To those who no longer have a homeland,
writing becomes home
― Theodor W. Adorno
On August 5th, 2019, the Indian state unilaterally exercised its power over the already disenfranchised territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), depriving it further of its semi-autonomous status by abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Article 370 allowed the State of J&K to have its own constitution and maintained restrictions on the purchase and acquisition of land within J&K by people who were not “State Subjects”. In political language, the state subject refers to those who are legal citizens of a particular territory and are granted specific exclusive political rights within its dominion. This constitutional status has shaped the history of the political relationship between Jammu and Kashmir with India. In order to thwart any violent repercussions before, during and after the abrogation that the BJP-led central government of India termed as their “masterstroke”, the administration rendered the Kashmir valley incommunicado. The region was turned into an open-air prison with a continued internet shutdown, while mobile networks and telephones were taken offline, with television, radio and press establishments refrained from broadcasting and publishing while traffic in and out of the valley was also put under abrupt halt. Within a matter of days, public and civic spaces, whether designated for education or administrative institutions, were occupied by Indian security forces.
Currently, the untimely dilution of Article 370 is reflecting repercussions of an international and geopolitical nature, as is apparent with rising conflict with China and escalating tensions with neighboring Pakistan. The move by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government seems to indicate the fulfillment of an “Akhand Bharat,” arriving at the cost of what French political scientist Christophe Jafferlot calls an “Ethnic democracy.” From constitutional amendments in the name of pseudo-nationalism to regulating people by monopolizing public spaces through coercive methods, the Indian state has applied all the techniques of biopower to transform Kashmir into what could be called “The Guantanamo of India.” Such techniques of ‘administration as control’ include and have included the upgradation of laws that ensure surveillance over the mobility of people, their bodies and intellectual spaces, and finally enhancing the stringent control over classrooms by changing textbooks through historical revisionism.
According to Foucault’s schematization, biopower is essentially “a right of seizure; of things, time, bodies and ultimately life itself; It [culminates] in the privilege to seize hold of life in order to suppress it.” In the metaphorical language, it is within this space of occupation that an identity is converted into what Talpade Mohanty terms as the “bio-militarized body,” which, according to her, is subjected to a structural power gaze that constantly victimizes it not only through symbolic violence, but also by codifying that violence under the surveillance of brutality, legitimized further by the rule of law.
Indian Expansionism and Imperial Colonialism in Kashmir
The Indian colonial project has been in action in Kashmir for decades. August 5th, 2019 has now become a date associated with resistance in the political discourse of Kashmir, reminding the world at large about how Kashmiris have been morphed into naked political beings in the Indian government’s enactment of a “State of Emergency,” to borrow Agamben’s metaphor of the “State of Exception.” In the backdrop of the abrogation of Article 370, the Indian state has used powerful security techniques ranging from the detention of youth and political leaders, and internet surveillance, to a curfew set in place to colonize the whole population under the pretense of maintaining law and order. This expansionist move must be conceived tangibly not in terms of developmental rhetoric or militaristic humanism, but as a political stunt that has been executed to enlarge the scope of “Hindutva Nationalism.” As commented by Kashmiri anthropologist and professor Ather Zia, such a move has put the “Hindu Nationalism” project “on steroids.” By importing the imperial designs of occupation from Israel, in issuing domicile certificates and implanting settlers within administrative posts through such abrupt legal reformulations. In order to frame the picture of normalcy within the Kashmir Valley, it is estimated that about 13,000 youth have been incarcerated in the aftermath of August 5 with the purpose of thwarting any possible protests.
Different power strategies to begin a mode of social exclusion by which young people are marginalized from their access to education become most apparent when decoding this political puzzle of policy making and its on-ground implementations and enforcements. To consider an example, since August 2019, the educational institutions located within Kashmir have been pushed into a state of exclusion, subjected to a debilitating mode of non-operation, and finally into a conundrum of marginality by different means of regulation. In traditional terms, in such institutions, classrooms become the political spaces where students are supposed to debate and contest power boundaries through a variety of political discourses brought about by open dialogue and refined discussion. However, that environment in Kashmir is replaced by school and university classrooms in a zone where the shadows of guns and killings become a part of everyday life, while such things cannot be discussed or debated.
These instances of violence are projected as normalcy within everyday life, producing a matrix of power where education could be seen as a spectacle within the tentacles of sovereign laws. Specific laws decide how a classroom should operate when the state of emergency is enacted or different forms of draconian laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) are enforced to achieve the state’s political objectives. Under these extenuating circumstances, human bodies become territories of colonization through which they are controlled much like capital. In other words, the enforcement of law on a particular community blocks their accessibility to different modes of sustenance. In Kashmir, the blockade to education is enhanced through occupation of spaces and censorship over virtual spaces, severe restrictions to freedom of speech against critical thinking while establishing control over a population with special powers that are guaranteed under certain circumstances to those who enforce control under government sanction. The Covid-19 pandemic has both exposed and amplified further the fractures that were already present within the vacuum of political leadership and representation as far as Kashmir is concerned.
The Indian state has tactically used the situation arising from the pandemic to generate new power structures aimed at policing the people. Using the excuse of the pandemic, it has denied public funerals for militants and civilians killed during escalations of violence. Considered from the context of Agamben’s use of the term, the State of Exception becomes evident when we examine the combined effect of the scrapping of constitutionally guaranteed autonomy in Kashmir, arrest of resistance leaders and dissolution of the mainstream political structures through an emergency-like situation imposed in the Kashmir valley. This step was hailed by the Indian state as an important milestone in their colonial project of ending the indigenous resistance to occupation in Kashmir that the Indian government has labelled and defined as “terrorism” or “Islamic fundamentalism” as is apparent in their discourses. The political rhetoric behind this move seeks to propagate the myth that this act of abrogation will pave the way for the infrastructural and economic development that Kashmir needs but that Kashmiris did not explicitly ask for. This colonial myth has been dismissed as a hoax, an unrealistic perception, and a political blunder that challenges the logic of the Indian state in Kashmir. For example, on August 3rd, 2020, one year after the abrogation of Article 370, an article in The Print revealed that Kashmir had lost Rupees 40,000 crore approximately, and four lakh (400,000) jobs had been removed.
Dragnet of Surveillance to Enhance Control Over Education
The complexity of the political scenario that the Indian state has framed in Kashmir is reminiscent of conditions that the African political scientist Achilles Mbembe refers to when he indicates that “the ultimate expression of sovereignty in neocolonial spaces resides, to a large degree, in the power and the capacity to dictate who may live or who may die.” In the social landscape of education in Kashmir, a similar “microphysics of power” works to obliterate the structures of education by installing powerful modern security tools to disrupt the whole process of learning. These include the declaration of curfews and the surveillance of internet communication. It reveals a larger picture of micro-politics where the Indian state decides who has access to education, and who must be excluded from accessing education. A pertinent example is the rule of law set during Covid-19. All educational institutions have been shifted to online teaching mode, but in Kashmir the frequent curtailment of internet communication and its slow speed become a powerful example of the biopolitics of education. First, students cannot have access classes and are expected to be compensated through online learning. Second, the internet shutdown acts as a tool that controls, disciplines and maintains its grip over their bodies by transforming them into physical prisoners restricted by curfews and lockdowns and into virtual prisoners who are restricted from basic access to the internet. Third, it poses an extremely important question on the fundamental rights which the Indian state has denied over the years by justifying such denial on the basis of “War on Terror” with such a “war” taking precedence over every aspect of civilian life.
It is perplexing to understand how this security dynamics is masked by the Indian state since it is cloaked under the quantification of academic outcomes by adopting academic colonial empowerment, better known as mass promotion. This mass promotion is the colonization of young minds where students are promoted without taking their exams to frame the picture of normalcy in a broader political discourse in Kashmir. Students who miss out essential class time and learning hours because of curfews, government ordained shutdowns, protests and escalations of violence throughout the school year are then compensated through such mass promotion, which is equal to skipping a grade level without doing any of the work. Here the intersection of politics and education reveals a larger picture of Machiavellian strategy that manipulates the dynamics of violence being operated under the subtle, elusive, and amorphous power that can be felt directly on the body. This is the most violent form of ‘otherization’ in education, which is executed strategically on the territory of Kashmir because each year students who have not been schooled properly enter the arena of higher learning or even the job market without adequate training, often ill-prepared to face the challenges of the workforce. It further reduces the people of Kashmir to mere docile bodies when confronted with market competition, and the dynamics of supply and demand in higher education and employment. Despite the existence of many international organizations that are supposed to closely monitor human rights violations and the blunt forms that violence takes in different territories, these instances largely remain invisible, and find little or no place in their policy statements, while an overarching sense of inadequacy is felt by students and those seeking to use their degrees for employment.
Power, Democracy, and Identities in Colonial Spaces
Power and education are two sides of the same coin. The kind of power I refer to is generated and maintained through a hegemonic curriculum. Here the interest of the state can be seen in the effort and energy expended to preserve the state’s hegemonic rule and to ensure the reproduction of precisely those values that sustain their domination. In Kashmir, this power is both re-shuffled through brutal violence, and changing the curriculum wherein students who come in its path also often end up becoming vulnerable targets within campus spaces. For example, in 2018, students in the campus of the Degree College in Pulwama were ruthlessly beaten with sticks as teargas was fired at them. This signals how educational spaces are controlled, monitored and securitized at a micro level and with concrete measures. This surveillance is further enhanced through the deployment of troops outside the colleges who are constantly scanning the mobility of students through the colonial gaze.
These political strategies which intensified the crisis over the decades shifted the imagination of Kashmir in the discourse of Indian nationalism into the volatile chessboard of geopolitics for the sake of ‘national security.’ It also determines how human bodies come to be seen and specifically treated within the parameter of this imagination. Bodies become control subjects in experimental labs, specimens on which the state machinery tests the latest technologies of subjugation and warfare. The territory becomes the site of one massive experiment, redefining regulation to control, dispossess, and often reduce people into deficient entities. In the 2016 uprising when a local militant Burhan Wani was killed, the security forces fired thousands of pellets on people, leaving thousands partially blinded and others completely maimed. Insha Jan, who at the time was a 14-year-old student, was one such student blinded by pellet fire from the security forces while looking out the window of her house.
This is one of the many examples of how powers are exercised on Kashmiri bodies, which the state discourses define as an alien political territory that poses a threat to the order that the Indian state frames for itself. Necessarily, this takes place amidst the gross violation of human rights due to the execution of militaristic strategies in Kashmir’s civilian terrain. Paul Staniland describes this state as the “Paradox of Normalcy.” This ‘normalcy’ occupies a space of liminality between two unequal political structures that stand in a dialectical relationship to each other. On the one hand, there is the Indian nationalist-Hindutva ideology that justifies the Indian state’s occupation of Kashmir. On the other are the oppressed in Kashmir, propagating a political ideology that stands for self-determination. The constant tussle between these two forms eventually produces a liminal position where the violence of the state coexists with the manufacturing of normalcy. It is this framework of ‘normalcy’ that is tactically used to cloak all abuse of power by masking its operation under the compartments of seemingly modern ‘democratic’ manifestos that speak in the language of ‘humanitarian relief’, ‘developmental projects’, and other exotic colonial political solutions to the ‘problem of Kashmir.’
Clash of Narratives and Contradiction in the Grammar of Political Language
Pro-India politicians in Kashmir have continuously tried to delineate this political fracture by staying within the vortex of this ‘insider and outsider’ binary narratives produced by the spectacle of what gets called ‘mainstream politics’ in Kashmir. On the one hand, such politicians vow to represent the will of the people, particularly before and during election campaigns, while also pledging their allegiance to the Indian nation. These narratives of ‘mainstream politics’ have been rendered insignificant by young people protesting to challenge the power structures and debunk its propagandist narratives, rather than becoming docile bodies in the spaces of colonial occupation. The youth of Kashmir choose to challenge the Indian state’s claim to sovereign power over them by devising myriad forms of protest, which are opposed by the state and often result in use of lethal force. There is a veritable pedagogy of protest, a way of learning how to resist such that the brutality of constant repression, and the labeling of every act as a product of ‘radicalization’, or having been instigated by ‘third party outsiders,’ or labeling them as ‘mindless’ or ‘violent’, is categorically rejected. The popular culture of glorifying martyrdom, of paying tributes to rebels, and of singing songs of revolutions by their graves, and of raining flowers on their coffins and illuminating them with candles challenges and undermines the domination of the state in a manner reminiscent of what the American political scientist James Scott calls “everyday resistance.”
“Everyday resistance” is carried out even though the state uses all its might and its draconian laws to imprison and stifle dissent whenever it deems necessary within the civilian realms of life. This method of countering protests with force perpetuates a violent form of social exclusion amongst the young people of Kashmir. It seeks to operationalize a form of extirpation that forbids access to all basic rights, including that of education. Many young people remain confined in detention cells. Those who survive torture find themselves mentally and physically exhausted. Everyone who is confined, loses valuable months and years. Making up for this lost time has hard financial costs. Despite all this, the death of the innocent, the mounting reality of extra-judicial executions, rape, and sexual violation of the vulnerable and the disappearance of young people in broad daylight, are made invisible by the state and its power. Haley Duschinski elucidates how this architecture of formal justice is nothing but the site of militarization, an oppressive structure that dances to the tune of the colonial fantasies of the state. The structures of justice are often perceived by people as Trojan horses that perpetuate the atrocities that the Indian state has committed against the Kashmir people, even while concealing them. These powerful practices of the Indian state have metamorphosed Kashmir from a historical Oriental colonial imaginary as a ‘Paradise on Earth,’ to the reality of late modern colonial occupation as the museum of dead bodies.
Kashmir is what Carolyn Nordstrom terms as a “shadow zone,” where heinous crimes are executed strategically by the state turning Kashmir into a laboratory of violence. State actors exercise a free rein to categorize, classify and compartmentalize human bodies with a view to exercise power through legally mandated impunity, as spelled out by special laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and the Public Safety Act. This fact raises a question as to how modern laws can categorize the identities of human beings in a way that ensures that those already marginalized are further objectified by placing them into sub-human categories, when such laws are not enforced in other places under Indian control.
Troubling Identities and Institutionalization of Violence
There is a pressing need to understand how Kashmiri youth manage to navigate the trajectory of their education after dislocation, confinement in curfews and arrests, and brutal harassment, while negotiating their identity in a zone which is marked by political violence. The state has at its disposal all the sophisticated techniques of the exercise of hard power—including the use of deadly pellet guns. These serve to crush the everyday culture and resistance practice of stone-pelting that involve a tactical, manipulative, and intelligent counter-mapping of coping mechanisms to challenge the hegemonic power of the Indian state. In a broader parlance, we could say that stone-pelting acts as a vehicle of political mobilization in Kashmir that suffused an intergenerational political consciousness among youth. These multi-layered and plural practices discursively reflect the long-standing and untiring struggle of Kashmiris against the colonial rule of India. The state interpolates the youth of Kashmir in a way within the architecture of occupation by weaponizing their identity when young men and adolescents are seen throwing stones at protests against Indian security forces.
The state’s response to stone-pelting acts as a rationalization for surveillance, amplifying the magnitude of power and control in a way that directly serves its vested interests. How is this done? Young people from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds are given the label of ‘agitator,’ ‘troublemaker,’ or even ‘psychopath.’ Eventually, this practice of explicit labeling marginalizes the youth to the point of exclusion. US-based Anthropologist Saiba Varma states that “this language of trauma as a rhetorical tool has been used by the political establishment to assert empathy with the victims and to underscore the longtime insidious effects of occupation.” Those who have been playing political agitators have been turned, medical victims (Verma,138) through the use of force and efforts have been initiated to infantilize and pathologize their resistance’’ by reducing it to mindless adolescent rage.
Colonization of Classroom Spaces and Occupation Over Curriculum Boundaries
The way the state frames the identities of youth enables a high level of subtle control to persecute them and to discriminate against them. This becomes a means of achieving the main objective of the occupation—which is to endanger or extinguish the will and agency of the indigenous people. Secondly, it is instrumental in the aim to obliterate of their political consciousness by controlling the very spaces which help in the infusion of what Marxist theorists call a “conscientization” process—since such spaces traditionally carry the assemblages of practices, meanings, and ideologies which question the superstructures of hegemony. This inhibits the introspection necessary for the development of critical consciousness and thought, as well as the ability to perceive the established political structure. The task that the state sets itself is to bring new strategic tools that can ‘normalize’ the whole process of violence and oppression as soon as it fails to remedy these or provide concrete solutions. This need emerges from the insecurity that the state experiences because of the level of political dissent that emanates constantly, which in turn is retaliated against with severe use of force. The spaces that fuel the magnitude of this discontent seem deeply problematic for the state and its (Indian) nationalistic agenda. Therefore, the spaces of education in Kashmir are put under intense and constant surveillance. An interesting example is the Kashmir University campus where police authorities are closely monitoring everything from classroom spaces to the geography of campus, having been granted the authority to enter into the private spaces of people to make sure that every conceivable space remains under their watch.
Even proposals and submission of research projects are being closely scrutinized and monitored especially in the social science departments. A PhD scholar from Kashmir University who wanted to do his research in the politics of curriculum was prevented from doing so. This is being done to ensure that research projects will not question the given state paradigm, invoke radical thinking or even attempt—through academic inquiry, research and writing—to dismantle the quasi-orientalist discourses that the ruling regime wants to perpetuate. This clearly signals how the classroom itself has become a space of colonized thinking, devoid of all attempts at critical engagement, shaping further the power asymmetries that ultimately perpetuate oppression in the educational and intellectual space.
In Ideology and Curriculum (2019), Michael Apple states that “one of the most fundamental questions we should ask about the school processes is what knowledge is of most worth.” Apple opens a possibility of looking at a classroom not as an intellectual space but as a context that creates a nexus of power relations with political and cultural forces. He observes that certain forms of knowledge should not be taken as absolute but contested and debated. In the colonial project, if seen in Kashmir, the anthropology of the classroom becomes an interesting site to delve deeper into its dynamics to discover how it operates and to understand how a binary of Indian citizenship and nationalism is reproduced. Apple's analysis seems to be more relevant and questions like “whose knowledge it is? Who selected it? Why is it organized and taught this way? Why this particular group?” offer us a critical way to analyze the whole dynamics of knowledge production when it comes to the Indian state and their role in framing the discourses in textbooks.
What Apple refers to is the need for educators and stakeholders to redirect epistemological understandings of knowledge and knowledge production. He poses questions on capitalism, neo-liberal market economies, and colonialism that function through dominant ideologies and asks us to revisit the relations between politics, knowledge, and change. When we interrogate the space of the classroom with these nuances and questions in Kashmir, the space becomes a politicized site where a reinterpreted version of history is manufactured that renders indigenous people without any origin, identity, and civilization. James Baldwin's words explain such a phenomenon in more simple terms: “When I was growing up I was taught in American history books that Africa had no History.” For example, the history books that are taught in the schools of Kashmir do not encapsulate Kashmiri nationalism, and the political struggle of Kashmiris. In fact, such notions do not exist within the curriculum and much less the entire education system.
At the same time, the curriculum glorifies Indian nationalism and their colonial struggle against the British regime. Borrowing from Baldwin’s critical imagination, we have been taught that Kashmir has no history in the classrooms, unless it is directly tied to India. In 2019, the Central Government also recommended changes in the textbooks of social sciences which experts have termed the “Saffronisation of textbooks in Jammu and Kashmir.” This is how the occupation penetrates every institution with its discourses to extend their structures of power through subtle ways. This provides a nuanced insight into how this power structure leads to an erasure of resistance, and of even the memory of resistance. Under these circumstances, the main task of the educator is to reveal how this oppression is institutionalized within the bodies and minds of their pupils and to point out ways in which this discrimination may be countered through education.
During my fieldwork in Kashmir, a student revealed to me that teachers do not talk much about politics in class, because they know that if they do, they might “get killed” by the state. This is how deep the surveillance of state has penetrated the consciousness of people. The boundaries of the curriculum are tactically framed to erase memories, histories, and the political struggle of the region, leading to a contested terrain of power. As Edward Said reminds us, “culture, of course, is to be found operating within civil society, where the influence of ideas, of institutions, and of other persons works not through domination but what Gramsci calls Consent.” The state intervenes directly into the content of the curriculum to infuse its own glorified history in a way that masks the roots of oppression in Kashmir. An oppressed person in such a context becomes an object, not a subject. He/she/they are taught how to be receptive to power rather than how to be critical of it.
The interest of the state lies in the erasure of Kashmiri identity as independent from India and in erasing anything that invokes resistance or expresses the political imagination of self-determination. Teachers are contractually obliged to remain within a neutral space, compromising their intellectual integrity, and to conduct their pedagogy in a way that fails to question the structural foundations of the state. On this regard, Henry Giroux states “that this defense of neutrality in education has always seemed to be the basis for a kind of fascist politics because it hides its code for not allowing people to understand the role that education plays ideologically, in producing particular forms of knowledge, of power, of social values, of agency, of narratives about the world.” Similarly, the lectures that are delivered in classrooms that lie at the intersection of epistemology and axiology are often composed in a very subtle manner that obscures the ground realities and the collective violence Kashmiris are forced to witness culturally, politically, and mentally—because learners are not taught how a particular violence exists, how it is maintained and who benefits from it. The question then arises: can a critical practice of pedagogy that questions the violence and values of the dominating state claim any space within the anthropology of the classroom in the context of Kashmir? Can the boundaries of education be politically devoid of external intervention? How do modern laws about security and surveillance reduce education as an ideological apparatus that sustains hegemony at the basic level?
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