Deconstructing Kashmir – Part V: Lost Paths To The Shared Or Historical Elisions That Divide

The principle of the national state, that is to say, the political demand that the territory of every states should coincide with the territory inhabited by one nation, is by no means so self-evident as it seems to appear to many people to-day. Even if anyone knew what he meant when he spoke of nationality, it would be not at all clear why nationality should be accepted as a fundamental political category, more important for instance than religion, or birth within a certain geographical region, or loyalty to a dynasty, or a political creed like democracy…The principle of the national state is not only inapplicable it it has never been clearly conceived. It is a myth. It is an irrational, a romantic and Utopian dream, a dream of naturalism and of tribal collectivism.

Karl R. Popper, The Open Society & Its Enemies, Volume II

Shivani, a twenty-year old college student in Delhi, was born in the refugee camps of Jammu. She is a Kashmiri Pandit, but one who has never lived in the Valley of Kashmir where her father, forced into exile in the 1990s, and her ancestors came from. A Kashmiri without a lived Kashmiri past, but a strong emotional and imagined idea of her Kashmiri heritage.

On a cold early winter’s morning, sitting on the steps of the Rugnath mandir (temple) in Baramullah, she exudes the confidence of youth that cuts past her sleep deprived eyes. “We come here for a few weeks during summer holidays,” she explains with a smile. “My father wants us to see our lands, and where he came from.”

She, her brother and her father live in a corner of the mandir where a curtain thrown over a rope demarcates their family space. Her family is amongst the handful who have dared to return to the Valley and rebuild their lives there. Living in makeshift shelters – cramped and cold, in various corners of the temple complex, protected by members of the Border Security Force (BSF) who maintain a twenty-four hour watch over the neighborhood, they are the avant-garde of a Kashmiri Pandit community that feels confident enough to recreate its place in the Valley.

Her father, Kashmirlal Vohra, has re-established a business here – a small, street side kiosk selling women’s hosiery. He decided to return because the nearly fifteen year exile in Jammu was proving impossible to sustain. “The weather, the people, the way of life there is not our way,” He complains, his eyes filled with exhaustion. “I never felt comfortable there and had to come back, at any cost.” The final straw was the theft, in Jammu, of his merchandise, a loss that left him broke and helpless until a group of friends from the Valley came to his assistance. They, once his neighbors and chai stall companions, insisted that he come back and helped him with seed capital to start a new business. “This is not about Muslims of Hindus, these men are Muslims and my brothers and neighbors,” He insists. “And I would not be here if they had not helped me.”

But Shivani does not share this sense of connectedness. “I know a few people here, daughters of my father’s friends,” she responds casually when I ask if she knows people in the town. “We do see each other occasionally, but it is difficult to really get to know them.” Her eyes wander out towards the gates where a few soldiers from the (BSF) keep a watchful eye on the passing traffic. “They [boys] still come and throw stones at this temple every Friday after prayers,” she says ruefully, “and sometimes even at night. They scream insults at us. How can you try to know people when they stone you?”

Θ

Shivani’s experience reflects the vast chasm that has opened up between Kashmir’s Hindus and Muslims. It was not always so and Kashmir’s poetic traditions offer rich evidence of a shared sense of belonging to this land that the two communities felt and voiced. Dayaram Kachru (1743-1811), a Kashmiri Pandit poet, composed the Masnavi-i-Kashmir articulating his connection to his homeland:

O Lord, blossom the bird of my hopes,
And show me spring in the garden of Kashmir.
I pine in separation from my home,
Now knowing why destiny cast me away.
Where is the fervor of those fountains,
Whose sighs, O Lord, are lifted to the heavens by the winds?
I cannot describe the state of my separation.
Fortitude is better, fortitude is better.

(Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, Page 36)

Or in the wonderful words of the poet Syed Muhhamd Amin Uvaysi:

The whole creation belongs to me;
Beyond the void is my abode.
O supplicants of Time, listen attentively:
My banquet spread from Qaf to Qaf.*
Know that this world of being is naught;
The true world, be sure, belongs to me.
He whom you find to be without any trace
Is watchman at my gate.
I chose solitude in Kashmir.
For this universe is my garden.

*Jabal al-Qaf in Islamic cosmology is the name of the mountains surrounding the terrestrial world

(Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, Page 27)

Similarly Muslim and Pandit poets expressed their laments at the state of the people of Kashmir under its various rulers and their sense of connectedness to the land of Kashmir. Before the militancy there were many other deprivations, and the voices of Kashmir spoke out against them as Kashmiris irrespective of religious affiliations. Even during the Dogra regime, Kashmiri poets, both Hindu and Muslim, would speak out against the ‘outsiders’ Afghans, Mughals, Sikhs, and Dogras, who ruled the Valley and oppressed the people. Saiduddin Shahabadi, in a poem called Bagh-i-Suleiman, captures the suffering of the people of the region under the rule of the Afghans:

The garden of Kashmir became a wound of pain.
The master’s pleasure became the people’s indigence.
They fell upon the soul of Kashmir.
As voracious dogs set loose.

(Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, Page 38)

Or those captured in the verses of the Pandit poet Gopal Kaul Gopal in the introduction of his translation of the Bhagavid Gita:

The hearts of Kashmiris are heavy
They are downtrodden and poverty-stricken.
In a land that is admired by all
And is undoubtedly a paradise on earth.

(Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, Page 54)

But this shared sense of suffering has long since disappeared. The emergence of a Muslim nationalist movement, in the late nineteen and early twentieth century, in resistance to Dogra oppressions, changed all that and gave rise to new political and social realities that would divide the Kashmiris. The modern Kashmir Pandit poets like Agnishekhar, displaced to camps far away from their native lands and homes in the Valley, captures this amputation in his verses that call for an imagined, but lost, past, and wail, to all those who would listen, of the Pandits particular loss and deprivation.

O vast majority of poets of the Hindu world
My friends!
You were no ‘Relief Commissioners
That you now need to send us in your poems
Application forms for the right to some small shelter
A totally devastated, displaced society’s wounds
Simply seek a home somewhere in your sympathy.

 
(A. J. Kabir, “Territory Of Desire”, Page 166)

Agnishekhar is the founder of the Panum Kashmir (Our Kashmirâ) movement calling for a separate homeland for the Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley of Kashmir. His works rarely if ever speak of a common heritage of suffering and injustice. His verses do not recall a sense of a Kashmiri culture and community that transcends religions boundaries. Instead his exhortations point back to an ancient Kashmir, a pre-Islamic Kashmir, and its deep Hindu heritage, one that he and his like would like to reclaim and recreate in this utopia that they beg the India government to cut aside for them. As Kabir points out in her book Territory of Desire, Agnishekhar no longer speaks of Kashmir, but to India. And he does so in India’s language of Hindi, never in Koshur, the Kashmiri tongue. He no longer believes, or feels, a collective sense of suffering and belonging. He pines for an ideal, a land of purity and harmony, fully give to a medieval Hindu purity, before the ‘invasion’ of the Muslims.

His yearning is a manufactured one.

Θ

Pandit Hirdirnat Ghoonju shows me around the recently renovated grounds of the Shelputi mandir. The BSF men keep a close eye on me, not sure what to make of my interest in the temple and its occupants. “I want you to be clear; we are here because our Muslim brothers have asked us to return.” He looks at my notebook to make sure that I jot that down. “We could not be here without them.” But what about all this security that is still needed to protect these temples? “Go ask the Pakistanis!” he sneers. “We are reclaiming our rightful place here, a centuries old, ancient place,” he declares with a sparkle in his eye, “We have no other place to go.”

Θ

The Dogras were yet another Kashmiri dynasty with no connections to the people or the land there. They were anxious to establish their ‘historical’ and ‘legitimate’ right to rule over a region with an overwhelming Muslim population. By the late 1800s there was a resurgence of interest in Kashmir’s pre-Islamic past, an antiquity that was believed was her ‘real’ heritage before the arrival of the ‘foreign’ Muslims. A veritable ‘battalion’ of European scholars visited the Valley from 1870 onwards to study Sanskrit sources and laid the foundations ‘…for a potent imagining of ancient Kashmir that grounded its Hindu elites in the Valley’s topography ad history, but dismissed its Muslim masses as latter-day interlopers’. (A. J. Kabir, Territory Of Desire, page 81)

Stein, Grierson, Knowles, medical missionaries such as the Ernest and Arthur Never, Canon Tyndale-Biscoe, the archaeologist Younghusband, the settlement officer Walter Lawrence and a whole host of others were part of these ‘battalions’. And they were eagerly supported, encouraged and facilitated by the Dogra princes. Again, as A. J Kabir explicitly points out:

The Dogra search for legitimacy in Jammu & Kashmir was based on their assertion, for themselves, a high-born Hindu-ness. It was achieved by playing to British stereotypes of Rajput aristocracy on the one hand, and courting on the other, the urban component of Valley’s small but significant Kashmiri Pandit group. The flourishing Indological scholarship on Kashmir, facilitated through long-term scholarly presence in the Valley, confirms and clarifies the workings of this strategy…The Maharajas received through…scholarship external validation of their claims to the Valley; the Pandits whom they encouraged to share information with the European scholars, were hailed by all concerned as vestiges of the ancient pre-Islamic culture of Kashmir.

A.J. Kabir, Territory Of Desire, page 88

That the Hindu population of the Valley was less that 4% was not considered important. In fact, some scholars were keen to contrast the ‘learned’ Hindus with the ‘ignorant Mussalmans’ as Knowles did. There was Grierson who asserted the purity of Pandit speech verses its ‘contamination’ by Kashmiri Muslims. The Valley of Kashmir became, in thee hands and under the pens of the Indologists, a land of great and ‘pure’ Hindu antiquity within a degenerate Muslim population all around, a construction the Dogra state anxiously seized upon and used to explain their legitimate right to rule the region.

The ascendancy of the Kashmiri Pandits as the intellectual and literate elite of the region ironically begins under the rapacious, and capricious rule of the Afghan rulers (1753 – 1819) (See Zutshi, Kabir & Rai’s work for more on this). The Afghans pillaged and sunk its inhabitants to the depths of despair but it is during this regime that the Pandits, fluent in Persian and writing, first attain their administrative positions in the revenue collection and land administration services. The Pandit’s were Kashmiri society’s ‘…traditional custodians of the word; Sanskrit, Persian, Urdu or English whatever the socially ascendant language in a given historical epoch, the Pandits mastery over it inevitably consolidated their social position, particularly with the onset of modernity during the Dogra rule.’ (A. J. Kabir, Territory Of Desire, page 165)

∞

The late 19th century would see a struggle against the deprivations under the Dogra dynasty, and as a consequence against the privileges of the Pandits. And the struggle would begin not over religion, or land, or identity, but over books.

You are sunk in disrespect,
Fallen, hunched up.
Look at your own condition now,
You are being cursed by passersby.
Knowledge is the biggest wealth,
It does not fear fire or thieves.
The one who gained knowledge well,
Wealth will follow him.
One who remains uneducated,
Dies an ignorant death each day.
He lives like cattle,
Read and become human again.

(Zutshi, Languages of Belonging, Page 206)

Moulvi Mohammad Nooruddin Qari Kashmiri’s Taleem Par, Taleem Par (Gain Education, Gain Education) captures the rising awareness amongst Kashmiri Muslims of their conditions of deprivation and backwardness. And what began as a demand for educational reform, quickly and naturally transitioned into demands for greater access to government jobs and social services. Chitralekha Zutshi in her work Languages of Belonging is clear on this question, point out that:

The focus on improving the educational status of Kashmiri Muslims provided the religious leadership with a concrete agenda to consolidate its position with the community. At the same time, its engagement with the Dogra state on this issue infused an economic and political component into the ostensibly religious narrative on identities that characterized the political culture of the period. (Zutshi Page 169)

and

Education…was to become deeply imbricated with a more belligerent discourse on political, economic and social rights for Kashmiris, not merely as subjects, but as rightful citizens of the state. (Zutshi, Page 209)

The battle for education was also a battle for privilege. The early 20th century struggle for Muslim emancipation also became the task of dislodging the Pandits from their positions of control. It broke their monopoly, and disrupted the social and cultural spaces that they had occupied since the arrival of the Afghans.

And if their return to the Valley is marked by disappointments and confusions, it is because their traditional role in the social, economic and bureaucratic structures of the Valley no longer exists. The agitations against the Dogras were agitations against the rigid social and economic divisions that may have ensured stability but promised endless deprivations to the majority of the people of the state. For as long as the social and class relationships were stable and guaranteed, the two communities found it easier to speak as one voice against rapacious rulers. But the facade of unity crumbled quickly when it became clear that the struggle for Muslim emancipation was also a struggle against Pandit and Hindu privilege. And nothing in the developing Kashmir political movements from 1931 onwards would bridge the suspicions, fears and paranoia’s that now engulfed the relationship between these two peoples.

Θ

Kashmirlal gulps down his glass of tea and prepares to head to his kiosk around the corner. Shivani and her brother clean up and put away their bed sheets and sweep the floor of their corner of the temple. All around members of the the other families are doing their morning chores; sweeping out the bedrooms, taking their morning baths, cooking meals for their children. “We live here like beggars,” Shivani exclaims as she sweeps the floor of her family room. “They have everything the Muslims. You see them living in their big homes, driving their cars. Some have three cars in one house!” Her face is contorted in confusion and frustration. “What more do they want? Why do they go around screaming ‘azaadi, azaadi’ when they have everything. The Government has given them everything, and still they complain!”

Θ

But there is another factor that catalyzed the divide, which many still shy away from speaking about the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. It would prove to be the final nail in the Pandit’s connection to Kashmir and the Kashmiris, convincing them that it was better to appeal to what was in the mid- to late 1980s a resurgent, seductive and influential Hindu nationalist movement determined to redefine India as a ‘Hindu’ nation and punish the usurpers i.e the Muslims.

If the Islamic militancy begins in the late 1980s and peaks throughout the 1990s, it does so in an atmosphere of deeply chauvinistic and anti-Muslim sentiments created by the Hindu nationalists at the center of power. The Kashmiri society is influenced by a growing number of madrassas and an idealization of its Islamic past. But the Eighties see the resurgence of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its cohort groups like the VHP and RSS who are confident and growing in popularity. Throughout the early 1980s their politicians blatantly challenge the center, and assert themselves with provocative public acts against India’s foreign ‘invaders’ – the Muslims. Its ultimate act of historical vandalism being the 1992 assault on the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya which crumbled under their feet, sending shock waves across India’s Muslim communities. And as the political and legal institutions appear helpless to counter this chauvinist movement, there is a growing sense of paranoia and fear amongst India’s largest minority and the people of the Valley of Kashmir.

Θ

As I prepare to leave the temple I turn and ask Shivani if her parents ever told her about the years of the militancy. #Yes, of course!” she answers confidently, “we would also read about the Pakistani jihadis in the papers.” And about Jagmohan and the horrors that covered this valley during the Eighties and Nineties? Did she think that that broke the final link to India for the people here? Her eyes reflect her confusion, and she doesn’t say anything. After a short pause, she turns to me and says “Yes, there is a small problem between the Government and the people here. That has to be addressed as well.”

Θ

Into this heated atmosphere the Indian government adds fuel to the fear by setting up as governor of Kashmir a man by the name of Shri Jagmohan Singh. Determined to impose a modern Hindu ideology on the Valley and ‘integrate’ it with the rest of India, his impact on the state is immediate and brutal. As Pankaj Mishra explicitly points out:

During his tenure as governor of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Eighties and then again in the early Nineties, Jagmohan did more than anyone else to provoke insurgency in the state. He came to be known as a pro-Hindu bureaucrat during Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency when he sent bulldozers into Muslim slum colonies in Delhi as part of an attempted “beautification” of the city. In Kashmir, an isolated state with a docile population always seeming ready to be trampled upon, he was no more subtle.

Mishra, Pankah, The Birth Of A Nation, New York Review of Books, October 5 2000

Or perhaps his impact was put even more succinctly by Ashok Jaitley, a civil servant who worked under Jagmoham, when he stated that ‘What Jagmohan did in five months, they [the militants] could not have achieved in five years!’

His legacy is enshrined in a series of human rights reports that starkly reveal the chamber of horrors that the Valley was turned into. His policies, inspired by a belief in the bullet as the solution to the intractable Kashmiris, resulted in tens of thousands of young men fleeing across the border and into the waiting, cynical arms of the waiting Pakistanis. The pages of human rights documents produced by HRW, Amnesty International, and the Punjab Human Rights Commission make for disheartening reading.

Indian forces and the counter-militants have fostered a climate of repression…[and]…targeted executions continue. Detentions and “disappearances” have left residents fearful of talking to international human rights organizations. Little human rights documentation is done because human rights activists and lawyers have been killed or threatened. Doctors who have treated torture victims have also been threatened and spoke to Human Rights Watch only when assured strict confidentiality…Custodial killings — the summary execution of detainees — remain a central component of the Indian government’s counterinsurgency strategy…The killings continue because they have the sanction of senior Indian officials who justify them on the grounds that there is no other way to counter a serious “terrorist” threat…”Disappearances” of detainees also remain a serious problem. Not only has the practice continued, but there has been no accountability for hundreds of cases of “disappearances” that have taken place since 1990…The Indian security forces also engage in brutal forms of torture which likewise have the sanction of senior officials…Human Rights Watch staff also interviewed doctors who had treated former detainees who had been tortured. Methods of torture include severe beatings with truncheons, rolling a heavy log on the legs, hanging the detainee upside down, use of electric shocks, immersion in water while being suspended upside down, and the insertion of an iron rod on which chili paste has been applied into the rectum. Extensive beatings and use of the roller frequently lead to renal damage or failure; being suspended for prolonged periods upside down can lead to nerve damage and paralysis of the limbs….Indian security forces have raped women in Kashmir during search operations, particularly in remote areas outside of major cities and towns.

Human Rights Watch, Behind The Kashmir Conflict, 1999

Jagmohan came to teach ‘the Muslims’ a lesson, convinced that there was no other way to ‘integrate’ them into the broader India project. Instead he left behind a new generation of Kashmiris not only more polarized than even, but finally susceptible to the siren songs from across the border in Pakistan. It was the moment the Pakistanis could only have dreamed off, as tens of thousands of Kashmiris crossed the borders and walked into training camps to finally fight for their liberation. The war was on.

To the Pandits, the confidence and assertiveness of the Hindu nationalists suggested that their their saviors had finally arrived. As Kamal Hak, senior national coordinator for Agnishekhar’s Panun Kashmir, said in an interview:

Since 1990-1991, Panun Kashmir had a lot of hope on the BJP since it declared itself a champion of the Hindus. The party was then striving for consolidation of the Hindu ethos in India.

(Rediff Online, January 24th, 2001)

By the time Jagmohan was removed from office, the Valley of Kashmir was a lost cause. The entire population was in revolt, its civic, legal, and government institutions in collapse, its Hindu population on the run, its hospitals over flowing with the tortured, maimed and dying, its mothers desperately searching for sons and husbands, its men, fed on a steady died of jihad against a powerful Hindu enemy, armed and prepared to fight or die trying. Soon, by the Nineties, it became impossible to tell the difference between the fanaticism and brutality of the militants and that of the Indian Army, secret services and the government that organized and ordered them.

Θ

Kashmirlal walks me to the reinforced and sandbagged gates of the temple. The BSF men appear relaxed this morning, lounging by the gun emplacement, reading the newspaper, and eating their breakfast. Outside the main Baramullah bazaar is coming to life; shopkeepers pushing back store front shutters, street vendors brushing aside flies and shouting out their wares, shoppers peering into windows looking at merchandise, young men appearing out of nowhere to loiter on corners to do nothing. And the ubiquitous columns of Indian Army transportation convoys – their horns blaring, as they through the market traffic, raising smoke and dust, carrying troops and equipment, protected by camouflaged soldiers peering out from behind machine guns held at the ready. “We feel abandoned by our own,” I hear him say. I am not sure who is talking about, but when I look at him I realize that he is not talking to me. “We waited so long and with so many expectations.”, he finally looks at me, “and now look at me – at the mercy of the generosity of friends I did not believe in and now I must rely on.” I make some consoling remark about being in the company of the others at the temple, and that at least he is not alone. He laughs. “I am alone. We are all here alone.” He looks back at the temple compound. “This is not a community here. Its just separate people pursuing separate hopes.” Unsure how to respond I offer the polite offer to help if there is anything he feels I can do. “No, thank you, you can’t do anything.” I hear the temple door clang to a close behind as I walk into the market crowd and towards the bus that will take me back to Srinagar.

 

Further Readings:

Zutshi, Chitralekha, Languages Of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity And The Making of Kashmir, Hurst & Company, London

Kabir, Ananya Jahanara, Territory Of Desire: Representing The Valley Of Kashmir, Permanent Black

Rai, Mridu, Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and The History of Kashmir

Sender, Henny, The Kashmiri Pandits: A Study Of Cultural Choice In North India, Oxford University Press, USA

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