K for Kashmiriyat

Chitralekha Zutshi is  Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary in the US. Her new book, published by Permanent Black, is Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir.

Despite its centrality to the political life of India and Pakistan, Kashmir has met with rather perfunctory treatment from historians of South Asia. The few works of history and politics that have appeared on this region, moreover, insist on defining Kashmiri culture, history, and identity in terms of the ahistorical concept of Kashmiriyat, or a uniquely Kashmiri cultural identity. This book, in contrast, questions the notion of any transcendent cultural uniqueness and Kashmiriyat by returning Kashmir to the mainstream of South Asian historiography. It examines the hundred-year impact of indirect colonial rule on Kashmirs class formation. It studies the uses (and abuses) made of Kashmirs political elites by the state. It looks at the responses of Kashmirs society to social and economic restructuring. It shows that while all these historical changes had a profound impact on the political culture of the Kashmir Valley, there is nothing very inevitable or quite definite about the 'political regionalism' and 'Islamic particularism' of this area. Using local language sources and every important archive, this major history of the formation of Kashmir shows precisely how the Kashmir Valley assumed the position it has come to occupy in postcolonial South Asia.

The book has been widely praised.  “Languages of Belonging is a quantum leap forward in Kashmir studies and will make one of the best histories of ‘regional’ identities and economies in India yet produced. The work brings forward a great deal of new and important material and provides a new framework for understanding regional identities in South Asia”  says C. Bayly of  Cambridge.  “This is an outstanding book. Based on massive archival research in Delhi, Jammu and Srinagar and the unearthing of rare Kashmiri literary sources, it skilfully uncovers the religious sensibilities that underlay the formation of Kashmir’s regional identity in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century … Languages of Belonging will light up new ways of understanding the formation of identities in South Asia’s regions.” This from Sugata Bose of  Harvard. 

In our History and Politics sections, in paperback, 366 pages,  Rs 395, ISBN 9788178243344