Perspectives on Kashmir

Print edition : January 19, 2018

CRPF jawans stand guard in downtown Srinagar on December 22 during restrictions imposed in view of protests called by separatists against civilian killings and the continued use of pellets by security forces. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

The book offers perspectives on political realities on the ground over a wide geographical area, from Kashmir to Jammu to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

DISCUSSING Jammu and Kashmir in the current environment of narratives and counter-narratives is a challenging task. Since the Kashmir valley generally denotes the State of Jammu and Kashmir to the outside world, the other areas are less focussed on in academic and scholarly works. However, a recent book, Kashmir: History, Politics, Representation, edited by the historian Chitralekha Zutshi and published by Cambridge University Press, offers scholarly essays on all parts of the State as it existed before August 14, 1947. The in-depth pieces by academics and journalists on the contemporary political, economic and cultural issues are rich in content. From Kashmir to Jammu to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (known as Azad Kashmir) and Gilgit-Baltistan, the book offers perspectives on political realities on the ground over a wide geographical area. However, it misses out on the strategically important region of Ladakh, which borders China.

With 14 chapters, the book starts with a long introduction by Chitralekha Zutshi, who herself has two important works on Kashmir to her credit. She beautifully weaves the history of Kashmir from the early times and connects it with present-day politics marked by conflict. She states that Kashmir is not just a geographical entity but an idea. Looking at various chronicles to define Kashmir, she analyses them and shows how Kashmiris have been fretting about their losses at the hands of foreigners. For example, she notes: “At the same time, the jeremiad that characterised Persian narratives such as Bagh-i-Sulaiman, written in 1778, captured Kashmir’s frustration at their inability to protect their mulk (nation) from the depredations of outsiders, as Kashmir was incorporated into the Afghan empire.” This struggle in fact started in 1586 when Kashmir’s last sovereign ruler, Yusuf Shah Chak, lost power to the Mughal emperor Akbar and was subsequently banished. What followed was the tyranny shaped by autocratic rulers such as Afghanis, Sikhs and Dogras. They, however, could not reposition Kashmir as a polity. In the late 1940s, Kashmiri nationalism struck root and the unique identity was articulated through the expression “Kashmiriyat”.

Chitralekha Zutshi, however, is worried that Kashmiriyat is under fierce attack now as, according to her, “in the context of the contemporary conflict, especially between India and Kashmir, Kashmiris seek to distance themselves from India and claim greater identification with the Islamic world, defined increasingly in West Asian rather than South Asian terms”. But that may not be the correct interpretation of the threat that Kashmiriyat faces. While religion plays an important role in today’s political struggle, the problem with Kashmiriyat is also about how the government of India has owned it and how the conflict between Srinagar and Delhi plays out.

Mridu Rai’s essay on “Kashmir and Archaeology” unravels how the British empire forced the Dogra rulers to create the Department of Archaeology in 1904. Sadly, it was used by them to protect the monuments and temples of Hindus, and Muslims continued to be discriminated against. She quotes Francis Younghusband, British Resident in Kashmir, as reporting that the durbar plainly did not “care to throw money on Muhammadans” or to restore their mosques or tombs. The Pathar Masjid built by the Mughal empress Nur Jehan in the 17th century became the rallying point for agitations by Muslims for their rights when Partap Singh ordered its conversion into an orphanage dedicated to the Hindu deity Hanuman. Such was the blatant display of partisanship. However, she argues that while the colonial state endorsed Dogra rule, it did not shy away from correcting its archaeological excesses to demand protection for Muslim subjects and their sites.

Discord Within

“Contesting Urban Space” is an important essay by Chitralekha Zutshi that brings out the discord within the Muslim community as rivals fought for the space in shrines. The Muslims were divided into two groups led by Hamadanis and Mirwaizs; while the former was pro-shrine, the latter followed the Wahhabi ideology, which does not give much importance to shrines. But the contestation continued as it was about occupying political space in society. The fight even led to the Governor of Kashmir passing an order in 1888 banning the Mirwaiz (the family now represented by the Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq) from preaching at 22 shrines. Though the political narrative around these shrines has changed now and the slogan “we want freedom” reverberates from all groups alike, the fight was a prolonged one. The traditional rivalry between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and the Mirwaizs was well known, with the Sheikh extending official patronage to the Hamadanis. The Dogra rulers’ position of not interfering in the religious matters of Muslims was belied by the government making the differences official. “It was giving legal sanction to the divisions within the community. Not only were these divisions now sectarian and hence irreconcilable, but Kashmiri Muslims had to strictly adhere to the decisions of the state in the resolution of the disputes,” notes the author. According to her, the Code of Tribal Customs in Kashmir was also the result of interference in the religious matters of Muslims as there was no parallel body that could hear the litigants. “At the time when shrines had become terrains of battles over influence and power such a code only served to add fuel to the only blazing fire.”

Nehru & the Sheikh

Andrew Whitehead’s fascinating essay is about the “Rise and Fall of New Kashmir”, the ambitious concept that Sheikh Abdullah had put on paper to make Jammu and Kashmir a different, rather independent, identity that could fit into the larger realm of Indian nationalism. Almost borrowed from the communists, “New Kashmir” was a progressive idea of partnership in the political and economic uplift of the people who had suffered immensely. Whitehead underlines the basic rift in two concepts of Kashmir’s subnationalism and India’s nationalism. Jawaharlal Nehru, the main player in Indian nationalism, did not respect the sentiment of his “friend” Abdullah, whom he eventually ditched and even arrested. Nehru, he says, wanted to maintain an element of hierarchy in the relationship while Abdullah was for equality, and that is where the friction began. An enduring settlement between Kashmir and Indian nationalism, he says, has remained elusive because New Delhi has always interfered in Kashmir.

The idea of freedom

Shahla Hussain’s essay is an important piece of scholarship that revolves around the idea of “freedom”. It is significant against the backdrop of the questions being raised essentially from New Delhi on what Kashmiris mean by freedom, in view of the pressure that emanates from the strong anti-India sentiment that has strengthened in the past one decade. But to ask what it means is relevant and freedom cannot be achieved if its essence and the practical way to achieve it is not known. She has done in-depth research from the early days and maintains that Kashmiris were taunted as cowards and that is why they took the straight step to challenge the state in such a fashion. She quotes Muslim scholars who shaped this idea, mostly sitting in Lahore; and then, after 1947 when things did not go well with Indian rule, the manifestation of the frustration became evident in late 1989. It continues, although Pakistan, she argues, abandoned the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and projected pro-Pakistan militant organisations. Criminalisation in militancy (quoting Victoria Schofield) made life unbearable for Kashmiris. The author notes that Kashmiris borrowed the idea of freedom from ancient texts and the mystical culture of Kashmir while at the same time remaining open to new international ideas that could improve human relationships and lay the foundation for a strong society. “However, there was not a single united vision for freedom, since schisms within and between communities and classes added complexities to the Kashmiri discourse on freedom.”

“Azad Kashmir” and Gilgit-Baltistan are the two areas which are discussed less in the context of Kashmir’s protracted conflict. However, two essays by Christopher Snedden give a complete background to the ups and downs of this region in terms of the political relationship with Pakistan and the rest of the state. Maintaining that both “Azad Kashmir” and Gilgit-Baltistan are not de jure part of Pakistan, Snedden, who has written two critically acclaimed books on the subject, states that this region has suffered because economic development did not happen despite the region’s three major assets, people, water and forests, because of the heavily militarised Line of Control to its east, which comprises a restricted zone. His piece speaks about the intense influence Islamabad has despite the area being called “Azad Kashmir” and having a President, a Prime Minister and a Supreme Court of its own.

Martin Sokefeld gives an interesting account of the reasons for Gilgit-Baltistan not being part of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Tracing its history, he says, Gulab Singh annexed it, but it always remained at a distance. That is why, he says, it declared “Independence” in November 1947 and became part of Pakistan. Though most of its people are for full integration with Pakistan, the region’s status remains unresolved for various reasons. Now with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) crossing its path, the issue has become more complicated. “The overall perception in GB [Gilgit-Baltistan] is that it has been held hostage by Kashmir dispute.”

Women and children are believed to have borne the brunt of the conflict in Kashmir. Against that backdrop, the essay “Law, Gender and Governance in Kashmir” by Seema Kazi makes a significant addition. She discusses in detail how the security forces have committed atrocities against women in an “institutionalised” manner. She gives two horrible examples—the mass rape in Kunan Poshpora in 1991 by soldiers and the rape and murder of Asiya and Neelofar in Shopian in 2009. According to her, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act have mauled civil liberties. “Rape of Kashmiri women by security forces is representative of the extralegal nature of the Indian counteroffensive in Kashmir: it is equally representative of the state’s resort to extralegal means to inscribe political dominance on a recalcitrant ethnic minority through the sexual humiliation of ethnic minority women,” she writes, and concludes that women in Kashmir continue to pay a high price for a governance system usurped and dominated by the military. She takes a dig at the judiciary, too, and laments the lack of judicial accountability. She, however, is silent on atrocities against women committed by non-state actors.

Pandits’ plight

Haley Duschinski has made a significant contribution by discussing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and brings to the fore how they made the issue of survival their politics after 1990. He discusses the politics within the community in detail but does not say how the migration took place. The essay brings out how the hatred against Muslims became the “thumb rule” for Pandits’ demand that they should be able to return.

Caste politics in Jammu has hardly been discussed and the discrimination on the basis of caste remains an untouched subject. But in a well-researched essay, Mohita Bhatia exposes the unimaginable level of discrimination against Dalits and Balmikis in Jammu region. Rita Chowdhari Tremblay’s essay on politics in Jammu and Kashmir is worth a read as it raises the question whether governance can help counter political ideology. It does not, she says, because there is no proper approach to addressing the question of dignity and justice. Vanessa Chishti has in a way brought out an apolitical issue—Kashmir’s shawl economy. She tries to place it in the context of how it fitted in with European and British imperial imagination and found a place on the global map. The shawl economy changed according to the changing patterns of European production.

In the representation section, there is Dean Accardi’s essay on two important mystics of Kashmir, Lal Ded and Sheikh ul Alam Sheikh Nooruddin, and how they came to represent Kashmiri identity. Kashmir’s spiritual landscape is identified with them.

Ananya Jehanara Kabir looks at Kashmir in popular cinema from the 1960s, though after the 1990s it disappeared from popular cinema, barring a few exceptions. That representation also is somehow linked with the conflict and not the beauty of the region. In his essay “Witness of Poetry—Political Feeling in Kashmiri poetry”, Suvir Kaul looks at how poets made their craft a medium for political expression. Poetry has become a powerful means of resistance to talk about dispossession, discord and sense of loss. He records the works of a few poets to bring home the point that they have reflected the political desperation in their work.