A kaleidoscopic view of Kashmiri history through art, poetry, fiction, personal narratives, and cultural criticism.
Thursday, 11 October 2012
Kashmir Fatigue - Ajay Raina
This account of my visit to my homeland last year* is an attempt to express the pain, the bitterness and the anger I feel for being an Indian, a Kashmiri and a Kashmiri in exile at a time when the memory of another minority in another border state of India recently undergoing a more brutal, a more heinous 'pogrom' is still fresh.
"If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." --- Friedrich Nietzsche
When I talk to my KP [Kashmiri Pandit] friends about reconciliation and hope in Kashmir or even about atrocities committed upon the innocents in Gujarat, I am mostly shaken by the response. After so many years their anger and bitterness and hatred towards Muslims remains:
"Gujarat and Kashmir represent two faces of the same coin. When Pandits were killed and thrown out of Kashmir, no one in India gave a damn. Now Muslims were butchered in Gujarat, and no one in India gave a damn. Yet there are differences between the situation with Pandits and hapless Muslim victims in Gujarat - not in what happened, but in the manner how the social conscience in India reacted.
"Very few humanists in India came to the aid of KPs. No one linked militant Islam to growing fundamentalism in the National Conference, and almost no one blamed the State government for its ineptitude or demanded the CM should be declared a criminal.
"Gujarat, on the other hand, has become the hollowed ground for Indian humanists, who are eager to link berserk Hindus to the party in power, want the CM's head on a platter and see the "dubious hand" of the Center in the tragedy.
"In the end, however, Indian traditions of fate, indifference, passivity and burdens of day-to-day living have again triumphed in keeping the silent majority silent, whereas Hindu and Muslim criminals and humanists keep busy dispensing justice by tools of their trades."
A Kashmiri Pandit.
For more than a year now, I have found myself unable to express in words the desolation, the desperation, the hopelessness and the living death of Kashmir which I was witness to when I was last there. This account of my visit to my homeland last year is an attempt to express the pain, the bitterness and the anger I feel for being an Indian, a Kashmiri and a Kashmiri in exile at a time when the memory of another minority in another border state of India recently undergoing a more brutal, a more heinous ‘pogrom’ is still fresh.
Back in Srinagar
At the top end corner of the famous Lal Chowk of Srinagar -- named after the Moscow’s famous Red Square -- stands Hotel Neelam, strategically placed in the heart of Srinagar at the tri-junction of its most active thoroughfare.
Looking straight ahead through the shattered glass panes of the hotel you will see the clock tower that never ever showed the correct time right from the day it came to be installed there after a fanfare inauguration by the Sher-e-Kashmir himself. Beyond the clock tower is the Residency road of the British Imperial times.
This road was later named Shahid Sherwani Road after the martyr who single-handedly stopped the Pakistani tribal raiders from reaching Srinagar in 1948 for which he paid by his life – a tortuous and agonizing death; he was nailed to a cross. The road was later, re-named its original name. After 1990, every other known and unknown landmark of Srinagar that even remotely suggested of Kashmir’s association with Independent India was re-named or not re-re-named at all.
To the left of Hotel Neelam are the now completely gutted Palladium Cinema and Hotel Lalla Rukh and beyond to Maisuma, Gow Kadal to Haba Kadal to Fateh Kadal and the infamous Downtown. To its right is the road that leads to the Amira Kadal, the first of the seven bridges of the ancient Srinagar city. The Srinagar city, at all times of the day wears a look of desolation and permanent mourning. After dark it is frightening.
To a poet who died before me
A patrol is stationed on the bridge and a car hoots like a cuckoo.
Agha Shahid Ali
Inside Hotel Neelam, one sad evening on a cold December day, an old man in his mid seventies was warming himself beside a bukhari along with another young man. We were the only three guests in the restaurant of the hotel that late evening. The streets had already emptied out. There was no electricity, which is usual in Srinagar’s winters, because the waters freeze and there is not enough of it left to run the power plants.
The locals, however, believe that most of the electricity generated in Kashmir is sold off to the neighbouring states in the plains of India, as part payment of unresolved debts of past. I was in Srinagar for the first time ever after the events of 1990. I was scared because, it was the first night of my stay in Srinagar and I was alone.
The old man asked me for a cigarette which I helpfully proffered. Before long, the old man started getting interested in me -- he asked me where I was from, why I was in Srinagar and last of all he asked me my name … I told him my name was Ajay Kumar and then I added Raina to it as a afterthought. I was not really sure than, if I could announce my identity to any unknown person in Srinagar so soon; an identity that did not matter to me elsewhere, but in Srinagar, could have been a matter of life and death to me at anytime in the past 12 years.
He asked me my father's name and I told him… I do not know if it was just the smoke of the Bukhari, but I saw a film of cloud come over his eyes, a mist of certain sadness, a tinge of remorse perhaps? He said he used to know my father well; they had been professional colleagues till the time he had to leave... we got talking and he told me of an incident more than 40 years old.
"It was the Autumn of 1958…I was with a group of friends, having tea in this same restaurant, about the same hour as now, the hour of the evening news bulletins from Radio Kashmir -- as All India Radio is known in Kashmir. The news announced the release of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah from one of his numerous incarcerations. There was an instantaneous jubilation all around.
"The shopkeepers downed their shutters and came out on the road and the people walking back home from office, old and young, all made up an impromptu procession that started from Lal Chowk and wended its euphoric way down the residency road, past hotel Lalla Rukh, past Biscoe school, past Partap Park towards Regal Chowk.
"It was a huge procession of people carrying lit candles, with thanksgiving songs on their lips. It was a huge mass of euphoria that turned into a mass frenzy in no time. At the Regal Chowk, someone from among the crowd, pointing to a house, started uttering the choicest Kashmiri abuses…
"In no time; a man (one of the cabinet minister or the party official - I don’t clearly remember which it was - of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s then government) was dragged down from his apartment and roundly abused and beaten up by the mob.
"With the light of the lit candles in their hands, the mob set that badly mauled and almost lifeless man to a blaze. Over his burning body, writhing in death throes, they danced…and they sang songs of thanksgiving to the God for Sher-e-Kashmir’s release.
"I was watching this gory celebration from the side pavement on Residency road near Regal Chowk. An old frightened man, a Kashmiri Pandit with his typical headdress and ‘tilak’ on his forehead, nudged me and asked me if I had a pen and some paper. I fished the same from my pocket and gave it to him…He wrote something on the paper and returned it to me with an urging, that I must preserve the paper and remember this mad moment…On the paper was written,
"'I may not be there when the same sight will repeat before your eyes, sometime in the near future. These very people who are singing the praises of their Sher-e-Kashmir today, will one day burn his effigy on these very streets of Srinagar. The person they revile now will in turn be visited at his grave with flowers by the same men.'"In 1990, I saw the prediction of that Pandit come true. In the euphoria of ‘azadi’ and mass frenzy, the people of Kashmir, who so revered their Sher-e-Kashmir, actually wanted to dig up the very bones of their very dear leader from his mausoleum.
"The grave of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, to this day remains guarded 24 hours of day and night by a posse of heavily armed security man. His son rules Kashmir now. [This conversation, you'd recall took place last year, before the October 2002 elections -- Ed] He will in his own time anoint his own son as heir-apparent of Kashmir, in the same imperial fashion of Indian Maharajas, the way Sheikh Abdullah did more than 20 years ago when there was wide spread jubilation on the streets of Srinagar. On the other hand, the memory of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the Chief Minister replacement of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 remains unsullied…"
"At that time, in 1990, in the spirit of the Old Pandits prediction, I had made my very own prediction about the future of Kashmir:
" 'These very people who have brought our land and the Pandits of Kashmir to their present misery will one day turn upon each other and tear each other apart.’
"This, my friend," he concluded, "is the entire story of what has happened to Kashmir in the last 12 years since Kashmiri Pandits left because of a forced exodus."
I never met him again after that…but subsequently, I have come to know, and read and hear that during those initial moments of euphoria in 1990, the same kinds of forebodings and apprehensions had occurred to many older generation Kashmiris about the future of Kashmir.
The waters of the many sacred springs and revered religious shrines of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims had turned dark or had begun to overflow. The forebodings of imminent catastrophe in Kashmir are too numerous to recall, but magnitude of death and destruction that has visited upon Kashmir in the past decade, has permanently scarred the landscape of the valley and the psyche of its people within Kashmir and of those in exile in the plains of India.
In 1990, the Militants of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and Hizbul Mujahideen dealt my sense of self and my identity as an Indian a humiliatingly serious blow. 12 years since, it is still hard for any of the people who belong to my community to consider going back home.
When we cried for our people then - some shot in the head with a single bullet, some tortured to death, some hanged, some sawed off into a hundred body parts and some gang-raped to death, and when we cried for our homes, farms, orchards and a heritage of traditions and beliefs left behind - we were graciously enough provided ‘tents’ and a ‘migrant’ status within our own country, so we could be left on our own to wipe our tears and pick up the threads of life in exile.
Nobody spoke up for us then, and not enough. The wounds of ‘forced exile’ of an entire community of Kashmiri Pandits have begun to fester and bleed again after the events of Godhra and Gujarat. My heart cries out for them but the tears have long dried up.
How can I even defend what I have become?
But yes, Gujarat affects me too. It affects me enough to remind me of my own secondary status as an ‘exile’ in my own country. When I saw the images of death and destruction and read about the horror tales from Gujarat, I only saw annihilation of my race in Kashmir re-re-revisited upon another hapless community of people who belong to a religion in whose name the hapless and non-violent minorities of Kashmir valley were forced into exile.
Some wise man has said, "Rebellions are normally started by the hopeful not the abject poor." I am not sure if, when the people of Kashmir rose up in revolt against India, they were really hopeful of winning, or even if they were really sure about the real contours of the ‘azadi’ they were seeking.
The success of the ‘popular’ revolt that lasted only a few years – till the slaying of Professor. Mushir-ul-Haq, I was told - was due partly because of the frightening power of the gun over the local populace, and mostly because of the collapse of every organ of local governance and the abject surrender of will by the then inept Chief Minister of J&K.
If only, if only they had refused to release the JKLF militants in exchange of Rubia Sayeed. If only, if only they had not started the sudden night time searches on January 19-20, reportedly on nobody’s orders because that day Farooq Abdullah had already resigned. If only, if only the massacre at Gow Kadal had not taken place. If only, if only the procession carrying Moulvi Farooq’s Dead body had not been fired upon by panicking CRPF soldiers. perhaps the contours of the ‘militant-azadi’ movement that picked up as a consequence of these errors of judgment may have been different today and may have led us to the real reforms the people of Kashmir genuinely sought.
But these are the big If’s of ‘our’ folly and Faroukh Abdullah’s ‘manipulative’ hold over the reigns of power.
The failure of the ‘azadi’ movement is much more stark in the 12 years of continuing violence, destruction and robbing of every charm of Kashmir. The fact is, the vale of Kashmir is a deafening wail now, desperately looking for the bottom of the abyss into which it has sunk, into which all its blood flow pours.
In the Kashmir of 1989-90, all the dissenting voices against the violent movement were silenced by death or by forced silent acquisition, so it had appeared that the entire population was with the revolt. Only now, when the local militancy has almost dissipated and been replaced by a dangerous variety of pan-Islamic militancy, are more and more Kashmiri people coming out to speak against the militants who started it all.
A well-known senior journalist in Srinagar said to me. "Before 1989, were we ever prevented from offering prayers in our mosques?" This is a sentiment almost echoed by a successful doctor in Srinagar, my classmate at school, who I met again after 12 years, "Who did ever stop us from practicing our religion here?"
A young journalist friend who I met in Srinagar, sounding bitter in retrospect about those ‘euphoric days of revolt’ said to me, "The people who used to lead the ‘azadi’ processions, wearing shrouds in defiance of death, are still alive today, while the people they led are long dead now."
The Srinagar of today is a contrasting picture of destroyed old landmarks and burnt out structures and of new constructions in the downtown and newly sprung up suburbs. Comparing Srinagar and a city like Ahmedabad in terms of population density ratios, I was surprised to know that there are more Marutis on Srinagar’s roads than in Ahmedabad.
Looking through my nostalgic eyes, I was certainly struck to note that Srinagar today is positively more affluent than it was in the days when militancy started. How has this phenomenon come about in a land devastated by violent instability?
"Those who only had a grass mat to cover their mud floors are today living in palatial houses." This is a common bitter refrain by the affluent class of old, when they speak about Kashmir’s neo-rich, who started off as foot soldiers of the ‘militant’ movement.
Of the many people I asked, "Why is militancy still continuing, when people are so fed up?" I was told again and again, "it is the people with the vested interests - the militants/politicians/surrendered militants/and neo-businessmen, 'the 5% of people' - who do not want the uncertainty to end, so that they can thrive."
I recall a modern Kashmiri story, which to my knowledge best describes the ‘the present mind’ of the Kashmiri collective mass in these times. The story, An Infernal Creature by Amin Kamil, is about a village that used to be, but is no more.
The village, called Zeegyapathir, had six mohallas and five graveyards on the borders between each mohalla. One day, the only son of an old woman, borne by her after several miscarriages, dies. The dead son is buried after the performance of all the sacred Muslim rituals, but the old woman, unable to bear the sudden loss of her only son, loses her mind. In the middle of the night at the graveyard of her son, she espies some dark mysterious figure up to some mischief…
The next day morning, her dead son’s grave is found dug up and the body is left without its shroud. The body is promptly covered in a fresh shroud and re-buried. The next night, the same deed is repeated and some other fresh graves are similarly found despoiled off their shroud. There is much hue and cry and commotion in the village. Every suspect is questioned. Every villager is suspected, but the shroud stealer is never found.
The deed becomes a regular practice in the village. The villagers, at first curious and angry and perturbed, slowly reconcile with the mystery of the shroud stealer. ‘In this way, when all the dead bodies of the Zeegyapathir, men and women alike without exception, got robbed of the shrouds, it by and by became a custom with them. Nobody got agitated on this, nor did anybody show any kind of fear. They got used to speaking and hearing of this for two decades.
"We were at the graveyard. Has he robbed it? It looks like that. Let the hell take him.
"These four sentences were at the tip of the tongue of everyone at Zeegyapathir. You would be greeted by these words correct to a syllable for it had assumed the form of a ritual like giving the last bath to the dead, and burying the body."
Twenty years had passed so. One day a villager by the name of Ghani Mokul dies. In his last statement before death he confesses to being that mysterious shroud stealer. He is roundly cursed, but the piety of the villagers ultimately rescues him from any idea of an after death revenge.
"The truth, however was that the soft-hearted people of Zeegyapathir did not like to go so far."
He is therefore properly buried. The villagers as a matter of habit continued to curse him but also felt relieved at having been rid at long last of a big calamity.
However, the next day morning they find his grave not only despoiled of its shroud, but also "left exposed to the elements at the edge of the grave." Which the first man – Ghani Mokul had never infact dared to do ever to any dead body. Ghani Mokul is however, re-buried as had been the practice in the village.
And the morning after the next, they find him, and a few other fresh dead bodies too, again exposed at the edge of the grave in stark nudity.
"It now dawned on the people that it was not simply a case of wreaking vengeance on Ghani Mokul – the original shroud stealer, but a new monster was on the rampage…Everybody at Zeegyapathir got scared and said to one another, "We can not find another man like Ghani Mokul. He no doubt divested the dead bodies of their shroud, but naked by no means did he leave them, this hellish creature is far worse than a brute."
Then onwards, the people showered blessings on the original shroud stealer and cursed the new monster with all the abominations of the hell."
The collective mind of the mass of Kashmir is today resigned to the death and destruction they see happening around them in a similar way as the people of the fictional Zeegyapathir were resigned to the ritualistic robbing of their graveyards. The people of Kashmir are not only hopelessly resigned but also totally powerless before the Frankenstein’s, they themselves helped create and breed among them.
In TV discussions over our satellite news and entertainment channels, the experts opine that, "what’s going on in Kashmir is a war of attrition, which nobody seems like winning or losing." They say, "our sibling neighbour is ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’, but on the ground, there are people of flesh and blood - fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends, the people of Kashmir and the soldiers of India - actually being killed and robbed of their human dignity.
As you will be reading this - the rioting and the killings will be continuing in Gujarat…at the same time, in some remote hill village of Kashmir, a family of Hindus or Muslims will be yet again be massacred by a band of people fighting ‘jihad’ for the liberation of Muslim majority kashmir…On an average about 10 -15 deaths are reported everyday. In the past 12 years of ‘militancy’ in Kashmir about 62,000 people have already died. In the past 12 years of ‘militancy’ in Kashmir about 62,000 people have already died. When is this killing ever going to stop?
When is this killing ever going to stop?" I asked of some in Kashmir
A friend said, "In Kashmir, the right to natural death does not exist."
My driver said, "The only solution to Kashmir is an Atom Bomb."
A young writer, who wants to work in Bombay films said, "Our ‘problem’ can only be settled by a war between India and Pakistan now. Whosoever wins, gets Kashmir."
A human rights activist (he used to be a Launching Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen in the young days of the revolt) said, "The killings will never stop, there will be a civil war here, as in Afghanistan."
The waiter in my hotel said, "The gun is a source of money and power to those who wield it, how will they give it up easily."
Over there in Kashmir, they call it ‘Gun Culture’. Over here in India, we prefer to cover our head in the sand, and we say, "It is cross-border terrorism." – but, when are the killings ever going to stop?
In Srinagar, the job of a journalist these days is writing ‘obituaries’:
The independent press of India (the one that lay prostrate before the forces of Emergency when it was only required to bend) championed the cause of the homegrown militants of Kashmir, because it felt the ‘revolt’ was an answer to the decay within Kashmir’s polity.
True! Can’t be denied. But the 12 years of militancy have not at all affected any change in the decay that was; the decay in fact has decayed further. The political order remains the same. The ruling party is more hated now than it was before 1990, corruption has in fact become a way of life and unemployment has increased many folds. The rich have become richer by addition to their ranks of another class of the neo-rich.
There are more beggar women on the streets of Srinagar when there were none earlier. There is still no electricity. The villages are still without roads and safe drinking water. The only thing that has shown any remarkably real progress in Kashmir is ‘the proliferation ‘ of local newspapers advocating human rights. I counted about 10 English and about 20 Urdu newspapers but still none in Kashmiri language.
The Indian press has by now lost all interest in the happenings of Kashmir unless there is something really horrendous to report, but what is the Independent Press in Kashmir championing now? Developmental issues? Azadi?
Almost 11 years to the day, when the Revolt erupted in Srinagar, there was a suicide bomber attack near the main entrance to Badami Bagh Army cantonment of Srinagar. I was visiting an acquaintance, from my college days, in his newspaper office. He was busy trying to get the details of the attack.
First he called up his sources in the Army and the Police for their official ‘Death Figure’. They said one Army person and five ‘locals’ including the suicide bomber had died. He than called his local journalist friends one after the other, and about 10 of them - who must have similarly arrived at a consensual figure amongst ten others at their own end – collectively arrived at a figure, decidedly and purposely much higher than the official death toll.
Their ostensible objective: to project – that the suicide mission was a ‘success’.
A few days later, at the airport, I met a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) of the Madras regiment from the Indian Army. He was accompanying the coffin of a dead comrade to Chennai. It was the coffin of ‘The’ Jawan who had stopped the suicide bomber at the Badami Bagh cantonment gate.
The Subedar told me "only one soldier died, the newspapers always exaggerate. The terrorists always attack us when we are having our lunch, change of guard or when we are about to wake up in the morning."
He did not know, I may one day write about it, because I never thought I would. He also told me, "We burnt down the shopping complex opposite the gate. We thought there were terrorists there, but there were not any actually."
The next day, based on the pictures of the bombed site taken by a stringer, and after making a few phone calls, my journalist friend wrote an ‘eye-witness’ report, which was published in some of the National English language papers at Delhi.
In Kashmir, along with the dead, they also bury the truth everyday.
They bury the truth in tomes of newsprint, poetry and propaganda. They announce its death at Human Rights Meets in Geneva and New York, where rival Human Rights activists, representing rival points of view, speak of deaths as ‘points’-- for and against -- on a score sheet of victory and defeat.
Javed Ahmed Mir, the leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the freedom fighter of Kashmir who pioneered the ‘selective killings’ of ‘pro-Indians’ (mostly Kashmiri Pandits and National Conference workers – the leaders were spared) said,
"We started the killings only to draw the attention of the Western Press to our cause. CNN has come to visit us. BBC has come to visit us. Rabin Raphael also came and visited us here. Now we have announced unilateral ceasefire. We want to have a political dialogue. We want peace, but the martyrdom of our Freedom fighters cannot be forgotten. They call us terrorists, but they reward Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat with Nobel Peace Prize."
The JKLF now limits itself to street fights and bandhs and to exhibiting the photographs of their dead. I remember Javed Mir pointing out to me a particular photograph – of a few months old dead child – and making me feel guilty as if it was my own daughter I had allowed to be killed.
As I write this, I hear on TV of a yet another suicide attack on an Army camp at Jammu. 12 children have been killed, among them a 3 month old child. Javed Ahmed Mir is silent in Srinagar yet.
They have mastered to speak eloquently about ‘their’ pain and ‘their sacrifices’ to seek rewards in return. About the pain of others they speak with forked tongues, they say ‘it was a mistake’. They condemn India of its ‘Human Rights Violations’ and they overlook the rapes and vengeance killings by the freedom fighters within their own ranks. They speak of their own dead and forget to mourn the deaths they themselves caused. Innocents all:
Shakeela w/o Ali Mohammad Dar - abducted, gang raped and tortured to death.
Mir Mustafa - A political leader, kidnapped, tortured and strangulated to death.
Dolly Mohi-ud-Din - kidnapped, tortured, gang raped and shot dead.
Sarla Bhatt, Staff Nurse at SKIMS - kidnapped, raped and shot dead.
Prof.Mushir-ul-Haq - Kidnapped and shot dead.
H.L. Khera - Kidnapped and shot dead.
Sohan Lal Braro - Shot dead.
Archana Braro - gang raped, tortured and shot dead.
Bimla Braro - gang raped and shot dead.
Mohammad Amin Cheentagar - beheaded.
Tika Lal Taploo, Political leader - shot dead.
M. K. Ganjoo, retired Judge - shot dead.
Lassa Kaul, Station Director Doordarshan Srinagar - shot dead.
Satish Bhan, social worker - shot dead.
Ghulam Nabi Kullar, Communist - shot dead.
Abdul Sattar Ranjoor, poet - shot dead.
Maulana Masoodi, an intellectual &Freedom fighter - shot dead.
Syed Ghulam Nabi, Government Official - shot dead.
Moulvi Farooq, a religious leader - shot dead.
The list is a long one, this is just of some who come to mind readily ... and there are many more who still continue to die …not any of these died by police firing.
…and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners left behind, as they ran from the funeral, victims of the firing. From windows we hear grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames, it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods, the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers. Kashmir is burning.
Agha Shahid Ali
Who killed Mir Mustafa?
Who killed Dr. Gooru?
Who killed Moulvi Farouk?
Who killed Qazi Nisar?
Who killed Abdul Ghani Lone?
Kashmir is burning still, who lit the fire?
Who burnt the Chrar-e-Sharif?
Whose midnight soldiers?
In the Month of February in 1990, Kashmiris used to go in trucks and buses in processions to Chrar-e-Sharif shrine, to pray for ‘azadi’. They used to tie threads as promise in return for fulfillment of their dreams. In 1995, they stood silent as ‘Foreign Militants’ - representing a brand of Islam alien to the very ethos of Kashmir - lay siege to our prime shrine and let it be burnt down by a Must Gul, who escaped to a hero’s welcome in Pakistan.
…"All threads must be untied
before springtime. Ask all – Muslim and Brahmin - if their wish came true?
He appears beside me, cloaked in black: "Alas! Death has bent my back.
It is too late for threads at Chrar-e-Sharif." …
Agha Shahid Ali
The threads are there no more now. Along with the Shrine, the hopes for that ‘azadi’ also lie in ruins. Today they go to the burnt down shrine at Chrar and to their Sufi ‘Pirs’ not to pray for ‘azadi’ but for the return of sanity to Kashmir.
"Rehman Sahib is one faith healer in whom thousands of locals, especially women, believe. He lives in a mud house at Aalistang in the outskirts of Srinagar, where his sitting room is always full of mureeds (devotees). One after another, they come close and whisper their problems in his ear. "Please pray and stop my son. He wants to be a militant," a mother from nearby Waheedpora village in Ganderbal requested the peer sahib (saint) one recent morning. Another woman sought help for an end to nocturnal raids by the security forces on her house. "I have two grown-up unmarried daughters. It is dangerous. Please help," she begged, and started crying."
But why does the fire that lit Chrar-e-Sharif consume us still?
Because they betrayed Nund Rishi by their silence and they allowed their temples to be desecrated and they lied about their betrayal of our Gods to the entire world.
"Kashmir is burning:
By that dazzling light
we see men removing statues from temples.
We beg them, "Who will protect us if you leave?"
They don’t answer; they just disappear
on the road to the plains, clutching the gods."
Agha Shahid Ali
An obvious reference to the Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir, the above lines of a poem, by its implication and compounded and by its extraordinary formal brilliance suggests that the Kashmiri Pandits left despite being stopped by their neighbours and that they came away carrying their temple gods along with them.
In reality, nothing could be farther from the actual truth. In his poetic lament about the pain of Kashmir - often searing imagery…his voice unerringly eloquent in response to Kashmir’s agony", as Edward Said writes in his praise on the back cover - Agha Shahid Ali can barely remember the agony faced by his Pandit friends in those euphoric days of near freedom, when it appeared as if the whole Muslim population of Srinagar had come out on the streets shouting "allah-o-akbar’, ‘hum kya chahite - azadi’ and ‘death to Indian dogs’.
He can barely remember, ‘the call to all Muslims of Kashmir to revolt’ which was announced - from pre-recorded audiocassettes - through the loudspeakers of mosques all over Srinagar city. He can barely bring himself to imagine the panic of a miniscule community, faced with the impotence of an administration in Kashmir that had suddenly vanished…He can barely remember, that this miniscule community was looking in the face of a yet another forced migration, the fourth in the span of a few hundred years…
Your memory gets in the way of my memory…Shahid
Twelve years later, when I came to Kashmir, I chanced upon a temple at Rainawari.
I opened the door, but Shahid, there was no god inside, it’s true.
It was all filth and ashes there, walls smeared with human refuse of many years:
How could you not have seen them, stopped them - the kalashnikov people -
from stealing my gods and burning your temples?
I asked a Kashmiri Pandit friend, who is now settled in a far way land, to explain to me why Kashmiri Pandits chose to come away rather than stay back and fight. He wrote back to me, a long letter:
"You have seen the sober faces of the population there (12 years after) but what I have experienced cannot be put into words. It was a feeling of uncertainty and isolation with doubts about the sincerity of your closest associates. It was almost being enslaved with the tyrannical smile of the victor haunting you.
"It was the time to decide whether you would be able to accept the NIZAM-E-MUSTAFA (rule of the faithful), either willingly or after seeing your family dishonoured and massacred. Do remember that it was a well thought of plan to drive all kafirs away.
"The area commander of any area never was native of the same area and thus would not relate to you. His only aim was subjugation in the name of Allah. Killing in his name was justified as was revealed by Javed Mir in your documentary. Previously (Before 1990), our differences could be settled by a word for word or at the most a fistfight. Now it was the kalishnikov.
"Fathers would not dare to discuss the futility or viability of the actions. Brothers would not trust Brothers lest they would be killed. THE FEAR WAS TOTAL. The sane had no say and the insane were driven into frenzy by their masters. Chaos was total and administration had collapsed completely.
"It is too simplistic when I put it into words but just close your eyes and imagine the plight. There can be no proper description of the events in words. Finally it was our worldly wisdom, which made all of us to flee the place. When I migrated, I had to fend for family and myself. The options were either to organize a resistance OR to start afresh. I chose the latter." …
If only somehow you could have been mine,
what wouldn’t have happened in this world?
I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive. You won’t forgive me….
Agha Shahid Ali
But there is a lot to forgive and ask forgiveness for. The first thing that has to be answered about Kashmir is about Kashmiri Pandits forced abandonment of their motherland.
Who orchestrated their deaths, their feeling of persecution, and their fear?
Who sent them the anonymous letters asking them to leave forthwith?
Who sponsored those ads, those notices in leading local Dailies of Kashmir, threatening the Pandits of dire consequences, if they did not leave?
It surely was not because Jagmohan, the then administrative head of J&K, facilitated the exodus, as Indian Human Rights people would like us to believe. To Kashmiri pandits, Jagmohan in his person represents the abject failure of the ‘state’ in not protecting, nor ensuring the safety of its ‘non-violent’ citizens, who remained true in their loyalty to India.
It's true, and I am ashamed to admit, as most Pandits now are, that when they came as refugees to Jammu and Delhi, they went straight into the arms of "the Hindu Parties". But tell me, what are a ‘traumatised’ people supposed to do, but hope for refuge in the camp of a party ‘supposedly their own’, when threatened by ‘Islamic forces’ and when betrayed by the secular forces of India? Which secular institution of India has spoken up for the trauma of Kashmiri Pandits yet? The irony here is that even the human rights activists who have so tirelessly tabulated all the atrocities inflicted upon a hapless minority in Gujarat still continue to silently acquiesce in the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits quoting Governor Jagmohan as an alibi.
And after forgiveness, There is a dispute to settle.
The fact of the matter is, between Us and Them, Between India and Kashmir, between India and Pakistan there are many disputes to settle. Central to the resolution of all these disputes, is the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The genesis of these disputes has forever been prone to myriad interpretations and conflicting points of view - of the experts as well as the layperson - which no amount of logic, good sense and wars seem to unravel or resolve.
In the words of a Pakistani writer:
"When India's Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel sent feelers about a possible give-and-take on Hyderabad and Kashmir, Ghulam Mohammed is said to have spurned this opportunity and carried on his lucrative dealings with Hyderabad Nizam. Pakistan also welcomed the accession of Junagadh and Manavadar, whereas an overwhelming majority in both states (as well as Hyderabad) was Hindu.
"In effect, Pakistan held three divergent positions on the question of accession—in favour of the Hyderabad Nizam's right to independence, Junagadh's right to accede to Pakistan against the wish of the populace, and, in Kashmir, for the right to self determination. Double standard is a common enough practice in politics, but it invariably harms the actor who lacks the power to avert consequences.
"The Nawab of Junagadh tried to deliver his Hindu-majority state to Pakistan, which set the precedence for the Maharaja of Muslim-dominated Kashmir choosing India. Pakistan did not have the power to defend either the Nawab or the Nizam, nor the will to punish the Maharaja. So India, practising double standards in its turn, took it all.
That may well be the truth about J&K’s accession to India, to many Kashmiris, Pakistanis and even to some Indians, but there are also other truths. The truth about Sheikh Abdullah’s genuine liking for Indian secularism.
The truth about his preferring to stay with India rather than with Pakistan. The truth about his not insisting on ‘azadi’ before or after 1953. The truth about Sheikh Abdullah being a genuine and great leader of Kashmiris. The truth about Faroukh Abdullah being an inept inheritor of Sheikh Abdullah’s legacy.
The problem with truths is that it has not brought us, at any point of time, any closer to a resolution than it ever can, even 50 or 100 years from now.
There is one another story by Amin Kamil, which expresses the nature of this dispute much plainly than any amount of explanation or writings have so far.
The story What Matters Is The Head describes a dispute between two thanedaars of adjacent police stations over a murdered corpse found lying at the boundary of their respective area jurisdiction. Before the culprit can be found or the murdered person identified, it is necessary to determine in which thanedaar's jurisdiction the murdered person was found.
The case is confounded by the fact that it is difficult to determine in which side of the boundary the head of the deceased lay, because the thanedaars have conflicting proofs. The respective thanedaars, in order to prove their claim about the jurisdictional right over the corpse, wrangle in colourful language over the finer details, the technicalities and the forensic procedure, thus in fact relegating the dead corpse and its case to oblivion.
Finally, the bewildered bystander watching the entire drama is exasperated by this jurisdictional drama to ask for a final resolution. He is told,
"What matters really is for us to find towards which side the head of the corpse lay. So long as this is not resolved, the matter will linger on as it is."
"But what about the corpse, meanwhile?"
"Let it rot." (Sadne do ji)
"India's policies have been no less riddled with blunders than Pakistan's. Its moral isolation on Kashmir is nearly total, and unlikely to be overcome by military means or political manipulation. New Delhi commands not a shred of legitimacy among Kashmiri Muslims. Ironically, even as India's standing in Kashmir appears increasingly untenable, Kashmiris today appear farther from the goal of liberation than they were in the years 1989 to 1992."
It is true; Kashmir’s problems are as a result of our country’s folly and blunders. Our follies and blunders in Kashmir are compounded by the fact of Partition and by the existence of a dispute, as our permanent neighbour enemy continues to insist. Kashmir has been used to bleed purportedly for a cause in which not many Kashmiris believe.
The resolution of the historical dispute between India and Pakistan – through logic, diplomacy, wars, and terrorism or by time - has defied a sane answer for the last 55 years. Nor does it seem any likely that India and
Pakistan can co-exist in peace by any stratagem invented or discovered so far.
Meanwhile, the deaths and the killings of the innocents in Kashmir continues. We are as close to a war as at any time before. Kashmir is caught in the crossfire of History. Kashmir was happy and prosperous once, when it had chosen not to be in the crossfire.
It’s more than a year since my last visit to Kashmir. The tumultuous events of the past year – September 11, December 13 Parliament Attack, The Fall of the Taliban in Afgahnistan, President of Pakistan’s famous January 12 speech denouncing Terrorism and Islamic Fundamentalism, and the most recent catastrophe of ‘state sponsored pogrom’ in Gujarat and the terrorist attack on children and women at a Army camp in Jammu, have completely altered my fundamental understanding of the nature of man and along with it, the perception about man’s sense of his morals…which allow him to justify one violent cause at one place as ‘just’ and to condemn another equally violent cause as ‘unacceptable’ to civilization.
I have never felt so powerless before the ‘insane’ insistence by men - of presumably immeasurable human values and inestimable intellectual capabilities - of their personal dogmas and points of view and the catastrophic consequences thereof. I therefore repudiate every ideology that leads to violence.
And I want to ask my people in Kashmir: Isn’t it time that Kashmiri people resolved, once for and all, to give up the option of violence as a means to finding the solution to a historically vexed problem?
The above is an account of my first journey to Kashmir in 12 years since I was there last. I still have a home there and I am looking forward to my permanent return as soon as I can determine for myself that my life and freedom will not be at any more risk there as it is here. --- Ajay Raina (2002)