By Molly Essell
When cultural anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology Haley Duschinski arrived in India as a Harvard graduate student, she did not realize she was beginning a journey into the life of the Kashmiri people that would last nearly a decade.
"I've been doing anthropological research on issues relating to the Kashmir struggle since I was a graduate student in the late 1990s and I've been working on my current research project since 2005," she said.
This spring, Duschinski received an Ohio University Baker Award, allowing her to continue field research studying the Kashmir conflict in India. This award -- which is funded through the Ohio University Foundation's John C. Baker Fund to support research, scholarship and creative activity -- supported two months of ethnographic fieldwork in Kashmir during the summer.
The Kashmir valley is located in India's northernmost state, high in the Himalayan Mountains. This area has long been disputed by Pakistan as to who controls the land and the Kashmiri people. Duschinski's research focuses on the emerging patterns of state violence and popular protest in the Kashmir valley and Kashmiri perceptions of the state and the law.
"Kashmiris have a long-standing aspiration for independence from Indian rule," she said. "They've been pursuing an armed secessionist struggle since 1989. In the past few years, the nature of the struggle has started to change, and new strategies of nonviolent resistance have emerged."
Duschinski employs a "ground-up" approach to understanding the Kashmiri people. Over the years, she has worked closely with community members, becoming more of a committed anthropologist to the Kashmiri people, rather than a complete outsider.
"For advocacy anthropologists, it's simply not possible to maintain a neutral scholarly position when you've been working closely with a community over a period of years, especially when the community is living under such intense conditions of state militarization and state violence," she said. "You become personally and professionally invested in their lives and their futures. That adds to your sense of political and moral responsibility in relation to the community as an engaged scholar."
During the time she was in the Kashmir valley this past summer, Duschinski was able to observe building tensions in the region firsthand because of a growing conflict between the people of the community and the local police. The week before her arrival, two Kashmiri women had been raped and murdered in a village called Shopian. The local community claimed the police were responsible but, when the state refused to respond to the incidents as crimes, the people throughout Kashmir started daily protests in the streets.
Duschinski was present at a Shopian rally where people were demanding justice from the state for human rights abuses. She also witnessed strikes, unofficial curfews and stone-peltings between Kashmiri youth and police and security forces in the streets.
In the midst of these events, she carried out her fieldwork by charting various community interpretations of, and responses to, the Shopian crimes.
The long-term goal of her research involves coming to a better understanding of how legal and political processes are shaping the identities and aspirations of the Kashmiri people. At the same time, she is pursuing her research through collaborations with Kashmiri scholars and activists on local community-based projects, in an effort to support local efforts to achieve justice as part of the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan.
Duschinski is also in the process of writing a book, "Homeland Insecurities," which spotlights Kashmiri claims for human rights, justice and self-determination.
She has visited the Kashmir valley regularly since 2006 for the current portion of her research.