Statement on Anthropologist Saiba Varma
As Kashmir scholars, we are deeply concerned by the unfolding events around the research ethics of anthropologist Saiba Varma. Kashmir scholarship has been, and continues to be, under serious threat from the Indian state. We fear that the state may appropriate the current situation to further threaten and fracture Kashmir scholarship. As a close-knit scholarly community, we are struggling to navigate this difficult and complex moment, individually and collectively.
For all anthropologists, the primary ethical responsibility is to be honest and transparent with the people who they study. We are disturbed by the ethical choices Varma has made in her research, especially regarding lack of disclosure of her father’s career in the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s premiere intelligence agency with a long history of operations in Kashmir. While the question of whether she revealed her background to her research subjects remains to be clarified by Varma, we can confirm that this information was not disclosed to us despite our professional relationships with her over the years through various forms of scholarly interaction and professional engagement, including scholarly networks, advocacy forums, fieldwork, conferences, and joint publications.
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. It is a clear breach of ethical responsibility for the researcher to not disclose, or to misrepresent, intimate family links with the colonial state. We are concerned that trust and accountability across the wider community of Kashmir scholars have been violated. Most importantly, we are concerned about the possible breach of ethics towards the vulnerable communities in which Varma has conducted her research, amidst Kashmiri patients seeking psychiatric care.
We approach this as a moment for collective deliberation on how scholars positioned across vast power differentials of caste, class and nationality can conduct research among besieged populations in the militarized colonial state in an ethically responsible manner.
Dean Accardi, Binish Ahmed, Omer Aijazi, Nosheen Ali, Mona Bhan, Dilnaz Boga, Haley Duschinski, Mohamad Junaid, Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Hafsa Kanjwal, Bhavneet Kaur, Deepti Misri, Goldie Osuri, Cabeiri Robinson, Mehroosh Tak, Ather Zia