We were honored to speak with Zanaan Wanaan, an independent feminist collective based in Kashmir. Our conversation touches upon global feminism, abolitionism and the need for our minds to move beyond borders. 


Asia Art Tours: Along with BLM and the mainstreaming of Abolition in the United States, the feminist direct actions and organizing of groups like Karti Darhti, Pinjra Tod, The Shaheen Bagh Sit-in & the Aurat March have deeply inspired me.

For Zanaan Wanaan what inspiration have you taken from recent regional feminist movements, global feminist movements or movements like BLM & Abolitionism?


Zanaan Wanaan: We have been ideologically inspired by people’s own resistance movements across the world which are abolitionist and radical in their ethos, demands, outlook and implementation. These movements, particularly, the BLM movement offer crucial lessons in organizing and the ways of engagement and expression. This is especially the case when we think about how BLM is focused on creating structural changes and addressing the root causes of racial discrimination and inequality in America (and beyond). They pose critical questions of intersectionality that are aligned with the decolonial feminist work that ZW does.


The ‘Kashmiri Bella Ciao’ is one of the more haunting and beautiful performance pieces by Zanaan Wanaan 


Asia Art Tours: Has Zanaan Wanaan been able to build solidarity with any of these movements? Or have ideological barriers like Islamophobia or nationalism trumped feminist solidarity when it comes to Kashmir linking with other South Asian or global feminist movements?


Zanaan Wanaan: Zanaan Wanaan is focused on creating a global network of women and to build transnational feminist solidarities. One of the ways that we have been working towards it is by collaborating with diverse organizations and collective (both formal and informal) in different capacities. We are committed to fostering regional solidarity among people’s liberation and feminist movements to invoke cross-movement dialogue with them. We recently collaborated with regional people’s collectives and feminist groups in Syria and Lebanon to spark dialogues on issues like gender sensitive media reportage, war and militarism etc.

As a young and evolving feminist collective, we are connected to global feminist networks that promote women’s human rights. Besides alliance building and solidarity, these networks are crucial to work strategically considering the rampant crackdown on civil society by the government. These are also opportunities for us to learn from other feminist movements within their own socio political and cultural contexts. Our feminist inquiry in deeply rooted with principles of intersectionality and it’s relationship with marginal identities. Such networks offer opportunities for sustaining and amplifying one another.

With respect to the South Asian feminist solidarity, we are always open to collaboration and engagement but knowing collectives’ positionality vis-a-vis Kashmir is important to us.


Mural artwork provided by Zanaan Wanaan


Asia Art Tours: Dr. Joy James uses the term Captive Maternal to describe how individuals (men/women/trans/non-binary) individuals in Black communities are held captive by violent states and economies:

“They stabilize with their labor the very social and state structures which prey upon them . . . The captive maternal labors to nurture the ‘private realm’ of family and community that seek shelter from social and state aggression and stabilize the ‘public realm’ of policing, presidential powers and policies that prey upon said family and community.”

In Kashmir (how) do we see the State manifest the ‘captive maternal’?


Zanaan Wanaan: In Kashmir, the state control is all encompassing and all-pervasive. Most people rely, directly and indirectly, on the State structures for livelihood, sustenance, and subsistence. Inadvertently, these structures are orchestrated to de-politicise the population here and act as a means for reprisal and punitive action for anything that the State deems as subversive.

The arbitrariness of this control extends over people’s lives and extends to their social life as well. To cite a recent example, an order was passed by the government here making the government employees in the region liable for the ‘activities’ that are against the ‘national interest’ even if they are done by the family members or if they have any association or sympathy with the persons involved in such ‘unlawful activities’.

This also includes voicing opinions about the political realities of the region on social media including Twitter and Facebook. Many people have lost their jobs over social media posts criticizing the government/making references to the HR violations by the state, family affiliations, and other arbitrary reasons. Vague orders such as these make the people an extension of the panopticon state and create informers and collaborators to perform this labour for the State. This extends to digital space as well where the government has recruited cybercrime volunteers to flag ‘anti-national’ posts.

In Kashmir, cybercrime constitutes opinions that have the potential to mobilize people for action. The ‘captive maternal’ manifests in other ways as well. The State has utmost control over people’s mobility within the region and outside of the region, many people are denied passports for similar arbitrary reasons. There is barely any scope for independent/autonomous structures, mechanisms and institutions to exist in such a repressive militarized setting. Which is why we turn to alternative models of working together- ones that do not require formal institutional settings and bureaucratic hurdles.

This is why women’s networks are crucial in creating alternative ways of movement building and solidarity.


This performance piece by Zanaan Wanaan is called, Duaekhaer-e-Inquilaab: Kashmiri Protest Prayer. 


Asia Art Tours: And through the work of Zanaan Wanaan and other pedagogies of Kashmir revolution, what insights exist for transcending the ‘trap’ of the captive maternal?


Zanaan Wanaan: From its inception, Zanaan Wanaan has never been overly reliant on formal institutions and frameworks. By building an alternative structure, we are fighting the systematic and institutional exclusion that exists in the processes and mechanisms locally and globally. Our work is a radical rejection of the hegemonic ways of working, where we work , within, as well as outside of this structure.

This permeability allows us to focus on the processes and not the end results. Our pedagogic focus is based on collective reflection where we are aiming to ask better questions, if not get all the answers. To be more specific, the academic work that we produce through the ZW journal does not go into the formal- gatekeeping processes of the academe. The work that the collective produces is open access- with an aim to create a culture of critical inquiry.

Asia Art Tours: Abolitionist Michelle Alexander after writing The New Jim Crow entered a deep spiritual crisis and joined a seminary. Later, in dialogue with Angela Davis she admitted concern that abolition was becoming a ‘promissory note’, where supporters took it as an ‘article of faith’ that things would get better (that good would triumph over evil).

Some of Zanaan Wanaan’s most powerful works (‘Kashmir Bella Ciao’, Duaekhaer-e-Inquilaab: Kashmiri Protest Prayer) are its most spiritual. In what ways do you see faith as generative to Kashmir’s Freedom struggles, for both secular and non-secular revolutionaries?

And in struggling for Kashmir’s freedom, how do we make sure our artwork or our prayers (like the Duaekhaer) become concrete plans of resistance rather than remaining unrealized ‘promissory notes of freedom’?


Zanaan Wanaan: The people of Kashmir have witnessed unimaginable intergenerational trauma and violence in a continuum across decades. In an atmosphere of ever increasing violence and persecution where State power governs and dictates every aspect of the subjugated populations’ lives, religion and prayers, especially, offer an alternative means of a free space. Bouba’s (grandmother) prayer is symbolic and emblematic of the Kashmiri women’s reclamation of power. Her prayer is a cultural legacy which is a testimonial remembering the violence and disenfranchisement of its people, a unifying expression of the collective suffering of the people here and a vehement rejection of the enforced identities on the people of Kashmir.

The song sung in the local language, Kashmiri, and defined by the religious motifs of prayer, is a response to the cultural and linguistic obfuscation by the State and the deep rooted Islamophobia which is central to the militarisation and conflict in the region. We have been alienated from our own histories and actively denied any conversations about our lived realities. Through songs like Kashmiri Bella Ciao, we want to institutionalise our oral history and lived realities.

So, it ceases to be simply ‘utopias for the heavens’ but directly confronts the forces that are at play against the Kashmiri peoples. Here, there are no redressal mechanisms, institutions, that can offer even a semblance of the possibility of justice and accountability. Nor are there any mechanisms for people to cope with the long-drawn trauma and violence inflicted by the State. Hence, acts of faith become ever important and relevant.


For more w. Zanaan Wanaan, please check out their website here: https://zanaanwanaan.com/

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

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