Critical Film Review: Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror

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By Tyler C

“So, military and paradise, bulletproof jackets and the veil; breathtaking vistas of mountains and crystal lakes are projected through barbed wire. Darkened army bunkers, the alert eyes of battle-ready soldiers watch over not an enemy or a border but school children, women going shopping, men delivering goods. And the certainty of yet another militant attack, blood, limbs, followed by reprisals by the armed forces. Such is the state of ‘normalcy’ into which children [in Kashmir] are born and raised. A cycle institutionalized and ritualized since the advent of militancy in 1991.”[1]

Ashvin Kumar’s 2012 documentary, Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror, is a collection of Kashmiri testimonials that map the political and cultural terrain of one of the most militarized spaces in the contemporary world—Kashmir, India-Pakistan. By filling in the silences and voicing the lived experiences of the Kashmiri people, the film disrupts the hegemonic narrative of the conflict (ie. the narrative produced by, and in the interests of, the Indian state). In doing so, the terrorized zone of Kashmir is humanized—the residents within Kashmir’s borders are represented as having a voice, a body, and a face—and the violence of the secular and democratic republic of India is exposed. Indeed, it was the film’s humanizing tendencies that were so threatening to the state’s political, economic, and cultural project that it was censored and never appeared in Indian theaters after its brief release.

Framing the Kashmir Conflict

The film begins with several Kashmiri militants recounting their most shocking and disturbing stories of violence and torture at the hands of the Indian army. These experiences frame the rest of the documentary, which threads the common story of the brutal and senseless nature of force by the hands of the Indian army and state.[2] The political history of Kashmir is then traced from independence, to occupation, to the corrupt election of 1987, and concludes with a look into present day Kashmir. The outbreaks of violence by Kashmiri locals in 1989 was considered a direct response to the silencing of their voices, as the Indian government did little to investigate the disputed results of the 1987 election. Violence became, as a former minister describes, the agreed upon way of forcing the Indian state to listen to the voices of the people; violence became the means to the inclusion of citizens in table talks (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012). However, these efforts ultimately failed and the Kashmiri continued to be excluded from India’s public and political discourse.

Attention in the film is given to the distinct identity of Kashmiriyat, a categorization that denotes the history of “brotherhood” between Muslims and Hindus as one man in the film describes it (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012). This unique title was initially mobilized by the militancy as the basis for a separate Kashmir state (Parashar, 2011). However, the narrator identifies the Gawkadal Massacre of 1990 as the definitive dividing moment in the cultural history of Kashmir whereby the Kashmiriyat identity came undone (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012). The Muslim community accused the Hindu pandits of inciting unnecessary violence against the Indian state. This event caused a permanent cleavage between the two groups, resulting in violence and an evacuation of Kashmiri Hindus to refugee camps. Thus, Inshallah, Kashmir constructs the Kashmir conflict as a complex web of violence that involves actors from multiple state, militant, and political[3] groups.

Gender and Women: Beyond the Victim/Agency Discourse

One faction of violence in which Inshallah, Kashmir pays homage to are the various roles that women continue to play in the conflict. Srilia Roy (2009) observes that recent feminist literature investigating the participation of women in militant movements has often been framed in binary terms: women as either subjugated victims or liberated agents of violence. The section on “Missing or Disappeared?” in the film highlights the visible entrance of Kashmir women into public discourse. The subsequent example illustrates women’s complex relationship to violence; they are able to affirm their agentive power while simultaneously emphasizing their status as victims. Following the activist group Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), comprised of mainly women and founded by Parveena Ahangar, this section of the film traces the history of “missing persons.” The APDP asserts that these were in fact enforced disappearances, committed by the Indian military, who have been known to murder or kidnap local Kashmiris. They posit that this particular form of violence was apart of the larger state project of Kashmiri oppression.[4] Similar to Las Madres Plazo de la Mayo,[5] women in APDP break traditional gender practices by entering into the civil realm to demand the return of their disappeared sons, daughters, and husbands. In doing so, they effectively (re)mobilize traditional gender norms as grieving grandmothers, mother, sisters, and wives to refigure “the missing” as “the disappeared” in the national imaginary. The Kashmiri women thereby “deconstruct the demonized amorphous enemy that [the state and] military relie[s] upon to maintain control” (Fraser, 2009, p. 38). Yet, the entrance of women into public life has been met with resistance from many men and, as Parveena Ahangar duly notes, “it has been 19 years and no one has returned” (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012).

Gender (In)stability: Disciplining the Female Body 

In the film, Parveena Ahangar describes how her husband continues to be uncomfortable with her public activism, accusing her of “spoiling the home and the children” (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012). However, as Parashar (2011) notes, men in the militancy movement have “paradoxically and consistently mobilized and relied on women’s popular support in their gendered and cultural roles as wives, sisters, and importantly as mothers” (p. 301). Indeed, Inshallah, Kashmir tackles the difficult conversations of how the female body was policed in the conflict; the film documents women’s entrance into political discourse, emphasizing the necessity of female support for the militancy movement, and investigates the rapes en masse of Kashmiri women by members of the Indian army. The film does not, however, link the policing of gender to the increase in religious fundamentalism that has re-stabilized traditional forms of disciplining the female body (via conservative ideas about appropriate attire and performance). Further, the film tends to focus on gender policing as simply a male cultural practice. In doing so, it ignores the complexities of other forms of this gender policing, such as female militancy-supporting groups who violently enforce gender practices in the name of jihad.[6] Though, Inshallah, Kashmir provides a platform for voicing female experiences in the conflict and thereby highlights the ideological and logistical necessity of the female body for the success of the militancy movement. This shift towards recognizing women as active and critical participants in militancy aids in facilitating the legitimacy and currency of Kashmiri females in political/peace processes (Parashar, 2011).

Conclusion: Resisting the State of Normalcy 

“I’m fine mom, it feels like home here. What is home? Home is also a torture cell. I have no identity [at] this time. Outside [of Kashmir] I am being treated like a terrorist, here I am being treated like a slave. I need my space. We need it badly” (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012).[7]

Thus, the groundbreaking documentary Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror provides a space for demystifying the faceless bodies and silenced voices (both terrorizing and terrorized) of the conflict—thereby illuminating the displaced human within the confines of the Kashmir war zone. Kumar brilliantly weaves together a narrative that tells the complex story of Kashmiri people—not one that totalizes their identity, but one that evinces its absence. The operations of militarization are exposed to examine the ways in which the female body explicitly and/or implicitly resist and support these processes as well as become the ideological battleground on which conflict is often fought. Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror is then a radical intervention into the politics of silence, challenging the state of normalcy by revealing “how freedom is conceded and replaced by fear, governance by institutionalized oppression and a paradise made desolate on the watch of India: a secular, democratic republic” (Inshallah, Kashmir, 2012).

References

Fraser, H.M. (2009) ‘“Los Desaparedicos”: The Madres of the Plaza and the Reframing of  Victims.’ Canadian Woman Studies/les Cahiers de la Femme, 27 (1), 36-39.

Kumar, Ashvin. (2012). Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror. [Documentary]. India.

Parashar, Swati (2011) “Gender, Jihad, and Jingoism: Women as Perpetrators, Planners, and         Patrons of Militancy in Kashmir” in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34: 4, 295-317.

Roy, Srila (2009) “The ethical ambivalence of resistant violence: notes from postcolonial South Asia”, Feminist Review: Special Issue on ‘Negotiating New Terrains: South Asian    Feminisms’. 91, 135-53.


[1] Inshallah, Kashmir (2012): narrator’s commentary on the state of Kashmiri psyche. Can be accessed on the documentary’s website: http://inshallahkashmir.com/#making

[2] It should be noted that the film also addresses the atrocious acts of sexual, psychological and physical violence committed by the Kashmir militants. Further, the complex politics of the militancy are analyzed in detail, such as their reliance on the conflict to continue living. However, it is outside of the scope this essay to explore such issues.

[3] I am cautious not to identify the massacre of 1990 as resulting in religious tension between Muslims and Hindus as a former minister notes that “a sense of secularism still remained.” Instead, I use political conflict to describe this cleavage.

[4] For instance, an unidentified woman at a protest in the documentary boldly states, “the Indian state looks through the prism of national security. And whatever this term national security means it does not provide security neither to the people of Kashmir or of India.”

[5] The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo organized to protest for the return of their missing children in Argentina. The women effectively mobilized traditional views of femininity and motherhood to acquire public empathy, consequently pressuring state officials to discontinue their campaign of kidnapping. See Fraser (2009) for more.

[6] Such as Dukhtaran-e-Millat, a radical female religious group that uses coercion and illegal means to police the return to traditional gender practices and ideas. Interestingly, they have been accused of providing logistical support to the militants. See Parashar, Swati (2011) for more.

[7] Malik Sajad an artist whose work can be found here: kashmirblackandwhite.com
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