PRAZNATH- A discourse on Kashmiri identity and culture, an effort at dispelling the myths prevalent about Kashmir and its history in a form of a quarterly cultural magazine was formally launched on March 18, 2010 in Delhi.
A dire need to challenge and question the hegemonic discourse regarding Kashmir provided the necessary impetus for starting this magazine. The launch was marked by a panel discussion on the topic ‘Identifying identity in Kashmir’ which broadly looked into the grave issues of identity politics.
The tempo for the event was set by a photo exhibition by Veer Munshi’s latest photographs of Kashmiri Pundit houses in Kashmir. The blown up and sensitively photographed shots were displayed strategically juxtaposing the majestic and grand mansions with vacated, burnt down ruins of what once were imposing houses and institutions. The powerful visuals narrated a sad story of oppression and loss. One could see people reacting to certain images, identifying certain houses and not without a gloomy look in their eyes.
The curtain raiser too was a video shot by Munshi in 2009 in Kashmir. The screen here was divided into two frames. On the left hand side one could see a Kashmiri Pundit’s house in flames and on the right hand side the artist walking towards an unknown destination, crushing chinar leaves under his feet and leaving the random footprints on snow. The endless walk again a metaphor used for the deep longing to go back was harshly interrupted by the shrill bullet shots and screams one could hear from the burning house.
On this melancholy note started the programme. Shri Sushil Pandit, a senior member of Praznath welcomed the audience and gave a brief introduction to Praznath which was followed by a keynote address by Radhika Kaul, the youngest member of the team. In her short and effective address Radhika hinted upon extremely important points on identity especially from a point of view of someone who was born after exodus. She ended on an optimistic note that our silence has found appropriate voice in Praznath, a view that all of us at Praznath share. With this she recited the fiery and powerful poem by Dr. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani phelega phelega hamara maun which drew huge applause from the audience.
After the panelists were duly felicitated, Dr Toshkhani ,the editor of the magazine gave a broader insight into Praznath and the objectives it aims to achieve. He focussed on the issue of deliberate misrepresentation of historical facts and in particular talked about the efforts being made to see Kashmir as an integral part of Central Asian cultural belt with no ties with India. He stressed on the fact the pre 14th CE Kashmiri society was an open and liberated one and we need to give a proper glimpse of that era to our people. Dr Toshkhani said that the lopsided ,distorted and many a times purely fabricated views on Kashmir history and culture is slowly erasing an important part of our indigenous culture and identity. He strongly emphasised a need for thinkers, researchers, artists and sensitive and coherent individuals from the community to come together and fight this intellectual injustice.
The discussion continued with Sir Mark Tully, an eminent journalist, drawing attention on the need to preserve the culture for a community in diaspora. He said there is a necessity to understand and highlight the links that Kashmir had with India.
Dr Kaul’s invocation of Pratibigya Darshan and a need to realise ones hidden powers had immense depth and actually was more than enough to illustrate her point. The emotional outpourings accompanying the talk though somewhere diluted the strength of her statements drew a great round of applause from audience. Her personal first hand experience, honesty and point blankness came across very vividly in her talk. She outrightly rejected the notion of Kashmiri Militants and Kashmiri Pundits living together in peace and harmony stressing on a fact that a culture that takes refuge in violence has nothing to do with Kashmir.
Dr Swapan Dasgupta,right in the outset talked about the counter productiveness of an emotional approach and advised Kashmiri Pundits to be purely strategic in their approach. Moreover he stressed on ‘memory’ as an important aspect of retaining a culture. He raised an important point by suggesting that a culture or a community can easily slip away from people’s memory and hence there should be a constant effort to keep the memory of the culture alive. He also talked about how the issues of Kashmiri Pundits had become an embarrassment to be shoved under the carpet for the government. He boldly used the term ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ with respect to the exodus of 1990 and implored the Kashmiri Pundits to fight for their identity with passion and a strategy at hand.
With this came the panel discussion to an end and the session was closed by a mellifluous recital of vakhs of Rupa Bhavani, a 17th century saint poetess from Kashmir by Shri Dalip Langoo. Shri Dalip left the audiences mesmerised with his recital. The vote of thanks was given by Shri Pandit.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])