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Prof. Mona Bhan Interviewed in Online Journal

October 23, 2014

Mona Bhan, associate professor of anthropology at DePauw University, engages in a lengthy interview with Kashmir Lit, an online journal of Kashmiri and diasporic writing.  She discusses her life, her work, and the book Counterinsurgency, Democracy, and the Politics of Identity in India: From Warfare to Welfare?.

"The book is based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted from 1999 to 2012 in the Batalik sector of district Kargil," Dr. Bhan notes. "In the book, I show how institutions of democracy and citizenship are being undermined through extensive militarization of border areas, often through programs meant to “win people’s hearts and minds.” I started my work in the region in October 1999 soon after the Kargil war had ended. Although the war was officially over, the aftermaths were clearly visible: people’s shattered window panes, pieces of Bofors shells lying on the national highway and on people’s fields, memories and nightmares from the war were all over the place. And so were the intense war preparations by the military of which Op Sadhbhavana was a part. I was curious to see how a marginal border community participated in the war effort and was profoundly shaped by state and military policies that were instituted in the post-war period. In the book, I show how welfare can become a new mode of warfare; more particularly, I discuss the ways discourses of welfare and humanitarianism are deployed as counterinsurgency tactics to control hearts and minds."

The professor states, "Anthropology is not just an academic field of inquiry; it is a way of life, a practice that can teach you to strive for equality and social justice; embrace differences without othering them or subsuming them within dominant cultural or social norms. Although deeply romantic, given that the field like any other has been deeply complicit in furthering deeply regressive state/colonial projects, things changed for the field when it took a critical turn in the 1960s within the context of feminist struggles for social and political justice as well as anti-war radicalism in the U.S. Since then, anthropology has become deeply invested in questioning regimes of power (institutional or non-institutional) that further oppression, domination, and social injustice. Anthropology trains you to understand political formations, wars, and conflict through the prism of human experience instead of studying them from a state-centric perspective that is overly reductive and problematic (since it is overly invested in maintaining the “health” of the state instead of its people). The study of conflict from a humanist standpoint resonates with the experiences of many young Kashmiris who have experienced extreme trauma and conflict and are tired of state-centric perspectives that (as anyone who has grown up in a conflict zone will tell you) have played a critical role in furthering the status quo and ignoring people’s voices.  Rather than being reduced to mere statistic under the pretext of objectivity, Anthropology allows for a deeper, richer exploration of the ways conflict shapes human experience and agency. It can be revolutionary but anthropological praxis must always remain deeply self-aware and introspective for it to realize its revolutionary potential."

Access the complete interview by clicking here.

Mona Bhan was recently quoted by Al Jazeera. You'll find details in this previous story.

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