Nyla Ali Khan
Associate Professor of English and Multiculturalism Nyla Ali Khan, is the granddaughter of the late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the first Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Her scholarly analysis of her grandfather’s political career, asylum and legacy, along with the cultural and political history of Kashmir–the nuclear flashpoint in the South Asian region–has just been published in book form by Tulika Books: New Delhi under the title Islam, Women
Nyla Ali Khan and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan. Here, Khan shares with Columns readers, personal reflections of the weight on her mind and heart over her homeland’s history and current state.
I belong to Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J & K), a highly volatile South Asian region with rich reservoirs of cultural, social and human wealth. I was raised in the splendid Kashmir Valley located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The charm, splendour and heterogeneity of the
Valley have enticed many a writer, historian, anthropologist, sociologist, benevolent ruler and malevolent politician. J & K of the 1970s basked in the glory of a hard-won democratic set-up, in which consideration of the well-being of the populace was supreme, marred by some political faux pas. The inhabitants of the state were neither intimidated nor hindered by the aggressively centrist policies of the government of India or the fanatical belligerence of the government of Pakistan. Caught between the rival siblings India and Pakistan, the people of the state, particularly of the Kashmir Valley, had constructed a composite national identity. Kashmiris were heavily invested in the notion of territorial integrity and cultural pride, which, through the perseverance of the populist leadership and the unflinching loyalty of the people, had sprouted on a barren landscape of abusive political and military authority. I recall that period with nostalgia and mourn the loss of a deep-rooted and heartfelt nationalism. But the refusal to wallow in grief and a desire to deconstruct the Camelot-like atmosphere of that period impelled me to undertake this cross-disciplinary project regarding the political history, composite culture, literature of the state; the attempted relegation of Kashmiri women to the archives of memory, and their persistent endeavours to rise from the ashes of immolated identities. I was further motivated to complete this project because of the plethora of mauled versions of history cunningly making their way into mainstream Indian, Pakistani and international political discourses. In telling of this reality, it was important to me to delineate the origins of the Kashmir conflict and the perspectives on it. I looked at the discourse of ‘Kashmiriyat’ as a significant attempt to form a national consciousness in order to name its cultural alterity through the nation. Equally significant in this journey of mine, I have incorporated hitherto unpublished opinions of scholars of Kashmiri and Urdu literature as well as of scholars of mysticism in the Kashmir Valley, and have deeply considered the effects of nationalist, militant, and religious discourses and praxes on a gender-based hierarchy. This book has no pretensions to being an exhaustive discussion of the intricate politics of J & K. It is my humble attempt at speaking the truth to power by employing not just traditional scholarship, but oral historiography as well.
Despite my emotional investment in the issue, I have tried to veer away from the seductive trap of either romanticizing or demonizing certain political actors and initiatives. Finally, this labor of love, indeed, is also a tribute to the resilient spirit of the inhabitants of J & K, which has made them persevere through catastrophes, upheavals, unfulfilled pledges, treacherous politics and vile manipulations. They have emerged scathed but with an irrepressible desire to live and define their own reality. I hope to someday live that reality. At any rate, my primary goal is to ensure that future generations of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir don’t forget because if we stop remembering, we stop being.