You are here: Home » Beyond Business » Books
Business Standard

The borderline cases of Jammu & Kashmir

Three books based on memories and eye-witness accounts show how the state's contested history has contributed to its contemporary divisions and tortuous complexities

Archis Mohan 

The borderline cases of Jammu & Kashmir


Edited by Siddhartha Gigoo and Varad Sharma

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 299
Price: Rs 499


Author Nandita Haksar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Pages: 335
Price: Rs 350

Author: Meera Khanna
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 266
Price: Rs 325

The December 2014 Assembly elections in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) showed the deep divisions among the people of the state. Jammu, predominantly Hindu, voted mostly for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley elected legislators of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference.

The seat tally in the 87-member Assembly was such that neither PDP nor BJP, the two largest winners, could have formed a coalition government without each other. The late PDP leader and chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, called the subsequent PDP-BJP alliance as the coming together of the North and South Poles. But the tensions in the alliance after the Mufti's death accentuated the tortuous complexity of the state's society and politics.

Three recent based on memories and eye-witness accounts of Kashmiris - Hindus and Muslims, elites and commoners, militants and politicians - are attempts at recording this contested history of the state, primarily after 1947. Barely a few pages into these books, it is evident that even an understanding of J&K's history is deeply divided.

A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits compiles the horrors the Kashmiri Pandits faced with the rise of militancy in the Valley in 1990. Siddharth Gigoo and Varad Sharma have put together memoirs of 28 Kashmiri Pandits. The anthology marks 25 years of the exile of the Pandits from the Valley. Half a million of them had left their homes in Kashmir by the end of 1990.

The memoirs traverse three generations, from those who had to flee their homes in the evening of their lives to those born in migrant camps who have tried to live off an inherited memory. There are stories of the fateful night when militants barged into the homes of Pandit families, of how the closest friendships with Muslims turned bitter and an account of the day when the clocks and watches in the state were put back half an hour to synchronise it with Pakistan Standard Time. There are heart-wrenching accounts of "touristy" visits two decades later to what the families called home, which are either in ruins or occupied by Muslim families, and of the utterly miserable life in the refugee camps. Sharma writes about how his inherited memory is his "only connection with Kashmir where he can't return." Ramesh Hangloo has penned his reasons for setting up Radio Sharda, the worldwide community radio service for Kashmiri Pandits.

In their preface to the anthology, Gigoo and Sharma write how "over the centuries, the Hindus of Kashmir (known by the exonym "Pandits") have faced persecution by successive Muslim rulers". They trace the start of this persecution to the 14th century, which continued until 1819 when the forces of Maharaja Ranjit Singh defeated the Afghan rulers of Kashmir.

The borderline cases of Jammu & Kashmir
Gigoo and Sharma make no reference to the subsequent Sikh and Dogra rules. But as human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar points out in her book The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism: From the Cold War to the Present Day, "in the collective memory of the Kashmiris their land has been under continuous foreign rule ever since the Mughal Emperor Akbar invaded the Valley in 1586 and imprisoned Yusuf Shah Chak." Chak is considered the last independent king of Kashmir. Mughal rule ended with the invasion of the Valley by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1751. Brutalities against Hindus came to an end when the Sikhs defeated the Afghans in 1819.

Haksar writes that "Sikh rule is remembered for the harsh treatment meted out to the Muslim subjects. The Jama Masjid at Srinagar was closed to the public for prayers and Muslims were forbidden to say Azan." Haksar traces the origin of Kashmiri nationalism to the oppressive Dogra rule, from 1846 to 1947.

Haksar, the first person to challenge the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Supreme Court in 1983, has pieced together the contemporary history of Kashmiri nationalism through the lives of two men - Sampat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and trade union leader, and Mohammad Afzal Guru, an activist who became politically active at the beginning of the Kashmiri insurgency and was eventually hanged in 2013 for his alleged role in the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Haksar had campaigned for Guru's acquittal.

She writes how Sheikh Abdullah, "the lion of Kashmir", was a hero to Prakash but for Guru's generation he had betrayed the cause of the state's independence. But, she writes, neither Guru nor Prakash, at least initially, believed that the Kashmir struggle was a religious war. "When [the] Naga conflict is not Christian why [is the ] conflict in Kashmir … branded as Islamic [?] Fundamentally, it is political, social and historical in nature," Guru once wrote to Haksar. But both eventually accepted that religion was an important factor.

The borderline cases of Jammu & Kashmir
In a State of Violent Peace: Voices from the Kashmir Valley is an anthology of 14 "fictionalised" stories of real life people by Meera Khanna and somewhat of a tenuous bridge between the other two Khanna, a social activist, has explored the last 70 years of Kashmiri history from the stories of both Hindus and Muslims. There is violence and barbarity but each story also ends with triumph of the human spirit and brotherhood amid the chaos.

"Two Sisters Reminisce" is based on interviews with Khaleda Begum and Surayya Ali Mattoo. Born to Sheikh Abdullah and Begum Akbar Jehan, the two sisters talk about how their mother threw off the burkha in 1946 to lead a protest march and their memories from the long years of captivity to which their father was subject by the governments of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. They also fondly remember how their father "wept like a baby" when Nehru died, and believe how Kashmiris themselves cannot escape the blame for the state of things.

Of the three, only Haksar tries to broach the subject of resolution of the Kashmir dispute but is despondent now that the state is owned by three nuclear powers - China (20 per cent), Pakistan (35 per cent) and India (45 per cent). She says neither of her two protagonists, Prakash and Guru, was hopeful of a Kashmir in which Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims can live together with mutual respect.

All the possible solutions to the dispute look unworkable, she says. The people of Kashmir cannot trust Pakistan since Islamabad hasn't treated the people of "Azad Kashmir" well. They are similarly disinclined to live with India because of distrust that Article 370 might be revoked or that a year-round Amarnath Yatra might be started to undermine the constitutional provision that gives J&K special status. The trifurcation of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh could be a possible solution if the Shia Muslims of Kargil, who live among the Buddhist majority, and the Muslims of Jammu could be assured of safety. What Haksar finds disturbing is the rise of Hindutva in the rest of the country and the attraction of Kashmiri youth to the dream of a Caliphate and ISIS.

First Published: Sat, February 06 2016. 00:28 IST