13 Aug 2018

Trade Artifacts: Customs, boundaries and mobility in Kashmir

Paper Presentation at the Asian Borderlands Research Network Conference, Bishkek, 13-15 August. Panel title: ‘Resurgent Frontiers: mobility, regulation and infrastructure in South Asian borderlands’

Aditi Saraf


This paper examines the revival of what I call “trade artifacts” in Kashmir to reflect on the intersections between political contestation and commercial regulation. In doing so I juxtapose snapshots of two forms of trade, one contemporary and one devised under colonial and princely rule. Against the current impasses of the “cross-LOC trade” at the Line of Control between the Indian and Pakistan held parts of Kashmir, I revisit colonial disputes around the Central Asian Trade Corridor that was carved through the erstwhile princely state. While both artifacts attempt to cast sovereign authority as the control of flows of people, commodities and ideas, they also reveal the intense resistance that such projects face in the attempt to subsume frontier spatialities into tight jurisdictional regimes. Particularly, both artefacts try to efface past connectivities and communities in order to establish new ones harnessed to imperial and national boundary-making. Drawing on Reinhart Koselleck’s notion of “iterability” as a heuristic device that allows comparisons across temporal structures, I show how such recursive artifacts, their failures and unintended consequences, point towards distinct forms of mobility and exchange at the Himalayan frontier whose traces persist in everyday life and political imagination despite state efforts to obliterate them.

Highland Asia Research Group
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