Book Review | Body of Victim, Body of Warrior

 By Kasvi Batra
Body of Victim, Body of Warrior by Cabeiri Debergh Robinson

Cabeiri Debergh Robinson’s – ‘Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the making of Kashmiri Jihadists’ is a unique work that at its core presents an anthropological study of the notion of Social production of Jihad. Robinson firmly posits ’For Kashmiri Muslim refugees who became militants the family rather than the mosque or the religious school mediates entrance into jihadist organizations’, as the primary sources of information about the conflict in Kashmir were networks of personal relationships and only later did public media arrive. Thus in common parlance, Kashmiri Jihad was not a defense of Muslim territorial sovereignty or a means of establishing Islamic legal rule but jihad was, in turn, a defense of the Muslim people from human rights (a hybrid of Islamic and Global Political Ideas) abuses by the state. By far the most interesting aspect about the text is that, unlike other radicalization related literature, it does not assume Jihad as an end in itself; instead jihad is presented as a process borne out of a confluence of societal expectations, religious mandate and personal trauma.

Robinson’s core area of study comprises Kashmiri refugee populations in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, these refugees do not belong to a single cohort and came in waves during the wars of 1948, 1965 and at the beginning of the civil armed conflict in the Indian Valley of Kashmir in 1989. The book has been divided into three parts – The first one being between Hijarat and Jihad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, this part provides a rich historical background of how citizenship was determined in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir with the starting point being the treaty of Amritsar rather than the conventional 1948 ‘raid of the pathans’ setting.

This section is also important to understand why even at present some Kashmiris have to a certain degree institutionalized their refugee status as they identify as “hereditary state subjects” a state of polity that does not exist anymore The author at repeated intervals highlights that many Kashmiris believe this state of refugee existence is temporary and often take it into consideration whilst planning for major life-changing events such as marriages.

Robinson also introduced the Islamicate concept of hijarat (protective historical migrations during periods of violent struggles often linked with sunnat) with special reference to the designed nation of Kashmir, while in the initial few descriptions this seemed like a deliberate act on the author’s part to provide a motive towards migrations and to link Kashmiri with broader Islamic theology but in the later stages, the intricate link between hijarat and Jihad are consciously unravelled.

The move from hijarat to jihad is skillfully charted through ethnographic descriptions of meetings, debates and discussions with her respondents, avoiding conventional understandings of jihad and Islam currently circulating. The author also differentiates between muhajir (refugee) and Mujahid (warrior) as two categories of people displaced by political violence. Robinson also stresses deeply upon the porous nature of Line of Control and adjudging from a more academic point of view this book provides a much-needed view of the other side for scholars working upon Jammu and Kashmir. Thus in crux, this section effectively with its historical accounts effectively integrates politics of resistance in Refugee Camps in the South Asian Context.

The Second Part of the Book- “The Historical Emergence of Kashmiri Refugees as Political subjects” analyzes the political value of being a Kashmiri refugee this Robinson portrays as being an important factor in limiting Pakistan’s administrative penetration into the region and Kashmiris having some form of legitimacy for claims on governance. This chapter marks out the transformation of the Kashmiri state subject refugee (muhajir-e-riyasat-e-Jammu-o-Kashmir) to a Kashmiri refugee (muhajir-e-Kashmir), Robinson charts out the complexities of refugee rehabilitation and extensively discusses the reasons why India and Pakistan had to develop a unique bilateral refugee regime to rehabilitate displaced people as technically speaking Kashmiri people were not stateless and hence did not fit the categorization of a refugee in the post World War II space.

This according to the author marks the distinctive point at which interaction between the Pakistani State and an inherently Political Kashmiri community starts, as the text progresses one sees these connections become important for the Kashmiri community to stay relevant and possess some degree of power. Robinson narrates the tale of an imam who possessed membership cards of almost ten-twelve organizations, some of them directly at odds with each other- thus in the Kashmiri refugee space, the emphasis was placed on who could get the work done and an inherent dilution of any ideological considerations.

In this part, Robinson also introduces the clash that occurred when the earlier and later waves of Kashmiri refugees while Muhajirs who migrated during 1948 or just found themselves to be on the wrong side during arbitrary set up of LOC, had a general preoccupation with re-establishing the domestic sphere more like an immigrant. Whereas Robinson brings out the concept of ‘refuji’ which essentially involved making displaced people more in line with the perception of a refugee held by the global humanitarian community, thus there was an inherent attempt to move Kashmiris from being political subjects to victims of political violence. Robinson also lays special emphasis on the focus on women and children as victims of violence and collection/documentation of abuses carried out by the Indian State.

The new refuji is different from the old muhajir in one more critical sense, while Robinson brings out this connection only at the conclusion of the book but as evidence of both human rights waves of abuse and the international community’s knowledge of those practices circulated through refugee communities Kashmiri Muslim refugee communities adopted the language of human rights and humanitarianism, they forged a notion ‘of rights’ as a hybrid of Islamic and global political ideas and practices and reformulated Kashmir Jihad as a practice to protect the body of Muslim people. Robinson also attempts to differentiate between some other terms such as panah gazin (refugee-seekers) and mutasisirin (affectees). Thus this section of the book in simpler terms gives rich information about the dimensions of being a refugee in POK.

The final section finally describes the contemporary social practice of Jihad within the refugee community, this is by far the most interesting aspect of the text as unlike other texts on radicalization, Robinson through her finding showcases that the young refugees who did join militant organizations, were not indoctrinated through fundamentalist institutions or Islamic political parties but they directly sought out militant organizations.

While Robinson presents Jihad itself as a social product in the third part she also describes various social practices undertaken within the ambit of Jihad for eg- Robinson begins the discussion by bringing forth an anecdote as to why would someone who has decided to become a mujahid and in all probability attain shahadat would marry and have children, as it turns out marriage is a way of fulfilling one’s farz to keep generations of individuals who are willing to partake jihad. Robinson also looks deeper into the concepts of the Islamic concept of nafs (desire) and aqal (intellect) and as to how aqal is used to make nafs useful to social ends. Robinson posits that the reason why jihad found a wide range of public support is due to the simple fact that amongst Kashmiri jihad shifted the terrain of struggle from the sovereign of the territory or sovereign of the state to the sovereign of the body thus jihad has been customized in lines with Kashmiri nationalism. According to the author, the family rather than the mosque or the religious school mediates entrance into jihadist organizations. Concepts of Greater Jihad and Lesser Jihad are also brought about, according to the text in the Kashmiri scenario there is a concerted effort to mix both types.

By far the biggest strength of the work is the rich array of narrative research employed and is placed at strategic points in the book whenever a particular concept becomes too complicated to be described in academic terms. However, with its quest to provide a fresh perspective on largely historical-politico dominated Kashmiri academic space the books takes rather ostentatious writing as an approach; parts make more sense than concrete wholes. If one wishes to read this book a preliminary knowledge of radicalization studies in South Asia as well as Islam in itself would come in extremely handy. Unlike other radicalization related approaches such as Social movement theory, social psychology and politico-economic factors where after a point the individual loses their agency here the so-called mujahid is an active part in the meaning-making process and fully understands what are their motivations in taking part in Jihad. Thus in sum, this book is an extremely useful read for both if one wants to know about Kashmir beyond the Line of Control and to understand the how dynamics of refugee identity and in some cases consequent fighters confluence with each other.