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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 35 August 18, 2018

Comprehending Kashmir and its People

Thursday 16 August 2018

by Noor Zaheer

Why is Kashmir burning? How long has it been burning? Who or what ignited the fire? Who is pouring oil on it? And, most importantly, who, if anyone, has tried to control or put out that fire? As far as the Indian narrative is concerned, Kashmir is like any other State, going through the democratic process every five years, forming a government that functions with collaboration from the Centre, devises policies for development and disasters, caters to tourists; in short, it is an integral part of India and should have no issues in being so?

Why is there then a need to discuss Kashmir? The answer is simple and straightforward: Kashmir has a people, a land mass, a culture and a history! A people, anguished and tortured for long, ache for peace and quiet, the land is throbbing in agony, the history distorted and misinterpreted and the culture grieving and forgotten; the common people aching for peace and quiet so they can take a breather in the present to reflect on the past and think a future.

Kashmirnama, written by poet and writer Ashok Kumar Pande and published by Rajpal and Sons, attempts to look at Kashmir beyond the Indian narrative which confines the region to just being a problem created by insurgents who have nothing better to do than pelt stones at the Indian Army trying to maintain peace. If one is to believe that there is no politics without a history then this is a book that deals with both the historical and political perspective of Kashmir. This is perhaps the first extensively researched book on Kashmir in Hindi.

The book is the result of several years of research, many visits, interviews not only with the policy-makers and the important players, people who have been calling the shots for decades but also with the common masses, mingling with the people, understanding the grief and the smarting that is cause by loss of identity and absence of armistice. The history of Kashmir has been explored and reproduced in this book without tampering or a desire to form an opinion of the reader. It is as it is—stark, tortured, blunt and glaring. The history begins from the times when Kashmir was known as ‘Kashyapmar’ and flows down as a tale of blood.

Presence of documentary proofs ranging from the ancient, to the pre- and post-independence, to the present times; documents in Sanskrit, English, Persian or Urdu are the backbone of this book giving it an authenticity and accuracy. All of this is penned down in simple language since the writer is intending to reach out to the common reader, the one who is being swayed by mainstream account. Initially the book would be picked up by scholars but it is the masses that the book wishes to address. As a common reader would believe, Kashmir a few decades back would have been a placid, calm land where the tourists could go to relax, rest, float in shikaras, visit pilgrimages and climb mountains. The writer brings to the fore the rapidity of events in past several centuries. The speed of occurrences and trials leaves the reader breathless and as one goes through the book one realises that the people living in Kashmir have had no respite to ponder and deliberate. The pace has not been created by the author, it has been lived by the people. That perhaps is the reason why the masses in Kashmir have oscillated between Buddhism, Shaivism and Sufism; their only desire from religion is that it give them a respite, a breather.

The undercurrent throughout the book is ‘people’; what about them? What of them? When feudalism takes on the garb of democracy, then the common masses who should have been asserting their choices and the primary beneficiaries of democracy, are denied even the fundamental rights to survive with dignity and respect. Today in roadside meetings and five-star seminars, Kashmir is discussed as a problem-area, every Kashmiri except the Pandits is labelled as a militant, anyone speaking for the masses, the people of Kashmir or against the unnecessary and brutal killings of the Kashmiri youth is labelled anti-nationalist and anyone asking for a stop to genocide is asked to leave for Pakistan.

Without making anyone directly or solely responsible Kashmirnama raises several questions on the present situation of Kashmir, perhaps the most important being: why is Hari Singh, whose father bought Kashmir for a mere twentyfive lakhs from the British, being made out the hero and great sufferer of Kashmir? Why has Sheikh Abdullah, who worked all his life for the unity of the Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir, been forgotten? Does the answer lie in the fact that one bought the credentials of royalty and the other was a mass leader, emerging from the proletariat and working for the people?

The book spans a vast canvas, is huge in its bulk and tries to touch on as many aspects of the region, its civilisation and its present conditions. It is expected of a first initiation that hopes to incite curiosity and aims to quell a part of the thirst of the reader. It cannot possibly go into the detailed research of every aspect of an area that needs to be delved into and analysed. It is to be hoped that the book would provide a base study from which shall emerge several derivatives and subsidiaries that would individually deal with the literature, arts, music, sufism, education, industry, economy and culture.

One cannot possibly write on this book without referring to the cover: a picture of two school-going kids, a boy and a girl, rummaging in the ashes of what was once their home. The cover itself poses a huge question and also provides the answer to it: what is one to salvage from a bombed, burnt-down settlement? Bits of paper, portions of the written word! These half-burnt scraps carry the truth, show the way forward and shall be the only thing to survive in the end to tell the tale of a people more sinned against than sinning.

Dr Noor Zaheer is a writer and theatre personality associated with the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW).

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