Nyla Ali Khan

Visiting Professor
University of Oklahoma

A Brief History


I belong to Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir (J & K), a highly volatile South Asian region that is enriched with reservoirs of cultural, social, and human wealth. I was raised in the splendid Kashmir Valley located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The charm,splendor, and heterogeneity of the Kashmir Valley have enticed many a writer, historian, anthropologist, sociologist, benevolent ruler, and malevolent politician. J & K of the seventies basked in the glory of a hard-won democratic set-up, in which consideration of the well-being of the populace was supreme, marred by some political faux. The inhabitants of the state were neither intimidated nor hindered the aggressively centrist policies of the government of India or the fanatical belligerence of the government of Pakistan. Caught between the rival siblings India and Pakistan, the people of the state, particularly of the Kashmir Valley, had constructed a composite national identity. Kashmiris were heavily invested in the notion of territorial integrity and cultural pride, which through the perseverance of the populist leadership and the unflinching loyalty of the people, had sprouted on the barren landscape of abusive political and military authority. I recall that period with nostalgia and mourn the loss of a deep-rooted and heartfelt nationalism. But the refusal to wallow in grief and a desire to deconstruct the Camelot like atmosphere of that period impelled me to undertake this colossal cross-disciplinary project regarding the political history, composite culture, literature of the state; attempted relegation of Kashmiri women to the archives of memory, and their persistent endeavors to rise from the ashes of immolated identities. I was further motivated to complete this project within the period stipulated by my publisher because of the plethora of mauled versions of history cunningly making their way into mainstream Indian, Pakistani, and international political discourses. This book has no pretensions about being an exhaustive discussion of the intricate politics of J & K. It is my humble attempt at speaking truth to power by employing not just traditional scholarship, but oral historiography as well. Despite my emotional investment in the issue, I have tried to veer away from the seductive trap of either romanticizing or demonizing certain political actors and initiatives. All going well, this book is just the first in a series of books challenging dominant, not necessarily accurate, discourses on J & K. Finally, Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan is a tribute to the resilient spirit of the inhabitants of J & K, which has made them persevere through catastrophes, upheavals, unfulfilled pledges, treacherous politics, and vile manipulations. They have emerged scathed but with an irrepressible desire to live and define their own reality. I hope to someday live that reality.

My debt to my parents, Suraiya and Mohammad Ali Mattoo is enormous. They have always believed in me and my dreams with unwavering faith. My daughter, Iman, has enlivened my days with her unquenchable vitality and irrepressible energy. My maternal uncle, Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, uncharacteristically, gave me access to his archived collection of photographs and books. My husband, Mohammad Faisal Khan, for his encouraging comments on my work. Last but not least, I owe my inspiration to the undying loveliness and mystical beauty of Kashmir, which enlivens the soul and calls to the wanderer to return.

As a young tenure-track faculty member at the University of Nebraska-Kearney from August 2004 to December 2009, and now as a Visiting Professor at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, I emphasize the traditional concepts of composition and style as well as recent rhetorical theory, teaching students to appreciate the various social and historical contexts of writing, reading, and language. My personal history, education, and scholarship have made me sensitive to the diversity of culturaltraditions and to the questions and conflicts within them, and I bring this sensitivity to my teaching as well. When students become actively engaged in a discussion in which they can disagree with me as well as with one another, they begin to discover the enriching process of reading critically.

My ability to draw on various cultural, social, and theoretical contexts, along with my own background as a Kashmiri who did her graduate work in New Delhi and in the U.S., helps me to appreciate the diverse paths that my students have followed in their pursuit of education. Simply moving from a small town like Broken Bow, Nebraska to the “big city” of Kearney can be a big challenge to some students, whereas others might be challenged by the linguistic and religious differences in the classroom.

As a literature teacher, I stress the importance of close reading while also drawing attention to the cultural, social, and historical contexts of literature. Students have the license—indeed, they have an obligation as citizens of a democracy—to read critically.

Through my writings, I critically observes the sociopolitical discourse in South Asia, particularly Kashmir through an oblique focus from the margins instead of from an elitist center. My goal is to engage in reflective action as an educator working with diverse cultural and social groups. I was challenged to examine my own locations of privilege and seek emotional empowerment in order to understand the systems that have generated the culture of silence. This culture generates problematic stereotypes, alliances, and biases within and outside the community. I seek in the collision of modernity and communal memory a horizontal relationship producing intersectionalities between different cultural spaces, times, and ways of knowing the self in relation to the family, society, and the larger cultural landscape. Acknowledging our complicity in oppression, reconceptualizing paradigmatic structures, and mobilizing cultural and political coalitions is riddled with conflict but it is the need of the day for us to engage in these processes.

Regarding conferences, I co-organized the 2006 South Asian Literary Association Conference on “Postcolonialism and South Asian Diasporas,” which was held in conjunction with the Modern Language Association Conference in Philadelphia. Over the years, I have had sixteen conference papers competitively selected for presentation at major conferences, such as the South Asian Literary Association Conference, the Modern Language Association Conference, Annual British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies Conference, and the International Global Studies Conference.

I avail myself of every opportunity to present my research at public forums. I presented on “Negotiating the Boundaries of Gender, Community, and Nationhood” at the faculty Roundtable: “Transnational Feminism and Research Methodology.” Women’s Studies Conference: “No Limits 2008: Transnational Feminism.” University of Nebraska at Kearney, Kearney, Nebraska, Mar. 1, 2008. I also chaired the panel on “Traversing Political, National, and International Spaces.” Women’s Studies Conference: “No Limits 2008: Transnational Feminism.” I have given public lectures on my scholarly work at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and at the Center for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada.