Author: Ather Zia
Publisher: Zubaan Books
“These are the practices of remembering and forgetting that become crucial for resisting oppression and oppressive dominant ideologies.”
– Ather Zia
The idea of resistance has always been posited in complexities. The notions of resistance must create a fine balance between the dangers of romanticising resistance while also acknowledging resistance as a powerful symbol and tool against oppressive social and state structures. Resisting Disappearance is a book that encapsulates all this and much more with respect to Kashmir and the gendered resistance of the Association of Parent of Disappeared Members (APDP) members and human rights activists, who are central to the book and Ather Zia’s research.
Resisting Disappearance is about what all of our society forgets: How Kashmiri women are continually resisting, striving every day and resisting the disappearances of family members, usually, sons, husbands or fathers. Ather Zia’s Resisting Disappearance comes to life when one reads it, images flash as she describes the struggles of the mothers, the half-widows and the daughter who waits for her father’s return, while she paints their lives, despite their hardships and miseries as hopeful: Hopeful of the return of their beloved ones from a place of no return.
Resisting Disappearance is a result of Ather Zia’s positionality as both a Kashmiri Muslim woman and an anthropologist who communicates the nuances within her anthropological study in a comprehensive manner. Not only does Resisting Disappearance communicates Ather Zia’s ideas and observations but also manages to be poetic at that. The life of a Kashmiri is difficult, not just due to geopolitical tensions but also because of the additional brutality they face at the hands of the state and the army.
What Ather Zia does in Resisting Disappearance is communicate the Kashmiris’ pain, fears and acts of resistance, such as resisting the otherness that has been imposed on Kashmiri bodies, the otherness of religion, region and their loyalty towards the country. The pain and trauma are enormous, questions, such as whether they will be able to ever recover and whether children will be able to see their family members who have been disappeared, linger around. One such interview with an individual is mentioned in Resisting Disappearance, who returned after being detained on the false accusation of being a militant. His return was believed to be no less than a miracle. Resisting Disappearance recounts his gruesome experience to show how, “The Kashmiri body as killable is constructed from all the stereotypical markers of the Other—both material and immaterial.”
Resisting Disappearance also tries to understand the entanglements of the social with the political, how for a half-widow like Sadaf, the negotiation with the society and the state is invariably different from the mothers who lost their sons. The patriarchal structures that ensnares half-widow to behave and appear a certain way, representing themselves as a good woman make for a more complicated study. The studies around Kashmiri patriarchy has always revolved around militarisation by the Indian forces, however, Ather Zia notes in Resisting Disappearance, “historically it has been largely a ‘working-class patriarchy’ that was also compromised under centuries of tyrannical rules…The Kashmiri patriarchy has become the “subaltern” within the masculine Indian military apparatus.”
The book sheds light not only on the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons(APDP) and their act of resisting and protest but also looks at their struggles and also their courage through the gendered framework within which they function. Resisting Disappearance notes “The steady increase of women’s participation in the civilian demonstrations is telling of the changes in gender dynamics and highlights the increasingly subordinate nature of Kashmiri masculinity in relation to the military occupation.”
In Resisting Disappearance, Ather Zia narrates the stories of APDP members and human rights activists, while also weaving in the realities of Kashmiri women and their politics, how they navigate and also bargain in these convoluted terrains of Kashmir within multiple structures of oppression against them. Women like Zooneh, Mogar Maas, Parveena Ahangar become icons of maternal morality and agency, eulogised as the epitome of asal zanan(good woman) along with wives and the half-widows who foreground their roles as mothers. “The law of moral obligation to the family through being a mother is seen as superior to a political law and social decorum tied to femininity.” What motherhood does for their gendered resistance in Kashmir is: to allow them to frame as well as legitimise women’s political activity, giving them the power to act in public.
Ather Zia’s Resisting Disappearance is remarkable as it makes us understand the nuances and the multiple dynamics within Kashmir. It is crucial to understand the political landscape of Kashmir that has been caricatured in mainstream media but also the gendered landscape that is entangled with the geopolitics, human rights violation, militarisation and the constant surveillance by the state. In Ather Zia’s own words, “This book uses anthropology’s ability to speak about the people who inhabit those nations, and more importantly, those who endure the making and unmaking of those nations.” The work of the APDP and what each woman activist represents is what Ather Zia states, ‘a triumph of subalterity within subalterity’. Resisting Disappearance aptly makes women central to the theme with their continued resistance to Indian military occupation which, the author notes, “have become an indispensable part of Kashmiri culture.”