New Delhi: A book on Kashmir by Saiba Varma, an Indian anthropologist from the University of California, is at the centre of a controversy after it was found that the author did not give full disclosure to publishers about her father, who was posted in the Valley in the 90’s with India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Titled ‘The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir’, the book talks about militarism and its impact on people, medical care and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) patients who have suffered at the hands of the Indian military and intelligence agencies. It has been published by Duke University in the US and Yoda Press in India.
According to a description on the Duke University’s press website, the book highlights the imbrications between humanitarianism and militarism, and between care and violence in Kashmir. In it, Varma explores the psychological, ontological, and political entanglements between medicine and violence in Kashmir and shows how occupation creates worlds of disrupted meaning in which clinical life is connected to political disorder, subverting biomedical neutrality, ethics, and processes of care.
Controversy grew as some on Twitter raised questions about Varma’s “ethical obligations” in terms of disclosing her background, specifically that her father, S.V. Krishan Varma was a RAW officer and is still actively involved with organisations such as Global Counter Terrorism Council.
ThePrint contacted Saiba Varma via Twitter’s direct message but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report.
Meanwhile, Yoda Press distanced itself from the book, with publisher Arpita Das tweeting that scholars must locate themselves clearly and transparently in their research writing.
“Depressed. Just found out something about an author and a book we value deeply that puts all her work in question. These are terrible moments for a small independent publisher like ourselves,” Das tweeted.
ThePrint also contacted several publishers through email, including Duke University publications and Amazon, for a comment, but they declined to respond.
However, two former RAW officials, including ex-chief and advisor to Observer Research Foundation, Vikram Sood, questioned the objections, calling the controversy “unnecessary”.
On 14 September, a thread of tweets by an anonymous Twitter handle, @Settler_Scholar, posted a series of tweets, targeting Varma for not disclosing information about her father.
(20/n) SV should be transparent about her father's work w RAW and why she has hidden it. If she was not 'able' to reveal it — then why work on Kashmir? There are many other places where one can work where one is not potentially dishonest or harming people
— Settler_Scholarship (@Settler_Scholar) September 14, 2021
“SV is an upper caste India, w links to defense/intelligence institutions that are responsible for killing Kashmiri Muslims. And yet she has never talked about her role vis a vis Kashmir or disclosed her compromised family background in writings or interview,” the tweet said.
The handle further posted: “Did the trauma patients know who they were talking to? Would they still have felt comfortable talking to her if they knew who her father was? Did her father’s connections assist SV in any way during her research? Has she gained special access?”
In response to the issue, Yoda Press’ Das had tweeted, “And this is also why scholars MUST locate themselves clearly and transparently in their research writing—full disclosure or nothing! At the same time, I feel we should have dug deeper. I am mortified, feeling utterly defeated today.”
When ThePrint contacted Das over WhatsApp for a comment, she refused to say anything further on the matter, noting she had said what she intended to say on social media.
However, former RAW secretary, A.S. Dulat, who has written extensively on Kashmir, echoed the same views as Sood, saying the author has her own identity and such a controversy around her not disclosing her father’s posting was “unnecessary”.
“It is a very good book, very well researched. She has an identity of her own and knows much more about Kashmir than her father ever did. Moreover, her father was there over 30 years ago … what sense does it make to bring this up now?” he told ThePrint.
“Moreover, why are the publishers waking up now? Why did they not do their checks earlier?” he said.
Former RAW chief Sood noted, “This Twitter handle is anonymous. Do we know where it is based? Who is this person? This is important and will answer a lot of questions. Also, the person is not questioning the book, but merely concentrating on the author’s parentage, which is irrelevant here.”
“The author’s father was posted in Kashmir in the early 90s. His daughter was a kid, must have been in school at that time. How does it concern the book at all. As I understand, the book is a scholastic work. It is not a political work. It is not selling anyone’s line and this controversy is unnecessary,” he added.
Who is Krishan Varma?
Saiba’s father Krishan Varma is a former director, Aviation Research Centre, and special secretary to the Government of India, Cabinet Secretariat.
In his career of 35 years, Varma held several key appointments including in regions of J&K and the Northeast. His diplomatic assignments included postings in countries in South Asia, East Asia, and the US.
Speaking to ThePrint, an officer in the security establishment said Krishan’s areas of specialisation are China, the Far East, Koreas, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, and that he is also a visiting fellow at the Chennai Centre for China Studies in Tamil Nadu.
Krishan also works with the Usanas Foundation, a geopolitics and security affairs organisation based in India. According to his profile, Varma is a recipient of awards for Distinguished and Meritorious Service from the Prime Minister of India, and currently serves on the board and in an advisory capacity to several corporate entities in the field of defence, cybersecurity, nuclear energy, finance and think tanks dealing with China and international security issues.
He is also a resource faculty at the Rashtriya Raksha University (Central University and Institution of National Importance), apart from being an advisory board member for the Global Counter Terrorism Council.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)