Have we really lost our cultural ethos, Ms CM?

  • Ajaz Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Jan 29 2017 4:37PM
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  • Updated Date: Jan 29 2017 6:30PM
Have we really lost our cultural ethos, Ms CM?

                                                       Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

If that is what you mean by Kashmiriyat

Kashmiryat is dead! Did it die a natural death? Was it stabbed in the back and left writhing in the dust till life ebbed out of it...slowly, agonisingly? Or maybe it was shot in the head or the heart and died an instant death? And then again maybe it was poisoned insidiously by the very hand that pretended to feed it and died unawares? Whatever! It is dead! There are many descriptions emphasizing the finality of being dead – dead as a doornail, dead as a dodo, dead as a stone, dead as a dry bone in a desert, etc. – but the most final of descriptions is that of being officially dead. You see the official word carries a lot of weight. If you are dead and buried six feet under but officially you are alive, then there you are very much alive and staring back brazenly at even those who think that you are surely dead now. You may be dead but officially you are alive in a heavily barricaded and fortified province of Zinda-bad or say Amar-nagri! The official word is absolute either way and so if you are officially dead you are absolutely dead. About Kashmiryat the official word has been pronounced. Kashmiryat is dead! Officially dead! Absolutely dead!

 When exactly did Kashmiryat die? Now that is a tricky question.

You see if the most conclusive piece of evidence of a death - the dead body itself - is missing it is difficult to place the exact time or date of death. Alas so is it with Kashmiryat! Elusive in life, Kashmiryat remains elusive in its reported death as well. Under the circumstances the focus automatically shifts to determining when it was last seen alive. Well so far as the reported sightings of Kashmiryat go, the earliest on record goes back to 1947. Of course this one is mentioned for purely academic purposes or, let us say, to get a perspective of sorts.  It carries a lot of weight though, considering the person who reported this particular sighting, for it was none less than the ‘Mahatma’ himself who reported this sighting. ‘Only Kashmir is a ray of hope in the time when the subcontinent is in darkness’ said the ‘Mahatma’. It was the time when Partition had cleaved the sub-continent into two, a time of mutual carnage that was bloody evident in almost the whole of the sub-continent. It was the Mahatma again who spoke of the gruesome butchery in neighbouring Jammu. Grave provocation from there but Kashmiryat was on the alert and consequently Kashmir remained calm.

Shortly afterwards Kashmiryat was sighted once again, this time taking a Tonga (horse-buggy) ride to Jammu. Hindu refugees fleeing from blood thirsty mobs in the neighbourhood had reached Kashmir and desired to go on to Jammu or Punjab. Local Muslims, inspired of course by an active Kashmiryat, motivated Kashmiri tongawallas (horse-buggy drivers) to transport them to Jammu. 22 tongawallas were hired who were later joined by many others from the Khanabal-Qazigund area. On return all these poor tongawallas numbering around 90 were massacred near Nagrota. If you assume that Kashmiryat may have died during this massacre you are justified in your assumption but yet it had not. You see there were many sightings reported even after this near fatal incident.

                                                           Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI


Now it would be tedious and also perhaps impossible to record all the sightings from 1947 so let us flip the pages quickly and come to 2008. The Amarnath land transfer controversy was at its peak and there were protests on the streets and the usual fatal consequences of protests in this part of the world - dead protesters and of course an additional surcharge of deaths by way of collateral damage. In response to the demand for revoking the land transfer order, protesters in Jammu laid siege to the highway to Kashmir cutting off supplies. Even during these difficult times Kashmiryat was sighted again and again, successfully making a distinction between land transfer and the Amarnath Yatra itself. Thanks to it despite all the provocations the yatra went on without any untoward incident. What is more, Kashmiryat was also seen during these days on the streets of Srinagar and other places, setting up community kitchens for visitors from outside Kashmir even as life had come to a standstill in the besieged valley. 2009 and 2010 saw similar indignation and protests with tempers running high in the valley. During these troubled times again repeated sightings of Kashmiryat were reported, sometimes throwing a protective mantle around non-Kashmiris and sometimes as a courteous host in, and in spite of, the difficult circumstances. Kashmiryat seems to be in the habit of popping up in all sorts of places like it did in May 2011 at Wussan village in Kunzar Block on the Srinagar-Gulmarg road where 52 year old Aasha ji, a Kashmiri Pandit lady was elected Sarpanch by the Muslim villagers who looked upon her as one of their own and celebrated her victory as their own.

There is one more sighting of Kashmiryat which has been rather downplayed, probably because it does not exactly fit the official description of Kashmiryat or maybe because it leaves the official circles red-faced. It was 2014 and the River Jhelum, possibly taking a cue from the leaders of this miserable valley, turned upon its own. The ‘democratically’ elected and militarily protected government disappeared without a trace. All seemed to be lost till Kashmiryat burst upon the scene, rescuing people in improvised boats and rafts. True to its nature it did not bother about whether those being rescued were Kashmiris or belonged to any particular creed. In the days that followed Kashmiryat was repeatedly sighted in lanes and by-lanes and mosques and community halls in areas spared by the floods, where it assumed charge and acted as a proxy for the government-in-flight, though of course more efficient than any government can ever be, providing food, shelter and comfort to thousands of flood-devastated people.

Surprisingly the latest reported sightings of the officially declared-dead Kashmiryat are rather recent. In July 2016 when 34 Kashmiris had already fallen to the bullets of the security forces and many others had been blinded by pellets, locals from Bijbehara in South Kashmir which had the highest number of casualties forgot their grief and defied the curfew to rescue Amarnath Yatra pilgrims injured in a road accident on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway. Another reported sighting of Kashmiryat came to fore in October 2016 when a group of Kashmiri youth rescued a soldier who was trapped inside a mangled vehicle which had met with an accident on Srinagar Bypass road near Lasjan area of the city, when even the efforts of other army men to evacuate him had failed. This was when pitched battles with men in a similar uniform had already resulted in 84 deaths and thousands injured and maimed for life.

Of course the sightings are not always dramatic as Kashmiryat has been known to put in an appearance in what are essentially routine affairs. It is only occasionally that these sightings come into limelight, mostly in the local press, like when Kashmiryat made sure that as Neeshu Pandita of Loswani Pulwama was getting married to Aashu Tikoo of Tahab Pulwama the baraatis as well as the reception had the local Kashmiri Muslims in enthusiastic participation. Kashmiri Muslim women joined Kashmir Pandit and Sikh women in ceremonial singing choruses welcoming the bridegroom at the bride’s place while similar composite choruses at the bridegroom’s place tried to outshine them in their welcome of the bride to her new home. Now of course this was by no means a one-of-a-kind wedding though being in the newsprint might make it appear so. Go to Dardpora village of Baramulla anytime in the marriage season. Every marriage party celebrated here, be it of a Sikh or a Muslim, has two venues, one at a Muslim home and another in a Sikh home in order to serve the guests of the particular community with what is kosher for them. The feast is the only thing that is separate; the celebrations are of course common.

It is not just wedding celebrations; Kashmiryat has been sighted in mournings and funerals as well. As recently as November 2016 it was seen standing shoulder to shoulder with the Muslims of Habbakadal locality when they were bearing the dead body of their Kashmiri Pandit neighbour , a 40 years old  Sushma Parimoo, to the cremation grounds. For that matter it is not unusual for Kashmiryat to be seen in the guise of a caretaker of a Kashmiri Pandit cremation ground, a caretaker who happens to be a Kashmiri Muslim like Ghulam Rasool Bhat of Jalla mohalla in the interiors of Dal Lake on the Rainawari side. Ghulam Rasool  has been taking care of the cremation ground on the banks of the Dal for Kashmiri Pandits not out of monetary considerations but simply because it is a tradition that he has inherited from his late father. Do these examples make Kashmiryat sound like rather kitschy stuff, like a tortured cliché, a photo-op of sorts? No it doesn’t! There is nothing kitschy or clichéd about Kashmiryat while it stands tall in all these instances. For that matter in all the above mentioned instances, and of course the list is by no means exhaustive, the people involved would not even recognise Kashmiryat by this name. In fact the name might be greeted with suspicion and even jeers of revulsion as it is likely to bring up images of an imposter or even worse an ‘agent’. The common people would be puzzled by this name, for they know Kashmiryat by more familiar names like good neighbourliness, common courtesy, humanitarian gesture or just basic decency. Kashmiryat, you see, is just an official name, a misused one too most of the time, for something that comes naturally to the local people.

Kashmiryat is dead! Officialy dead!

Why does that sound so incongruous? But then it always sounds unbelievable when you hear that someone you saw recently is dead. Why I saw him only yesterday you exclaim in shocked disbelief. Maybe they are talking of someone else! Maybe it is just a case of mistaken identity!  You see it is not unusual for two different individuals to have the same name. And that creates confusion sometimes. Perhaps the same is true of Kashmiryat! We cannot of course argue with an official statement but let us just consider for a while that maybe the officially-dead status of Kashmiryat is also a confusion of the same order. Maybe it is not Kashmiryat but something else that has died! Let us consider that may be Kashmiryat is not about a single entity but about two similarly named and somewhat look-alike entities, like the quintessential twins of Bollywood, one good and the other bad with the bad one impersonating the good one at times?  Or maybe it is a single entity after all but with a dual character like say Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Indeed when you piece together the evidence the duality becomes very much apparent, you are dealing with not one but two Kashmiryats. There is the simple Kashmiryat of the common man which does not seek limelight and rarely gets to be in it. You see it investing time and everything else in a marriage function, a funeral or a rescue attempt. You see this Kashmiryat braving it out on dangerous streets, in curfew and the threat of the bullet and pellet, while the other Kashmiryat bides its time in heavily fortified mansions. That is the Kashmiryat that lives not in gestures and deeds but in words and slogans. That is the one which can be seen standing by the sides of the politicians on podiums where from they deliver those beautiful insincere speeches. It is also to be seen in state sponsored sessions of bad poetry and in the pomp and show of song and dance shows that impersonate peace. Maybe there is a yet another explanation for Kashmiryat being dead and yet not quite so. Maybe Kashmiryat belongs to that fictional twilight zone of the dead but not quite dead, the living dead that is. Maybe Kashmiryat is just a political Frankenstein made up of hastily assembled mismatching dead body-parts and jaded concepts, a zombie that comes alive when required to do the bidding of its political creators.

Whatever! Kashmiryat is dead! Officially dead!

Yet why cannot one shake of this feeling that we have not heard the last of it?  Perhaps the same people who have declared it dead will resurrect it. It only takes a word after all, a condescending smile and a few words like say ‘Kashmiryat is not dead after all’. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t really dead at all! Maybe it ‘died’ in a staged encounter? A fake encounter where not only the encounter was faked but the death too was faked!  But then what could be the motive behind this officially declared death-that-isn’t? Could it possibly be an attempt at putting the blame on the victims themselves? That’s not all that uncommon, is it? Ask a ravished woman and she will tell you that in this topsy turvy world it is she who is supposed to have lost her honour rather than the man who committed the dishonourable deed!

While we may claim all these insights into the official death of Kashmiryat a nagging question remains unanswered. How can these politicians trash the very people who have voted them to power to appease those who will never lend their vote or support for them? The clue to this one perhaps lies in the fact that these politicians have been winning votes not by winning the hearts of the people but by fooling them. Yes that would probably explain it. For contempt, condescension and derision and not concern and compassion are natural responses evoked by those whom you believe you have successfully fooled not once but repeatedly.

Of course it is also about being an imposition rather than a representation.