Saiba Varma: "Demanding Gratitude: Rescue, Abandonment and Hospitality in Indian-controlled Kashmir"

Departmental Seminar Series features Saiba Varma, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of San Diego.

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!

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Photo: University of San Diego


This talk ties together two critical events in recent Kashmiri history—a devastating flood in 2014 and mass protests in 2016—to show how, contrary to Indian state and public declarations of magnanimity vis-à-vis Kashmir, Indian aid is laden with expectations of Kashmiri gratitude and obeisance. Gratitude is theorized as a political emotion given on condition of reciprocity, and it is an inexhaustible demand. This talk focuses on how Kashmiris grappled with representations of themselves as 'saved' or 'rescued' objects of care against the reality of what many felt was state abandonment and violence. It shows how Kashmiris forged tenuous modes of self-help and self-determination in the midst of both crises. This talk offers notions of hospitality (mehman nawazi) as a counter-ethics to military and humanitarian rescue.

Research profile

Saiba Varma is an Assistant Professor of the Psychological/Medical Anthropology subfield. She is a medical and cultural anthropologist working on questions of violence, medicine, psychiatry, and politics as they pertain to Indian-controlled Kashmir and South Asia more generally.

Varma's book manuscript, Encountering Care: Medicine in a Zone of Occupation, foregrounds the indeterminacy, mistranslations and miscommunications in care encounters to show how practicing and delivering ethical care in Kashmir becomes an extremely difficult and at times impossible task.

A collaborative project Varma has been working on with Emma Varley (Brandon University), is titled, Ghosts in the Ward.  This collaborative ethnographic project examines how, and under what conditions, gaps and crises in public health infrastructures become intertwined with larger social and political concerns and how these concerns are expressed through patient experiences of ghosts and jinn in public health settings. This project is the first cross-border, comparative empirical study of Indian and Pakistan controlled Kashmir. Further information: UC San Diego


Published July 21, 2019 4:30 PM - Last modified Aug. 27, 2019 1:59 PM