Saiba Varma : Care's Abandonments: Nationalism, Militarism, and Humanitarianism in Kashmir

Monday, December 11, 2017
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall

Abstract: The Kashmir valley is, and has been, a deeply desired place for over four centuries. Once named "paradise on earth" by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, in postcolonial India, Kashmir continues to be multiple, but unstably desired: as a romantic paradise, an integral part of secular India, and as containing dangerous Muslim/terrorist/Others who must demonstrate gratitude to the Indian nation. In this paper, I examine how both Indian militarism and humanitarianism vis-a-vis Kashmir have both been performed in the name of care or love, and how Kashmiris have responded to these political affects.

Specifically, I focus on Indian military relief efforts in the aftermath of devastating floods in 2014, the worst in half a century. Despite highly publicized, humanitarian rescue efforts by Indian security forces, many Kashmiris experienced the flood’s aftermath as state abandonment. In the wake of abandonment, however, many alternate modes of care emerged, including neighborhood and mosque-based associations that provided food, water, and medicine to those trapped in their homes. The 2014 floods demonstrate the ways affective flows--such as love--depend on magnanimity from the Indian military, on the one hand, and obeisance and gratitude from Kashmiri subjects, on the other, yet how these flows/relations are always haunted by suspicion and failure.

Saiba Varma is an Assistant Professor of the Psychological/Medical Anthropology subfield. She is a medical and cultural anthropologist working on questions of violence, medicine, psychiatry, and politics as they pertain to Indian-controlled Kashmir and South Asia more generally. Saiba spent 20 months doing ethnographic research in Kashmir, the site of a chronic, unresolved conflict, and one of the most militarized places on earth. In her research, she explores how spaces of psychiatric and humanitarian care confront, but also become microcosms of, the broader politics of violence and occupation that characterize life in Kashmir. She is interested in how medicine and psychiatry, as forms of knowledge and relations, are not only ways of shoring up "facts" about illness, the body, or health, but also spaces where mistrust, doubt, and suspicion proliferate.