This article examines the shape of time for those living in Indian-occupied Kashmir, focusing particularly on two calendars that became embroiled in a “calendar war” in Indian-occupied Kashmir in the year 2017. The first was the annual calendar of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, which proudly featured twelve “talented youth[s]” of the state. The second was a “countercalendar” circulated online by the anonymously run pro-azadi (self-determination) Facebook group Aalaw, featuring a rather different image of Kashmiri youth. Situating these calendars against a larger backdrop of visual representations of time in occupied Kashmir, this article examines how each calendar mobilized narratives about the past, present, and future in Kashmir, narratives that were negotiated through competing gendered images of youth via rhetorics of ability and disability. The article takes up the tensions between two strands of disability studies: liberal approaches that emphasize the celebration of disability and biopolitical critiques that foreground the violent production of debilitation, to consider how Kashmiri visual production suggests a vision of crip futures for those now living with disabilities in Kashmir.
In early January 2017, as the new year rolled in, a sly meme began to circulate on Kashmiri social media, particularly among users supporting azadi, or self-determination, for Indian-occupied Kashmir (fig. 1). It started with a calendar page for the month of January 2017 featuring a fourteen-year-old girl, Insha Malik, who, as the page explained in capital letters, had been “hit by pellets at her residence with doctors saying she has lost vision in both eyes.” At the bottom, it elaborated: “Insha was on the first floor of her home in Shopian when forces fired pellet guns into the building on July 12. She was rushed to the hospital and joined hundreds of injured Kashmiris who have reported devastating eye injuries caused by ‘non-lethal’ pellet gun firings.” This text appeared below additional images of Insha that had already circulated widely after she had been injured: her skull X-ray showing embedded pellets; Insha wearing dark glasses after being blinded; Insha in her hospital bed, her young face visibly riddled with pellet injuries. Certainly not the images one would expect to see on the first page of an annual calendar.1
Shortly prior, on December 31, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Bank had “unveiled” its own annual calendar, at an event attended by the Jammu and Kashmir finance minister, the J&K Bank chairman, and the vice chancellor of Kashmir University, among other state luminaries. Titled “Pride of Paradise,” the calendar featured artfully composed black-and-white photographs of twelve “talented youth[s]” of the state: a range of athletes, artists, and entrepreneurs who had, in the words of one newspaper report, “made the entire state proud by following their dreams till realisation with perseverance and proper training” (Greater Kashmir 2017). On this calendar, the page for the month of January featured an eight-year-old girl, world kickboxing champion Tajamul Islam (fig. 2). The calendar concluded with a profile of Dr. Shah Faesal (“icon for civil service aspirants”), the first Kashmiri to top the civil services examinations for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), and a figure who had then emerged as a vocal advocate for Kashmir’s political integration with India.2
The finance minister, Dr. Haseeb Drabu, made a speech at the event. In it, he underscored the intent of the bank calendar to offer an alternative image of Kashmiri youth at a time when massive numbers of (largely male) youths have been regularly taking to the streets in protest against the Indian administration:
The biggest challenge that J&K as a state faces is youth. The image [of] that today is... a youth who has lost its way. The first image that will come to your mind today is of a youth pelting stones, anarchy, social disorder.... It [the calendar] is great in terms of its timeliness as the counter-narrative that exists today in the world. (Kashmir Life 2016)
Drabu continued: “It is really a great thing for a calendar to focus on this positive theme during these times.” “These times” referred, of course, to the very recent three months of roiling protest across the length and breadth of the Kashmir Valley, which began when Kashmiris of all genders3 exploded onto the streets in fury following the killing of the young Hizbul Mujahideen rebel commander Burhan Wani. It was during these times that the Indian state inaugurated the practice of deliberately blinding protesters with pellet guns, effecting what some have called one of the first mass blindings in history (Waheed 2016).4 And it was these very times during which fourteen-year-old Insha Malik, the subject of the social media meme with which this article began, was blinded in both eyes and severely injured in her own home.
In fact, the meme depicting Insha (fig. 1) was only the first page of a full, twelve-page “countercalendar,” as it came to be known in the local media. Launched by the anonymously run pro-azadi Facebook group Aalaw (meaning “call”), and titled the “resistance calendar” by the group, this calendar predominantly featured a series of adult male figures from the Kashmiri resistance, sometimes packing two onto a single page (figs. 3–4).
These figures included militants from years past such as Ashfaq Wani and the cofounder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Maqbool Bhat, as well as more recently active militants such as Afzal Guru and Burhan Wani, human rights activist Jalil Andrabi, and the rousing orator Sarjan Barkati, or “Freedom Chacha,” as he has come to be known for his resonant chants at freedom rallies in Kashmir. The majority of these icons were drawn from all ages, so to speak — from the very young (Burhan Wani) to the elderly (Barkati), and from the peak of the anti-India uprising of the 1990s to the present day. The exceptions to this scheme were the images of Insha Malik and of another iconic child, Tufail Mattoo, whose death from a teargas canister sparked off the massive anti-India protests of 2010. In short, the countercalendar offered a staggering contrast to the bank calendar’s representation of Kashmiri youth, situating Kashmiri children and young militants on a cross-age continuum of Kashmiri resistance to Indian rule, held together by a vulnerability to the violence of the Indian state.
Set side by side, the J&K Bank calendar and the countercalendar epitomized an acute struggle over the imagination of Kashmiri pasts and futures, and indeed the very experience of time in Kashmir. Against the smooth, linear unfolding of the “bright future” undertaken by the bank calendar with its artful black-and-white images, the resistance calendar returned insistently to the past, framing “youth” in a very different register than the bank calendar did. On most pages of the countercalendar were foregrounded images of the martyred — and frequently very young — dead in a realist, full-color aesthetic. Marked in red were the dates as well as the years of prominent massacres: the January page alone listed four such massacres from the 1990s, in Sopore, Gawkadal, Wandhama, and Kupwara (fig. 1).
Notably, this list, which predominantly marked the killing of largely Kashmiri Muslims by Indian armed forces, included the massacre of Kashmiri Pandits, in 1998, in Wandhama village, where the majority of nonmigrant Kashmiri Pandits remaining in the village had been killed by “unidentified gunmen.” The inclusion of the Wandhama massacre here was a noteworthy choice, in that it integrated the killing of Kashmiri Pandits in its catalog of the general vulnerability and suffering of Kashmiris throughout the 1990s. It implicitly questioned the enfolding of Kashmiri Pandit trauma into an Indian nationalist narrative that has singularly attributed Pandit suffering during the 1990s to pro-azadi Muslims in Kashmir (Misri and Bhan 2019;,Trisal 2019). Through such choices, each page constructed and commemorated a history of Kashmiri resistance and suffering, returning to the past even as the calendar format rolled time forward from January to December. Time was disjointed as the calendar morphed into a memorial, explicitly interrupting the linear forward flow of time. It registered the blockage of the future by pointing to the wounds of the past, and to the ongoing violence of the present.
Aalaw’s swift response was spurred by a perceptible shift in the bank’s own representational priorities. Journalist Baba Umar (2017) describes the artifactual significance of the J&K Bank calendar in context: “Until 2017, the calendars sponsored by Jammu and Kashmir Bank were sought-after in Kashmir. They were almost always apolitical, featuring street life, religious sites and picturesque destinations of the region. Every year people stood in long queues outside its office buildings to get a free copy.”5 The 2017 bank calendar marked a clear departure from these prior schemes of representation, leaving behind the picturesque in favor of what came to be seen by many Kashmiris as an overtly ideological attempt to frame and contain Kashmiri youths, who at this moment were rising up in a “new wave of youth resistance that had been on the rise since 2008” (Kanjwal 2018). Aalaw’s response joined this wave of post-2016 youth activism that had surged in response to the killing of the twenty-two-year-old Wani, himself known as a social media–savvy young militant with a massive youth following in Kashmir. Some in Kashmir also saw the bank calendar as a rebuttal to the “hartal [strike] calendar” of the Kashmiri resistance leadership, which details weekly schedules of strikes and protests. The bank’s 2017 calendar was thus seen as an attempt to reclaim the unproductive time of hartal for the state’s productive financial machinery.6
The Aalaw calendar also bore marked continuities with other visual representations of time and the future in Kashmir, as its way of marking the uncanny experience of time in Kashmir is far from singular. Kashmiri cultural production is simply flooded with tropes of an unchanging future. A series of cartoons of the “Kashmir calendar” by the Kashmiri cartoonist Mir Suhail surface the tension between calendrical time and the felt experience of time in Kashmir. In figure 5, for instance, a week of days are figured as a row of tombs in the shadow of a gun labeled “India.” The days of the week change, but in form they are identical, each tomb adorned with a stone indexing the deadly outcome of the stone-pelter’s protest. In figure 6, also depicting the “Kashmir calendar,” we see a grinning Indian army soldier with a Hitler-esque mustache, using a red marker to draw a cross over each day of the week, each day featuring without variation the face of a Kashmiri man in a peasant cap— this is Suhail’s “everyman,” who appears in many of his cartoons as the representative Kashmiri (normatively male, like the Indian cartoonist R. K. Laxman’s Common Man).7
The trope of temporal stasis also appears in a painting by Maria Shahmiri (fig. 7), in which a young girl looks out a window at a masculine, gun-toting figure in military fatigues, who stands between the house and a short wall of sandbags and concertina wire. While it is daylight outside, the interior of the house is in darkness, with a light bulb visible through the window frame bearing evidence of shattered panes. On the window frame are printed the words: “Day after day after day after day after day after day after day it’s the same shit.” In these images, the future — if it can be called that — is nothing more than a listless passage of time where nothing changes. Like the Aalaw calendar, they seem to suggest that only a transformed present can usher in the future.
The experience of time depicted in these images is of course inextricable from the particular relations of space in the occupied zone. In Shahmiri’s painting, for example, it is the incarceration of the girl within the house, and her inability to go outside, that shapes her sense of time as stagnant, “the same shit” day after day. The darkened interior space of the home contrasts with the daylight surrounding the soldier outside, hinting that these two spaces and figures exist in different time zones and evoking the frequently expressed local sentiment that the restrictions imposed by the Indian government place Kashmiris back in “the dark ages.” Such observations are frequently made in the context of the routine suspension of the Internet in Kashmir, which heightens the feeling of stagnation, or the sense of being held back from the time-space of modernity represented by the digital age branded by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, as “Digital India.” As a Kashmiri YouTube star recently said of the most recent Internet shutdown: “It’s like someone has pushed our lives back to the Dark Ages” (Masih, Irfan, and Slater 2019).
Queer Time, Crip Time, and the Time-Space of Occupation in Kashmir
Taken together, the visualization of time in the images discussed above indexes the unusual or “strange temporalities” inhabited by Kashmiris under occupation: alternately stagnant and recursive habitations of time that stand at sharp odds with the simple progressions laid out in the developmentalist narratives of the state. “Strange temporalities,” in queer theorist Jack Halberstam’s (2005) formulation, constitute queer ways of life that “encompass subcultural practices, alternative methods of alliance... and those forms of representation dedicated to capturing these willfully eccentric modes of being.” Halberstam invites us to see queerness as “more about a way of life than a way of having sex,” and it is in this regard that the queerness of Kashmiri ways of life may be brought into view as a product of occupation by a Hindu heteronormative state.8 In occupied Kashmir, for example, eccentric modes of being in time and space may take a number of forms. Endless days of curfew, the frequent experience of being locked in at home with all sociality concentrated within the family and four walls, and only intermittent access to social media or the physical and virtual world outside — these quotidian modes of Kashmiri civic life deviate fundamentally from the day-to-day experience of most Indian citizens, situating Kashmiris on a temporality characterized by alternate modes of affiliation.
The very queer temporalities of Kashmiri life came to dramatic attention with a striking social media meme that circulated during the 2016 siege. The meme excerpted a clipping from a classifieds page of the newspaper Greater Kashmir, announcing a series of wedding cancellations as the curfew in Kashmir continued. As seen in figure 8, the classifieds page for July 13 appeared inadvertently as a visually striking series of columns, with the words “Invitation Cancelled” recurring over and over across the page, in a space usually reserved for wedding announcements. For instance, one such announcement read as follows: “The wedding invitation of the marriage ceremony of our daughter scheduled to be held on 16th & 17th 2016 is cancelled due to the prevailing circumstances in the valley. Inconvenience regretted.”9 Some advertisements specified that the ceremony would proceed privately, although the invitation to guests had been canceled; others simply postponed the entire event.
The excerpting of this page for social media circulation bespeaks a sharp awareness of the strangeness of the moment, in its complete disruption of the normal rhythms of life. A closer look at the classifieds page itself suggests that the only appointments that were kept may have been those associated with death, as canceled wedding invitations sat incongruously alongside brief obituaries and advertisements announcing deaths and detailing condolence meetings. It would seem that the “prevailing circumstances” had brought into proximity the time of death and the time of life and of celebrations interrupted. For many Kashmiris, such “queer ways of life” are the result of a displacement from (rather than a willful rejection of) heteronormative modes of affiliation that may well have been chosen in a time of “normalcy.” On the other hand, as I detail below, the Kashmiri Muslim desirous of freedom is constructed as a willfully queer political subject.
Such interruptions of normative familial time in Kashmir follow as reprisals by the occupying state for an inappropriate national orientation that is figured in the Indian imagination as a kind of perversity. From the perspective of plaintive Indians, to paraphrase Prime Minister Modi, “every Indian loves Kashmir”; and yet this desire is not reciprocated, as Muslim-majority Kashmir seeks independence from India, or worse, a merger with that other lover, Pakistan (Angre 2016). As Nitasha Kaul (2018: 135) has recently elaborated, Modi’s statement that “every Indian loves Kashmir” conveys a larger Indian national desire for Kashmir, one that recalls “the cliched Indian Bollywood hero or the patriarchal man who feels that he has a right to the affections of even a woman who refuses him.”10 Kashmir as territory itself is feminized, while the normative Indian citizen is cast as “her” masculine (male) lover. On the other hand, the Kashmiri political subject (particularly male, as is often normatively presumed) emerges as queer in light of the Hindu heteronormative codes of Indian citizenship, which are anchored to “a state-approved idea of monogamous marriage” (Malik 2018: 188). Political scientist Inshah Malik (2018: 181) notes that the perceived sexual otherness of the putatively polygamous Kashmiri Muslim, coupled with “the Kashmiri ‘desire’ for freedom,” positions the Kashmiri Muslim as dangerously queer in two ways — that is, oriented in the wrong way both sexually and nationally. Looking toward the wrong future, refusing to get with the national program, the willful “azadi-pasand” (self-determination-loving) Kashmiri political subject lives in queer time.
Additionally, Malik observes that the Kashmiri subject is increasingly cast as mentally unstable in Indian media discourses. As she notes, ‘“Terrorist’ and ‘double agent’ have perhaps plagued the conversation since 1947 but recently ‘homosexual’ and ‘mentally deranged’ are some other labels plastered over Kashmiri bodies to diffuse their political waywardness” (181). Here Malik opens up an avenue of inquiry that allows us to understand the nature of time in Kashmir in relation to frames of not only queerness but also of disability — and to the overlaps between the two. Indeed, “strange temporalities” may also aptly define the temporalities of various disabilities in Kashmir: drug addiction and depression (of which there are epidemic rates), or the experience of simply waiting that many trauma-scarred relatives of the disappeared report (Misri 2014;,Zia 2019a). Queer time in Kashmir intersects frequently and fundamentally with disability temporalities, or what some disability studies scholars have theorized as “crip time” (Samuels 2017;,Kafer 2013).11
Alison Kafer has offered a nuanced elaboration of the crip dimensions of queer time. Kafer suggests that queer time arguably is crip time, as she calls attention to the languages of pathology and contagion often attached to queer and otherwise nonnormative bodies. We might accordingly consider the ways in which Kashmiris living in occupied space are consigned to crip time: by being labeled as “deranged,” by being subject to a range of mental and physical disabilities through the violent structures of occupation, and through increased vulnerability to state violence once disabled. Conversely, crip time is queer time: Kafer (2013: 34) notes that people living with illness or disability may “move or think at a slower (or faster) pace than culturally expected,” occupying an asynchronous time that inevitably results in departures from “straight” time, defined either as a “firm delineation between past/present/future or an expectation of a linear development from dependent childhood to independent reproductive adulthood.” In sum, it might be said that Kashmiris under occupation are living on queer, crip time: blocked from the future they want, and refusing to hurtle into the future presented by the state, they exist on asynchronous time that is out of joint with the “bright futures” of the Indian state.12 In the next section I turn back to the calendar wars in order to show how temporal discourses around ability and disability furnish divergent imaginings of the future for the Indian state and for Kashmiris.
Girling Ability, Productivizing Disability
The choice of Insha Malik as the inaugural icon on the Aalaw countercalendar (fig. 1) was of course no coincidence, but a knowing rejoinder to the use of the Indian army–sponsored star athlete Tajamul Islam (fig. 2) on the January page of the J&K Bank calendar, which unfolded a future progression for its featured Kashmiri “youth” as firmly anchored to the state. The opening image of Tajamul Islam on the bank calendar utilizes some of the classic visual codes of feminine empowerment — the young, athletic, and able-bodied girl in a hoodie, arms confidently folded, looks out directly at the camera with an easy and seemingly uncontrived smile. A far cry from the pathos-laden figure of the oppressed, burqa-clad Muslim woman invoked frequently in Indian public discourse in relation to Kashmiri women, the calendar image of Tajamul Islam instead recalls the figuration of the “Third World girl” prevalent in current international developmental discourses, which have cannily replaced the earlier image of the suffering Third World woman awaiting rescue with the image of the agential Third World girl from the global South.13 As Shenila Khoja-Moolji (2019: 67) points out, the Third World girl now appears as “both a figure in crisis as well as one full of promise,” or “a site of potentiality.” In the progression from January to December charted by the bank calendar, Tajamul, the young Kashmiri ward of the state, conveys the future potentiality of a Kashmiri child, even and especially a girl, to mature into someone like Shah Faesal (fig. 9), the adult Kashmiri male who, having topped the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examinations, appeared on the December page as the apogee of proper youthful development (described on the calendar page as “IAS topper” and “Icon for civil services aspirants”).14
Although the Kashmiri girl is introduced in the bank calendar via an image of able-bodied “girl power,” the calendar is not devoid of images of people with disabilities. Indeed, it is carefully “inclusive” in its vision, featuring Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist youth from all three regions of the state (Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh), alongside the Muslim Kashmiris who bookend and crop up periodically within the calendar.15 As Michele Friedner (2017: 349) has shown through her ethnographic work in the technology and hospitality sectors in India, “disability functions as a form of non-threatening diversity and disabled people are folded into mainstream life as productive and inspirational citizens and workers.” In contrast to “feel bad” Indian categories such as caste, gender, ethnicity, or religion that are politicized by both the state and civil society, Friedner observes, the category of disability has been largely marked by a general absence of rights-based demands and a general corporatization of the movement in India. This has allowed “affective and ‘feel good’ spaces around disability to arise, a situation that is heavily orchestrated by the state and corporate entities” (349). Indeed, as she points out, the Hindu nationalist ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has enthusiastically embraced disability: “Modi called for the category of disability (viklang) to be replaced with divine ability (divyang) in order to further include disabled people and give disability a more positive register” (352).
The J&K Bank calendar reveals a similar emphasis on “inclusive” representations of the disabled as productive citizens of the nation. Thus, among the many aspirational achievers on the bank calendar were a “uniquely-abled painter,” Sanjay Saraf, who appeared on the calendar page for August, and the “specially-abled skater” Chandeep Singh, on the September page (figs. 10 and 11). Saraf and Singh both appear enframed by an “overcoming narrative” familiar to disability studies scholars, wherein the disabled subject surmounts the adversity of disability if not the disability itself, setting a good example for others with disabilities (Young 2014;,Ndopu 2013). Saraf is labeled as “globally recognised for canvas paintings” while Singh is billed as “bronze at national skating championship.” Absent from this inspirational narrative around Singh is the fact that his double amputation was a result of contact with exposed high-tension wires as a child playing on the roof of his house in Jammu. Arguably disabled by a negligent state, he is now recuperated by that very state in a gesture of feel good disability acceptance. Implicitly, the gesture revealed how “humanizing” liberal narratives of disability may easily obscure the dehumanizing conditions under which disabilities are produced, in this instance by an occupying state.
In stark contrast to the images of feminine ability and productive disability — disability as alternative ability — offered in the bank calendar, the Aalaw calendar advanced a representation of gendered disability, epitomized by the pellet-marked and blinded face of fourteen-year-old Insha Malik. It thereby offered an alternate look at “Kashmiri youth” in relation to the state, refusing the sanitized version of Kashmiri childhood offered in the glossy image of the bank calendar and foregrounding Malik’s visual impairment as a tragedy impossible to place within the state’s liberal frames of “specially-abled” or “uniquely-abled.” Against the bank calendar’s aspirational narrative of progress, empowerment, ability, and possibility, emblematized by the achievements of the young girl athlete, the countercalendar insistently foregrounded a narrative of debility, death, and loss. Not an overcoming, but a lingering. I want to ask what it means to invite lingering in this way. What does it mean to foreground debilitation as a site of tragedy and loss?
Uzma Falak (2019) observes how the “temporality of loss” embodied by Kashmiris is a potent refusal of the Indian state’s injunction to “move forward”:
This systematic and ideological prescription to move forward is indicative of the State’s desire to continue its military occupation in Kashmir while making it a marketable commodity. But what does it mean to move forward in a militarily occupied region where, for instance, people’s mobility even in its literal sense is impeded and feared? Where people embody a temporality of loss? It is the refusal to comply with the statist vision of moving forward, the refusal to embody a statist temporality, which is at the heart of people’s resistance in Kashmir.
The Aalaw calendar enacts just such a refusal to “move forward.” Staying with loss from January to December, recounting stories of death, persecution, and debilitation, and inviting viewers to linger on the tragedy of disability (indeed, on disability as tragedy). How does this invitation to linger sit in tension with disability rights discourses that emphasize acceptance, valuation, and even celebration of disability, as undertaken by the bank calendar? Nirmala Erevelles (2011: 119) questions prevalent feminist disability studies approaches that privilege discursive interventions over an interrogation of the material production of disability: “How can acquiring a disability be celebrated as ‘the most universal of human conditions’ if it is acquired under the oppressive conditions of poverty, economic exploitation, police brutality, neocolonial violence, and lack of access to adequate healthcare and education?” Erevelles challenges us to resist the simple lure of inclusion and positive representation.
Writing in the context of Palestine, Jasbir Puar (2015: 17) offers a similar critique of liberal human rights discourses that take disability as merely circumstantial, often eliding violent conditions under which disabilities are foisted upon particular populations as a deliberate aspect of biopolitical warfare. In a section of the essay titled “No Future,” Puar details, with reference to numerous reports, the targeting of Palestinian youth by the Israeli state not for death but for psychic and physical “stunting” — an effect of shock-and-awe fallout of PTSD, or of calorific restrictions that are a result of the blockade, among other things. She observes that such tactics “seek to render impotent any future resistance, future capacity to sustain Palestinian life on its own terms, thereby debilitating generational time.” As Ather Zia (2019b: 3) notes, the deliberate blinding of Kashmiris by the Indian state pursues a similar objective, “to produce a desperate and dependent population in Kashmir and to compromise their ability to resist the military occupation at a physical level.” Prefacing her catalog of Israeli state violence against Palestinian children, Puar’s section title — “No Future” — implicitly and ironically marks the limits of the critiques of longevity, futurity, and the idealization of “the Child” offered by queer theorist Lee Edelman in his iconic book No Future. As Edelman (1998: 29) memorably put it in his essay “The Future Is Kid Stuff”:
Fuck the social order and the figural children paraded before us as its terroristic emblem; fuck Annie; fuck the waif from Les Miz; fuck the poor innocent kid on the ’Net; fuck Laws both with capital ‘l’s and with small; fuck the whole network of symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop.
Queer theorists since have observed that Edelman’s reviled idealized Child is a figure that obscures the reality of many children in the world. As José Esteban Muñoz (2009: 95) pointed out, the figure of the “poor innocent kid” Edelman rails against is implicitly white: “The future is only the stuff of some kids. Racialized kids, queer kids, are not the sovereign princes of futurity.” Importantly, Kafer (2013: 29) extends this analysis: “The [always already white] Child through whom legacies are passed down is, without a doubt, able-bodied/able-minded.” Kafer joins Muñoz and Puar in asking whether the rejection of the future is not an inconceivable luxury for those whose future is being actively targeted for destruction. For Kafer, such an acknowledgment means that the future must not be rejected — the move championed by Edelman — but rather reimagined. Furthermore, Kafer argues, crip futures must be imagined outside a “curative imaginary [that] not only expects and assumes intervention but also cannot imagine or comprehend anything other than intervention” (27).16 The disability justice artist and advocate Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2019), writing as a queer disabled femme of color, also cautions against such curative approaches, which frequently disregard how disabilities may connect survivors and become a collective community resource toward crafting new futures.
In the concluding section of this article, I want to ask how these imperatives to imagine crip futurity for populations marked as having no future may be brought to bear on children and youth in Kashmir, a region with extremely high rates of depression, drug addiction, and bullet and pellet injuries (Mushtaq, Shah, and Mushtaq 2016; Nickelsberg n.d.). Beyond registering, with Puar, the blockage of the future and the interruption of generational time by debilitating conditions of violence inflicted by an occupying state, how might the future be imagined for children and others now living with these disabilities? I approach this question in the concluding section by considering two cartoons by Kashmiri cartoonist Suhail Naqshbandi, both of which implicitly indicate the shape of the future for children blinded by pellet guns in Kashmir.
Imagining Kashmiri Crip Futures
If the sense of the future as blocked (the trope of temporal stasis) was already in wide circulation in the Kashmiri visual production discussed above, the mass blinding of large numbers of Kashmiri protesters by the state in 2016 set into motion the trope of the future as lost. This trope came particularly into view in the visual production around pellet-injured children, for although large numbers of adults were blinded during this time, Kashmiri children such as Insha Malik and twelve-year-old Imtiaz Ahmed became the iconic faces of the pellet-injured.
A cartoon by Suhail Naqshbandi titled “Un‘pellet’able truth” exemplifies one of the ways in which the trope of lost future circulated in relation to Kashmiri children in 2016. As seen in figure 12, the then chief minister of Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, is pictured smilingly ushering a small group of children with bandages on their eyes and mouths downturned, as she holds in her right hand a pointed sign bearing the words “Dark Future.” Inverting the Modi government’s discourse of a “bright future,” the cynical laughter embedded in the cartoon clearly struck a chord. The cartoon circulated widely in newspaper coverage about artistic responses to the spate of pellet injuries, and also on social media, where Kashmiris were then grieving not only the July killing of Burhan Wani, but the fresh violence of killing and widespread maiming by Indian forces that followed.
To be sure, “dark future” captures the literal experience reported by so many of the pellet-injured, who say that everything suddenly “went dark” at the moment of their blinding, as well as the grief expressed by them. In one interview, for example, Insha says that she sorely misses seeing her parents’ and siblings’ faces, and even her own face (Fareed 2017). “I sometimes want to see my face; I know my face was disfigured due to the pellets.... I am not only blind but my eyes are blocked,” she says. She mourns her own lost ability to see or pursue her dreams for the future. In another interview (Maqbool 2018), given after she cleared her class ten examinations, Insha reiterated her sense of permanent loss even as she celebrated her achievements: “I can’t look at my books again. I wish I could read again and go to my school again. Now I’m dependent on others.” Naqshbandi’s cartoon “Un‘pellet’able truth” thus captures the grief over lost abilities, echoing Samuels’s (2017) observation that “crip time is grief time.” While Kafer’s own articulation of “crip time” entails a defiant embrace of crip time’s ability to resist capitalist temporal regimes of efficiency and to redefine “normalcy,” Samuels insists on also acknowledging “the less appealing aspects of crip time, that are harder to see as liberatory, more challenging to find a way to celebrate.” Those are the aspects honored by Naqshbandi’s cartoon.
At the same time, Naqshbandi’s cartoon also recapitulates some of the classic ways in which disability is frequently envisioned in temporal terms — as a condition without a future. After disability, the future is dark, indistinct, imperceptible, virtually lost. Although this may appear to capture a certain hopeless reality of visual impairment in a zone of occupation, it also risks an assumption that “a future with disability is a future no one wants, and the figure of the disabled person, especially the disabled fetus or child, becomes the symbol of this undesired future” (Kafer 2013: 2–3). Insha’s lost future, for instance, was frequently presaged by headlines such as “Tragic: Pellets Blind 14-Year-Old Insha Forever”; “Can I Still Become a Doctor, Pellet Victim Insha Asks”; “Insha Malik Dreamed of Becoming a Doctor, but Now Lying in Bed Completely Blind.” These headlines drew Insha’s disability within a temporal frame typical of descriptions of disability as a “detour from the timeline of normative progress” (Kafer 2013: 25). To be clear, I do not read as merely aspirational in a neoliberal mode Insha’s own expressed desires to overcome the impact of her disability, even though she mobilizes a familiar language of “overcoming”: “I want to overcome what pellets did to me. I want to be able to take control of my life again” (Nissa 2017). Expressed by someone like Insha, whose maiming was a result of deliberate state policy,17 the statement must be read as a powerful expression of the will to survive in the face of targeted debilitation of a population.
Of course, “normative progress” is not quite guaranteed even for those with supposedly able bodyminds in Kashmir.18 In the context of Palestine, Puar (2017: 158) asks us to think about the occupation as producing some (albeit varying) level of debility for everyone in Palestine, rather than only thinking of “people with disabilities” (a fully contingent category) as “twice disabled.” The parallels with Kashmir are all too clear, given the frequent and pervasive hobbling of movement through the use of curfews. And yet, the task of imagining crip futures remains. Confronted with contexts like Kashmir and Palestine where debilitation is an act of biopolitical warfare, surely our only options cannot be to either celebrate disability or to lament its arrival given the material conditions under which it is acquired. What kind of critique might we then craft between liberal celebrations of disability-as-difference and tragic laments about the disabled as having no future? Liat Ben-Moshe (2018: 309) points to the limitations of a biopolitical critique:
The issue with discussing disability on the level of the biopolitics of debilitation is that we are left with prevention and assimilation discourses as the only available frameworks that can account for ways of effectively living with disability. The biopolitics of debilitation can’t explain or account for what becomes of people once they are disabled/debilitated (on the level of activism or ontology). It is concerning, as it reproduces a zero-sum game of two nods of disability exceptionalism: disability as assimilation (rehabilitation, rights, as Puar aptly critiques) or prevention (in this case, as prevention of the conditions of debilitation).
Ben-Moshe prompts us to ask: What of the disability that is already here, that is yet to come? What kinds of crip futures are imaginable for children and youth in Kashmir, disabled under conditions of a violent occupation?
A second cartoon by Naqshbandi, coming several months after the first, and during the thick of the “calendar wars,” opens up a possible direction for thinking about this question. In this cartoon (fig. 13), Insha stands in front of a wall bearing the Aalaw “resistance calendar,” emblazoned with her image. While she appears to be “looking” up at the calendar on the wall, the cartoon emphasizes her inability to visually access her own spectacularized image. She touches the calendar with her fingers and asks: “Isn’t there a Braille version?” The rhetorical question now turns readers to the question of access.
“Isn’t there a Braille version?” echoes Insha’s desire in the interview cited above, to know how her face now appears, a curiosity to see how her image is being mobilized within a critique of the state. It also gestures toward the gap between the representation of her debilitation for the purposes of antioccupation critique, and the lack of accessible options for those, like Insha, who are now faced with living with disabilities in an occupied zone. Although a “dark future” may well be what is in store for Insha, literally or metaphorically, Naqshbandi’s cartoon implicitly raises a pressing question: What would an accessible future look like for someone like Insha? In anchoring this question to the Aalaw calendar and its larger critique of the occupation, the cartoon also suggests that this is not a question that can be bracketed for the future, but one that must be dealt with in the present of the movement.
It is pertinent here to once again consider how quickly access may be pressed into the service of state-sanctioned “bright futures” that are ultimately disabling for Kashmiris, both literally and politically. In February 2019, in preparation for the Indian elections that returned the Hindu nationalist BJP and Prime Minister Modi to power with a resounding popular mandate by a Hindu-majority nation, Kashmiri newspapers carried reports of the government’s efforts to ensure “accessible elections” by providing braille voter slips. In Shopian, the district from which Insha Malik hails, known as a “hotbed of militancy” and anti-Indian sentiment, the recorded voter turnout for the 2019 election was a mere 2.88 percent, intensifying a wider trend of extremely low voter turnout across the Kashmir Valley. Clearly braille voter slips are of little use here, nor does rendering the election accessible promise an accessible future in a context where people have explicitly chosen a “politics of refusal” by rejecting the legitimacy of the state and its so-called democratic process (Simpson 2017).19 The braille voter slip may be comparable to the turnstile at the Israeli checkpoint. As Puar (2017) suggests, making the turnstile at the checkpoint wheelchair accessible hardly constitutes disability justice in a context where one may “access” the checkpoint by wheelchair only to get stuck waiting within with the presumably “able-bodied,” possibly for hours. In other words, it is entirely possible to render “accessible” the infrastructure of occupation while keeping in place the larger structures that impose a varying level of debilitation on everyone.
Such an analysis should not by any means render irrelevant the immediate need for access for the disabled. It does, however, ask us to reflect on the many debilitating states of being that may not lend themselves to the metrics of diagnosable illness or legible “disability.” Consider as a case in point the long period of acute grief experienced by parents and relatives of the disappeared — grief becomes apparent as “disability” (via categories such as “depression” or “post-traumatic stress disorder”) only when the afflicted seek access to mental health facilities. In my view this complicates rather than confirms Puar’s suggestion that a critique of the medical model (which locates disability in individuals as something to be fixed or repaired) is “less pertinent” in an occupied zone like Palestine, where “ ‘repairs’ are not only elusive but also withheld” (Puar 2017: 157). We are left with the question of how healing, care, and access might be pursued in such contexts, without being absorbed into a model that isolates the question of disability access from the question of ending occupation.
Naqshbandi’s cartoon refuses to choose, anchoring the question of access to the question of self-determination that the Aalaw calendar already signifies. In the cartoon, Insha’s rhetorical question (“Isn’t there a Braille version?”) arguably also functions as a reminder that an independent future Kashmiri nation will have to account for accessibility needs for the legion disabled bodyminds produced by a long history of occupation — and that notwithstanding the paucity of resources and multiplicity of concerns in a movement preoccupied with survival, the time to begin envisioning such access may well be now. “Isn’t there a Braille version?” asks what it might mean to envision disability as a basis for collective life in Kashmir, in the present and in the future. As such, it opens up the question of crip futures in ways that suggest that a decolonized future for Kashmir must also be a future for the disabled.
For invitations to think collectively, I’m deeply grateful to Beverly Weber, Sahana Ghosh, and Rajbir Singh Judge. Thanks also to Emmanuel David, Praseeda Gopinath, Suvir Kaul, Mona Bhan, and Ather Zia for their generous feedback. This article took seed at the “Just Futures” conference at the University of Colorado Boulder, and was further developed with the Women and Gender Studies work-in-progress group at the University of Colorado, Boulder; at the “Religion, Gender, and the Politics of State Security” conference at Yale University; and at the “Time, Space, and Memory” workshop at Columbia University. This is part of my ongoing work with the Just Futures Collective.
While this article was in its final stages of completion, the Indian government dramatically suspended the semiautonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, which until August 5, 2019, had been the only Muslim-majority state claimed by India. Jammu and Kashmir had maintained limited autonomy from the Indian state since 1954, shortly after India’s independence from Britain, in 1947. In its previous configuration, the state had comprised three regions: Hindu-majority Jammu, Muslim-majority Kashmir, and Ladakh, which included substantial Buddhist and Muslim populations in its districts of Leh and Kargil, respectively. Of these regions, the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, which is my area of focus in this article, has been the site of a long-standing movement for self-determination (azadi) from the Indian state, which is widely perceived in the valley as a colonial power occupying the region through a range of authoritarian laws and military force. On August 5, 2019, the Indian government announced that Jammu and Kashmir would no longer be a state, and that it would be bifurcated into two union territories (Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh), to be governed directly from New Delhi. The move, executed via presidential order, has been widely understood by legal experts and international commentators as an unconstitutional annexation (Deshmane 2019;,Hanif 2019). Meanwhile, the Indian government has presented this move as one that will benefit Kashmiris and enhance economic development of the region, by opening up the purchase of land in Kashmir to nonresidents, among other measures. At the time of this writing, Kashmir is on month five of a lockdown featuring physical and digital restrictions that are somewhat similar to the restrictions that had followed the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016, although the sheer preparation and intensity, added military presence, physical curfews, and digital restrictions of the current siege appear to exceed the post-2016 restrictions. Nevertheless, the post-2016 context examined here, as a moment of energized youth resistance, offers a glimpse of both the ongoing state discourse of a “bright future” via economic development and the absolute refusal on the part of Kashmiris to align Kashmiri futures with the futures presented by the Indian state.
In January 2019, Faesal resigned from the civil services in protest of “the unabated killings in Kashmir” and what he saw as the Indian state’s lack of outreach toward Kashmiris.
While male youths are often most visible as the face of the Kashmiri protester, women of all ages have also always participated in street protests across Kashmir (Kanth 2018).
Pellet guns were first used by the Indian armed forces in 2010, to disperse protesters. However, their use against Kashmiris protesting the killing of Burhan Wani, in 2016, was much more widespread, causing an unprecedented number of eye injuries, including permanent eye damage. For an analysis of Kashmiri visual production thematizing blindness, see Misri 2019.
Baba Umar (2017) also situates the bank calendar against other prominent calendars that organize time and memory in Kashmir. For instance, the annual calendar of the iconic Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons (APDP) has arguably laid down a blueprint for the calendar as memorial in Kashmir. First launched in January 2016, the APDP calendar annually features twelve sketches of men disappeared by the state, in its long campaign against the practice of enforced disappearances.
As one news commentator (Riyazur-Rahman 2017) wrote, “By playing up ‘young achievers’ on the state’s most popular wall calendar, the state government has attempted to create an advantageous contrast as an upholder of constructive pursuits as against the Hurriyat, whose politics is thus deemed to lead towards destruction.” While acknowledging some dissatisfaction among younger Kashmiris with the hartal as an element of the protest calendar, the same writer is also careful to note that “this has in no way created any sympathy for the narrative of the state, which is finding it hard to move on from its record of human rights excesses during the unrest.”
A social media meme circulating after the release of the J&K Bank calendar replicated this scheme, replacing the largely youthful faces on the former with a series of skulls, stripping away the gendered and age-specific referents of the live figures on the bank calendar.
I am working here with an understanding of queerness that does not locate queerness in individual subjects or presume queerness as automatically resistant or optional. Rather, I would wish to ask, with Jasbir Puar (2008): “What does queerness conduct? What kinds of contradictory desires, social forms, identities, possibilities and foreclosures does it give rise to? Rather than what does it mean, what does it do?”
Such wedding cancellations are not unique to this moment, and happen periodically in the valley with some regularity. Newspapers in Kashmir saw similar announcements during the mass protests (and state crackdown) of 2010, and more recently in August 2018, as Kashmiris nervously awaited the verdict on the challenge to Article 35A, a now-suspended provision of the Indian constitution that had secured the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by prohibiting people from outside the state from purchasing immovable property in the state. The full e-paper for July 13, 2016, may be accessed here: epaper.greaterkashmir.com/epapermain.aspx?queryed=9&eddate=07%2f13%2f2016.
Nitasha Kaul (2018) points here to the naturalized heteronormative national scripts, entrenched in a longer history of Bollywood representation where the “Kashmir ki Kali” (Bud of Kashmir) is presented as a fetishized object of desire, successfully pursued by the north Indian hero. A number of scholars have drawn attention to the ways in which Kashmir is continually produced in the Indian national imagination as a feminized “territory of desire” (Kabir 2009), while the Kashmiri political subject is implicitly also produced as queer (Malik 2018).
Alison Kafer (2013: 27) defines “crip time” as follows: “Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of ‘how long things take’ are based on very particular minds and bodies.... Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.” Ellen Samuels (2017) in turn explores the less celebratory aspects of crip time. As she writes: “Disability and illness have the power to extract us from linear, progressive time with its normative life stages and cast us into a wormhole of backward and forward acceleration, jerky stops and starts, tedious intervals and abrupt endings.” Margaret Price (2018: 201) has offered us the notion of “crip spacetime,” an elaboration that pushes us to consider how experiences of disability emerge not only through time but through its intersection with relations of space.
In Kashmir, it is the spatiotemporal aspects of occupation that situate Kashmiris on crip time, as the restrictions of movement through physical and digital space, or the experience of endless waiting for the disappeared, for example, contribute to the widespread prevalence of not only mental illness and PTSD, but also of a generalized and acute grief that may not always lend itself to the metric of diagnosable illness or legible “disability.” Saiba Varma (2013) has found in the context of her research in a psychiatric clinic in Kashmir that trauma patients frequently narrativized conflict itself as bemari (disease): “Rather than locate their suffering within a specific catastrophic event,” Varma observes, “patients preferred to speak of their daily struggles of life under occupation.”
In January 2017, concurrent with the “calendar wars,” a Twitter wrangle between an Indian government minister and a young Kashmiri Bollywood actress indicated the persistent association between the image of the oppressed (as is assumed by default) burqa-clad woman and Kashmiri Muslim women. At the India Art Festival in New Delhi, the Indian union minister Vijay Goel tweeted a photograph of himself standing in front of a painting in which a woman in a burqa looks out at the viewer, while in the foreground we see a naked woman cowering in a cage. In his comment he connected the plight of the women in the painting to the Kashmiri Bollywood starlet Zaira Wasim, who had recently received widespread online critique from Kashmiris for meeting with the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti following her success in the Bollywood film Dangal. Displacing the specific content of the critiques received by Wasim from her fellow Kashmiris, Goel produced Wasim as an oppressed woman under attack from patriarchs in her community. He tweeted: “This painting tells a story similar to @zairawasim, प िंजरा तोड़ कर हमारी बेट ियां बढ़ने लगी हैं आगे | [Our daughters have begun to break free from their cages and charge ahead.] More power to our daughters!” Wasim responded curtly, requesting Goel not to connect her with the “discourteous depiction” in the painting, and also asserting that “Women in hijab are beautiful and free” (Poonia 2017; see also Kanjwal 2019).
See footnote 2.
In a telling numerical “balance,” Muslim Kashmiris number exactly and no more than 50 percent of the total “youth[s]” who appear on the calendar, despite being a demographic majority across Jammu and Kashmir.
Alison Kafer (2013: 27) is emphatic that “a desire for cure is not necessarily an anti-crip or anti-disability rights and justice position.” Rather, she cautions against an automatic assumption that such interventions are necessary or desired.
A senior Indian police officer anonymously explained to the Indian Express the state’s rationale for mass blinding protesters: “The use of pellet guns to control protests is preferred to the use of live ammunition. Deaths attract a lot of attention. Plus there is a view that when a protester is hit with a pellet in the eye, it becomes a deterrent. I don’t agree with this, but that is what is happening” (Jaleel 2016).
I take the term bodyminds from Margaret Price (2018: 201), who has proposed it as a way to understand the inextricability of the mental and the physical in our understandings of disability.
Such a politics of refusal “is not a politics of disengagement; rather, it looks beyond the state frame to measure success, reinterpreting histories and producing new subjectivities and social relationships that in turn create new political imaginaries and ways of being” (Cohen, Forbis, and Misri 2018).