One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration

As an academic in the North American academy and as someone who is well-aware of her complicity in the perpetuation of elitist discourses, I would posit that the debate about the veritableness and factualness of a literary discourse, the vindication of some writers as the “voice of the people,” and the discrediting of others as disseminating statist narratives is a manifestation of Frederick Nietzsche’s “Will to Power,” of which self-preservation is one of the most frequent outcomes. So, let me say without flinching that it isn’t just the organizers of a literary festival who are complicit in the creation and furtherance of an elitist discourse, but those who perceive it politically expedient to oppose such festivals are just as complicit. Isn’t there a lack of self-reflexivity and a refusal to recognize an unconscious sense of privilege in assuming that fora at which academics, writers, and intellectuals feel privileged to present would poison the morally and politically naïve Kashmiri plebeians? Are they inadvertently ascribing to Nietzsche’s notion that, “There are books which have an inverse value for the soul and the health according as the inferior soul and the lower vitality, or the higher and more powerful, make use of them. In the former case they are dangerous, disturbing, unsettling books, in the latter case they are herald calls which summon the bravest to their bravery”? (Beyond Good and Evil, 44).

Also, it is no closely guarded secret that, historically, art has been sponsored by the aristocracy and the wealthy. But that certainly hasn’t prevented the engendering of innovative, experimental, and subversive art and literature. The Harlem Renaissance, for example, enabled the deconstruction of racism and growth of a progressive Black literary movement through the sponsorship of White liberals. A contemporary example that comes to mind is the sponsoring of the Dance Theatre Workshop, a group that represents the most experimental and innovative dance and performance art being done in New York City today, by Phillip Morris, the leading cigarette manufacturer in the US. The tarring of all corporate funded events with the same brush is problematic, to say the least. For those of us who have access to publishing houses and the media, print as well as electronic, it is rather condescending to tell those who don’t that reading classics within the four walls of their rooms would generate a “Quiet Revolution” that would vanquish P. Chidambaram’s “Quiet Diplomacy.”

The gross violation of human and democratic rights in Kashmir has made it important to hold up the scanner to the state and to call for the accountability of the state, but it is just as important to foreground nuanced and piercing critiques of the militarization of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, ecological and economic plunder, negation of legal procedures, lack of infrastructure, and virtual erasure that has fueled the hitherto restrained resentment and anger in the region. It is just as important to be critical of the ethno religious nationalism in Kashmir, which is threatening to further brutalize the already militarized ethos of J & K, and which is causing the degeneracy, dwarfing, and brutalization of Kashmiris just as much as the repressive apparatuses of the Indian State have.

There is a widening gulf between the three regions of J & K, Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, which is exacerbating the disaffection between the diverse ethnic and religious groups in the state. The lack of fora at which writers and intellectuals from the three regions could exchange views has increased the trust deficit between the three regions, making more vociferous the demands for “Union Territory Status” from Ladakh, particularly Leh, further integration into the Indian Union from Jammu, particularly Jammu, Kathua, and Udhampur, and azadi from the Kashmir Valley. As I’ve said before, this is the opportune time to build alliances between the three regions of the state, and any opportunity to do so should be seized with zeal. It is rather naïve to assume that a literary festival on Kashmir held in New Delhi or any part of India would give the speakers/presenters free rein to discuss politically vexing issues. Political, cultural, and social issues relevant to the Kashmir conflict will be voiced within certain parameters, but the conscription created by those boundaries shouldn’t hinder those of us who have stories to tell.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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