Book Review: Muslim Women, Agency and Resistance Politics: The Case of Kashmir

Pages: 130 ISBN: 9783319953304
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (2018)

by Shah Munnes Muneer* 1 June 2020

The book is a collection of different narratives collected and framed mostly through interviews across different perspectives. The author’s thrust is apparently on the subaltern section of the women-folk who had affected much than those who became popular in the peoples history of Kashmir. The first chapter offers the main argument with the precise outline and broad structure of the book where a reader senses beforehand what possibly would be in the succeeding chapters. It revolves round the idea of gender identity and concept of agency from the authors’ perspective. The author herself suggests that the aim of the book is to leave behind the miasma of confusion and move towards the understanding of 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 very impossible 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 the focus on the early Kashmiri nationalist project. It discusses the narratives of subaltern women regarding plebiscite front movement of 1950’s and compares them with the political agency of elite women. Besides it had tried to deliberate on different motives, practices and politics of women across class. The author then goes on to point out how the women’s role has been seemingly ignored in the historical accounts while the contribution of male political leaders and the male centric organizations have been chronicled endlessly. By doing so the nationalist histories have narrowed down the women as merely the victims of violence. It traces the origin of the alternative political consciousness and builds a women’s history of resistance against the Dogra rule. Since the Kashmiri subaltern women unlike the elite section struggled against the Dogra oppression painstakingly but ironically the historical accounts made a nominal mention of them or for that matter their names has been mentioned in the foot notes by historians. The chapter further dissects how the memory plays its role in straitening the resistance.

The third chapter uncovers the narratives regarding the Islam in the Kashmir politics. It reveals how women’s Islamicate political projects were formulated to challenge the social patriarchy and the Indian state. The chapter then discusses how Sheikh Abdulla’s release during 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 political 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 Dokhtaran-e-Millat leader, Aasiyeh Indrabi who had invested herself in understanding the meaning and purpose of her Muslim identity. It also discusses when Aasiyeh encountered patriarchy at her home for not being allowed to go for study outside the state, she overcome depression and found solace only by reading Maryam Jameelah, a Jewish convert to Islam.

The fourth chapter unravels women’s experience of being in conflict zones and the relational agency of young writers. It deliberates how she had come across so many cases where the half-widows are not ready to remarry because they are still waiting for their husbands to come who have been enforcedly disappeared by the state agencies. She further elaborates the 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 identity, creativity and the politics of resistance writing.

The last chapter covers the narratives about the Muslim women’s role in the resistance movement in Kashmir. Besides, it reflects women’s effective struggles against patriarchy who through their writing challenge the class hierarchy within society and strive to present their own perspectives. Also the struggles of young Kashmiri women who have metamorphosed into an expression of resistance through their writing offer a critique of the discussion about the modes of resistance. She illustrates that women are not merely accidental victims and they choose to operate within struggles of self-determination in Kashmir in order to register their political agency and the fight for their rights. The author believes that the exploration of resistance politics in Kashmir indicates that Kashmiri women have never been silent victims but resilient witnesses, narrators and scriptwriters of freedom.

The book is an interesting read which makes the reader to realize various narratives of women’s resistance. However, there is a huge lacunae with the writing style of the book in itself. Besides repetition, there are some grave factual and historical errors. Inshah Malik had erroneously compared the Muslim religious institutions (darsgahs) with that of modern day cafés. She has conveniently called Habbe Khotoon as the wife of Yousuf Shah at a time when it is contested among historians on the point whether she was really his queen or his lover. Not only this, she puts the mistaken figure of those who were killed by Dogra excesses on 13 July 1931 outside the central jail Srinagar. She wrongly resurrects Pratab Singh and mistakenly compares Hari Singh’s educational reforms of 1931 with the former which is both factually and historically wrong because Pratap Singh had already died back in 1925.

*Shah Munnes Muneer has masters in Sociology from Aligarh Muslim University. Email: shahmunnes.amu@gmail.com

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