This book is a compilation of essays culled together by the editor, Aparna Rao, who passed away without seeing her book in print.
Academic work on Kashmir valley on the identities of its inhabitants has laid stress on the conflict between India, Pakistan and Kashmir identities or between India and Kashmir political identities. Another approach has been to examine the impact of Islam on identities in Kashmir. There is some work in the nebulous concept of Kashmiriyat. The debate over Kashmir’s identity really gathered momentum during the 1990s due to the academic and political interest sparked by the violence in Kashmir valley that began in 1988.
TN Madan in his paper traces the history of Kashmir, beginning with the earliest extant text about Kashmir being Nilamata Purana. Over the years, Kashmir Brahmans evolved a non-dualistic system of esoteric thought and practice (including yoga) between the 5th and 11th centuries, generally known as Kashmir Shaivism. This was followed by a steady decline from the death of King Avantivarman (AD 883) and taking over by Muslims. Then the treaty of 1846 gave power to the Dogra rulers. In 1946, Sheikh Abdullah gave a call for abrogation of the treaty. After the death of Maharaja Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah came to power. He envisaged an autonomous Kashmir and perhaps independent status for his state and for himself the crown, as it were. Sheikh Abdullah characteristically blew hot and cold. However, after his death in 1982, politicians engaged in tales of self-aggrandisement.
Since then the inter-community relations between the Pandits and Muslims have been damaged. Most Muslims realise that their struggle for freedom has disrupted the normal life for them too. Political opinions among Kashmiri Muslims run along three conceptions of nationalism, namely religious, secular and ethnic. Adherents of the first variety want Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan on the basis of religious identity. Secular nationalists believe in the ethos of religious pluralism which is compatible with the secular state of the Indian Constitution. As against these, the culturally dominant view is the desire for an independent state which would need economic support and defence and diplomatic guarantees by both India and Pakistan. In TN Madan’s view, the “old model, such as it was, has been lost; a new one has yet to be born.”
Michael Witzel traces the early history of Kashmiri Pandits and says that even when the Kashmiri Muslims dominated them, the Kashmiri Brahmans keep their customs and rituals and clung to whatever scribal or governmental positions they could. Even under the Afghans, they held some high positions. “It was only in very recent times, again under the stewardship of one of their own, the Nehru family, that they were forced to leave their country in a great exodus.” He expresses the hope that “the Brahmans of Kashmir may once again return to their ancestral Valley just as they did in the past after King Sikandar and the Afghans.”
Rattan Lal Hangloo talks of mass conversion to Islam in medieval Kashmir and says that the people of Kashmir had been open to diverse cultural influences for a long time and by virtue of these influences, “Kashmir is the ground where introduction of Islam was also initially adopted by the Kashmiris as the adoption of a new culture.”
Mohammad Ishaq Khan discusses Islam, state and society in medieval Kashmir and says that the concept of the “Sharia-oriented culture is central to the position of the unique strength that Islam enjoys in the Valley in spite of perceived or orchestrated threats to Kashmiri Muslim identity.”
Jaishree Kak expounds on Lalleshwari’s relation to the Shaivite and Sufi traditions in Kashmir and shows that she was a serious Shaiva practitioner and believed that “an enlightened perspective can be realised by anyone through his or her own striving, irrespective of gender, class or religious affiliation.”
After reading all the papers, one comes to feel that culturally the Valley has suffered irreparably with its composite culture in tatters. The prospect of its revival is uncertain with the return of the Pandit exiles nowhere in sight. A more disturbing trend is the undeniable reality of aggressive religious fundamentalism in all the three cultural regions of the state, namely Jammu, Kashmir and Laddakh. “The fundamentalists terrorise the liberal elements within their own country and generally propagate exclusivism and intolerance. Socially and geographically violence has taken a heavy toll of the lives of the people, whether they live in the Valley or outside it. It is not going to be easy to re-stitch the torn social fabric and heal the wounds of the mind,” says the editor.
This book should be read by political analysts to get some very pertinent insights into the working of the Kashmiri mind.
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