Intimate connections - Conjugal affection amid Gilgit's high mountains, Islmaic doctrines and mobile phones


Anna-Maria Walter

PhD defended at: 

LMU Munich


Whispered words exchanged through SMS, the tentative thrill of the other’s attention and nervous navigations in first moments together; sensory impressions are integral components of emergent intimacy between newly-weds in Gilgit-Baltistan. Academic discussions of Pakistan’s northernmost region usually centre on topics of politics and infrastructure, such as the legacy of the Kashmir question, sectarian conflicts, the Karakoram Highway or China’s economic corridor – ‘love’ is rarely talked about. An emic view from local women’s perspective challenges these common depictions. Daily life in the remote mountain environment is dominated by gender segregation and Islamic doctrines, among which nearly everyone has to position oneself in and towards a marital relationship. Marriage and love, two ideas that nowadays go hand in hand.
Unpacking the heavily loaded container of ‘love’, rich and manifold worlds of magic tales, elopements, family dynamics and more or less affectionate matches emerge. Profound ethnographic accounts trace the relationship between young couples and show how Muslim women dynamically frame and negotiate circumstances in their lives. Sharm as women’s embodied modesty guides them when actively engaging in the development of mutual intimacy with their (future) spouse, a course which today often starts through a mobile phone connection. The stories of Mariyam, Shazia and Aliya demonstrate how social as well as personal life is a product of a myriad of entangled factors in a continuous process of modulation. In a spiralling fashion academic theories, existing literature on South Asia and field insights speak to each other to significantly improve the anthropological concept of embodiment. Unlike previous works on Gilgit-Baltistan, Intimate connections dissects local ideas of love and emotions and offers an intense insight into the affective lives of women, gender practices and kinship in South Asia and in Muslim contexts.