Kashmir myths

Print edition : October 13, 2017
The book tries to counter the popular narrative about the history of Kashmir, Pandits and Muslims.

THE book Kashmir : Exposing the M yth Behind the N arrative by former civil servant Khalid Bashir Ahmad centres around the idea of debunking a narrative that has cast a shadow over Kashmir’s history for a long time. Ironically, since its release in mid August, the book has got only limited attention, relegating its “real intent” to the background. It was seen as a challenge to Kalhana, the author of Rajatarangini , the historical chronicle of the north-western subcontinent, particularly Kashmir, written in 1148 C.E. Ahmad has also critically analysed Nilamat a Purana, an ancient text that contains historical, geographical and other details on Kashmir, as also accounts by later historians Jonaraja and Srivara, and tried to deconstruct the pattern of history writing.

The chapter “Mind’s Eye” explains how Kalhana chronicled the history of 3,000 years before his time through mythology and how it could have been possible for him to record the “real history” only of a few hundred years. “As with the case of Nil a mata Purana and other Sanskrit works which suffered interpolation and distortion, the Rajatarangini too did not escape textual interference at the hands of those who attempted to either interpret it or use it as the basic source material,” Ahmad writes (page 8). The author notes that Kalhana had a bias against the local language and used Sanskrit which he was deeply in love with.

Notwithstanding the author’s argument that only a portion of Rajatarangini could be taken as history, Kalhana is credited with giving Kashmir an identity with his narrative. As a versifier who presented the existence of the valley, Kalhana is someone no Muslim scholar in Kashmir has challenged. It is on this count that Ahmad’s book attains significance in the list of contemporary history books.

‘Muslims as victims’

The author’s intention is to uncover how a community has ruled over the majority for thousands of years and how it has been difficult for it to accept the reality that Kashmir is a Muslim-majority State.

Right from the chapter “Aborigines” to the “Epilogue”, the author tries to demolish the narrative Kashmiri Pandits have woven and how one side of the story is not “exposed”. The book discusses the pattern of governance in Kashmir, in which Kashmiri Muslims, the author says, have been victims, and analyses how the situation has not changed despite representatives of the majority community coming to power after 1947. He takes the lid off the “machinations” of the Pandit community by saying that even during Muslim rule they were at the helm and framed policies aimed at persecuting Muslims. According to the author, it has been a Kashmiri Pandit project to portray Muslims as persecutors, Islamic fundamentalists and usurpers of their ancestry.

In the chapter “Malice”, the author makes a strong defence of Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413), the sixth ruler of the Shah Mir dynasty who is known infamously as “But Shikan” (iconoclast) for his supposedly wanton destruction of temples and persecution of subjects. Ahmad proves that the conversion of Hindus to Islam began three centuries before the establishment of the Muslim Sultanate and climaxed by the end of the 15th century.

He is critical of Baharistan-i-Shahi, a chronicle whose authorship is unknown, for showing the Sultan in a bad light, and this is cited by Kashmiri Pandit writers to date. “The king whom Baharistan-i-Shahi accuses of idol breaking, in fact, installed 18 lined stone inscriptions in Sharda script containing his invocation to Hindu god Ganesha, besides constructing dharma matha and repairing dilapidated temples of antiquity.”

The author cites many examples of how ancient temples have existed in Kashmir. He raises an important point that if Sultan Sikandar was responsible for mass conversion, why had Pandits not joined the faith when Budshah Zainul Abidin asked them to do so. The author also questions the silence of writers on how Buddhism was wiped out in Kashmir by Mihirkula, a Hun who came to Kashmir in 530 C.E.

Power politics

The chapter “Power” sets the tone of the book on how Kashmiri Pandits emerged as key players in power politics. The author notes that after the migration of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990, they have preferred to be called Kashmiri Hindus in order to win the sympathy of co-religionists. Interestingly, they came to be known as Pandits during Mughal rule on the basis of a demand they themselves made perhaps because of a sense of inferiority vis-a-vis other Brahmins of India.

“One such person who endeared himself to one of the last remnants of the Mughal Empire King Mohammad Shah was Jai Ram Bhan who was his courtier. Bhan persuaded Mohammad Shah to issue a royal decree designating Kashmiri Brahmans as Kashmiri Pandits thus drawing a line of distinction between Kashmiri Brahmans and those of India” (page 58).

Kashmiri Pandits ruled through the Mughal and Afghan periods to such an extent that Pandit Nand Ram Tiku became the Prime Minister of Kabul. They were so influential that they got Governor Nooruddin Khan removed from Kashmir in 1765. When Atta Mohammad Khan revolted against Afghan rule and ensured Muslim participation in the administration, Pandits went to Kabul and got the Army to unseat him. This continued during Sikh rule and Dogra rule and, in fact, it was Birbal Dhar, the author notes, who invited a reluctant Ranjit Singh in 1819 to conquer Kashmir.

The first massacre of industrial workers took place in Srinagar in 1865 when shawl workers rose against unjustified taxation and 28 Muslim workers were brutally killed by the Dogra Army. It happened at the instigation of Raj Kak Dhar, the head of the Dagh Shawl department.

The book touches upon events that have hitherto been unknown to the general public. For instance, after the Dogra ruler Gulab Singh virtually bought Kashmir under the Treaty of Amritsar in 1846, Kashmiri Pandits were on his side. As the oppression against the majority community reached a crescendo on July 13, 1931, and 23 people were killed in police firing in the central jail, Pandits sided with the government.

‘New narrative’

The author tears to shreds the “new narrative” post-1990 which suggests that Hindus were killed and temples destroyed in the aftermath of the killing of Muslims in 1931. But Ahmad says Kashmiri Pandit authors themselves make no mention of the so-called loot and mayhem in the histories written from 1931 to 1990. Discrimination against Kashmiri Muslims was glaring, notes the author, and describes how Pandits sabotaged the Glancy Commission report. The Commission was set up by Maharaja Hari Singh in November 1931 to address the grievances of Muslims. The author argues with the support of figures to show that the administration was dominated by Kashmiri Pandits despite the fact that Muslims constituted 95 per cent of the population.

The Pandit agitation of 1964 gets much attention in the book. The community erupted when a Kashmiri Pandit girl, Parmeshwari, married a Kashmiri Muslim, Ghulam Rasool. The author gives a detailed description of how the agitation unfolded under the patronage of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and how it was used to denounce the majority community.

The account of the migration of Kashmiri Pandits is also interesting. The author strongly argues that the majority community was not responsible for it and that the government, then led by Governor Jagmohan, played a role in it. Citing many responsible Kashmiri Pandits, he says Muslims tried to persuade them against it in their own capacities. He also counters, with the support of official data, the “inflated” figures about killings and migration. So is the case with the damaging of temples, which he shows as manipulated on the basis of facts on the ground.

Larger agenda

The book also focusses on how the demand for Panun Kashmir, a separate homeland, is part of the larger agenda of right-wing Hindu organisations to reconquer Kashmir.

The role of Kashmiri Pandits while holding forth in the media and being active participants in dethroning elected governments in Jammu and Kashmir adds meat to the idea behind the book. The author looks at the constructed narrative in the media today and the part played by the community in demonising the majority community in order to seek the support of Hindus across India.

An important issue the author raises is that if Kashmiri Pandits claim that Kashmir belongs to them, it also belongs to Muslims who were its original inhabitants. Conversion does not change the claim of ancestry. But if the only logic is that since the Muslims changed their religion they lost rights over land, it is not tenable, according to the author.

Using research tools the author portrays the Pandit community as a “villain” although a lot of them lost home and hearth through migration. However, it merits attention whether modern scientific tools of research can “demolish” the history of 5,000 years in a wink. As pointed out earlier, the book covers issues that scholars and historians have so far been silent about vis-a-vis the early period of Kashmir.

The book needs to be read keeping in mind a community’s bias that has not changed despite so much change in the world of geopolitics.