Reading Discourses of Power and Violence in Emerging Kashmiri Literature in English: The Collaborator and Curfewed Night — by Amrita Ghosh
November 23, 2019
Abstract: This essay studies two literary texts on Kashmir, The Collaborator (2011) by Mirza Waheed and Curfewed Night (2010) by Basharat Peer and analyzes the discourses of power and covert and overt forms of violence that the works present. It first contextualizes events from the last three years that have occurred in Kashmir to present forms of violence Kashmiri subjects undergo in the quotidian of life. Thereafter, it situates the two works by the Kashmiri writers in the growing body of writing in English on Kashmir and historicizes the conflict. The essay, thus, argues that the selected literary works represent Kashmir as a unique postcolonial conflict zone that defies an easy terminology to understand the onslaught of violence, and the varied forms of power. As analyzed in the article, one finds a curious merging of biopolitics and necropolitics that constructs the characters as “living dead” within this emergency zone. For this, the theoretical trajectory of the essay is mapped out to show the transition from Foucault and Agamben’s idea of biopolitics to Mbembe’s concept of necropolitics. Thereafter, essay concludes how the two texts illustrate Agamben’s notion of the bare life is not enough to understand subjects living in this unique postcoloniality. The presence of death and the dead bodies go beyond bare life and shows how that bodies become significant signifiers that construct a varied notion of agency.

Note: This essay was originally published in Review of Human Rights and is reproduced here as is under a Creative Commons Attribution-CC-BY-NC.

Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter 2018, 30-49

Reading Discourses of Power and Violence in Emerging Kashmiri Literature in English: The Collaborator and Curfewed Night

Amrita Ghosh


This essay studies two literary texts on Kashmir, The Collaborator (2011) by Mirza Waheed and Curfewed Night (2010) by Basharat Peer and analyzes the discourses of power and covert and overt forms of violence that the works present. It first contextualizes events from the last three years that have occurred in Kashmir to present forms of violence Kashmiri subjects undergo in the quotidian of life. Thereafter, it situates the two works by the Kashmiri writers in the growing body of writing in English on Kashmir and historicizes the conflict. The essay, thus, argues that the selected literary works represent Kashmir as a unique postcolonial conflict zone that defies an easy terminology to understand the onslaught of violence, and the varied forms of power. As analyzed in the article, one finds a curious merging of biopolitics and necropolitics that constructs the characters as “living dead” within this emergency zone. For this, the theoretical trajectory of the essay is mapped out to show the transition from Foucault and Agamben’s idea of biopolitics to Mbembe’s concept of necropolitics. Thereafter, essay concludes how the two texts illustrate Agamben’s notion of the bare life is not enough to understand subjects living in this unique postcoloniality. The presence of death and the dead bodies go beyond bare life and shows how that bodies become significant signifiers that construct a varied notion of agency.

Key words: Barelife, biopolitics, Kashmir, necropolitics, violence.

Amrita Ghosh is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University, Sweden. Email:

Published Online: December 13, 2018. ISSN (Print): 2520-7024; ISSN (Online): 2520-7032.



Don’t tell my father, I have died,” he says And I follow him through blood on the road and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners left behind, as they ran from the funeral, victims of the firing. From the windows we hear grieving mothers, and snow begins to fallon us like ash. Black on edges of flames, it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods, the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers. Kashmir is burning.1

–Agha Shahid Ali


In her book, Territory of Desire, Ananya Jahanara Kabir reveals how the tragic history of Kashmir has been framed within a discourse of fantasy and desire in which Kashmir becomes the postcolonial nation’s “fetish of desire” in the construction of a narrative of paradise that dwells in the nation’s imaginary but is starkly denied by ground reality.2 This “fetish of desire” is challenged by the two selected, contemporary Kashmiri texts—namely, Mirza Waheed’s novel, The Collaborator3 and Basharat Peer’s memoir, Curfewed Night.4 As the two works reveal, the relationship between the state and the subject becomes based on state mechanisms of subjugation and a panoptic gaze of surveillance. I explore the aftereffects of a continuous war and mass violence on the Muslim subjects in the narratives, and show how a relentless intrusive violence seeps into the psyche of a society, and forms a “gaze of violence” constructed by the state apparatus.

The article, thus argues that, the two texts illustrate Kashmir as a unique postcoloniality, one in which Kashmiri Muslim subjects firstly become reminders of bare life, borrowing Agamben’s phrase, subjects that may be killed with impunity in the war torn region.5 Yet, using the genealogy and trajectory of biopolitics from Foucault to Agamben, I show how I am using the concept of biopolitics in Kashmir and how the notion of bare life becomes a limited one to analyze postcolonial spaces like Kashmir. Thus, the theoretical trajectory in this essay begins with Foucault’s understanding of biopolitics, shifts to Agamben’s use of the term and his idea of the homo sacer. The article then makes a final shift to Achille Mbembe’s idea of necropolitics to illustrate how “deathworlds” emerge in the Kashmiri politics and how one can understand Kashmir within the frame of the politics of death, emerging from biopolitics and bare life. These theoretical shifts are, therefore, present to show a unique postcoloniality within Kashmir that denotes an impoverishment within our vocabulary to study terror, and limits the specific context of Kashmir, if the bare life becomes the only operative terminology there. A curious concatenation of ideas of biopower and necropower constructs the Kashmiri space that moves beyond the figure of the homo sacer to the focus on dead bodies and their effect on this space, as the two texts reflect.

The genesis of this essay goes back to 2015, when sixteen-year-old unarmed Suhail Ahmed Sofi was caught protesting against the Indian occupation of the Kashmir valley in the Nabral district, and shot to death by the Indian paramilitary forces on April 18th 2015. He was suspected to be a ‘terrorist’ by the Indian state which has since the late eighties, reportedly killed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiri Muslims in encounters, shoot at sites, torture, detention, custodial killings and enforced disappearances.6 A Kashmiri tweeter tweeted after the slaying of Suhail stating, “Kashmir, once known as the paradise on earth has become a hunting ground for trigger happy Indian hunters.” Every year sparks new and more brutal violence and as recent as April 2017, there have been reports of the use of a “human shield” by the army, when twenty-six-year-old Farooq Ahmed Dar was tied in front of an army jeep and paraded in front of Kashmiri subjects during the Parliament constituency election in the Budgam district of the Kashmir valley. Ironically, Dar had cast his vote that day and was later randomly picked up, beaten by the army and forced to be a human shield, a cautionary reminder to all stone-pelters who engage in protesting against the militarization of Kashmir. He was later released and in shock continued to ask, “What was my crime?” and why he had to undergo such dehumanization by the army, who till this date have stood by their decision to use him as a shield, despite violating Geneva Conventions and human rights. I select these two incidents as ugly reminders of the on-going conflict between the Kashmiri Muslim subjects seeking the end of Indian occupation in the region and the Indian forces, which began in the mid-eighties and peaked in the nineties and is still ongoing in this war-torn space.

There is a rich body of literature in Kashmir, both in prose and poetry in the Kashmiri language, but recently, connected to the conflict, there has been a plethora of writing from Kashmir, mostly in English, that has emerged as a significant presence in literature. Against the ubiquitous, hegemonic Bollywoodian imaginations that have produced monolithic representations of Kashmir as a “territory of desire”7 and magical beauty in mainstream Indian cultural productions, emerging Kashmiri writers have been attempting to situate the discourse on Kashmir in an alternate paradigm. At present, despite the internationalization of the conflict in media coverage, the plight of ordinary Kashmiris is often relegated to a historical footnote, particularly in Western media outlets and to add to that, in mainstream India, Kashmir has either a Bollywoodian imaginary of exotic locale or represented as “suspect” space in which othered Kashmiris clamor for separation from the Indian state. Their struggle is completely silenced or misrepresented at best.

The spark of fresh violence and conflict ensuing from Suhail’s body that is mourned publicly amidst hundreds of mourners and the inanimate corpses looming in the selected texts are a reminder that these bodies are not impassive; they want to signify something and “speak” of the violence which ultimately reconfigures the idea of sovereign power and agency in emergency zones. The two texts ultimately question the idea of a ‘legitimate’ sovereign subject in postcolonial India and attempt in understanding this curious space of Kashmir suspended in an onslaught of macabre necropolitics.

Historical Backdrop

As a brief backdrop, what looms in the background of the Kashmir conflict is the catastrophic Partition of India in 1947 that also marked the ending of British colonialism. Before the Partition, Kashmir was one of the largest “independent princely states,”8 which was predominantly Muslim in population, but was ruled by a Hindu King, Maharaja Hari Singh. Kashmir had a rich syncretic past with influences of Sufi Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism influencing the region that marked a harmonious existence of Hindu and Muslim people. Post 1947, led by a random border under the aegis of Cyril Radcliffe, Kashmir fell into a curious liminal space between India and Pakistan. Since then, Kashmir became a territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. After prolonged fighting between India and Pakistan, in 1949, UN intervened and endorsed a plebiscite for the Kashmiri population to determine which country they wanted to belong to, but till this day the vote has not taken place due to the politics in the region, and the space of Kashmir has slowly come to be known as “India controlled Kashmir” or Pakistan controlled Kashmir” and some parts of it are even claimed by China.9 Mridu Rai explains that the “Line of Control [established in 1949], which is neither frontier nor porous boundary, [is] a legacy of a rushed and incomplete decolonization, a marker of an unresolved dispute, the scene of potential future wars, keeping Kashmiris divided, as well as the two nation-states that hold their future hostage.”10

Caught between India and Pakistan, Kashmir eventually saw a gradual rise of armed militants in the late eighties calling for azaadi (freedom) from the Indian state. The turbulent nineties also witnessed the mass exile of the Hindu community, with a section of people claiming Kashmir to be merged with Pakistan. Since then, the Indian state has declared an endless war on the region and Kashmir has become one of the highest militarized spaces in the world. Nitasha Kaul rightly argues how Kashmir has evolved into a space that defies easy framing between just the two nation-states. According to her, Kashmir is not just caught between “India versus Pakistan, Hindus versus Muslim, or China-allied-with-Pakistan Himalayan mountainous chain,11 but the place and its people are not a monolith that can be confined to be identified with Pakistan, India or China. It is now a violent war-torn suspended space, which as Kaul reminds us, continuously erases the identity and unique history of the Kashmiri people.12 It is a now a space that is defined primarily by state machinery and laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Disturbed Areas Act (DAA), which allow for any kind of policies of impunity to raid, arrest and kill subjects. Thus, as previously mentioned, a conflicted space of Kashmir may seem analogous to the camp, but one of the main goals in this paper is to show how the selected texts reflect a postcolonial state where conflicted zones have varied understandings of identity, history and politics of death.

Curfewed Night, divided into two parts, gives a glimpse of Kashmir from the nostalgic years of a “fairyland” devoid of any tumult. Peer weaves his memory of a childhood in the idyllic times with the rich history and cultural fabric of ‘Kashmiriyat13 that constitutes of Sufism, a strand of Islam that spread through Iran in the fourteenth century that uniquely merged with Hinduism and Buddhism. The text gradually shows the rise of insurgency and constant conflict between India and Pakistan across an arbitrary line of control to a shift in popular ethos towards resisting the Indian state’s brutalities and relentless episodes of torture and killings of Kashmiri youth. Through the horrifying violence, the text also becomes an elegy of a “paradise lost” of the author’s past reminiscences of Kashmir. Published in the year after Peer’s memoir, Waheed’s novel, The Collaborator is a disturbing account of the escalated conflict in the nineties when the Indian state created “collaborators” within the Kashmiri population to help the army gain information about the potential militants or ones who crossed the border into Pakistan to gain training to fight the Indian forces. Both texts become testimonies of Kashmir as a space of exception ridden with crackdowns and curfews where life and death are constantly under the necropower of the state.

From Biopolitics to Necropolitics: Foucault, Agamben and Mbembe

This essay is not about the politics of resistance in the Kashmir valley. Instead, I am interested in what forms of postcolonial subjects in their corporeal life and death become excesses of sovereign power, so that they are abject not only in life, but also produce an abjection in death. Agamben in Homo Sacer argues that the camp is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West in its construction of sovereignty, but in the case of Kashmir as a “space of exception,” a different figuration of sovereign power is being framed here, as a constant state of hunting where life and death both become a “game.” The body is within the horizon of a certain form of symbolic meaning and enacts a “necropower,” a “death in life”14— that ultimately creates a third zone for the colonized subject, here the Kashmiri Muslim subject under Indian occupied Kashmir, who exists in a weird liminal zone between life and death. On the one hand, there is the presence of biological life, on the other hand, their existence in a permanent state of exception that can always potentially reduce them to a state of civic or social death. As mentioned earlier, the two texts reveal peculiar configurations of the two, biopolitics and necropolitics constantly merging together to construct the “living dead” (using Mbembe’s term).15 One may thus ask, where does biopower end and necropower begin in this case within the politics of Kashmir? Here, it would be worthwhile to view this as a concatenation of a unique type.

Before the essay delves into an analysis of the selected texts in how they present an understanding of these theoretical shifts to reveal Kashmir as a unique postcoloniality, it would be important to chart the theoretical trajectory from Foucault’s biopolitics to Agamben’s notion of barelife. Michel Foucault used the term “biopower” first time in his The History of Sexuality, to focus on how disciplinary institutions exercise power control to regulate human subjects.16 He explains how the politics in the modern state exerts control over entire populations, and not just over those who threatened the state. Alex Murray explains that, “Foucault identified the body as the site where this power was exerted”17 and this is how the modern state becomes a sovereign power. Some of the ways he mentions this happens is separation, surveillance, organization of disciplinary regulations over bodies through which the idea of a sovereign power is established. For Foucault, this exercising of a sovereign power over populations is not all bad—for instance, use of vaccination, prevention of disease all mark the sovereign power “concerned at the site of the body.”18 But this same biopower can cast great evil and create a Holocaust, as Foucault maintained. Taking this strand from Foucault, Giorgio Agamben is also concerned with the limiting human life by biopower. However, Agamben takes the biopolitics to another extreme where he sees the camp as the “biopolitical paradigm of the modern world” and he attempts to ‘complete’ Foucault’s theory of biopolitics.19 Thus, Agamben extends the Foucauldian notion of biopower and explains that modern politics of the state is not a break from classical idea of politics, but identifies the figure of the homo sacer as the paradigm of modern politics, as mentioned above. Agamben’s ideas were heavily influenced by Carl Schmitt, who analyzed Germany in 1930s and stated that the exception was the rule.20 For Agamben, this becomes the key to understand the notion of bare life and homo sacer. He explains that the state can declare emergency, which he calls the state of exception, a “threshold” space in which normal functioning of law is suspended, and it thus becomes a space outside law—this space is occupied by the homo sacer. According to Agamben, modern sovereign power is intrinsically linked to the production of the figure of homo sacer, a figure that can be killed by impunity by the state without any punishment. Thus, the logic of sovereignty is the production of the homo sacer, a subject reduced to bare naked life, erasing all of his/her legal status and rights. He locates such a figure in the camp, as an example of a space of exception and modern sites like Guantanamo Bay. One of Agamben’s most controversial and incisive arguments is that in the modern state construction of sovereign power, anyone has the potential to become the exceptional figure of the homo sacer.21

This part moves from Foucault and Agamben’s understanding and shifts in the concept of biopolitics and modern sovereign power, to the idea of necropolitics, a term coined by Achille Mbembe in his essay titled, “Necropolitics.”22 Here Mbembe discusses the extreme form of biopower that is unceasing and relentless and causes maximum destruction or death of populations. Necropolitics, thus, causes “death-worlds,” a severe space of exception. Thus, it is important to see the shift why from Foucault and Agamben, this essay turns to the use of Mbembe’s theory of necropolitics for Kashmir, by which necropower becomes a severest form of power and policy used by the state to control Kashmir, as analyzed through the two selected texts. In “Necropolitics,” Mbembe emphasizes not on the exceptional figure that can be killed by the state, but the focus on death as the central mechanism in certain postcolonial spaces. One of the crucial differences from Foucault and Agamben’s versions of biopolitics to Mbembe’s necropolitics is that within biopolitics, the central focus and analysis is life, or what kinds of life are controlled or killed; whereas, the central emphasis in necropolitics is death and not life. In the essay, Mbembe goes back to the idea of sovereign power, Agamben’s space of exception, and traces such spaces under colonialism. He analyses the figure of the slave in the plantation fields, living in a liminal state of life and death, a zombie-like figure who is constantly under the terror to die. Mbembe also presents examples of modern spaces under necropower like Palestine and explains that necropower constructs ‘death-worlds’ “where large populations are the target of the sovereign” to erase their life, to kill.23 Everyday life is under a constant “state of siege.”24 where land, water, air every space is under a power that is employed to spread maximum violence. He includes the covert and overt practices of necropolitics by stating that “daily life is militarized” by necropower, and movement is restricted, along with local institutions made nonoperational that leads to a slow death, “invisible killing” as Mbembe puts it.25 This kind of necropolitics goes beyond the biopolitical space in the way violence and “right to kill” is legitimized over large masses. This becomes an enactment of sovereign power, where biopolitics and necropolitics have a unique concatenation for the production of terror.26 This is precisely the kind of terror formation and state of siege that is important to locate in the case of Kashmir, as reflected in the selected texts.


Waheed’s novel, The Collaborator focuses on the unnamed protagonist at a border village in Kashmir, named Nowgam, close to the cease-fire line between India and Pakistan. Three of the narrator’s close friends cross the border into Pakistan to join the freedom movement against India. The narrator is left behind in the village, musing on the Indian army, Captain Kadian’s decision, to make him a mukhbir (Urdu word for secret collaborator of the Indian state) as a way to stop uprisings for freedom within the valley against the Indian side of Kashmir. The narrator goes through an internal turmoil with this forced role of an informer of the state and reminisces of a tranquil childhood without the “pressing fear”27 of security check-posts interspersed through the region like menacing presence. Summing up the emerging conflict around him, the narrator states:

In the years after I grew up, some of the boys either became guides and clandestinely scouted city boys across the border, into training camps into Pakistan, or became militants themselves to relieve their parents of their yoke of shepherds’ lives and give them proper homes when Kashmir would gain its independence. Many disappeared like that from time to time; I guess those who went to the city were luckier. My friends, all my friends, went away too, and God only knows if they will ever come back. Not many do, you see, and those who do, don’t live very long here. Because the army people, the protectors of the land, have decided that there is only one way of dealing with the boys: catch and kill.28

The above extract underscores the machinery of death that situates every Kashmiri subject within the fold of a “catch and kill” policy— here, eradicating a sense of human subjectivity becomes a norm, an aberrant one that turns the entire of Kashmiri into a zone of ‘living dead.’ Herein, lies the difference between a Kashmiri life and that of the figure of the homo sacer. Giorgio Agamben explains that the human subject is reduced to become the very embodiment of the mysterious figure of the homo sacer, who may be killed but not sacrificed since the logic of sacrificing is to elevate the subject from the profane to the realm of sacredness. One of the main characteristics of the homo sacer is that such an accursed subject dwells in extreme otherness from human society,29 and it is in this very exclusion and abandonment by the state, the state manifests its sovereign power. Agamben is, indeed, important to understand Kashmir’s aberrant space, how it exists as a space of exception, a space beyond ordinary law and devoid of any human rights. In Agamben’s words, “The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule. In the camp, the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such remains nevertheless outside the normal order.”30 In this context, Kashmir does become a space outside regular jurisdiction. It is a space of exception where all regular legal functions are suspended but what remains is the army’s “catch and kill” policy. Waheed’s text shows us that in the Kashmiri state of exception, the subject goes beyond the construction of the bare life, where there is an exceptional figure of reduced to the vestiges of life that can be killed without any retribution; rather, all subjects in this space are targets to be killed that constitute larger “death-worlds”31 in this aberrant space.

In the unnamed collaborator’s aforementioned excerpt, the narrator explains such a space where the sovereign power exercises technologies of destruction on Kashmiri subjects, “catching and killing” them, thereby “conferring upon them the status of living dead.”32 They are eternally under the fear of death that negates life. Interestingly, Mbembe’s concept of necropower becomes an indirect critique of the homo-sacer, where in postcolonial spaces of exception the rise of necropolitics produces a sovereign power whose sole objective is a “maximal economy” of destruction and massacre.33

Thus, the Kashmiri subjects find themselves not only under a Foucauldian sense of biopower that exerts control over “life” and the population, through certain technologies of power like bodily searches, checks and curfews, pellet guns and human shields as aforementioned, but in fact, this notion of biopolitics becomes “insufficient to account for contemporary forms of subjugation of life to the power of death.”34 They now inhabit the third zone of the “living dead,” a necropower under which the sovereign power negates the possibility of any cessation of war. It is a space of exception in which the war is continuous and cannot end. Elsewhere, in the novel, as the collaborator sits at night listening to the firing of shells on his village, he ponders, “Why can’t they just have another war instead—proper, proper war—and get it over with.”35 A “proper war” would mean an end, a limit to the constant onslaught of fear, violence and death of the Kashmiri people, but Kashmir turns into an uncanny space and the only way sovereignty can make its presence felt is by the sheer destruction of turning the living into dead bodies and throwing them into the border spaces.

In the novel, the collaborator’s job, as directed by the ruthless Captain Kadian, is to scour the hundreds of bones and corpses lurking in mountains and valleys where the state-directed killing of Kashmiri bodies lie unclaimed. The collaborator investigates them to locate an id, a weapon that would then incriminate these bodies as dead terrorists. The first time the narrator visits the valley’s hidden area with piles of bodies thrown around, he is suffocated with the eerie presence of corpses around him:

There are probably six of them ahead of me. Ugly grins, unbelievable, almost inhuman postures and a grotesque intermingling of broken limbs make me dig my teeth deep, and hard, into my clenched fists. What an elaborate litter! There are bare wounds, holes dark and visceral, and limbless, armless, even headless, torsos… It’s not easy, collecting identity cards and whatever else you can find on dead bodies. Bodies after bodies— some huddled together, others forlorn and lonesome—in various stages of decay. Wretched human remains lie on the green grass like cracked toys.36

These corpses are a reminder of a terror which becomes intertwined in the production of sovereignty. The staged massacres reduce the lifeless bodies to the status of skeletons, ghoulish presences, mangled limbs but the lifeless bodies represent something beyond the bare-naked life of the homo sacer. These masses of bodies strewn over the Kashmir valley enact a tension between life and death. These bodies are not even provided graves or any kind of ritualized passing into the domain of the “dead.” On the one hand, they share an identity with the slain who once was alive, which becomes the basis of ritualized mourning, parading, and the claiming of the body by the families from state authorities, and on the other they also embody a troubled affect on the occupier and on the Kashmiri subjects, that derives a certain kind of significance towards agency. The presence of these bodies in the valley time and again, thus, become the iconic face of the Kashmir conflict—they possess a certain agency coded within the lifeless corporeality but are also reminders of life, that poses a threat to the idea of sovereignty. Thus, Captain Kadian might want these dehumanized Kashmiri bodies to become “dead meat, that’s how we prefer them,”37 but the abjection of the corpse has a certain meaning that has the power to unsettle and terrify. The collaborator sitting beside river Jhelum watching these mangled bodies once again observes, “Macabre, horrid ghouls, on either side of the brook watch me from their melancholic black-hole eye sockets. Carcasses with indefinable expressions on what remains of their faces—I hope I don’t recognize anyone. This is what we get? They seem to ask.”38 Ironically, these bodies even in their death account for a certain agency and are not passive abject bodies lying in the valley. It is precisely why they are covered, hidden away from the general population in the hinterlands. Besides, these ghastly presences of the carcasses and corpses in their varied mutilated states are not mere specters that are buried into forgetfulness. They bear testimonies to the sheer brutalities and violence perpetrated on dehumanized subjects.

Margaret Schwartz in her interesting piece on “An Iconography of the Flesh” argues that corpses and “dead flesh” are “vibrant matter”39 and studies the dead body them as “object in transition”40 that “dynamically and diversely organizes the cultural, representational, biological, the subjective and the objective, the ritual and the metaphysical.”41 According to Schwartz, this dynamism of the dead body actually enables a “nuanced and materialistic notion of agency.”42 Schwartz locates a certain non- human agency in the dead body that refers to the memory of someone human but also points to a departure.43 Especially in the context of enforced disappearances and encounter killings, these bodies becomes vibrant manifestations of the statist torture and abuse and exist as collective unconscious of Kashmir, seeking to know if “this death is what they deserved” (my italics). In the “iconography of the flesh,” the dead flesh becomes a liminal thing between the living and the dead in its state of decomposing materiality that creates a sense of legacy that, according to Schwartz, in its grotesqueness mocks and seeks to know “whether we understand, whether we can decipher”44 what the dead wanted. The collaborator’s surreal task to visit these corpses to sift through them feels like “conducting some sacred ceremony over the carcasses”45— and ironically, even if the collaborator works for the state, he becomes key to create a space to understand what the bodies demand in the identification of the injustice perpetrated.

In a fascinating study on the economy of dead bodies titled The Political Lives of Dead Bodies, Katherine Verdery focuses on bones and corpses that according to her, became political symbols in Eastern Europe since 1989, and reads them as “symbolic vehicles”46 that transcend time connecting the past with the present. Verdery further argues that dead bodies have the ability to become effective political symbols and can affect socio-political change; she calls it the “symbolic capital”47 by which a political change of some kind is possible through the corpse. This signifying of the corpse with a value, or the capital to say something beyond the gruesome death and disappearance of the life that shrouds the narrative in The Collaborator is important; it illustrates two key points— first, that while Agamben is unclear about the notion of agency in the homo sacer, there is something beyond the death of subject that still carries meaning within the body in the corpses the collaborator exhumes and locates in the valley. In their death, their corporeality says more and the specter of the once dead haunts the necropolis of Kashmir. As Verdery states, the bodies and the bones not only challenge the past meted out to them, but rewrite history by their restless presence, “demanding accountability,” and thus, they are not ‘dead.’48

Towards the end of the novel, the collaborator subverts Captain Kadian by making graves for three days continuously for the bodies strewn in the valley. Instead of collecting the photo IDs for the Indian security camp, he carefully wraps each artifact found from the corpses and buries them with each body in makeshift messy graves, with the thought that perhaps “someone may discover them some day—there will be some record, some evidence, of what they have done here.”49 The collaborator’s leaving the bodies with connections to their past identities embodies a gesture that negates a sense of finality of these bodies. It gives the bodies a certain power and subjectivity to speak and record the atrocities done to them. Mbembe, once again in his explanation of necropower also points out that the existence of a permanent state of exception in the occupied space produces a discourse of terror and a state of siege—a highly militarized state,50 which kills the living dead whose bodies exhibit a “strange coolness on one hand, and on the other, their stubborn will to mean, to signify something.”51 Mbembe locates this change from the living dead to the dead body, under necropower and notes that the bodies and skeletons may be impassive, but they do not have any ataraxia—the state of tranquil calmness and serenity. Instead, they represent an “illusory rejection of a death that has already occurred”52—they also become a spectacle of the necropower unleashed by the postcolonial state in a situation of constant aggression against an absolute enemy. The bodies unraveled by the collaborator, similarly, instead of a slow decomposition into nothingness and ataraxy almost bear a sense of dynamic afterlife in constant tension with the past. One may argue that the collaborator’s final act of burning the entire “dumping ground” much later in the novel goes against this idea of the bodies producing agency in death and in fact destroys the evidence. However, it must be remembered that the collaborator after marking the final rites of these dehumanized bodies, returns to the scene to burn the desecrated space in an act of purging. He calls it the “last rites”53 and lighting the graveyard becomes the collaborator’s only act of resistance that he can claim as his own. As he states:

I light the fire. There’s a buzz in my ear. It’s early evening…. Flesh, bones, hair, clothes, leather, rot, blood, combs, photographs, letters. Boys from the city, boys from the villages, boys from towns, boys from saffron fields, boys from the mountains, boys from the plains; rich boys, poor boys, only-child boys, and boys with sisters at home; weak boys, strong boys, big boys, small boys, singer boys, thinker boys, lonesome boys, naked boys, scared boys, martyr boys, brave boys, guerrilla boys, commander boys, soyeth wannabe sidekick boys, orphan boys, unknown boys and famous boys, boys—they all burn in the big fire I’ve cooked up, the fire I watch now, my fire, my only act, my only decision in years, my fire.54

This fire becomes the unnamed collaborator’s only act in the entire text where he burns Kadian’s graveyard, as he calls it, and despite the previous act of recording and marking their graves, the burning of the whole place symbolizes the act of claiming his agency and a defiance against the likes of Kadian. As the fires gulp down the entire valley of dead bodies, he claims, “I am burning death, itself”55 and this cremation against the burials, ironically, becomes his last “solution” as he knows that the unmarked graves would never get the final respect of the bodies.

Another fascinating work titled, “Uses of a Dying Body” by Costica Bradatan also explores the affect of the dying body on contemporary politics and culture and states that,

Under extraordinary circumstances, however, a dying body comes to perform political functions that a living one cannot even dream of. In such cases, the sheer act of dying can generate among those who witness it an uncanny mix of awe, repulsion, and fascination, which could be best described as a form of power.56

Similarly, these unclaimed and burned bodies in their brutal deaths enact a certain kind of “transcendence”57 that performs a resistance that perhaps is not possible in the living subject. As mentioned before, Mbembe’s analysis of necropower doesn’t entirely push in the direction of exploring the “agency” of the dead body but his assessment of the bones reflecting a “willful” significance denotes the remarkable presence of the dead body as a haunting call for the return of the dead in exceptional spaces.


If Waheed’s text shows a dimension of necropolitics and its effects on the Kashmiri people, Basharat Peer’s text represents the classic effects of necropower on people inhabiting the third zone between subject and object positions. As earlier mentioned, Peer’s memory of Kashmir fleets between a land with golden autumns, and wintry nights with people warming themselves with kangris58 and the muezzin’s call for prayers, to one where mornings in Kashmir clamor with to calls for azaadi. Kashmir becomes a grotesque space with rapid deaths of his school friends in raids by the Indian army, and schools turned into army camps. The first section of the memoir is an important one, setting up the mnemonic space of Kashmir, one that is mottled with “season of green mountains and meadows, blushing snow and the expanse of yellow mustard flowers in the fields.”59 The narrator reminisces nightingales on willows and Kashmiri songs played on the radio celebrating the flowers. This idyllic Kashmir establishes the stark difference of the memory of a homeland soon to be jarred by an endless war.

As the texts describes, daily life in Kashmir is reduced to a series of “crackdowns” as more and more Indian military camps are set up in interior parts of the region. In one of the chapters titled “Bunkeristan”60 Peer remembers, “Military vehicles, armed soldiers, machine guns poking out of sandbug bunkers were everywhere; death and fear became routine, like going to school or playing cricket and football.”61 Elsewhere, he remembers waking up to the mosque’s call, not for prayers but for emergency announcements of arbitrary crackdowns:

Aslam-u-alikum! This is an urgent announcement. The army has cordoned off the village. Every man and boy must assemble on the hospital lawns by six. It is a crackdown. Every house will be searched. The women can stay at home. Kashmir was rife with stories of soldiers misbehaving with women during crackdowns. But there was nothing we could do.62

Foucault’s notion of biopower is useful here to understand how it manifests a control, of disciplining and surveillance of life in order to establish sovereign power. The aforementioned depiction of Kashmir also represents terror as a way of life, whereas Peer notes, “death and fear” were the only norms of survival and existence. Kashmiri people are subjected to a constant “state of injury”—“a phantom-like world of horrors and intense cruelty” where the occupied subjects are in a state of “death-in-life.”63 Here, Biopolitics and necropolitics fuse and merge to present a “unique formation and infliction of terror, as a way of life becomes [is] a concatenation of biopower, the state of exception, and the state of injury.”64 Thus, the daily reminder of the mosque’s call turning into a call for crackdowns, and identity searches on the streets with the potential to be killed, or the daily raids on homes, all reflect a specific kind of terror formation on this unique postcolonial space. It is also crucial that Peer’s text is a reminder of Kashmir not only as a space of exception where all normal law is suspended, but it becomes a space where peace is not possible. As noted through The Collaborator also, this text also emphasizes how the very project of necropower is against the ending of war.

Mbembe’s vision of modern necropolitics is based on his analysis of the of the occupation of Palestine. Although the “logic of martyrdom” in Palestine works differently in the Kashmiri context, the framework of necropower and the modality of killing in the emergency zone of Kashmir work precisely in the same way. Here, the sovereign power cuts off Kashmir from the rest of the world in its daily militarization of life with its spectre of terror. Kashmir’s social and cultural psyche is changed in a way that Peer remembers ten-year-old boys playing games on streets called “army-militant,” in which their cricket bats had become guns and tennis balls had become “hand-grenades.”65

This kind of acute domination over the psyche of the Kashmiri subjects also leads to the destruction of all civil and social institutions, and what remains is only the haunting specter of death. Not surprisingly, Peer recalls the post 9/11 world of Kashmir going through another series of changes when the Indian state establishes the “The Armed Forces Special Powers Act” (AFPSA), “a law introduced by the Indian government, [that] gave all Indian soldiers posted in Kashmir the power to shoot any person to shoot any person suspected of being a threat. It also provided them immunity from prosecution in a court of law.”66 Post the establishment of this law, Peer recalls an incident about passing a rickshaw without a bulb at night that raised enough suspicion for a fatal response from the patrolling army.67 Even marriage celebrations undergo a change under this terror nexus. As Peer writes, the age-old tradition of circular singing and dancing at the groom’s house before he left for the bride was ultimately eliminated from Kashmiri customs “after the evening of May 16, 1990, when Indian paramilitaries fired upon a marriage party and raped the bride.”68 This is particularly telling of an emergency zone where practically no minimal civilian life is left.

Suvir Kaul’s new work on Kashmir, violence and unmarked graves indicates that the Indian army in Kashmir are there “not to police” the space but they are there to “shoot to kill in Kashmir: [and] not to warn, not to disperse.”69 Elsewhere, Suvir Kaul describes the capital city of Srinagar as “a city of shutters, with virtually no civilian traffic on the streets.”70 Uncannily, he concludes that his city and neighborhood are shrouded by a pall of silence that reminds him of the “silence of a mausoleum.”71 This relentless violence seeps into creating terror formations within the Kashmiri pysche, even when it is not directly killing.72 In the memoir, Peer also depicts Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir as a “city of bunkers” and a “city of absences”73 where within the fortified city, the presence of violence looms its oppressive gaze marked by sudden neighborhood graveyards where “martyrs” of the rebellion lay, with the age of the dead in almost all tombstones being eighteen. A “rubble of a destroyed home”74 lay derelict at one corner amidst the paramilitary trucks named Mahakal (literally meaning agent of death) sprawling all over the city. This fear of death or potential killing by the paramilitary presence is what Kaul explains as an “intrusive violence” that perpetually becomes an embedded sense of violence in the minds of the people. Elsewhere, the narrator reflects the ongoing terror in the daily lives of the people—“Men and women who left for home for the day’s work were not sure they would return: thousands did not. Graveyards began to spring up everywhere.”75 In such a geography of oppression, everyday life is under the strictest control, producing a manifestation of extreme biopower over life, but as noted in the two texts, one notices a construction of “living death” through the militarized mechanisms. Peer describes one scene of a crackdown where soldiers “barked” to see identity cards and asked the queue of Kashmiri people to raise their hands, and new rules at schools created watchtowers and bunkers at the school fence to observe people and students. As the text explains, people almost became normalized to this Kashmir under siege.76 It is, however, important to clarify that biopower is not contiguous with surveillance and control, just like necropower is not contiguous with the massacre. Peculiar configurations of the two constantly keep forming and reforming in Kashmir to establish sovereignty. As noted in the two texts, extreme technologies of surveillance are allied with the “economy of the massacre”77—that is, in this case, forms of biopower and necropower fuse in peculiarly situated ways to construct the postcolonial sovereign power.


Instead of exploring the Kashmiri subject as bare life unilaterally, these two works provide a glimpse in ways where the notion of bare life perhaps denotes an impoverishment within our own vocabulary to study terror, and limits the specific context of Kashmir. Agamben’s idea of the bare life is predicated on the idea of abandonment, on life exposed to death in a space of exception. However, as seen through the two texts, not every manifestation of the sovereign politics of death can be reduced to abandonment. Mbembe’s analysis calls into question the politics of death and the lifeless body, in which sovereign power does not establish itself with abandonment as its primary driving force. In many cases, the question of abandonment is not necessary for the production of killable bodies. Thus, the way sovereign power is forced and established in certain postcolonial conflicted spaces is varied.

Waheed and Peer’s works situate emerging Kashmiri literature in English in a space where Kashmir emerges as a postcolonial space, where terror becomes the way of life. Through these two texts, the essay maps out how power works in varied ways in Kashmir in daily
a conflict zone like Kashmir. As analyzed in the two works, Foucault’s notion of biopolitics, including Agamben’s extension of the concept and his idea of bare life provide significant theoretical grounds to read the forms of power and biopolitics and the reduction of Kashmiri subjects; however, the essay shifts to show how necropolitics works as a constant formation of violence and terror within the two works that sets Kashmir’s conflict zone in a curious liminality, constantly hanging between life and death. Ironically, a Kashmiri militant once interviewed by Victoria Schofield stated, “They have no love for the Kashmiris, only for the land.”78 And that is precisely what this liminal space of Kashmir has come to mean within the existing political discourse. The Kashmiri Muslim life is just not abandoned to its barest form but is constantly under the threat of death.


  1. Ali, “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight.”
  2. Kabir, Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir.
  3. Waheed, The Collaborator.
  4. Peer, Curfewed Night.
  5. Agamben, Homo Sacer.
  6. Adams, “Investigate all Disappearances in Kashmir.”
  7. Kabir, Territory of Desire.
  8. There were approximately five hundred princely states under British reign before the Partition that were “independent” by nature but paid subsidy to the British Raj and were indirectly governed by the Empire. They still enjoyed more autonomy than other parts of India and Pakistan.
  9. Nitasha Kaul points out that present-day Kashmir is occupied by India, Pakistan and China. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir form the Northern areas or ‘Azad Kashmir’ as it is known; India Occupied Kashmir constitutes of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, and remote areas of Aksai Chin and Shaksam Valley are occupied by China in the Xinjiang region. Kaul, “Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory,” 189.
  10. Rai, “Making A Part Inalienable,” 255.
  11. Kaul, “Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory,” 189.
  12. Ibid 190.
  13. Kashmiriyat is a concept that varies in its definition, but generally characterizes the unique elements of the Kashmiri tradition, history, culture and people that is distinct from the rest of Indian ethos in terms of hospitality, syncretism, the Kashmiri’s people’s collective consciousness.
  14. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 20.
  15. Mbembe, “Necropolitics.”
  16. Foucault, The History of Sexuality.
  17. Murray, Giorgio Agamben, 59.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 9.
  20. See, Schmitt, Political Theology.
  21. Agamben, Homo Sacer; Agamben, State of Exception.
  22. Mbembe, “Necropolitics.”
  23. Ibid 29.
  24. Ibid 30.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid 22.
  27. Waheed, The Collaborator, 6.
  28. Ibid 7.
  29. Ibid 185.
  30. Agamben, Homo Sacer, 169.
  31. Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” 40.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid, 39-40.
  35. Waheed, The Collaborator, 129.
  36. Ibid, 8.
  37. Ibid, 3.
  38. Ibid, 8.
  39. Schwartz, “An Iconography of the Flesh,” 4.
  40. Ibid, 2.
  41. Ibid, 1.
  42. Ibid.
  43. Ibid, 4.
  44. Ibid, 8.
  45. Waheed, The Collaborator, 48.
  46. Verdery, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies, 27.
  47. Ibid, 33.
  48. Ibid, 111.
  49. Waheed, The Collaborator, 290.
  50. Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” 30.
  51. Ibid, 35.
  52. Ibid.
  53. Waheed, The Collaborator, 297.
  54. Ibid, 298.
  55. Ibid, 299.
  56. Bradatana, “A Light for the Future.”
  57. Ibid.
  58. Earthen mobile fire pots carried by Kashmiri people as a means to be warm in brutal snowy winters.
  59. Peer, Curfewed Night, 4.
  60. Stan” is the Urdu word for place—thus, the word is an ironical twist on the name of a place associated with bunkers (The place of bunkers).
  61. Peer, Curfewed Night, 46.
  62. Ibid, 49. In one of the most heinous and infamous crackdowns on February 23, 1991, in Kunan Poshpora village of Kashmir, all men and children were driven out of their homes during a night crackdown and Indian soldiers brutally raped more than fifty-three women (official record) of the village. Human rights Watch organization has claimed been series of investigations of the army regarding this incident; these cases are still impending resolutions till today. The Indian authorities have repeatedly dismissed all charges.
  1. Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” 21.
  2. Ibid, 22.
  3. Peer, Curfewed Night, 79.
  4. Ibid, 100.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid, 106.
  7. Kaul, “To Walk Past the Threatening Gaze.”
  8. Kaul, “Diary of a Summer,” 17.
  9. Ibid, 19.
  10. Ravi Nessman reports that Kashmiris are acutely traumatized by this unending war and the “rate of suicide, once unthinkable in this Islamic society, has gone up twenty-six fold. Nessman also reveals that depression and mental illness has become widespread in India occupied Kashmir. Nessman, “The Wounds of Kashmir’s Never-ending War,” 153.
  11. Peer, Curfewed Night, 124.
  12. Ibid, 67.
  13. Ibid, 30.
  14. Ibid, 50-55.
  15. Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” 40.
  16. Schofield, Kashmir in the Crossfire, 285.


Adams, Brad. “Investigate all Disappearances in Kashmir.” Human Rights Watch Asia. Feb 16, 2011.

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. California: Stanford University Press, 1998.

———. State of Exception. Translated by Kevin Attel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Ali, Agha Shahid. “I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight.” The Country Without a Post Office: Poems. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

Bradatana, Costica. “A Light for the Future: On the Political Uses of a Dying Body.” Dissent Magazine. May 23, 2011. future-on-the-political-uses-of-a-dying-body

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. New York: Random House, Inc., 1978.

Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Kabir, Ananya Jahanara. Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Kaul, Nitasha. “Kashmir: A Place of Blood and Memory.” In Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, edited by Sanjay Kak, 189-212. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2011.

Kaul, Suvir. “Diary of a Summer.” In Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, edited by Sanjay Kak, 17–28. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2011.

———. “To Walk Past the Threatening Gaze.” Outlook Magazine. August 5, 2013. the-threatening-gaze/287103.

Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003): 11–40. Murray, Alex. Giorgio Agamben. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Nessman, Ravi. “The Wounds of Kashmir’s Never-Ending War.” In Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, edited by Sanjay Kak, 153-158. New York, NY: Penguin Books India, 2011.

Peer, Basharat. Curfewed Night: A Memoir of War in Kashmir. London: Harper Collins Press, 2010.

Rai, Mridu. “Making A Part Inalienable: Folding Kashmir into India’s Imagination.” In Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir, edited by Sanjay Kak, 250-278. New York, NY: Penguin Books India, 2011.

Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty.

Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in the Crossfire. London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1996.

Schwartz, Margaret. “An Iconography of the Flesh: How Corpses Mean As

Matter.” Communication+1 2, no. 1(2013): 1-16.

Verdery, Katherine. The Political Lives of Dead Bodies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Waheed, Mirza. The Collaborator. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.

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About the Contributor

<a href="" target="_self">Amrita Ghosh</a>

Amrita Ghosh

Amrita Ghosh has a PhD in postcolonial literature and theory from Drew University, USA. She was a lecturer and taught at Seton Hall University, New Jersey, prior to moving to Sweden for a postdoc at Linnaeus University's Center of Postcolonial Studies. She is currently finishing two book projects: "Kashmir's Necropolis: New Literature and Visual Texts", Rowan & Littlefield, Lexington Books (2020) and "Tagore and Yeats: A Postcolonial Reenvisioning", by Brill Publications, UK. She is the Co-Founder Editor of and a visiting researcher at Lund University's South Asia Network (SASNET). She tweets at @MsBiryani