Public Panel Discussion – Ather Zia & Huma Dar

Kashmir in the Shadows of Walls & Barbed-Wires: Postcolonial Contestation over Lives, Lands, Languages

Moderated by Piya Chatterjee, Scripps College

In 1947-8, up to a million and a half Muslims were ethnically-cleansed, a third massacred and the rest forcibly exiled from one part of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir—the part that soon thereafter was occupied by India. About a quarter of the women recorded as abducted and raped during the Partition of India and Pakistan came from less than one percent of the affected population: Jammu & Kashmir. Since the very beginning in 1947, Kashmiris have resisted the occupation and demanded a plebiscite for people to choose their own fate. Since 1989, this region has been engaged in an armed and a civilian struggle for self-determination. According to human rights organizations, Indian counterinsurgency strategies have killed over 70,000 Kashmiris and forcibly disappeared over 8000. 2016 saw mass protests during which at least 94 people have been killed, over 17000 wounded, more than 11000 arrested, and over 800 Kashmiris injured in the eyes or blinded by the Indian troops using disproportionate force.

In “The State of Post-Colonial Siege and the “De-Facto” Indian Occupation in the Valley of Kashmir,” Ather Zia, author, poet, and professor the University of Northern Colorado, will discuss India’s control of the Kashmir valley as a de-facto occupation. She will explain the state of siege that exists in Kashmir and how the Indian state has historically normalized the intense militarization and the massive human rights abuses in the region, which undermines Kashmiri desires for self-determination.

In “What the Barbed-Wires Cut & How: Occupying Kashmir, Fashioning an Empire Via Borders & Censors, Blinders & Mouth-Gags,” Huma Dar, author, poet, and professor at SFSU and Mills College, will discuss the technologies of fashioning an empire, both material and discursive, penal and sexual, spoken and unspeakable. Dar analyzes how gags and injuries reappear as sadomasochistic mouth-gags, darkly-shaded “blinded-eyes,” and “bullet/pellet effect” makeup on male models sashaying on the catwalk in a fashion show called Kashmiriyat or Kashmiriness, designed by an Indian designer-duo. Kashmiriyat’s unselfconsciousness strips the usual façades of “revolutionary postcolonialism” from Indian discourses and lays bare the colonial fantasies vis-à-vis Kashmir.


Huma Dar is a Lecturer in Race & Resistance Studies Program, Department of Ethnic Studies, SFSU & in Department of Gender & Sexuality Studies, Mills College. Dar’s work is focused on the intersections and co-formations of race, religion, class, caste, gender, sexuality, and national politics of South Asia and South Asian diasporas, centered on intellectual and political activism for social justice.  Her published work includes “Cinematic Strategies for a Porno-tropic Kashmir and Some Counter-Archives” in the Journal of Contemporary Theory, “Of Niqabs, Monsters, and Decolonial Feminisms,” and pieces in several edited volumes focused on South Asia. Dar is a feature writer at Pulse Media, a collaborative political, activist, and academic weblog, and a published poet. She is a founding member of the Townsend Center working group on “Muslim Identities & Cultures,” and organized the feminist conference, Boundaries in Question on the theme of Women and War, both at UC Berkeley.


Ather Zia is Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department and Gender Studies Program at University of Northern Colorado Greeley. Her research and forthcoming book focus on enforced disappearances, militarization, gender, and human rights abuses in Indian administered Kashmir. Zia has co-edited a reader titled They Gave Us Blood’: Narratives of Normalcy, Sacrifice, and Terror in Kashmir, a non-fiction anthology based on ethnographic narratives of politics in Kashmir, and an anthology of ethnographic poetry based on her fieldwork in Kashmir titled, “Field In-verse.” Her first collection of published poetry is titled The Frame, and her essays and creative work have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals. In 2013 she won the second prize for ethnographic poetry from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. She is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit, a digital journal based on writings on Kashmir, has worked as a journalist for the BBC World service and a civil servant with the Kashmir government, which in a lighter vein she refers to as her *pre-pre-preliminary fieldwork*.