Date of Degree

6-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor(s)

Vincent Crapanzano

Committee Members

Julie Skurski

Avram Bornstein

Murphy Halliburton

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Political Subjectivity, Violence, Youth, Military Occupation, South Asia, Kashmir

Abstract

This dissertation is an ethnographic and historical study of youth activism in a space of geopolitical conflict. It examines ways in which young activists in Indian-administered Kashmir, caught in chronic conditions of state violence and traversed by transnational discourses of identity, experience precarity while desperately seeking to constitute themselves as political subjects through their involvement in Tehreek, or the movement for independence. Toward a theory of political subjectivity as a process of autopoiesis, understood both as a historically contingent yet critical form of reflexivity and as practices of protest, and precarity as a condition marked by persistent vulnerability to state violence made possible under a legally mandated state of emergency, I analyze youth activism and state violence as necessarily interlinked objects of ethnographic and historical inquiry. Keeping in view the anthropological critique of positions that treat ethnographic subjects as culturally-bound passive objects of violence or as trapped in the logics of state power, and inspired by emergent anthropological attempts to engage with theories of subjection and becoming, I study how youth activists, carrying injuries on their bodies and memories of violence, persistently engage in multiple genres of criticism and contestation. Kashmiri youth activists give counter-narratives to the official histories of Kashmir, reinterpret critical events from the past in the present, scoff at inconsistencies between state-managed elections and the professed norms of democracy, and highlight contradictions between the official secularist claims and the state’s religious majoritarian tendencies. These activists seek to escape the official categories that make them liable to punitive government control, while, at the same time, aiming to fashion an alternative discourse of emancipation within Tehreek. I examine critical events, like a natural disaster or an election, to show how youth activists navigate the fractured landscape of politics in Kashmir. At the same time, by looking at the fault lines within the movement, I analyze how ideological fissures within Tehreek have remained like an open wound for the activists. Based on fifteen months of fieldwork, my study contributes to the growing body of anthropological scholarship that analyzes how marginal groups come to contest relations of power and articulate alternative political projects that traverse local moral systems as well as the global languages of justice. Taking these projects as “politics on the periphery,” I trace how precarity is constructed and overcome at the intersection of postcolonial state violence, political mobilization, and contestations of history, gender, and religion. While this dissertation is a study of activists, it is as much a history of the long-standing Tehreek movement, its roots, dynamics, and internal schisms. I locate this history of Tehreek in the broader politics and history of dislocation and despair among non-dominant nationalities that have been denied political self-determination by postcolonial nation-states. As such, the dissertation expands inquiry into new hierarchies of power and forms of inequality that emerged in the aftermath of decolonization.

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