Whitehead, an agnostic writer chooses St Joseph'smission, Baramullah to catch the thick of events at the onset of Lashkar invasion from Afghanistan following the Partition that deluged the Kashmir valley with cadavers raising skirl of wail to fall too much upon the reader to singe his cockles. For writing this medium sized book he rummaged through an intriguingly large number of living testimonies to tie the missing ends. The writer has traipsed a non-partisan stand that scooped out the glaring flagrances and thereupon commented against Maharaja'sfiefdom, Pukhtun pillage and debauchery, Pakistan'sgameplan or be it India'svested interests. Whitehead braved to sneak in the Laskar-e-Taiba heartland in Muzzafarabad, POK. He'sfizzled out several existing notions holding them on slippery ground.
How did this wildfire break out? Andrew reveals – ?The Kashmir valley did not initially endure communal carnage. But it witnessed an invasion, and violence that was political, religious and communal in nature, starting just as the Partition killings in Punjab were beginning to subside. Kashmir?…was a princely state, where a Hindu maharaja ruled a largely Muslim populace.?
Who'sdisgruntled to stoke the dying embers into an atrocious conflagration of attrition? Who fight and remain unfazed to run the gauntlet? Do they?ve to avenge something or somebody? Only a minority of the cadres of jihadi-style militant groups are the indigenous Kashmiris, the entire rest are infiltrators doing it for the heck of safeguarding ?pan-Islamic sentiment?. A Pathan dictum spells it out?To every man his own country is Kashmir. Its quite intriguing that Pathans and Kashmiris have disparate cultures. Also, the valley of Kashmiris does not have a martial tradition. During Colonial period, Pathan Lashkars proved a nuisance even to the British preoccupying the British Indian Army. Whitehead comments on the lashkar treachery??Unfortunately the enthusiasm with which the local Muslims had welcomed their (Lashkar) entry was short lived. A sizeable number of tribesman lost no time in turning against them??There was generally no distinction between Hindus and Muslims in so far as loot and arson was concerned?.The local cinema hall was converted into a sort of a restricted brothel.? What happened to the much avowed brethren cause? It is believed that 90 per cent of Baramulla'sresidents were killed by the Lashkars. Ironically, the lately formed Lashkar-e-Toiba, a dreaded outfit literally means ?army of the pure?.
Do you call this a holy war?a horrendous act perpetrated against seraphic nuns of missionaries running a maternity hospital? From rapes to gruesome murders were perpetrated under the jihad mission of lashkars. Sister Emilia, a nonagenarian Italian nun after half- a-century still living at the same spot on the volatile ceasefire line vents her pent-up feelings, an eye-witness account of the attack on their seminary on October 27, 1947. Andrew monikers one of his chapters, ?wild-bearded beasts? to recount on these lashkars. St Joseph'smission was stormed and made the invader'smilitary base that subsequently bore the brunt of aerial bombing raids and upbraided visitations by Indian army and Pakistani army. Ironically it all started the same day Lord Mountbatten, the first Governor General of independent India, accepted Maharaja Hari Singh'saccession of his princely state to India. And to swoop down on Kashmir, the Sikh regiment began to airlift on that Monday dawn itself.
In the book we get a vintage memorabilia of quirk of fate that we often envisage on the silver screen. Whitehead quotes V.P. Menon, Indian Government'senvoy on his first hand report on reaching the palace escorted by Lieutenant Colonel Sam Manekshaw in Srinagar on October 26??It could be said that the Maharaja (Sir Hari Singh) had gone to pieces completely?if not gone off his head. I have never seen such disorganisation in my life. The Maharaja was running around from one room to the other. I have never seen so much jewellery in my life..?..packing here, there, everywhere?.
The author bellies Sir Hari Singh'segoistic incarceration of Shere-e-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah to thwart his growing popularity posing threat to his own despotic monarchy run on sectarian lines leading to widespread discontentment in his feudal state. Whitehead then goes on to lay bare Sheikh Abdullah'sflip-flop with the Indian Government to succeed with his stashed vendetta: and his initial proximity with Nehru leading to his aggrandizement as Chief Minister of the state and then his distancing leading to a 22-year detention ordered by the crown prince, Karan Singh who then had been kowtowing Nehru. Thereafter Sheikh Abdullah'sson on having mitigated with Indira Gandhi went on to become the chief minister?s. Indeed, a fiasco to guffaw at.
At the end the… question resurfaces?Why this problem? Andrew says – ?The origins of the conflict have been clouded by partisan rhetoric and the underlying issues have been obscured by the clamour of competing nationalisms.? Umar Farooq, Srinagar'shead cleric feels that Kashmir issue is basically a political question. Despite daily invocation at St Joseph'smission, for ushering of peace in Kashmir, Sister Emily opines, ?But there'sa long way to go to attain real peace?. This lay-bare novel showcases a rare genre of journalism as a rapporteur historian embarking on shattering the smattering myths all based on gleanings of dovetailed evidences to blow gaff over ?the bloodiest convulsions of the century?.
(Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)