The Kashmir reading list: 11 books to understand the conflict
Unlike Palestine and Northern Ireland, not much has been written about Kashmir. Here’s a selection of books that attempt to explain the conflict in its multilayered complexity
Only tour brochures avoid suffixes like ‘occupied’, ‘conflict’, ‘dispute’, ‘issue’ and ‘problem’ in relation to Jammu and Kashmir. Adjectives such as ‘intractable’, ‘tragic’ and ‘complicated’ are often used to embellish these suffixes. Otherwise, depending on whom you ask, Kashmir is variously a ‘terrorism-ridden Indian state coveted by Pakistan’, an ‘Indian-occupied region’, a nuclear flashpoint and the world’s most militarised zone. Unlike conflicts in Palestine and Northern Ireland, not much has been written about Kashmir. But a body of work, penned mostly by ‘outsiders’, has emerged in the past 67 years. No single volume can explain the ‘dispute’ in its multilayered complexity but here’s a list of books that attempts to open a window of understanding into one of South Asia’s most intractable political conflicts.
Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy (1846-1990) by Alastair Lamb (Oxford University Press)
Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has said that the moment India concedes that Kashmir is a dispute, he will come to the dialogue table. Lamb’s book not only establishes the disputed nature of Kashmir but also deflates many theories on Kashmir’s ‘accession’ to India and its legal tenability. In the book’s ‘A Final Word’, Lamb writes: “The Vale of Kashmir belongs, it is declared to India by right and, accordingly, India has the moral duty to defend it. But, as we have seen in the first Part of this book, the legal position is far from clear: indeed, a good case can be made that India has no business at all to be in the Vale of Kashmir. Be that as it may, there can be no moral justification for the actual policy of repression currently pursued there by the government of India.”
Prem Shankar Jha contested Lamb’s position in his book, ‘Kashmir: 1947’. Lamb’s book, published by Oxford University Press, has been banned in India.
Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights, and the History of Kashmir by Mridu Rai (Princeton University Press)
The cabbie who drives you to the city from Srinagar airport will probably be the first Kashmiri to recommend this book. Indeed, anybody passionate about Kashmir will ask you to get a copy. The book’s central claim is that Dogra rule in Kashmir was a veritable Hindu rule over Muslim subjects. The general belief in the Valley is that this persists in the form of Indian rule over Kashmir. This book explicates one of the darkest chapters of Kashmiri history.
The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson (Three Essays Collective)
Originally published as three essays in the London Review of Books, Anderson’s book is a critique of an India advertised as a secular democracy but riven by religious violence and caste divisions. The book triggered a counter-attack in the form of ‘The Indian Ideology: Three Responses to Perry Anderson’ by Partha Chatterjee, Sudipta Kaviraj and Nivedita Menon, and many other articles. It has an enlightening segment on Kashmir and places the troubled Valley in its proper historical perspective.
The History of the Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir: Cultural and Political, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day by Prem Nath Bazaz (National Book Foundation)
Prem Nath Bazaz’s chronicle of Kashmir’s freedom struggle is divided into two parts: Before the Partition of India and After the Partition. The suggestion is simple but provocative: the Kashmiri struggle for freedom against the autocratic Dogra rule did not end with the Partition of India. The basic premise of the book is that Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris even as its present and future may be inextricably tied to its two powerful neighbours. The book traces the sentiment for freedom in Kashmir from the earliest times to the present. After the obliteration of Kashmir’s autonomous character through constitutional frauds, Bazaz was one of the few who foresaw the revolt of the 1990s.
The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir by Christopher Snedden (Oxford University Press)
This is the story you are accustomed to hear: The Maharaja of Kashmir was indecisive about whether to join India or Pakistan. In the meantime, Pakistan sent ‘marauding tribal fighters’ to annex Jammu and Kashmir. The Maharaja then sought India’s military help and acceded to India. The ‘accession’ had the blessing of the majority of Muslims in the state. Snedden’s exhaustively researched book deflates this tale. A revolt had been brewing against the Maharaja’s policies in the Poonch area of Jammu long before Partition. Since thousands of Poonchis had been soldiers, they fought for their own independence and became part of what is known as Azad (Free) Kashmir. The book also deals with problems in that part of Kashmir.
Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir by Ananya Jahanara Kabir (University of Minnesota Press)
Kashmir is a beautiful territory desired by both India and Pakistan. What about the desire of the actual owners of this territory? Through a nuanced study of literary and cinematic representations of Kashmir, literary historian Ananya Jahanara Kabir addresses this aspect of the dispute.
Until My Freedom Has Come, edited by Sanjay Kak (Penguin)
During the uprising of 2010 in Kashmir, there was a voluminous output of writings in newspapers and other media. This collection includes short fiction, reportage, essays, news reports, interviews and a rapper’s song from which the book derived its title. Most of the writers featured are Kashmiris, which gives the pieces a voice that is missing in most writings on Kashmir.
Kashmir: The Case for Freedom edited by Tariq Ali (Verso Books)
Published in the aftermath of the 2010 uprising, Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, Angana Chatterjee, Habba Khatun, Hilal Bhat and Tariq Ali build a case for Kashmir’s right to self determination. Hilal Bhat’s piece is a recollection of a harrowing incident on a train in which he was travelling home during the religious violence triggered by the demolition of Babri Masjid. Bhat survived assault by a group of marauding rioters on the train by identifying himself as a Kashmiri Hindu. His classmate was murdered in the next bogey.
A Long Dream of Home; The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits, edited by Siddharth Gigoo and Varad Sharma (Bloomsbury)
A collection of personal narratives that commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Pandit exodus from Kashmir (2015), this book includes photographs of life in camps and accounts of persecution that have not appeared before. Written by a former classmate of the writer of this article, this book of memoirs of a cross-section of the Pandit community includes voices from across four generations.
The Kashmir Dispute: 1947-2012 (2 volumes) by AG Noorani (Tulika Books)
In Noorani’s detailed book, Pandit Nehru emerges as the chief villain responsible for the tragedy for saying in telegrams addressed to British and Pakistani leaders: “Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of the State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your Government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.” He then reneged on his word. Noorani lashes out at other smaller ‘villains’ too.
Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unfinished War by Victoria Schofield (IB Tauris)
An expanded version of her widely acclaimed Kashmir in the Crossfire, which was published when insurgency in Kashmir had reached its peak in 1996, this book is regarded as one of the best general introductions to the Kashmir issue. In the revised version, Schofield explains how Kashmir is increasingly becoming irresolvable.
Other important books include Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists by Cabeiri deBergh Robinson, The Challenge in Kashmir: Democracy, Self-Determination and a Just Peace by Sumantra Bose, Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir by AG Noorani, Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity and the Making of Kashmir by Chitralekha Zutshi.
Hilal Mir is the editor of Kashmir Reader. He is based in Srinagar