Orientalism, Kashmir and Islam — by Arsilan Aziz
December 24, 2019
Through a brief yet meticulous study of Kashmiri history, particularly grounded in the different dealings that outsiders have had with a Kashmiri population, Arsilan Aziz presents this paper recounting how Kashmir began to figure in foreign imaginations through the optics of a peculiar orientalism. It was one that primarily targeted Kashmiri Muslims and maintained the one quality that makes orientalism what it is: the capacity to spread, through a genealogy of knowledge and power employed to caricature and characterize a dispossessed peoples, to then be passed on from generation to generation in non-linear ways in an attempt to maintain a lineage of power and supremacy. Aziz takes readers through carefully cited texts to validate his points while also referencing the work of notable scholars who have written about the portrayal of Kashmiris, and particularly Muslims, through that peculiar and abhorrent orientalist gaze. In doing so, Aziz unveils the manner in which such orientalist approaches to Kashmir manifest in contemporary times in mainstream Indian media, while remaining unchecked and unquestioned.

Throughout history, Kashmir was ruled by various dynasties; but it was not until the arrival of the Mughals in 1586 that it was ruled by dynasts whose center of power was outside the Valley. For the following 166 years, the Mughals ruled Kashmir with an iron fist. Kashmiri Muslims, who had been resisting the occupation of their land, were disempowered and banned from administration, trade, and army while Kashmiri Hindus counterparts, who were loyal to the Mughal system, were honored with the title of Pandit and found employment not only in Kashmir but throughout the Mughal dominion.¹ In the process, Kashmir was highly militarized to contain any rebellion, while simultaneously the emergent Mughal literature would describe it as heaven on earth. Mughal court-poets and even Western officials working in the Mughal system would initiate and immensely contribute to this image, drawing from stories of mythical Hindu saints as well as Sufi narratives that started flourishing during the rule of Sultans who saw Kashmir as a sacred land and turned it into an imperial project by terming it as jannat nazeer (Paradise like) and suba-e-dil pazir (the province close to the heart).

It is said that the Mughals built hundreds of gardens in Kashmir to escape the scorching heat of the plains during summer but these visits were also centric to the imperial relationship shared between the two. Kashmir was an unusual borderland: it was neither porous nor mobile; on the contrary, Kashmir was a closed border, the place where journeys came to an end. The image of jannat nazir became one of the ways in which the authority of empire was articulated in the borderland.² Historical records from the 17th and 18th Centuries are filled with stories and descriptions of Mughal emperors and their companions flanking Kashmir for the same reasons. Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, all would visit it, some more than the other. Kashmir was now a pleasure ground for outsiders; for Kashmiris themselves, however, it was the exact opposite.

Kashmir began to figure as an important place in the imperial imagination of Mughal court historians and poets after its invasion³, possibly because the Mughals had failed to invade the mysterious land beyond the mountains until Akbar’s emergence to power. The Mughals were so ‘in love’ with Kashmir that a special category of Persian topographical poetry (much like pastoral poetry) was set up in the 17th Century Mughal court which was exclusively devoted to the beauties of the landscape of the Kashmir valley.⁴

In the words of Akbar’s own court historian and biographer, Abu’l Fazl, the “wicked” and “foolish” opposition (by Kashmiris) had to be defeated: “the soldiers prevailed over every house, and in every corner, there have been hot encounters”. Mughal soldiers would literally take over every house to curb dissent and every house had to have a room reserved for them for their stay.

Abu’l Fazl and his poet brother Faizi would represent Akbar’s conquest as a mystic and romantic endeavor in their works but verses like Agar qahtul rijaal uftund aze shaan unus kumgeeri, awal kambo doum afghan, soum budzaat Kashmiri (Even if there is dearth of men in the world, never make friends with an Afghan, a Kambo or a Kashmiri) were recited repeatedly while fighting Kashmiris. (Zahir-ud-din, Flashback)

Jahangir and his wife, Nur Jahan took great interest in Kashmir. He would define it as “a paradise of which priests had prophesied and poets sung” and “a garden of eternal spring”. The lyrical praise of the land does not cease in his words, Jahangir’s court-poet, Talib Amuli, would also write poems about his emperor’s visits to Kashmir just like Fazl did for Akbar. These poems were undisguised imperial propaganda and did not contain detailed poetic ethnographies of the land nor were they travelogues in verses.⁵ Their aim was to praise the rulers and the expansion of the empire and Kashmir was peculiar only because of its smoothening weather. One finds almost three dozen official poets since the time of Akbar to Aurangzeb participating in this exercise.⁶ This is probably why poets like Ghani Kashmiri would stay away from the Mughal court even after repeated summons.


Benedict Gomez and Jerome Xavier were probably the first missionaries to visit Kashmir when they accompanied Akbar as imperial guests on his third and last visit in 1597. These two priests wrote letters to Antwerp for the western audience, depicting Kashmir as an exotic land that would spark the European imagination. Most of the ‘travelogues’ on Kashmir follow a similar pattern: they often start with a mythological, romanticized, awe-inspiring description of its landscape, temperate climate, its lakes and watercourses, its meadows and valleys and floating gardens.⁷ To understand the Orient, the Orient must be symbolized with something that the Orientalist is already familiar with, thus Kashmir turned into the Venice of the East or the Switzerland of the East, its mountains became the Pyrenees and its landscape that of the English countryside. As the audience for these travelogues was in the West, the nomenclature of the discourse adjusted accordingly. For Bernier, for example, in his detailed reports of Kashmir in his book Travels in the Mogul Empire: 1656–1668, the mountains in Kashmir are similar to “Mount Olympus”, the lakes like those found in “our Seine” and “the whole ground is enameled with our European flowers and fruits.” The Orientalist, however, cannot digest the existence of such a beautiful land, so the fruits and their variety are considered inferior because of the “ignorance of the gardeners, for they do not understand the culture and the grafting of tress as we do in France.” (Bernier, 1916, p. 397)

Bernier and other travelers for centuries afterward would be puzzled by the distinct physical features of the Kashmiris, which do not match any of those in its neighboring lands, thus again, using their own paradigms and parameters for the audience back home, Kashmiris are described as Jewish looking and their customs, culture, tradition and historic development attributed to ones the Orientalists are more familiar with. The reason given is their brown/black hair and beard and the prevalence of the name Moosa (Moses)⁸, who in fact is one of the greatest prophets in Islam.

Knight in his book Where Three Empires Meet follows the same direction “As a rule, an Englishman coming for the first time to this country takes a great fancy to these plausible, handsome Kashmiris, finding them clever, cheery, and civil, and it is not until he has been some time in the country that he discovers that these are among the most despicable creatures on earth, incorrigible cheats and liars, and cowardly to an inconceivable degree.” (Knight, 1893, p. 26)

Moorcroft and Trebeck in their book Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Panjab also define Kashmiris in the same way: “In character, the Kashmiri is selfish, superstitious, ignorant, supple, intriguing, dishonest and false: he has great ingenuity as a mechanic, and a decided genius for manufactures and commerce, but his transactions are always conducted in a fraudulent spirit, equaled only by the effrontery with which he faces detection. The vices of the Kashmirian I cannot help considering, however, as the effects of his political condition, rather than his nature, and conceive that it would not be difficult to transform him into a very different being.” (p. 129)

The women of Kashmir get special attention from the European travelers as well as the officials considering the intersection of Oriental and male lenses. They are “brunettes and very beautiful”, “handsome” and “European like”. As Vigne put it in his book, Diary of a Pedestrian in Cashmere and Tibet: I do not think the beauty of the Kashmirian women has been overrated. They are, of course, wholly deficient in the graces and fascinations derivable from cultivation and accomplishment; but for mere uneducated eyes, I know of none that surpass those of Kashmir.” Or as Biscoe says in his Kashmir under Sunlight and Shade: The women are considered to be beautiful. I must say that I have not myself seen many beauties, but possibly if they were clean and wore becoming garments I might have reason to change my opinion. Also, most of the upper-class women are never seen in the streets, and I am told by the ladies who visit the Zenanas that some of the women are really beautiful.” The Orient always has an ‘inability’ of self-representation. In these accounts, women never spoke for themselves, they never represent their emotions, presence, or history. The foreign, wealthy, male took it to himself to speak for and represent her. His position of privilege allowed him to speak for her and tell his readers how she was typically Oriental.⁹

There is a stark contrast between how the land and its inhabitants are seen in all Orientalistic accounts but at the same time, the people of the Orient are also seen as in need for improvements by the ‘superior race’, ones who can guide them and ‘civilize’ them, thus turning the gaze of Christian Missionary Society (CMS) towards Kashmir. The responsibility of ‘white man’s burden’ advocated in the name of the civilizing mission of the West and inspired by eschatology, held the promise of redemption, both for the colonizer and for the colonized. But the aim of making ‘others’ better went together with a will to power or crusade that imposed at the very least a reform, if not a recasting of their (non) institutions.¹⁰ Kashmir was now also a place of redemption and in need of Lord’s work.

Orientalism can never be seen in isolation, but it is always connected to colonial-minded imperialism: more than a system of representation clouded by epistemic misjudgment, it is a self-conscious enterprise with remarkable consistency. Orientalist knowledge belongs to the category of political knowledge that is infiltrated by mechanisms of power.¹¹ The Orientalists do not define the people of the Orient as they do because they know less or are confused, they do it for the sake of ‘othering’ them, the west being ‘superior’ and the orient being ‘inferior’. And being colonizers at heart, the missionaries did not leave their countries and travel thousands of miles just to serve helpless people but to convert the ‘uneducated’, ‘uncivilized’ and ‘backward’ masses. To make inroads among the colonized people, CMS employed a four-pronged strategy:

1) Evangelistic preaching — Mostly done in crowded places
2) Education — In the form of schools
3) Zenana advice — Medical or non-medical missionaries targeting females who lived in seclusion
4) Medical — Treating and preaching to the patients.

Dr. Elmslie, one of the first missionary doctors to come to Kashmir is known as the founder of modern medicine in Kashmir, he visited the Valley in 1865 and tried to start his preaching from the markets of the Grand Hazratbal Mosque the very next day after his arrival but was confronted by the people. After setting up his clinic, he would every morning (except Sundays) gather his patients and passers-by in the balcony and give them sermons with the help of a translator. (Gulzar Mufti, Kashmir in Sickness and Health, p.47)

Dr. Ernest Neve, another famous missionary doctor, puts it as such himself: “The medical mission is, in both its aspects, a presentation of the Gospel, and no man can truly claim the title of a medical missionary who does not believe that he is proclaiming that message in the acts of healing as in the spoken sermon… Whatever our opinions may be about the missionaries and missionary methods, there can be no doubt whatever in our minds, if we are Christians at all, that the duty of evangelizing the world is laid upon the Church. If this is so, does it not follow that such objections — as that the evangelization of Kashmir is impossible, or it is undesirable — are irrelevant? For the question for us is not whether it is possible, or desirable, but what are the orders?” (Ernest Neve, Crusader in Kashmir, p. 85 & 204–205)

The orders as stated by Ernest Neve himself were of conversion in reality. This happened in every land the West conquered. The doctor would later write in his book, Beyond the Pir Panjal, “The fight with Mohammedanism is a stern one. The work goes on day after day and year after year, not only in Kashmir but in other Mohammedan countries, with very little outward sign of progress.”

Tyndale Biscoe, who is still revered among the Kashmiri masses, was similarly dedicated to this Christian mission. Biscoe would write about almost everything — history of the inhabitants, their culture, religious beliefs, and manners — but while doing so, he would subject everything to the idea of West’s superiority. He would write in his book Kashmir in Sunlight and Shade: To call a man a Kashmiri is a term of abuse, for it stands for a coward and a rogue, and much else of an unpleasant nature.” The Orientalist even goes on to accept the far-fetched myth of Satisar and in the same breath attributes the rise of Islam to forced conversions. The same treatment is delivered to the Muslim missionaries who traveled from distant lands to spread Islam in Kashmir. A fictitious story of their eviction from their native place due to their ‘misdeeds’ is quoted while everything that acted as a catalyst to Islam’s growth in Kashmir is ignored. The list of such cases and missionaries again is endless given the disdain of west against Islam, as Said rightly pointed out.


As explained, the Orientalist projects started in Kashmir way back in 1597 but it was not until Kashmir was sold to the Dogra ruler of Jammu, Gulab Singh, with the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846 for 7.5 million of Nanak Shahi rupees (the ruling currency of the Sikh Empire) by the British Government (who still held Paramount power), along with other annual tributes that this project ran parallel to the one of the Dogras who were as alien to the Kashmir valley as the Britishers themselves.

The Dogras wanted to, and did, turn Kashmir into a Hindu state. Conversion to Islam was banned, violation of which would lead to imprisonment, torture, and confiscation of property. The preaching of Islam in any manner was also banned. In contrast, Hinduism was freely preached and conversion attracted no punishment whatsoever. The Dharmarth Trust was established after a massive donation to the Trust comprising of Hindu priests and scholars. The main function of the Trust was reconstruction and repairment of the temples and dissemination of information about the Hindu religion, the cost of which was taxed from the 96% Muslim population under coercion. All this was happening while the Muslim religious places were dilapidated and lying in shambles, their lands stolen by the state and their basic necessities curtailed.¹²

The Dogras encouraged & funded learning among Hindus but didn’t extend the same compassion towards the Kashmiri Muslims. The state would at times rather blame the Muslims themselves for their ‘backwardness’ while complex issues like the language of instruction, availability of jobs for Muslims in the state administration and their financial conditions were ignored. This, as we go further, brings to notice a shared motive of the Dogra rulers as well as the Orientalists. Both carried out anti-Islam/Muslim work in their respective fields.

As researcher Dean Acardi points out in his paper, Orientalism and the Invention of Kashmiri Religion(s), The sordid research process behind the Lalla-Vakyani, the first major English translation of poetry attributed to the fourteenth-century saint Lal Ded, reveals strategies employed by George Grierson, Lionel Barnett, and Mukund Ram Shastri to recast Lal Ded and the cultural heritage of Kashmir as exclusively Hindu. Contradicting the earliest depictions of Lal Ded in sixteenth-century Persian hagiographies, the Lalla-Vakyani was instrumental to the modern invention of Kashmiri Shaiva Hinduism as the true religion and culture of Kashmir completely devoid of any connection — religious, historical, or social — with Islam, simultaneously serving Orientalist agendas and politics of the Dogra court.” (emphasis mine)

The writer then goes on to explain the anti-Muslim bias in the views of authors and their total silencing of Muslim sources. The authors did not accept any other source which would go against their own predetermined image of Lal Ded even after being aware of early manuscripts that conflicted with their depiction of Lal Ded. This became the reason why oral transmission was preferred over manuscripts. Acardi even reveals contents of a letter exchange between the both parties which “demonstrate that even before the Lal Ded project began, the Dogra Court already had a longstanding vested interest in reviving, publishing, and promoting medieval Hindu texts as the cultural heritage of Kashmir and Grierson was already considered someone who might have parallel or sympathetic interests… One means by which the Dogras pursued this agenda was the creation of the Research and Publication Department, which almost exclusively employed Hindu pandits to primarily publish Sanskrit Hindu texts from medieval Kashmir… any known sources that spoke to the contrary were suppressed.

This friendship can also be observed among the Indologists under The Kashmir Durbar. All the Europeans who visited Kashmir and wrote about it would name each other in their prefatory material and many would express gratitude towards the Dogra ruler for sanctioning grants towards the Publications (including big names like Stein, Lawrence, and Younghusband). It is puzzling to find a state being called “generous” when it would tax almost everything under the sky. Ananya Jahanara Kabir in her book, Territory of Desire explains, “Pratap Singh’s facilitation of Indological research on Kashmir was conducted not merely in the persona of the Maharaja but on behalf of his Durbar — a structure and concept whose very existence derived from a complex set of colonial appropriations and indigenous re-appropriations of precolonial enactments of sovereignty…. The relationship between British India and the Dogra Princely State — ties if not of affection then of self-interest.

The flourishing Indological scholarship on Kashmir, facilitated through long-term scholarly presence in the Valley, confirms and clarifies the workings of this strategy. The Residents enhanced their power on the ground through brokering between the Maharajas and the scholars; the scholars got access to primary material for their Orientalistic projects while the Maharajas, in turn, received external approval. The Pandits, whom they encouraged to share information with the European scholars, were hailed as vestiges of the ancient, pre-Islamic culture of Kashmir. The European pursuit of antiquity thus locked the Dogras, the British administrators, the scholars, and the Pandits in a circle of mutual benefit.¹³

Ananya further goes on to explain how this “early ambition to infiltrate the academic bastions of Europe seems to have come to fruition with the inauguration of Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies. The Series was published by the Kashmir Durbar’s Archaeological and Research Department, edited by its director, J. C. Chatterji, a Bengali Brahmin with a Cambridge education, and printed at the Nirnaya-Sagar Press in Bombay. In anticipation of a pan-European readership, they were available through Trübner and Co. and Luzac and Co. in London, Otto Harrassowitz in Leipzig, and Ernest Laroux in Paris. Clearly. While its packaging and carefully planned dissemination signals the Durbar’s decision to promote a certain brand of scholarship, the content of the Series exposes the connection between that promotion and Dogra self-fashioning as Hindu rulers of a Hindu state… 

She then points out the contrasts expressed by the Orientalists such as “between 1894, when Knowles casually compared “learned Pandit” to “ignorant Mussalman,” and 1900, when Grierson asserted the “purity” of Pandit speech against its “contamination” by Kashmiri Muslims. The Indologists had increasingly privileged Kashmir not merely as a Hindu enclave within a degenerate Muslim population but, in retrospect rather shamefully, as a “pure,” Brahmin Hindu enclave.


While Stein translated the Rajatarangini for the Dogras, an Indian nationalist and Indologist, R. S. Pandita translated Rajatarangini to fit his own political outlook and that of his brother-in-law, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had requested him for a translation of the “secular” chronicle. He thought that the transmission of Sanskrit literature to the people of India is critical to developing their sense of nationhood.¹⁴

As Chitralekha Zutshi points out in her paper, Translating the Past: Rethinking Rajatarangini Narratives in Colonial India, “He was less interested in presenting Rajatarangini as an empirically sound record of past events than in discussing it as an exemplary piece of historical literature.” and unlike his predecessor “did not dismiss the text’s Persian translations as corrupt interpolations on the body of a pristine Sanskrit text.” She further points out that “Pandita recognized Rajatarangini as “the earliest extant history of Kashmir, although only secondarily after its primary function as national literature. Its historical value, therefore, rested in the universal themes to which it gave voice that cut across regions and defined the national narrative of Indian history, rather than the particularities of the history of Kashmir. Drawing on the German Romantic-nationalist definition of literature, it presented Rajatarangini not merely as a history, but rather as a certain genre of Sanskrit literature that embodied the essence of the Indian nation.”¹⁵ The foreword by Jawaharlal Nehru seems skeptical of the text at first, unable to decide if the book is history or poetry but soon claims Kashmir as an integral part of India since ages just like he does it in his book The Discovery of India. These connections were already strengthened by the Orientalist Indologists and The Kashmir Darbar.

The Indian intelligentsia has since the very beginning followed the same Orientalist approach by exotification of the valley while at the same time depicted Kashmiris as subdued people who are lazy, peace-loving, Sufis and followers of Kashmiriyat. Starting with Gandhi himself, who would call Kashmir the “crown of India” (a term that is used even now) and Nehru who saw it as “a favored spot . . . where loveliness dwells and an enchantment steals over the senses” or “where we may still sense the mystery of nature, listen to the song of life and beauty, and draw vitality from it.” It goes on and on until the Kashmiri people rebelled against the Indian state for not granting their right of self-determination. Here the Oriental approach takes a different turn, much like it did in the Middle East. In the scholarship as well as artistic representations, Kashmir would still be exotified but Kashmiris would now be divided into two frames, the good and the bad Kashmiri, neither having any agency or independent thinking. The good Kashmiri is nurtured by the Indian state and is always loyal to India no matter what happens on the ground and the bad Kashmiri is always brainwashed and used by a dastardly Pakistani boss to further his own agendas. India’s Orientalist project would from now on use exaggerated imagery of violence and fanaticism to depict the Kashmiri people. Kashmiris would now openly be labeled as drug addicts, Pakistan backed Islamists, Jihadis, misguided youth, alienated or Jihadi sympathizers who want to lay the foundations of an Islamic state.

Given the Orientalist outlook, Kashmiris are never seen as capable of thinking for themselves, Indian intellectuals hold seminars, write books, deliver lectures, make movies and music with a firm belief that they know Kashmir better than the Kashmiris do. The language is mostly if not always patronizing. The Indian intellectual class has, as Edward Said once said about Orientalist scholarship, “sacrificed understanding and compassion totally”. The Indian orientalist project acts like a hydra-headed monster by deliberately creating an image of Kashmir using mythical accounts, biased media, and state-sponsored literature like earlier occupations did but with unmatched ferocity.

Take, for example, Swati Parashar’s paper titled, Gender, Jihad, and Jingoism. Swati writes, “The author’s own study of Kashmir highlights the participation of women as planners, perpetrators, and patrons of militancy in a society that is otherwise known for its passivity and nonviolence.” She also mentions her Indian counterparts and their views about how the Kashmiri struggle has always had strong religious connotations and how several regular visitors to Kashmir have commented on the conservative Islamist ideology (like wearing burqa) replacing the liberal values of Sufi Islam and Kashmiriyat. The author then goes on lamenting their decline again and again throughout the paper. By the end, she again quotes her Indian counterparts and mentions how the allegations of rape of Kashmiri women by the Indian army are a political conspiracy and propaganda done by “patriarchs of the Azaadi struggle” to exercise control over women’s lives and bodies.

The whole narrative is laced with inaccuracies and problematic rhetoric masked as a feminist cause. The women of Kashmir are somehow both non-violent as well as perpetrators. Just like the Indian state itself, Swati goes against the documentation on how the Indian armed forces have used rape as a weapon of war and labels it as a plan to defame the army. She somehow sees it as a conspiracy enacted by Kashmiri men to exercise control over the bodies of Kashmiri women and all the rigorously documented suffering that the Kashmiri women have faced are done away within a sentence just like that. In a place like Kashmir, not only the bodies of women but even men are bio-militarized, the Indian state knows it is alien to the land and its people so it wants to leave a mark on Kashmir and Kashmiris wherever it can, in whatever form it can.

This is where the Indian orientalist project works with a three-fold image in mind: Kashmiri, woman, and Muslim. She is a Kashmiri so she must be a perpetrator and a Muslim woman so she must also be under the regressive dominance of a Kashmiri Muslim man. Just like the Orientalists wanted to ‘save’ the oriental woman from oriental man, Swati wants to save the Kashmiri women from regressive and cunning Kashmiri men. The Kashmiri women are not caged by the humongous number of gun-toting army men with total impunity against the law but by Kashmiri Muslim men and Islam. This type of rhetoric has become pretty common since 9/11. The author also wilfully ignores the fact that the Indian state right from 1947 itself has used the rhetoric of feminization of the Kashmiri landscape and Kashmiri bodies to demonize and possess Kashmir, no matter what the cost.

Another example is David Devadas, an Indian author, who has 3 books on Kashmir under his name. Devadas in his book, Searching for the Future, calls Kashmiris as sly, venal, opportunist, ambivalent, dissembling, cruel, irresponsible and full of histrionics. They are further accused of having a “false sense of superiority that emerges from a feeling of insecurity”, being “mired in propaganda and myth” and possessing a “hateful contempt-ridden past” and “imperial and dominating” attitude.¹⁶ Devadas is very well aware of what he’s doing as he even himself acknowledges that describing people in such generalized terms might seem like “Orientalist profiling” but that doesn’t stop him from doing the same throughout the book. The amount of crude and colonial stereotyping put forward as a factual report on Kashmir and Kashmiris is expected from a state-sponsored writer writing to justify his nation’s colonial endeavors. The book tries to portray the Kashmiri society as weak and fractured while India is shown as the exact opposite, ignoring the havoc it has perpetrated on the same land with a horrific record of human rights violations.

Barkha Dutt has always been one who plays the sympathetic card while maintaining her credibility as a patriotic Indian. In her book The Unquiet Lands what troubles her about Kashmir is the “horror of militancy” and “mistakes” by India and the only killings mentioned are those done by militants. There is no mention of massacres perpetrated by the Indian Army neither do rapes or disappearances find a place in the book. Such is the brazen concealment of crimes and that is precisely the job Indian state has entrusted them with.

The Indian media also has toed the government line on Kashmir and has by far been successful in dehumanizing and demonizing Kashmiris. On Kashmir, India doesn’t merely outsource its war to its media houses, the media sees this battle as its own. It is obsessed with framing Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination as its fight for a supposedly bloody-thirsty Islamic state. India’s Kashmir experts like Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Praveen Swami, David Devadas, et al show a deep resentment for Islam, the religion of the majority of Kashmir and try their best to invent complexities where they do not exist. These writings are riddled with presuppositions, predications, vilifications, obfuscations, and Islamophobia as we will see.

Emphasis on the Islamic appearance is seen in most of the reports which are passed off as nuances, men are mentioned with beards and women with headscarves, implying that the population is protesting because they have been radicalized. The bogies of Sharia, Ummah, and Radicalisation are repeated one after the other.¹⁷ Kashmiris cannot be radical liberals, or communists, etc but only radical Islamists — a monolith.

Barkha is so bewildered by the imaginary Arabization of Islam that she has spent the last seven years asking people on the internet and ‘struggled’ to find out why the Islamic holy month of fasting is not called Ramzan but Ramadhan in her part of the world. This kind of camouflaged Islamophobia is even more visible in the works of Praveen Swami, not only do his articles ignore the complex political history of Kashmir, they also wholly and squarely blame Islamist ideologies of Jamaat-e-Islam, Ahlul-Hadith et all for the mess Kashmir is in, not to mention most of his stories are based on unnamed sources. Complexities are again invented where they do not even exist. As per Swami, Kashmiris take up stones against guns not because they have no other choice but because of religious fundamentalism. One can also imagine the lack of depth in his understanding of Kashmir from his words when he infamously wrote; “the sentiment of freedom in Kashmir is restricted to the limits of five police stations in Downtown, Srinagar.

These so-called experts end up believing their own propaganda so it is not surprising to hear him claim that he knows more about Kashmir than Kashmiris do themselves. This is the utopia the Indian intellectual class lives in vis-à-vis Kashmir and how they see it. The Indian media has long been reluctant to criticize the armed forces, even when reports of serious human rights violations have emerged. The last time UN published a report, Barkha went on to call it “airy-fairy” and Shekhar called it “idiotic” and “flawed”.

The Indian audience derives sadistic pleasure out of the relentless propaganda through electronic media and at present, famous channels like Republic, Times Now, Zee News, India Today, India TV and hundreds of other regional channels daily spew venom against Kashmiris, directly or indirectly. Kashmiri protesters are termed as “rage-filled” mobs or rioters who are eager to stone or burn the soldiers to death to justify their killings while the soldiers are termed as ‘Jawans’ to stress upon their humanity.

These debates end with only one conclusion ‘punish dissenters’ (read Kashmiris) or deport them from India (to Pakistan). Kashmiris are demonized to such an extent that their deaths turn into passing facts, if not celebrations by the brainwashed Indian public. India’s Kashmir experts, who usually boast about their ground reporting and years of experience use misrepresentations in complete disregard for Kashmir’s struggle and history. The present situation in Kashmir is seen a consequence of “misgovernance” and “manifestation of anger” but that’s not all, the tone is highly reductionist and prejudiced in nature. Kashmiris are also presented as ‘disenchanted’, ‘alienated’, ‘misguided’, ‘hardened’ and victims of “propaganda by Pakistan and militants” with no agency of their own because accepting their agency would mean there is something really wrong in Kashmir.

The Indian media, like any other limb of the Indian orientalist propaganda machinery with their misplaced notions, also keeps on repeating the rhetoric of Sufism and Kashmiriyat, hinting towards how Islam should take a backseat in Kashmir as an identity of the people. Kashmiriyat, in reality, is a word used by the Indian academia and media to perpetuate the psychological subjugation. Used synonymously with tolerance and communal harmony, it corresponds to the silent acceptance of this unequal fulcrum of power (read more here) while Sufism too is nothing like how the Indian media, its academics or its politicians paint it to be. On the very first page of his book “Sufism in Kashmir”, Historian and Professor, A. Q. Rafiqi points out how Sufism, by the time it reached Kashmir “had reached modus vivendi with the so-called orthodox Islam” and many of these Sufis were critical of the rulers of their times, with likes of Sheikh-ul-Alam even being jailed. Even the history of Sufi Islam, in general, is not how it is perceived to be around the whole world. [1][2] [3]

Bollywood too has been since long played its part in the project to further India’s agenda of tourismification and exotification of the landscape (which is then used to build a narrative of ‘normalcy’ by the state as well as the Indian media) as well as the dehumanization of Kashmiris. Centuries have passed but Kashmir just like the orient it is, has been paralyzed in time, it is still mysterious, exotic and a “paradise on earth” that makes people fall in love.

In the beginning, during the 1960s, Kashmir would just provide the aesthetics to the bigger movie plot where the Kashmiris themselves were usually missing. The only things that would make it to the screens were the Dal Lake, Mughal gardens, picturesque locales, mountains, springs, beautiful damsels and bearded men folk in the background. In the movies from the 70s, it would become a place of retreat and enjoyment for the rich, a place to escape from the modern world because Kashmir, as stated, is an antique land paralyzed in time. Soon after, as the situation in Kashmir started to deteriorate, Bollywood jumped in to cash on the situation. Movies like Mission Kashmir and Roja would depict Kashmir as a land infested with terrorists and openly link it with Islam. Any Kashmiri who wanted Azaadi is repackaged as the Kashmiri whose otherness transforms into a dangerous, Muslim alterity.¹⁸ This idea of untrustworthy Kashmiri men who are potentially dangerous militants has been frequent since then.

As Nitasha Kaul in her paper titled India’s Obsession With Kashmir: Democracy, Gender, (Anti)Nationalism also writes, “both these paradigms of ‘Kashmir the beautiful’ and ‘Kashmir the cruel’ reflect conventionally stark orientalist stereotypes of viewing the other in polarised binary terms — as naïve and innocent, thus in need of guidance; or as cruel and reckless, that is in need of subduing. It also feeds the perception of Kashmiri women as objects of desire in the Indian imagination while simultaneously positing Kashmiri men as potential terrorists”.

Far from over, this culture still continues. You’ll still see Indian film producers booking titles whenever something ‘big’ happens in Kashmir and even while I write this a movie titled “Kashmir: The Final Resolution” based on the Abrogation of Article 370 has already been announced.[1][2][3] These movies have to follow a particular direction to mint money as bitter truths won’t earn well among the already brainwashed Indian public.[1][2][3][4]

Colonialism does not just trample on our land and bodies but also on our psyche to render us docile and subhuman. When the occupier forces us to shun our identity, attempts to distort and erase it, our very existence comes under threat. To affirm its hegemony is to affirm its violence. Thus, it becomes imperative that Kashmiris hold the knife of knowledge at its throat, to the point at which it loses its hold on us.


[1] Kashmir, Khalid Bashir Ahmed, p. 66
[2] Of Tulips and Daffodils, Anubhuti Maurya
[3] Kashmir and the Mughal Fad of Persian Pastoral Poetry Sunil Sharma, p. 4
[4] Ibid, p. 2
[5] Ibid, p. 6
[6] Ibid, p. 8
[7] Orientalist imaginaries of travels in Kashmir- Western representations of the place and people, p. 8
[8] Travels in Kashmir and the Panjab: Containing a Particular Account of the Government and Character of the Sikhs, Hugel, p. 55
[9] Orientalism, Edward Said, p. 6
[10] East and West: orientalism, war and the colonial present, Jackie Assayag, p.1
[11] The Politicisation of Orientalism: The Mutation of a Paradigm
[12] Kashmir: The First Hindu Rashtra, Khan Khawar Achakzai
[13] Territory of Desire, Ananya Kabir, p. 88
[14] Translating the Past: Rethinking Rajatarangini Narratives in Colonial India, Chitralekha Zutshi, p. 12
[15] Ibid, p.16
[16] In Search Of A Future: The Story Of Kashmir”, Muhammad Junaid
[17] Decoding Barkha Dutt’s Understand of Azadi Movement in Kashmir
[18] Territory of Desire, Ananya Kabir, p. 4

I am thankful to Rouf Dar for his contribution to this article.

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About the Contributor

<a href="https://www.inversejournal.com/author/arsilanaziz/" target="_self">Arsilan Aziz</a>

Arsilan Aziz

Arsilan Aziz is an ardent reader and researcher, who focuses primarily on Kashmir and Islam as subjects of study. He is invested in learning about Kashmiri history from a variety of perspectives, primarily those kept out of reach in mainstream historical texts. He is equally interested in Kashmiri culture and its historiography as well as its vast literature. He has previously published in Wande Magazine, Free Press Kashmir and several other publications, while also heading the Lost Kashmiri History project. Arsilan is also a medical student with significant experience in blogging, social media management and content management. His work in Lost Kashmiri History has been widely acclaimed as is included in The Kashmir Syllabus, an essential teaching resource about Kashmir and its history, compiled by Kashmiri scholars worldwide.