Kashmir & Kashmiriyat

Print edition : December 25, 2015

Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front members at the Safr-e-Azadi rally in September 2007. Nandita Haksar examines Sampat Prakash's involvement with the JKLF and the rally. Photo: Nissar Ahmed

Chronicling the bruised history of Kashmiri nationalism.

WITH the changing dynamics of politics in South Asia and with religion becoming a rallying point for defining nationalism, not many people know what Kashmiri nationalism is all about. It revolves around a composite package of tolerance and communal harmony and in the competing narratives of Indian and Pakistani nationalisms has become untenable in recent years or has been under the shadow of intense religious influences.

Against this backdrop, Nandita Haksar’s latest book, The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism, is a significant addition to the protracted discourse on how Kashmir is moving ahead in different spheres. The unique distinction of Kashmiri nationalism that it talks about is in stark contrast to the ongoing debate on intolerance in the country.

The narrative also seeks to expose how both India and Pakistan have contributed to a tortured history in Kashmir. The author, an eminent human rights lawyer and a staunch secularist, has woven the story around two Kashmiris in terms of their experiences in Kashmir and the approach they adopted or were forced to adopt by circumstances. One of them is an elderly Kashmiri Pandit, who was born after the Russian Revolution. In the case of the other person, his growing-up years were marred by the end of the Cold War, and with the maturity of adulthood came the War on Terror and its consequences.

Sampat Prakash, a hard-core communist who led the trade union movement in Jammu and Kashmir from the front, dominates the book, though the author connects the dots in between with the life of another Kashmiri, Mohammad Afzal Guru, who was convicted for the 2001 attack on Parliament House in New Delhi and hanged in Tihar Jail on February 9, 2013.

The story not only tracks the journeys of both Sampat and Afzal through the chequered, rather, bruised, history of Kashmir,but also brings out the web of games played with Kashmiris from time to time. The book records an important part of the history of Kashmir while shadowing the lives of Sampat and his comrades. It is about the influences of communism and their impact on many sections of Kashmiri society, from the trade unions to the literati and even the political circles.

Nandita Haksar portrays Kashmiri nationalism as a “composite nationalism” with many shades, necessarily different from the way nationalism is understood in India and Pakistan. Keeping Kashmiriyat, the political idea of Kashmir as a land of communal amity where Hindus and Muslims have lived in harmony from time immemorial, in focus to discuss nationalism, Nandita Haksar places herself as an Indian nationalist, though her ancestors were Kashmiri.

In the context of the current problem that Kashmir has with New Delhi, she makes the interesting point that the contradictions between Kashmiri nationalism, Indian nationalism and religious beliefs always existed and were only submerged in the anti-monarchy, anti-colonial and pro-democracy movement in 1946.

Examining New Delhi’s handling of Kashmir, she emphasises that despite Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s efforts to integrate Kashmir with India, it could not happen in reality. “Sops did not win over the hearts and minds of Kashmiris because of rampant corruption….” This is perhaps true even today in the context of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on November 7 of a whopping Rs.80,000-crore package for the State. The author narrates how the sentiment of freedom was continuously crushed by the Indian state, leaving hardly any space for a democratic struggle.

Tracing Sampat’s tryst with trade unionism, the book highlights his urge to be back in the syncretic culture that was full of tolerance and togetherness. It places him as the driving force for all the agitations launched for the welfare of government employees. Though Sampat is spotted regularly in Kashmir, he ultimately could not settle there. The author discusses in detail Sampat’s association with the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was close to his ideology of composite nationalism. He was part of its chairman Yasin Malik’s “Safr-e-Azadi” (Journey for Freedom) campaign throughout Kashmir. But in the end, he rues how he was removed from the CD that was made on the journey and presented to embassies and other organisations.

The book is revealing on many accounts. As a lawyer, Nandita Haksar played a crucial role in the acquittal of S.A.R. Geelani, another accused in the Parliament House attack case. She reveals how Afzal Guru had wished to live a peaceful life after his brief association with militancy but was forced by the Army and paramilitary forces to get back into the murky game of violence by helping them identify militants. Nandita Haksar’s revelation that the main attacker, Muhammad, was dispatched by the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police to Delhi along with Afzal has not been refuted so far. Nor has been any investigation been carried out.

The book brings out Afzal Guru as an innocent Kashmiri who believed in Kashmiri nationalism but had, at the same time, become religious. Whether he could have been saved ultimately or not, the author believes that the Congress-led government hanged him for political reasons. She also argues that there was a conspiracy to make sure that he did not escape the gallows. In a veiled reference, she blames lack of unity among the separatists, S.A.R. Geelani and Afzal’s brothers for this. “I realised that various vested interests were making sure that Afzal didn’t escape from gallows.”

The book is another reminder about how various powers that be have played with Kashmir. It is an incisive account of a bruised past and present and probably points to the future as well of a society that has shown resilience to onslaughts. She is concerned about the growing influence of “Salafi Islam”, which, according to her, is a threat to the Sufi orientation of Islam that has been practised in Kashmir for ages and made it distinct from other co-religious communities. This, according to the author, was the strong driving force behind the unique nationalism of Kashmir. This “inclusive Kashmir” had given Kashmir a distinct identity.

She blames Hindu nationalists for turning Kashmiris against India. The stories of Sampat and Guru are not out of place and are necessary to understand what Kashmir stood for and where it has been pushed to, particularly by New Delhi.

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