a privilege, which is what has become of the right to freedom of expression. Continue reading

Seeing not like a state

Rollie Mukherjee, a Baroda-based artist’s exhibition of her images of Kashmir, to stories rumoured in branches, is showing at Conflictorium, a Museum of Conflict in Ahmedabad. Mohamad Junaid on her images.

to stories rumoured in branches, at Conflictorium, Ahemdabad
to stories rumoured in branches, at Conflictorium, Ahmedabad

The Indian state’s dominant visual order invisibalizes the structure of its violence in Kashmir. It enforces a blindness and numbs the critical senses of its citizens. From the twin images of Kashmir as a ‘beautiful landscape’ and as a ‘hotbed of anti-nationals,’ it mobilizes the composite image of ‘paradise crawling with serpents’ to justify the military occupation. Continue reading

Azadi – memoirs of a slogan

I first heard the rhythmic chants of ‘Azadi’ in the narrow lanes of my town in south Kashmir in the winter of 1989-90. I heard these chants rise to a crescendo after every massacre of protesting Kashmiris, and after every act of arson that punished azadi-supporting Kashmiri neighborhoods—a cri de cœur renting the dark skies deep into rebellious nights. I heard it in the words of Maqbool Bhat (hanged 1984), which had begun reaching our high-school classrooms and homes even earlier. In mid-1990s, I heard the Azadi chant again, this time even from the mouths of intense, bearded men leading mourning processions of their fallen companions, their tough visages and weapons out of sync with the mellifluous tunes of the chant, yet its pull on the heartstrings never diminished, nor failed to vindicate the humanity of the lives that have remained ungrievable.

Then in 2007, I heard these chants in Delhi’s India Habitat Center, Continue reading

Azadi is not a state, but struggle

In the minds of all those in Kashmir who worry about the future is the same question: ‘What must we, as Kashmiris, do to produce visible advances toward an emancipated collective life?’
On the grand scale, the scale at which maps are reshaped and brought into harmony with people’s aspirations, the answer is probably a despondent, even if only a contingent ‘nothing’. On a different scale, one which corresponds to everyday situations and micro-political contexts, the answer is ‘a lot’. 

Let me lay all my cards on the table right away: there is no solution. Or, at least, there is no solution within the present arrangement of power and discourse. But this is also because everyone seeks a ‘solution’ without first asking ‘to what?’ or ‘what really is the Kashmir question?’ Continue reading

Ahmed and Francois

Francois runs into Ahmed, an old pal from grad school, at Le Pain Quotidien near their old university.

Ahmed: Terrible, what happened in Paris, no?

Francois: Awful. But, I am not Charlie. What I am, actually, is that I am sick to the pit of my stomach. And, you, you don’t need to feel sorry.

Ahmed: I am not sorry. Just feel like people need to own up to what is done in their name.

Francois: Well, it is not like people have chosen the men who committed the crime as their representatives in some kind of election or referendum. On the other hand, Continue reading