What is the significance of gender and masculinities in understanding conflict?
Through an ethnographic study conducted between 2013 and 2016, this book explores the politics of competing and sometimes overlapping masculinities represented by the state armed forces and the non-state actors in the Kashmir valley. In addition, the book broadens the understanding of women’s agency through its engagement with the construction, performance, and interplay of masculinities in the conflict.
Combining existing elements of both feminist research and critical scholarship on men and masculinities, the book highlights the significance of foregrounding the interplay of men’s identities in conflicts to understand agency in a meaningful way. Through the focus on the simultaneous play of multiple masculinities, the book also questions the oversimplified and monolithic usage of masculinity being associated only with violence in conflicts.
The empirical data in the book includes interviews and narratives of multiple stakeholders belonging to diverse vantage points in the Kashmir conflict. Some of these include activists, widows, wives of the disappeared, ex-militants, surrendered militants, participants of the stone-pelting movement, mothers of sons killed in the conflict, women representatives of the village Halqa Panchayats, and army personnel. The book also draws from alternative material in the form of graffiti, folk songs, poetry on graves, and slogans. Through anecdotal reminiscence, the author reflects on the challenges of field research in Kashmir that served as an opportunity for self-contemplation.
Amya Agarwal is a senior researcher at the Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut, University of Freiburg and teaching fellow at University College Freiburg.
Few books have the ability to say something new about intractable conflict. Contesting Masculinities and Women’s Agency in Kashmir not only provides novel analysis of conflict in Kashmir, but it does so while also fundamentally enriching our understanding of how masculinities operate. With careful attention to detail, Amya Agarwal shows the varied ways that manhood is attached to militancy through time and challenges the tired accounts of violence that treat gender as a synonym for women. By reading this book, the reader will not only understand how masculinities fuel conflict but also how they relate to vulnerability, joy, and love. This book will shift the way conflict is understood.
Amya Agarwal should be applauded for moving away from the normative gender analyses of the Kashmir conflict so far. Through extensive fieldwork, she documents men and women’s agency in the Kashmir conflict by focusing on the multiple contesting masculinities shaped by class, religion, and location. This is a must read for all Kashmir watchers, gender studies and politics students, and all those who care about empathy and nuances in a world full of binaries and certitudes.
9/9/21, Choice: This book was included in a feature highlighting forthcoming Asian and Asian American Studies titles.