Shah Munnes Muneer
Muslim Women, Agency and Resistance Politics: The Case of Kashmir
Author: Inshah Malik
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (2018)
This book is a collection of different narratives collected and framed mostly through interviews. The author’s thrust is apparently on the subaltern section of Kashmiri women. The first chapter offers the main argument whereby a reader senses beforehand what is to come in the succeeding chapters. This argument revolves around gender identity and the concept of agency. The author suggests that the aim of the book is to understand the historical and deliberate nature of women’s agency in resistance politics of Kashmir. With a feministic tone, Inshah Malik stresses on the fact that Kashmiri women are not merely accidental victims but conscientious resisters as well. She asserts that it is important to understand Kashmiri women’s agency or their political action at a time when the stereotyping of Islam, Muslims and Kashmir has succeeded in keeping the Kashmiri women’s political action largely understudied.
The second chapter explains Kashmiri nationalism, women, class and plebiscite. It investigates the people’s history of Kashmir and the politics of resistance and collaboration, with focus on the early Kashmiri nationalist project. It discusses the narratives of subaltern women regarding the plebiscite front movement of 1950’s and compares them with the political agency of elite women. The chapter compares the different motives, practices and politics of women of different classes. The author then goes on to point out how women’s role has been seemingly ignored in the historical accounts, while the contributions of male political leaders and male-dominated organisations have been chronicled endlessly. In this way, Kashmiri nationalist histories have narrowed down women as merely the victims of violence. Malik traces the origin of an alternative political consciousness and women’s history of resistance to the time of Dogra rule. Kashmiri subaltern women, unlike the elite section, resisted Dogra oppression but the historical accounts made only a nominal mention of them, or only in footnotes. This chapter further dissects how memory plays its role in sustaining resistance in Kashmir.
The third chapter discusses the narratives regarding Islam in Kashmiri politics. It reveals how women’s Islamist political projects were formulated to challenge both social patriarchy and the Indian state. The chapter then discusses how Sheikh Abdullah’s release in the 1970’s from jail was seen as a ‘sell-out’ which gradually transformed him from the iconic ‘Sher-e-Kashmir’ to a collaborator in the popular political imagination. It then discusses the death of Sheikh Abdullah and the transfer of power to his son, Farooq Abdullah, which created a shift in the political discourse of Kashmir. Subsequently, Islamists formed a political coalition called Muslim United Front in 1987 led by Jamat-e-Islami to contest elections. While arguing the question of identity, the author has discussed extensively the role of Dukhtaran-e-Millat leader Aasiyeh Andrabi, who invested herself in understanding the meaning and purpose of her Muslim identity. It describes how Aasiyeh encountered patriarchy at her home when she was not allowed to go outside the state for studies, and how she overcome depression and found solace only by reading the work of Maryam Jameelah, a Jewish convert to Islam.
The fourth chapter unravels women’s experience of being in conflict zones. Malik mentions that she came across many half-widows who were not ready to remarry because they were still waiting for their husbands. She mentions women’s collective actions in the resistance movement and cites the example of the ‘iron lady of Kashmir’ Parveena Ahangar who heads the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). The chapter also deals with the refashioning of identity, creativity and the politics of resistance writing.
The last chapter is about the agency of young women writers. Such writers not only participate in the resistance movement in Kashmir, they also raise a voice against patriarchy and present their own perspectives on society and women’s issues. The struggles of young Kashmiri women have transformed into an expression of resistance through their writing. Malik shows that women are not merely victims and that they choose to operate within struggles of self-determination in Kashmir in order to register their political agency and to fight for their rights. The author says that the history of resistance politics in Kashmir clearly shows that Kashmiri women have never been silent victims but resilient witnesses, narrators and scriptwriters of freedom.
The book is an interesting read and makes the reader familiar with various narratives of women’s resistance. However, there is a problem with the writing style of the author. Besides repetition of arguments, there are some factual and historical errors. Malik erroneously compares Muslim religious institutions (darsgahs) with modern-day cafés. She has called Habbe Khotoon as the wife of Yousuf Shah, even though historians are not sure whether she was really his queen or his lover. Malik also given aan incorrect figure of those killed by Dogra forces on 13 July 1931 outside Central Jail Srinagar. She wrongly resurrects Pratap Singh and mistakenly credits Hari Singh’s educational reforms of 1931 to the former, even though Pratap Singh had died way back in 1925.