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After Islamists ‘cancel’ separatist author Saiba Varma over her father’s association with R&AW, California University drops her from curriculum

Saiba Varma, who had in her book vilified the Indian Army and blamed the Centre for the valley's harrowing plight, attracted criticism from liberals after they learnt that she had not did given full disclosure to publishers about her father, a former R&AW officer.

Dr Saiba Varma, author of The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir has been repudiated from the University of California, San Diego’s Critical Gender Studies department. The UCSD Critical Gender Studies Program has issued a statement clarifying its stance, saying that the decision to disassociate itself from Saiba Varma was made in response to demands from Kashmiri scholars and activists to reject Dr Varma’s research.

The UCSD’s Critical Gender Studies Program said in the statement titled “CGS Executive Committee’s Statement Regarding Former CGS Faculty Affiliate, Dr Saiba Varma”: “Responding to the calls by Kashmiri scholars and activists to repudiate Dr Varma’s research as part of a broader struggle ‘against an intensifying Indian settler-colonial rule in Kashmir since 2019, a crackdown against social media communications, and a pattern of arrests of prominent activists in recent months,’ CGS has disaffiliated from Dr Varma, meaning that her courses will no longer count toward our major or minor.”

“This may be a small act in the scheme of things, but we believe it is a necessary one as we work through our complicities and think seriously about who we must prioritize in our claims of accountability,” the statement added.

Incidentally, Saiba Varma, the Islamist apologist, who had gone on to incite Kashmiri Muslims against the Indian government, accusing it of causing the valley’s harrowing plight in her book, had begun receiving a lot of backlash from liberals, Islamists, and leftists in September last year. She drew the ire after it was discovered that the author did not give full disclosure to publishers about her father, who was stationed in the Valley in the 1990s with India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).

Islamists cancel Saiba Varma raising questions on her “ethical obligations”

The controversy grew as some Islamists on Twitter raised questions about Varma’s “ethical obligations” in terms of disclosing her background. Since the author’s father served as an R&AW officer in the valley, Islamists and so-called ‘secular-liberals,’ who normally celebrate people like Saiba Varma because they share the same anti-Modi stance, began ‘cancelling’ her. They accused the author of writing a book on trauma in the Valley while her father “create(d) the trauma”.

Now, the University of California has also ‘cancelled’ the author because of this very same reason. It stated in its statement: “We also believe that Varma’s unrelentingly violent decision to work in this place, where the colonial Indian state intelligence apparatus had appointed her father (formerly a high-ranking official of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the highest intelligence agency of India and architect of torture, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism policies in Kashmir and elsewhere) and his colleagues to draw up plans that included torture, sexual violence, and counter-insurgency as instruments of war and everyday occupation was dishonest and deliberately misleading.”

Author Saiba Verma’s book, The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir, which was caught in the middle of the major controversy, is unsettling on many levels because it reeks of contempt for the ruling dispensation.

In the introduction of the book, the author wrote: “Borrowing and extending techniques from British colonial rule, the Indian state enacted the world’s most established, sophisticated, and pervasive systems of emergency rule and legislation and repeatedly criminalized pro-independence demands as ‘conspiracies’ and ‘anti-national.’ The Indian state’s global image as ‘the world’s largest democracy,’ a generous aid donor, and non-interventionist actor have helped disguise its military excesses in Kashmir and other border regions.”

“As an upper-caste and upper-class Indian citizen and subject, I have actively and passively internalized anti-Muslim racism my entire life. I am complicit in the colonization of Kashmir and other regions forcibly incorporated into the Indian nation-state.”

“As Stuart Hall once powerfully stated, there is no such thing as an innocent discourse. To add: there is no such thing as an innocent Indian. In other words, there is no innocent way for any other scholar of Indian origin, including myself, to engage with Kashmir (or any of the other colonialisms underway in the subcontinent) without acknowledging our own embeddedness in histories of violence and harm.”

After her controversial book was published by Duke University in the US and Yoda Press in India, it drew a lot of ire on social media. In September 2021, a series of tweets by a Twitter handle, @Settler_Scholar accused the author of writing a book on trauma in the Valley while her father “create(d) the trauma”.

This made Yoda distance itself from the book. It was reported in the same month that a group of anthropologists had planned to write a letter of protest to the American publishers regarding the book.

Author Saiba Varma had then said in her defence, “An anonymous account is attacking my research based on my father’s former position in the Indian state. My father did work for the security state. He was in Kashmir when I was 10 years old. My work disavows *all* counterinsurgency, past and present, in Kashmir.”

“My father had no direct bearing on the research I’ve done. Recognizing the need to acknowledge this relationship, however, during my fieldwork I disclosed it to Kashmiri scholars and journalists I was close to. My ethical practices and scholarly arguments are accountable to them,” she had tweeted.

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