California University Disaffiliates From Indian Scholar for Being Dishonest With Kashmiri Subjects

“As such, we affirm their claims that Dr. Varma’s work has produced extraordinary harm to the subjects of her research and to the anti-occupation struggles of Kashmiris, something that compounds other ongoing violence and trauma caused by the Indian settler state.”


SRINAGAR — University of California San Diego’s Critical Gender Studies Program has disaffiliated from Dr. Saiba Varma, Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department and a former CGS Executive Committee member and Faculty Affiliate, saying that she had engaged in a serious ethical and political breach in her research practices. 

Varma’s book on Kashmir is at the centre of a major controversy after it came to light that her father was an officer with India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) who was posted in the Valley in the 90s.

Varma’s book The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir has been published by Duke University in the US and Yoda Press in India. However, Kashmir scholars accused her of writing a book on trauma in the Valley while her father “create(d) the trauma’’.

On its website, Varma’s book is described by the Duke University Press as an exploration of the “psychological, ontological, and political entanglements between medicine and violence in Indian-controlled Kashmir — the world’s most densely militarised place”.

Varma is accused of hiding her background from the trauma patients and using her father’s connections during her research. Many Kashmiri scholars accused her of gaining special access. “Were Indian and local Kashmir intelligence agents & agencies aware that SV was present & conducting research in Kashmir? Did it make the surveillance worse for the trauma patients?”

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Following the allegations, in a statement, a group of academics, including Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Ather Zia, Nosheen Ali, among others, amplified the call for accountability and ethics and wrote, “We do not believe that ‘the daughter should be punished for the sins of the father.’ The revelations, however, raise key questions about the ethical obligations of all scholars who do ethnographic and archival research in Kashmir, with particular relevance for scholars who are committed to supporting the Kashmiri political struggle.”

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CGS Executive Committee said: “… A letter signed by “dominant caste Indian scholars, other concerned scholars, and everyone in solidarity with colonized people of Kashmir” to the publisher of Dr. Varma’s book in the US, Duke University Press, outlines the unethical nature of her scholarship and brings up one often obfuscated topic: that of caste and colonialism in scholarship on South Asia broadly and Kashmir specifically. The letter addresses “the ethics and politics of an upper caste Indian anthropologist who conducted research in Kashmiri clinics, demanded they speak in Urdu/Hindi (colonizers’ language) for their trauma to be translated in ways she could understand and then cultivated their stories of trauma from occupation for her book.” They emphasize that to work, as Dr. Varma did, “so unethically in Kashmir, on Kashmir, and moreover at the site of psychiatric clinics where traumatized Kashmiris might have harboured some hope of getting any support for their mental health…is not simply irresponsible scholarship and callous neglect about one’s own positionality…It is harmful scholarship.” 

The statement added: “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. Furthermore, Varma worked without disclosing these familial ties to the patients in whose sessions she sat, or to the psychiatrists and other Kashmiris she is accountable to as an Indian anthropologist working on Kashmir, teaching courses on decolonial methodology, and claiming to harbor a commitment to decolonial, anti-racist, and feminist of color politics. 

“As CGS faculty, students, and staff who carry on the critical legacy of our program, and of gender/sexuality departments across North America, we are committed to building and supporting ethical anti-colonial scholarship that is accountable to Black people, other racialized people, and Indigenous peoples here and transnationally. We understand this as a baseline requirement of being in solidarity with people fighting against multiple colonial occupations. As such, we affirm their claims that Dr. Varma’s work has produced extraordinary harm to the subjects of her research and to the anti-occupation struggles of Kashmiris, something that compounds other ongoing violence and trauma caused by the Indian settler state. 

“In addition to 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.”

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View Comments (7)
  • Whitewashing jihadi insurgency and painting terrorists and their sympathisers as victims is a cruel joke. On top of that accusng Dr Verma and her father (unrelated to the research work) as collaborators of some kind of oppressive state is outrageous.
    Any light these pack of dogs can shed on genocide and ethnic cleansing of Kashmiris Hindus in 90s?

  • My question to ‘academics’ raising this hue and cry about possible ‘trauma’ caused to the victims of Indian govt violence in Kasmir by Ms Verma’s interviews for her book: What about the trauma of Kasmiri Pandits who were killed, maimed and raped by Kasmir Jihadis in 1990’s? Please be honest as academics while claiming being academics.

  • I am a Kashmiri pandit who has gone through the phase of ethnic cleansing that took place through a planned Islamist movement in Kashmir. I cannot believe and no one in this world should be made to believe that what is happened and is happening in Kashmir is a freedom struggle or struggle of self determination – it was and will always remain a Pakistani funded and sponsored islamist movement to destabilize the Indian state. The Indian government keeps on pouring resources and money to make Kashmir a better place and improving the lives of the resident Kashmiris. Lets not fall for propaganda and know the facts. Discrediting the work of a scholar will not people believe otherwise. It just makes me sad that a person like me and millions of other Kashmiri hindus who were thrown out of their motherland by the islamist terrorists have to read such articles coming from the illuminaty of a prestigious institution like Califormia University – I see this as an attempt to strangle the voice of the minorities of the state of Kashmir.

  • Is it a coincidence that we only see the names of Muslim ‘academics’ behind such righteousness in favour of their own community. Ananya Kabir is a product of Presidency College Calcutta and her relative served in the Indian govt. What does she mean by Indian “colonizing” state? She went to study abroad on an Indian passport and knows that Kashmir is part of India’s geography and how much Indians have suffered for the traitors there.. What is someone called the “academic” in Kabir as a radicalized Muslim just as easily as she is calling India a “coloniser”. Infosys even gave her some prize. Its sad to see these morally defunct “academics” juicing up the same tired tropes to air their own aura of greatness. Get real!

  • The heading is totally misleading. It is not the university, it is on a department that was previously treating her courses at the same level as their own courses for the purpose of credit. She was not a member of that department. They only speak of what they “believe”. They have so far not shown how her analysis is intellectually, logically, incorrect. And none has yet disclosed what their father and mothers did or are doing. Another shameful posturing.

  • I wonder if these scholars, who take pride in adding ‘Critical’ to what used to be an honest ‘Gender’ Studies program, are aware of how a different group views Dr. Saiba: “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.” (Opindia.com) It seems the two share the same mindset while holding opposing views.

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