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New book on Kashmiri politics and grandfather's legacy subject of Khan's recent bookstore lecture

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan answers a question from the audience following her lecture last week at Full Circle
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While the rest of the country burns in communal fire, I see a shining ray of hope only in Kashmir.” – Mahatma Gandhi

OKLAHOMA CITY – When it comes to the region of Kashmir, even Mahatma Gandhi was well-aware of the tensions there, but he always acknowledged, with a sense of hope, that if peace came there, the biggest obstacles put in ones way could be overcome.

Scholar and native Kashmiri Dr. Nyla Ali Khan was the featured speaker and lecturer Thursday night at Full Circle Bookstore, talking about her fifth book, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir (which we intend to review soon) and the ongoing situation in that northern area of the Indian subcontinent that has been a “flashpoint”

Khan has written about the situation in Kashmir, most notably in her 2010 book Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan. She is the granddaughter of the first Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, about whom her latest book is about, set against the continuing conflict in Kashmir. Or, as Red Dirt Report book critic and contributor Bill O'Brien recently put it in his November 2017 review "Khan believes that the tolerance and understanding that is found in Sheik Mohammed Abdullah’s speeches and writings is now being echoed by some of the more enlightened and humane leaders in the U.S. and other states."

Born in New Delhi, India in 1972, the last year her grandfather was under house arrest, Khan went to a Catholic school operated by Irish nuns. Even though she was Muslim and taught the Koran at home, her parents were quite comfortable with her attending this school.

As Khan explained to the large group assembled to hear her talk: “This book is my sincere attempt to create an epicenter for the alternative epistemologies that the various political, religious, and cultural discourses written on the politico-cultural surface of Jammu and Kashmir have created.

Sheikh Abdullah’s Reflections on Kashmir is my recognition of the importance of ideology, conviction, perseverance, and working for the well-being of the electorate in bringing about enlighted social and political policies.”

And yet Khan’s grandfather, a much-admired man in much of Kashmir, was a controversial figure. Why? Because he wanted a united Kashmir, and, was initially accused - wrongly - of trying to hatch a conspiracy with American politician Adlai Stevenson in the mid-1950's. He was in prison, and later under house arrest until 1972, Khan said.

Upon his death, Khan said, approximately 1 million people came to the funeral, with Khan noting her politically-savvy relative had "mass appeal."

Khan noted that for the Kashmiri youth, politics is "an abstract notion" because they see the state as being unable to "employ effective strategies to successfully resolve issues that they are invested in," including a seeming lack of accessibility to representatives and legislators." They know only "conflict, political turmoil, and politico-economic instability."

Yet, she believes these obstacles will eventually be overcome by the youth of today, who will be the Kashmiri leaders of tomorrow.

Said Khan: "The thoughtfulness of the bright young Kashmiri students whom I am in constant touch with gives me and insight and hope."

But the youth - and all Kashmiris - have a Sisyphean task ahead of them. With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promoting a right-wing, ultranationalistic Hindutva agenda is happening at a time when Kashmiri self-determination should be paramount. But continued division, in a an area of the Indian subcontinent that has suffered three wars, seems to be the order of the day.

Thanking those individuals and media outlets - including writing for Red Dirt Report over the past several years - Khan noted that her homeland of Jammu and Kashmir is administered by both India and Pakistan, with China having annexted a section of the land back in 1962, through which it has built a road that links Tibet to Xinjiang.

This has long been a flashpoint for a potential nuclear war between the Muslim-majority nuclear power of Pakistan and the Hindu-majority nuclear power of India. 

Editor Andrew W. Griffin and Dr. Nyla Ali Khan following her lecture. (Red Dirt Report)

"The Kashmir conflict is driven by nationalistic and religious fervor, each side pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, each side pointing to its own suffering and sorrow," Khan told the audience. "The distrust, paranoia, and neurosis permeating the relationship between a large number of people of J & K and the Indian Union has intensified the conflict. The guerilla war in the state has gone through a series of phases since 1990 but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality in the State, which cannot be superseded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations."

Interestingly, Khan, who has been in the United States since the 1990's, having received her university-level education at the University of Oklahoma. 

She noted: "Getting to know one’s ideology is a work in progress. Ironically, it was in the United States – a country that prides itself on the power of its military-industrial complex – that I cultivated the drive to study the South Asian politico-cultural matrix, particularly the intractable Kashmir conflict.

"My commitment to pedagogy and scholarship has been unflinching, and my faith in the critical focus that education can provide has been unrelenting. Whether people see eye-to-eye with my stated positions or question them, any one would be hard-pressed to deny that I have a firm political ideology and conviction."

"As I’ve said before, I think it is important to reshape historical memory so that it includes the humanitarian and pluralistic endeavors of leaders of the movement at that critical juncture post-1948," said Khan. "I have been working on Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s Reflection on Kashmir for a while, because I am of the firm opinion that a consciousness cannot be built without a mechanism of political training, ideological education, and progressive action, which a close study of his speeches and interviews would enable. 

"Unless a popular politics of mass mobilization is merged with ideological guidance, not dogma, as well a grassroots social movement, it only leads to self-destruction. A serious student of South Asian politics and the politics of Kashmir in particular could analyze the ways in which experiences have been constructed historically and have changed overtime."

Khan continued: " Our peace and prosperity are inextricably bound with the peace and prosperity of the millions in India and Pakistan. In spite of the physical delineation of the boundaries, we all live in one zone. Our hopes, aspirations, fears, and dangers are the same.

We want a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Kashmir conflict, reflecting the wishes of our people. Therein lies honor, peace, and progress for all concerned."

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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