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Monday, 9 September 2013

Why Christopher Sneddon’s Research Is Not Damaging to India’s Cause viz-a-viz Kashmir

An Australian historian and strategic analyst, Christopher Snedden, wrote a book, titled Kashmir: The Unwritten History, which was published earlier this year. The book generated much excitement in circles that have a keen interest in the Kashmir issue, for Snedden claimed that he had, in his book, challenged the narrative of the Kashmir issue as it has been known till date, and that rather than the Pashtun tribal raid from Pakistan, an armed rebellion by pro-Pakistan Muslims of the Poonch district of Jammu marked the beginning of the conflict, and that it is therefore surprising that Pakistan should accept the blame for starting the issue by accepting that its own citizens raided Kashmir. He has also claimed that Nehru concealed the facts about the Poonch rebellion for it would have strengthened Pakistan’s case. This was, time and again, portrayed as the selling point of his book, and heated debates on this erupted in Facebook groups discussing Kashmir (without people having read the book), with Kashmiri separatists using Snedden’s argument to establish their case of India treating Jammu and Kashmir as one of its own provinces not being legitimate, though most of them do not desire their province joining Pakistan either and would prefer an independent country, which would also include not only Kashmir but even Jammu and Ladakh, much against the wishes of most people in these regions, and the creation of such an independent country would also be much against the wishes of  some Sunnis and most non-Sunnis even in, or displaced by the militancy from, Kashmir.

A Kashmiri newspaper Greater Kashmir had a column
(http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2013/Mar/4/deconstructing-the-discourse-13.asp) by one excited Z.G. Muhammad, claiming the following-

“Manufactured narratives do not stand test of the time. Like a soap bubble these burst once put to the litmus test of history.  Christopher Snedden, an Australian politico-strategic analyst, author and academic in South Asian studies in his recently released book, ‘Kashmir: the Unwritten History’ has dismantled much orchestrated ‘dominant discourse’ about the Kashmir ‘dispute’.”

Likewise, left-liberals in India, like their counterparts in other parts of the world who rush to defend or provide an academic apologia for anything seen as Islamist (the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’ are not interchangeable, just like ‘Jewish’ and ‘Zionist’ or ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindutvavadi’ are not), rushed to defend this book, and we had a column in the left-liberal magazine Frontline (http://www.frontline.in/books/kashmir-debate/article4623182.ece) to this effect. Indian strategic analysts too commented on it, like Sushant Sareen (his piece can be seen here - http://www.vifindia.org/print/1843, and he seems to be reading too much into certain things, and a counter to the subtle dig Sareen has taken at William Dalrymple, without naming the latter, has been presented by me in this piece of mine - http://theindianeconomist.com/in-defence-of-william-dalrymples-brookings-essay-on-indo-pak-afghan-relations-how-immature-can-some-indians-even-in-journalistic-and-scholastic-circles-get/; that said, I have the highest regard for Sareen, him being a scholar of a high stature, and have found his writings on Balochistan to be very insightful) and BG Verghese (his piece, which is more balanced, can be seen here-http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20130428/spectrum/book1.htm).

In this piece, my focus is not to review Snedden’s book for its literary quality, minor factual errors (like mentioning Pakistan’s Independence Day as 15th August at one place or mentioning that the Indian Independence Act dealt with standstill agreements) or significant omissions made in tracing the history of the Kashmir issue [as Sareen rightly points out – “he glosses over the ugly reality of the Kashmir problem and doesn’t acknowledge that the entire issue started as an unvarnished communal problem (Muslim majoritarianism) which in the 1990s took on hues of communalism varnished by ethnic nationalism and later became part of the international jihadist narrative”], or look for the reasons for the same in terms of the flaws in his research (being based almost entirely on Pakistani sources). My focus here is to examine his research and analysis in the light of how it shapes the discourse on the Kashmir issue.

At the very outset, his selling point of the Poonch rebellion may be examined. As a historian, Snedden has done a remarkable job of bringing to fore a much forgotten chapter of South Asian history, especially considering that the rebels had tried to establish a pro-Pakistan parallel government (which Pakistan did not recognize!). But, how does it influence how we should view the Kashmir issue? It does go to show that the Dogra king was unpopular among his subjects, but that is something already acknowledged by Indians and Pakistanis alike. From the Indian point of view, Jawaharlal Nehru’s trips to Kashmir in which he peacefully took on the monarchy and even faced arrest in the princely state are well-known. But when he assumed the role of India’s prime minister, Nehru did not engage in such adventures and did not interfere, at least blatantly, in the internal affairs of Jammu and Kashmir, which would amount to disrespecting sovereignty.

It may have very well been legitimate for the pro-Pakistan Muslims of Poonch to rise in armed revolt against their king, just as it may have been legitimate for the pro-India Shaikh Abdullah to lead peaceful movements against the monarchy in the valley (and Shaikh Abdullah’s mass struggle has a history predating the Poonch rebellion in 1947), but how do these become the starting point of what we conventionally understand as the “Kashmir issue” involving India, Pakistan and the people of the (now erstwhile) princely state? And if the Poonch rebellion is indeed taken as the starting point, it can only be on two grounds-the first being that these rebels wanted accession to Pakistan [in Snedden’s words-“The only way the Maharaja could possibly appease Poonch Muslims would be to accede to Pakistan; they would not have settled for anything less.” (page 32)] and the second being that there were elements in Pakistan that supported the rebellion. To quote from Snedden’s interview (http://www.tehelka.com/nehru-didnt-want-to-publicise-the-poonch-rebellion-because-it-would-have-strengthened-pakistans-case/) given to Tehelka correspondent Baba Umar (who is a Kashmiri separatist and happens to be an acquaintance of mine)-“there was some degree of support from the Pakistan government”.

Let us examine both points one by one. As regards Poonch Muslims wanting accession to Pakistan, this hardly goes very far in suggesting that the majority of the populace in the whole of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir favoured accession to Pakistan. On the contrary, Snedden himself points out that the populace of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Muslim majority, was divided in its leanings towards India, Pakistan and independence. Produced below are some passages from his book highlighting this fact (some of them are lengthy but would make an interesting read)-

"J&K was politically disunited by forces that had strong- and differing- post-British desires for the princely state's status." (page 27)

“Despite J&K’s inherent disunity, Hari Singh’s accession would have been much simpler had Muslims in J&K been united in their desire for the state’s future status.  Indeed, Muslim disunity is one of the most significant explanations of why the so-called Kashmir dispute began – and continues.” (page 35)

“…the core of the problem in J&K was its people.  They were ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse, diffuse and different; they lacked religious and political unity; they were divided in their aspirations for J&K’s future international status.” (pages 35, 36)

“An important trait evident among Kashmiris partially explains why Kashmiri Muslims were ambivalent about Pakistan in 1947.  Called ‘Kashmiriness’ or ‘Kashmiriyat’, a newer term with Perso-Arabic roots, this trait was a fundamental and apparently long-held part of Kashmiri identity and culture.  Kashmiriness emphasises ‘the acceptance and tolerance of all religions among Kashmiris’.  It is ‘manifested in the solidarity of different faiths and ethnic groups in the state’.  The concept was apparently epitomized by the patron saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Noor-ud-Din, a Muslim born in 1375 of a Hindu convert to Islam.  Popularly known as Nund Rishi, he repeatedly poses a question in a poem; ‘How can members of the same family jeer at one another?’ The answer is the essence of Kashmiriness; Kashmiris, whoever they are and whatever their religious backgrounds and practices, are all members of one indivisible Kashmir Valley ‘family’.  It is a recipe – or even a requirement – for tolerance.

One significant consequence of Kashmiriness was that, compared with Hindus and Muslims in Jammu or northern India, Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) had relatively few social divisions or antagonisms.  While they nevertheless had disputes and rivalries, the two groups generally were more liberal and more tolerant and, in many cases, had amicable, even close relations.  This harmony arose because both shared the same ethnicity, language and geographical region and the same recent history under repressive rulers comprising Muslim Afghans (Durranis), Punjabi Sikhs (Ranjit Singh’s empire) and Jammu Hindus (Dogras), although the latter was less repressive for Pandits.  It was important that Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits also enjoyed a similar culture, including revering each other’s religious figures and festivals, eating halal mutton instead of beef or pork (even though Pandits were of the Brahmin or priestly caste that elsewhere usually practised vegetarianism), and not being particular about ‘defilement or pollution by touch’.   As a leading Pandit put it, ‘Racially, culturally and linguistically the Hindus and Muslims living in Kashmir [were] practically one’.  That said, Kashmiri Pandits also enjoyed greater influence and economic wellbeing than Kashmiri Muslims.  This was due to the Pandits’ position as Hindu subjects of a Hindu ruler, from which flowed benefits such as being landowners and their numerically large involvement as state employees.  Nevertheless, relations between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits generally were far more amicable than the relations between Hindu and Muslims in Jammu Province.

One significant result of the concept of Kashmiriness was that Kashmiris may have been naturally attracted to secular thinking.  This was partly because they were apparently nor afflicted by the ‘majority-minority complex’ that was evident among Muslims in other parts of the subcontinent, and partly because they were ‘a deeply religious people who abhor[red] politically exploitation of their faith.  Hence, the pro-Pakistan stance of the major pro-Pakistan party in J&K, the Muslim Conference, and its Pakistan ally the Muslim League was not automatically popular with Kashmiri Muslims.  To join Pakistan simply because it would be a Muslim homeland was an insufficient reason.” (pages 18-20)

“A further factor that caused Kashmiris to be ambivalent about Pakistan was the significant role played in 1947 by Sheikh Abdullah and the political party that he dominated, the National Conference.  Abdullah’s role in J&K is very important.  For over fifty years (1931-82), he was Muslim Kashmiris’ most popular politician, whether in power or denied it.  (Abdullah was jailed for long periods by the Maharaja, by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, his successor as Prime Minister in J&K, and by the Indian Government).  According to his autobiography, Abdullah’s political career began as early as 1926, when he joined the ‘relentless struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed’ and, desiring the become the people’s savior, began to oppose the Maharaja’s regime and its practices on an individual basis.  He disliked a number of the Maharaja’s practices, including discrimination on religious grounds, exploitation of the people through taxation, corruption, the inequitable land system, and the people’s lack of political freedom.  Abdullah sprang to prominence in 1931 during the major anti-Maharaja agitation in Srinagar, and event of ‘seminal importance’ that temporarily – but severely – challenged Hari Singh’s rule.  Indeed, it was due to Abdullah’s bold part in this uprising that he became known as the Lion of Kashmir.  A further consequence of this major uprising was that, as a result of the Glancy Commission formed I order to investigate the uprising’s causes, the Maharaja allowed the formation of the first political party in J&K.  In October 1932, the All J&K Muslim Conference was formed in order to safeguard Muslim interest in J&K.  Abdullah, a Muslim, later remained this party the All J&K National Conference.  Espousing secularism, it would later play a significant role in delivering a large part of J&K to India and in ending the Maharaja’s rule.

Because Sheikh Abdullah had a strong aversion to autocracy, he regarded the concept of Pakistan negatively.  Abdullah disliked the Maharaja absolutism.  The United States’ Consul in Lahore agreed: saying, ‘according to all disinterested informants [the Maharaja] has never displayed the slightest interest in the welfare of the people over whom he has maintained an autocratic rule.  For Sheikh Abdullah, both Jinnah and the Islamic Pakistan that the autocratic Muslim League leader envisaged establishing were also unappealing.  The influential Kashmiri leader considered that Pakistan was the result of an emotional Muslim reaction of Hindu communalism and ‘an escapist device’.  Abdullah and his colleagues, many of whom were Muslims, also received (correctly) that Pakistan would be dominated by feudal elements, as well as being a society in which Kashmiris and their reform agenda would have little power: ‘Chains of slavery will keep us in their continuous strangehold.  Conversely, Abdullah considered that secular India would be different.  I would have people and parties, including India’s major party, the Indian National Congress, whose views largely coincided with Abdullah and his part’s.  India also representated an option that would accept the National Conference’s enlightened and progressive ideas’.  It embraced more democracy that either Pakistan or the Jinnah-dominated Muslim League, ‘whose leader had a very high opinion of himself’.” (page 21)

Speaking of the pro-Pakistan Muslim Conference formed in 1941, Snedden says-

“…the Muslim Conference faced a major challenge in the numerically and politically important Kashmir Valley; it lacked a charismatic Kashmiri-speaking politician who could rival Sheikh Abdullah and his coterie of Kashmiri colleagues.  The Muslim Conference’s stance also was unpopular elsewhere, especially among the non-Muslim majority in eastern Jammu, as its killings of Muslims were clearly showing.” (page 24)

“Although Jinnah (falsely) believed that J&K would fall into Pakistan’s ‘lap like a ripe fruit’ once the Maharaja realized his and the people’s interests and acceded to Pakistan, and although he was prepared to allow the Maharaja’s ‘autocratic government’ to continue, support for independence enabled pro-Pakistan forces to woo the decision maker rather than the people.  This approach was pragmatic.  However, it also made the Muslim Conference appear keen to gain the Maharaja’s support at any cost.  And although this tactic adhered to Jinnah’s statement in July 1947 that princely rulers were free to join Pakistan, India or remain independent, many Muslin Conference members wanted their party’s support for independence reversed.  Also, by allowing the ruler to decide the issue, the Muslim Conference enabled its National Conference rival to advance the populist – and eminently mire ‘sellable’ – view that the people should be given self-government so that, ‘armed with authority and responsibility, [they] could decide for themselves where their interests lay’.  Apart from advancing its own popularity, the National Conference’s stance also served to reveal the Muslim Conference as simply an appendage or surrogate of the Muslim League – as it was.

The Muslim Conference’s pragmatic approach towards the Maharaja built on a previous stance Jinnah instigated during the National Conference’s ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign that started on 20 May 1946 with the aim of ridding J&K of Dogra rule.  This campaign was significant between the positions of Jinnah and Nehru on J&K.  Jinnah opposed Quit Kashmir as a movement ‘engineered by some malcontents’.  This stance, coupled with his lace of criticism of J&K’s unpopular ruler, particularly when compared with criticisms made by Nehru and the Indian National Congress, made Jinnah appear pro-Maharaja.  This lost the Muslim League leader support among Kashmiri Muslims, especially among the ‘malcontents’, most of whom were National Conference members.  Indeed, one such National Conference member, Mir Qasim (who later became the Chief Minister of Indian J&K), believed that Jinnah’s unpopular and insensitive attitude ‘killed the chances of Kashmir going to Pakistan’.  The Muslim Conference lost credibility because it did not initially oppose the Maharaja when Quit Kashmir commenced in May 1946 – a policy Jinnah ordered because he believed that the party would do better working through constitutional channels.” (page 26)

“…the Muslim Conference appeared to be steadily lose support, certainly in the Kashmir Valley, owing to poor leadership and increased factionalism; conversely, support for the National Conference increased because it was united and had strong leadership.” (page 27)

I may add to this that Jinnah, in his visit to Kashmir in 1941, received much hostility from sections of Kashmiri Muslims and conceded that he did not get unanimous support. To add to that, when he sent an envoy to Kashmir in 1943 to assess whether Kashmiris would be willing to join Pakistan, his envoy gave him a response, which, to use the language of acclaimed historian Alex von Tunzelmann, was "disheartening" (The Indian Summer, p. 284).

It may be added that Shaikh Abdullah continued to be popular with Kashmiri Muslims after his having taken a stand in favour of India and after the Dogra monarchy was displaced, Abdullah ensured that land reforms were carried out by abolishing landlordism anmd giving peasants ownership over land, which won him tremendous affection from the people of the valley. Pakistan had retained the feudal system of landlordism, as it still has, and many Kashmiri Muslims realized that this was possible owing to Kashmir being a part of India rather than Pakistan. To quote the noted scholar Michael Brecher from his book The Struggle for Kashmir-

"The vast majority of Kashmiris have benefited from these reforms and many of those interviewed by the author expressed the feat that in Pakistan, where no comparable land reforms have taken place, the land recently given to them might be returned to the landlords or, in any event, that further implementation of the 'New Kashmir' programme will be impossible." (cited in the 2002 paperback edition of MJ Akbar's book Kashmir - Beyond the Vale on page 139)

Abdullah had clearly stated in the context of Pakistan-

"The most powerful argument which can be advanced in her favour is that Pakistan is a Muslim State, and, a big majority of our people being Muslims the State must accede to Pakistan.  This claim of being a Muslim State is of course only a camouflage.  It is a screen to dupe the common man, so that he may not see clearly that Pakistan is a feudal state in which a clique is trying by these methods to maintain itself in power..." (cited in the 2002 paperback edition of MJ Akbar's book Kashmir - Beyond the Vale on page 139)

Even today, there are Kashmiri Muslims, including those who want their region to be an independent country, who acknowledge that back then, Abdullah had made the right decision by opting for India. As one such person has articulated-

"The first question that comes to mind is would the Pakistani establishment quash the Feudal or Zamindari systems in Kashmir handing the land over to the tillers?, Do keep in mind that even today Pakistan is a feudal society with most of the land in the hands of the Punjabi Chaudhrys. I mean all that the Kashmiri Hindus and Dogra land owners had to do was convert to Islam and just like the Punjabi Chaudhrys of Pakistan continue with the feudal system."

He further says-

"Now picture yourself as a common Kashmiri filling the chillum of a Punjabi Pakistani Chaudhry or that of a Kashmiri Hindu/Dogra Feudal lord with tobacco and ask yourself this question.............how smart was Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah?"

And by the way, Islam as a religion emphasizes socioeconomic egalitarianism!

So, even if the Muslims of Poonch were united in the demand for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, the people (even Muslims) of the entire princely state were not, and indeed, it has been no one’s case that there wasn’t a pro-Pakistan section among the people of the erstwhile princely state, but Snedden himself concedes that it cannot be said with certainty as to what the aspirations of the majority of the populace were. Hence, Pakistan’s case for claiming Jammu and Kashmir solely on the basis of its Muslim majority falls flat [even Snedden says in his book – “despite the fact that J&K had a Muslim-majority population, the political inclinations of the people of J&K were far more complex and uncertain” (page 10) and “neither India nor Pakistan was guaranteed majority popular support” (page 12), and indeed, nor was it clear that those desiring an independent country constituted the majority], as opposed to India’s case for a majority of people in the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh desiring to join India, which was proved by subsequent plebiscites. The hurdle in the plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir came not from India, which had already promised the Kashmiris a plebiscite, but Pakistan, which, in violation of the 1948 UN resolution (https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/uncom1.htm), refused to withdraw its troops from the part of the erstwhile princely state it had occupied in the 1947-48 war following the Pashtun tribal raid, which, as per the resolution, was a precursor to the plebiscite. Nehru had, in fact, gone on record even later to say that he was willing to follow the UN resolution (i.e. conduct the plebiscite) in the whole of the erstwhile princely state if Pakistan complied with the precondition of withdrawing its troops, as can be seen from this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7wn0ZRhyq0&feature=share (watch 1:58 onwards).

Also, when Shaikh Abdullah had later started vacillating and Nehru had him imprisoned, Nehru did, on the other hand, again offer Pakistan a plebiscite! To be quote the eminent writer MJ Akbar on this point, from his highly acclaimed book Kashmir – Behind the Vale (2002 paperback edition)-

“Within a fortnight of arresting Abdullah for asking too much of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru completely reversed India’s position and offered Pakistan a plebiscite!

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, now Mohammad Ali, came to Delhi on an official visit.  In the talks Nehru suggested that after the two Prime Ministers had finalized the preliminary issues, a plebiscite administrator could be named by April 1954.  He even told Mohammad Ali that voting could be done in the whole state rather than separate Hindu & Muslim regions, and if this meant the loss of the whole Valley, he was prepared for it!  The offer was confirmed in a letter to Mohammad Ali on 3 September.” (page 154)

“The only condition Nehru placed was that the American UN nominee Admiral Nimitz be replaced ad Plebiscite Administrator by someone form a smaller country.  Deeply suspicious of the US, he did not want this superpower’s hand in the plebiscite.” (page 154)

“If there were any doubts about Nehru’s sincerity in those years about the plebiscite commitment, then surely they should have ended with this proposal.” (page 154)

Akbar further mentions how Pakistan’s insistence on the US admiral led Nehru to withdraw the offer.

In fact, Pakistan's stand was always to go purely by the will of the ruler, by virtue of which it had sought to engage Hindu-majority princely states like Hyderabad, Junagadh, and even Jodhpur and Jaisalmer to join it. It had never basically adopted the principle of a plebiscite, to begin with.

Speaking of the second point of how the Pakistani state machinery supported or at least allowed non-state actors to support an armed rebellion in Poonch, does acknowledging this help Pakistan’s case? Certainly not, as it would amount to blatant disregard for international law! It is already embarassing for the Pakistani state to admit that its non-state actors (Pashtuns) had infiltrated into another territory! And on this point, we may delve a little more into the legal status of the erstwhile princely state following India’s independence. The princely states were, after the British government taking control over India from the British East India Company, following the Revolt of 1857, no longer the subsidiary but sovereign powers they were prior to that but subordinated officially to the British Crown, as Queen Victoria proclaiming herself to be the Empress of India, demonstrated as also the Chamber of Princes in New Delhi. However, once the British left India, the princely states re-emerged as sovereign entities, with the lapse of British paramountcy as becomes clear from Section 2 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/10-11/30/enacted), meeting all the four criteria established under Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States (http://www.taiwandocuments.org/montevideo01.htm), which are stated hereunder verbatim-

(a) a permanent population;

(b) a defined territory;

(c) government;


 (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

As regards the first three clauses, little explanation is required. But if there’s any ambiguity about the last one, mention may be made of the standstill agreements many of the princely states entered into with India and Pakistan, which they were authorized to do by the British.  In this connection, those who understand Hindi can watch this video-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_3i0Hf8KMI (from 11:12 to 13:06).

And Jammu and Kashmir had entered into a standstill agreement with Pakistan (something that Snedden mentions in his book on page 9), which was violated by the latter during the 1947 aggression. The very fact that the princely states could voluntarily accede to any country again reflects their sovereign character. However, the British had made it clear unofficially that the princely states must opt for India or Pakistan. To quote Snedden on this point-

“Powerbrokers in 1947 also were influenced by the method used to decolonize Princely India (as against British-controlled India), whereby each ruler was deemed to have the power – and, indeed, was expected – to accede to either India or Pakistan.  Princely states therefore were considered to be indivisible and without any independent future.  Neither the departing British nor the future leaders of India and Pakistan sought partition of any princely state along religious lines, nor would they countenance independence for any of them.  Instead, the British encouraged each princely ruler to consider geographical factors and the will of his subjects in deciding his accession.  Even though the accession would clearly impact on all of the prince’s subjects, nevertheless there were no legal requirements or popular pressures for the ruler to consider either factor.  He alone would decide the accession.  And, once it was decided, the expectation was that all of his princely state would, along with the ruler, join the new dominion of his choice.” (page 7)

While the British did convey to the princes that they must opt for India or Pakistan [this is testified by great Indian nationalist leader Maulana Azad’s account in his autobiography India Wins Freedom that as early as in 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps, a British politician representing his government, on a visit to India, “told the Maharaja of Kashmir that the future of the States was with India”, that “(n)o prince should for a moment think that the British Crown would come to his help if he decided to opt out”  and that “(t)he princes must therefore look up to the Indian Government and not the British Crown for their future” (page 61 of the 2009 reprint) – the  demand for Pakistan wasn’t being seriously considered then; if Lord Mountbatten's account as narrated to Larry Collins and Domique Lapierre in their book Freedom at Midnight is true, then Mountbatten had also tried hard to convice Raja Hari Singh to not entertain fancies of independence], there was no legal obligation upon them to do so. Thus, legally, it was for the ruler to decide and in this case, he opted for India, and Alistair Lamb’s contention that the instrument of accession did not exist on paper has now been disproved with the document being brought out in the public domain. If the counterargument is made to run that popular support ought to have been the basis, as was the case in Hyderabad and Junagadh, then the rebuttal to that has already been stated above (i.e. that Pakistan did not withdraw its troops, and having to do so was a precursor to the plebiscite), and it may be added that Pakistan did not conduct any plebiscite while getting the ruler of Balochistan to coercively sign the instrument of accession in its favour.

Thus, with all the emphasis given by Snedden to the Poonch rebellion, his contention that it would suit Pakistan to highlight the same or that it, in any way, tilts the narrative in its favour, is a flawed conclusion, even in the light of much of what he has said in that very book! So sorry, Mr. ZG Muhammad! In fact, on the other hand, the Pakistani narrative so far had only stressed the atrocities of the king's army in Poonch (to justify the Pashtun tribal raid), trying to overlook that they were armed rebels backed by the Pakistani state, and this fact exposed by Snedden only makes Pakistan guilty of violating sovereignty, which is the cornerstone of international law!

Other than the Poonch rebellion, Snedden has also highlighted that in Jammu, there were communal riots in 1947-1948 as a result of the partition in which both Hindus and Muslims lost their lives, but again, that only goes to show that there was a section of pro-Pakistan Muslims in the erstwhile princely state, and as we have discussed above, that is something no one denies and doesn’t take us very far.

Furthermore, Snedden has done extensive research in his book on the plight of the people in the so-called Azad Kashmir (which Indians call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, abbreviated as POK), and how a large section of the populace there also desires to secede from Pakistan. This is a topic on which not much research has been done in the past, and Snedden’s work in this connection is laudable. In this connection, I am indeed glad that a very reputed think-tank based in New Delhi, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (a popular acronym for which is IDSA and I am a member of the same), invited Snedden for a lecture on this subject (http://www.idsa.in/event/TalkbyChristopherSnneden).

A major take-away from Snedden in the discourse on Kashmir is as follows (from an interview he gave to Elizabeth Roche, which can be accessed at http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/ruPdlPM0crufMTIMhr2zuN/The-people-of-Kashmir-instigated-the-dispute.html)-

“In the valley, I first visited there in 1996 and they were distinctly disenchanted with India, but they have since then come back partly because of the power of the Indian economy and partly because Pakistan only supported pro-Pakistan militant groups, and Kashmiris who aren’t stupid said, ‘They only want our land and are not interested in our welfare’.”

This is something I’ve dealt with at length in my articles (http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/topic/kashmirseries/, http://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2012/10/how-to-integrate-kashmir-with-india-part-1-introduction/ ) - written before the hanging of Afzal Guru and the conflagration it created in the valley, and subsequently, the cross-border infiltrations from Pakistan to disrupt the provincial elections in Jammu and Kashmir (to read more about the same, please see- http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Capture-Kabul-cripple-Kashmir-Pakistan-s-new-two-faced-war/Article1-1104864.aspx).

But the biggest takeaway from Snedden for Kashmiris is the following statement he made in his interview to Baba Umar-

“Both countries (India and Pakistan) will never allow Kashmir to become independent. It’s a waste of time. So we need to find another mechanism that might be acceptable to both countries.”

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The ruse that wasn't - by Shakir Mir

By Shakir Mir

"I am in a gutter engulfed in darkness and stench and they don't even want me to see the sunshine on the street." -   Anonymous

Elsewhere, when Zubin Mehta adjusts his bowtie just minutes before he’s about to swing his baton before a choir, a mere word about the event is significant enough to draw the orchestra enthusiasts in droves. But there’s something unusual about the Kashmir valley where the news announcing the scheduled performance of the 77-year-old celebrated conductor next month has triggered the ripples of discontent.

Mehta’s concert, that will involve conducting with Bravarian State Orchestra for the first time since 2006 in the sprawling Shalimar garden of Srinagar, has raised the hackles among the Valley’s political camp. The notion driving this cynicism is not a new one. The opponents are besotted with the fear that the concert will facilitate the Indian state to publicize normalcy in Kashmir. But such a presumption has a fragile ground to stand on. On the contrary, it might likely pique the attention of international community towards the conflict and the stark realities that lie within. 

Mehta is known to have performed for places awash with the trouble. In 2005, he made a rendition for the Indian Ocean Tsunami victims at Madras Music Academy. His contemporary and close friend, pianist and conductor Daniel Baren­boim has become a beacon of the Israel-Palestine unity. The concert, with all its broader connotations, is therefore certainly going to allude to its troubled present.

The idea to organize the concert in Kashmir arose out of Mehta’s impending desire to perform in the Valley, significantly distant from an “orchestrated plan” to portray the state as normal.

“What a shame that I have given concerts for peace all over the world but never in Kashmir,” Outlook magazine quoted Mehta as having said at his felicitation ceremony organized by the German embassy. It was then, the German ambassador to India, Michael Steiner lobbied with New Delhi to make his wish come true.

The concert is not open to public and is by invitation only. Western classical music is not so popular in the valley, except perhaps among some socialites. So the concert is of no consequence to an average Kashmiri. At the same time, there is a little reason with everybody else to complain if Kashmiris are introduced to this musical genre.

It’s unfortunate that events that are commonplace elsewhere, find opposition from the usual suspects. Be it a student organizing a musical concert in KU for charity, that was cancelled ostensibly because 'music is haraam' or be it a literary festival, scrapped out of the fear that it might portray normalcy. And if at all, the event intervenes with the state’s international dimension, as one of its opponents reportedly said, shouldn't every influx of anything foreign in the valley be suspected of diluting the issue?

The core argument behind the opposition, nonetheless, remains the same gnawing fear about state not being abnormal. There’s even one petition, perhaps trying to be in line with the trend du jour, by “civil society” members requesting the German embassy to call off the event because it was “legitimizing the occupation.” By that token, the "civil society" should start writing petitions against marriage ceremonies in Kashmir since they are generally lavish, festive and sumptuously grand - totally incongruous with the "military occupation" that Kashmir is.

The presumption that Mehta's concert will present the Kashmir as normal stems from an indiscriminate desire to calcify a hardline position on Kashmir up against the "deceitful narrative" of a Hindu state that "occupies" it which is plainly counterproductive because it thwarts the buildup of any common ground that might serve as a precursor to the solution.

A rite during Hajj pilgrimage involves throwing pebbles at a supposed stony embodiment of the Satan. It's despised, cursed and stoned but never would the authorities conceive a plan to dismantle it. Why? What would pilgrims stone, should the structure ever be pulled down? Our "civil society" composed of a catalogue of activists introduced to everybody else as writers, film-makers and sometimes, even historians, have found a similar infatuation with Kashmir issue.

Besides, musical concerts are merely recreational. The anxiety that a certain political maneuver might be lurking behind this event, which is not even remotely a political one, is silly and symptomatic of an intellectual shortcoming plagued with paranoia and a dangerously infantile cynicism. It's desperation that propels this involuntary association of a plainly innocuous event with the conspiracy that entire world would be deceived into believing that Kashmir was normal.

That thousands of lives were ravaged by the conflict is a fact; and a fact moreover, that no amount of musical concerts will upend. It would be prudent if one were to do away with this token opposition.

Monday, 6 May 2013

“The Fight” – A short-story by M. K. Santoshi

English translation by SUALEH KEEN of the Hindi short-story “Laddaee” written by MAHARAJ KRISHAN SANTOSHI, which featured in his short-story collection Hamare Ishwar Ko Tairna Nahin Aata.


This I should have written a long time ago. I myself don’t know why I was unable to write it in all these years. Perhaps there might have been some pressure? Or laziness then; or else aversion.
                This is an event of those days when I used to lead the progressive thought in the village and our organisation named ‘Progressive Youth’ used to exist. All the youth influenced by the communist ideology used to be members of this organisation of ours. This organisation was influential in the entire village, but the opposition used to be no less.
                Those days in our village there used to be only one tea-shop, where we used to sit and debate for hours together. Where the shopkeeper used to get annoyed with our debates, there he was also happy with his sale. This is an event of around 1975. I had already passed BA and was preparing for Private MA. Used to run a small shop also; my father’s. From this shop only, a Sikh from a neighbouring village had taken cigarettes. When I had looked at him in astonishment, he had said, “Guests have come at home; it is for them only.” Then he used to take away cigarettes two-three times a week. I was scared also how to tell about this to my Sikh friends. Then I took courage once and told them. They knew of this cigarette-smoking Sikh already. As it is in Kashmir, the Sikhs have been teased by telling them that Guru Nanak had told them to give up tamaah (in Kashmiri, ‘desire’ is called tamaah) and they gave up tamokh (‘tobacco’ in Kashmiri). On this pun, I have myself seen Sikhs laughing. They had as if grown used to hearing it.
                I remember that our organisation wanted to conduct a seminar of the progressive people of Kashmir in the village. Actually, our intention behind this seminar was that we join the mainstream. One day, when we were thinking about this future plan of ours in that only tea-shop in the village, we heard a bit of a noise from outside that was slowly-slowly only increasing. We all came out of the shop and saw that a little distance from us a crowd of people was standing in a circle. We thought that it must be some baazigar [1] and he must be displaying his feats. But it was nothing of that sort. The people standing in the circle would sometimes move back, sometimes clap, sometimes whistle and sometimes jump on their toes.
                “What is all this?” we asked the shopkeeper.
                “A fight of two bulls,” he gave an annoyed answer and continued with his work.
                We had read that bullfight has been a famous sport in Spain. Perhaps it is also their national sport. But that we get to see such scenes of bullfight in Kashmir, it was surprising. Yes, time to time, to display their horns, bulls have certainly been fighting here. We could not resist. We too joined the crowd.
                I recalled an English expression and I told my companion Bashir:
                “Have a red handkerchief?”
                “For what?” he asked.
                “A bull gets irritated by red colour and becomes aggressive,” I said.
                “Our party’s flag show shall we?” he said in a naughty tone.
                I laughed first and then said, “Leave it, that flag is not for these ordinary bulls!”
                The crowd was growing. Here these bulls had acquired different supporters, who in the passion of their support would scream, jump, and shout. “The bull with the long tail will win!” “No, the bull with the short tail will win!” Around half an hour must have passed. Now the bulls seemed a bit exhausted. But until some result emerges, a truce was not acceptable. The crowd was steadfast in its mood and enthusiasm. The fight had once again become fierce and this time the long-tailed bull made such a manoeuvre that the short-tailed bull seemed to have lost its consciousness. It started becoming weary and slow and wanted to run away from the battle. But here the long-tailed bull had some other plans. It made such an attack that blood started flowing from the nostrils of its enemy. “Bravo!” Its supporters were jumping. In the middle of this, such an incident took place that spoilt the entire fun of the game. From the crowd some hate-filled voice rang, “No, that cannot happen! The bull of the kaafirs [2] cannot defeat our bull!” This voice was lent strength by several other voices. Within moments, whoever found whatever, that he threw on the long-tailed bull. Smelling circumstances against it, that bull immediately started running away. But it found refuge nowhere in the entire village. The frenzied people were running after it.
                Eventually, the bull entered the village cremation ground as if it knew that the manic mob will not follow it here. In the village it was a belief of the Musalmaans that whoever passes over the walls of the cremation ground, on him the wrath of Allah would strike. Thus, they started returning, leaving the bull in the cremation ground itself. The pleasure of beating the bull of the kaafirs was clearly glowing on their faces.
                Now that after so many years when I remembered this incident today, it is but natural to also miss that friend of mine: he who was my firm friend as well as a firm Musalmaan. Occasionally, he used to overawe me with the strength of Islam also. I remember that regarding this incident I had told him in a jovial tone:
                “To save religion, strengthen your bull!”
                On these words of mine, he had laughed loudly.

© Translation, Sualeh Keen.

Translation notes:

[1] baazigar = an acrobat, juggler, magician, or street-performer.

[2] kaafir = In Islamic parlance, a word used to describe a person who rejects Islamic faith. In Islamic doctrinal sense, usually translated as unbeliever or disbeliever. In other words, a non-Muslim.

The Sparrow and I (Tcher T'e B'e) - by Zareef Ahmad Zareef

English transliteration of original:


Salaamah loe’le saan goed’e mye’aen bu’eziv
wane’in cham warg’e kath poz dhyaan’e ru’eziv
dahe’il jo’oerah wek’eir guzre’ay pathkun
setha mushkil chu sapdaan az ti shah hyeo’n
agar zeav rooth, baavath roe’zi anzaan
pagah kus zaani teli az kyah chu gudraan?
zulum zo’elaan’e wa’ensan rooe’id pyetraa
tyeongul yas pyeov, dazandag sui’y chu zanaan
wech’em tcher akh deyaan gaeri dae’en tharri pyeath
prichum yeli tas tcheri, “chaiy kyazi nath nath?”
t’e doupnam “kyah wanai, wann’e tas khodayas
yi’yas hai aar, teli a’ndd waati nyeayas
thawakh tcheti kan, wanai wue’ch kyah me’a cha’shmav
dapakh yinn’e kaensi wopran, kor ye pann’nyeav”
phiry’ean ae’tch aasmanas kun wonun kyah
me’a thov ti daag’eweith beyi boezi kanh’tchah
“khoda sae’ba laejis tcher ga’er gaatthan
warafta’eri andar wae’raan shaatthan
samaiy halka’er gov yae’ti shar-o-gaaman
raqs mo’etuk sapud yeli subh-o-shaaman
bue’ddyean, mo’esum shur’ein, maaj’ein t’e maale’an
qaraare’iy ro’oev, shurki’nyean tchaiy aale’an
pothe’r maaj’ein kotch’ean manz maarnai aaiy
yusui bethi aakh, daaras khaarnai aaiy
mazaaras manz katyean maharaaz’e kae’msund?
thippis ander kate’an shahbaaz kae’msund?
wech’em barppa sape’z garr’e garr’e qayamath
walith ae’es naal nazran taam shahmath
gae’raiy traewith tchajis, wa’nge’ij baneay’yas
be kaesh’er chas, beye’an seet ma ralea’yas
warri wuh marr’e wopar jaayan guza’erim
wa’n aayas garr’e, pan’ein praeth jaayi tcha’erim
gomut kus kot chu logmut, kyah khabar cham!
wu’ejaaran manz katyean kus waar’e aas’eam?
ddaenjaiy chunn’e kanh, pareshaan haal saeri
gomut pho’einphaak, aabadas wu’ejaeri
gulistaanas gulan zan ddo’eth pyeomut
ku’emyuer, kostoor, bul bul kol chu go’emut
chu ka’em loot’ith nye’umut sabzaar myeonui?
qadaawar yaarri wan, shehjaar myeonui?
koh-an dastaar ropp’e sund haayi wolmut
pohul zaen’ith ti  kh’yeol hyeath watt’i chu dolmut
su so’entuk yaawunui hardan nyeangulmut
tchajjal bo’enyean shuhal hyeath choor cho’elmut
d’eyaan bul-bul che gul tha’ez ka’er no’emrith
tulir be-haal katti ann’i wye’oor so’embrith?
golab-an hy’uind aasun rooshith gomut chum
gulaalas daag jigras tyeal’ewun chum
wuchum kyah pye’om chashmav, go’oem afsoos
yi kaem-se’inz’i nazri ma’endiny’ean sirriyi zan l’oos?
su kul katti o’oes yath pyeath oo’el myonui?
karaan shukraan’e shab-rooz ae’es chonui?
gutt’eil ka’eim sarvve makhmal hyeuv tchatith nyeuv?
wuhaan tyeongul, shuhul myeon ka’eim watith nyeuv?
yi kamm laesh dith wan-nan myean’ean tche ga’emeit?
gomut afsoos mand’in’ean khoftt’e pye’ameit
yi kam katti aaiy makh hyeath tchaa’y baagas?
yi ka’em chum daam dye’utmut Neil’e naag-as? [1]
yi rotchmut o’oes saaneav wa’ens’e waadan
su sorui raav’erith ty’ealun chu yaadan
buzargan, aa’erifan, mastaan’e, saadan
chalaan Vyeth ae’s na paapan t’e paadan? [2]
so’e az bemaar laagar khastt’e ga’eme’tch
pakaan thakh dith, so’etith wa’es wa’es tcha pyeame’tch
busar lall’ewaan jigras posh’e maale’un
gam’eit tchis aat’eshi za’elith su’e taale’un
b’e a’eses na gye’awaan kamm loe’lle-hue’ir bro’enth?
y’e ka’em sha’ethran ditchem pye’and, band korun tcho’enth?
cha’e basaan faa’k’e-farri az jal te bul-bul
bachan yei’m aanp’eraawaan ae’eis shahtul
anjooran, braeyi t’e boe’ny’ean nyaal golmut
harud so’entas gomut, meezaan dolmut
ralye’omut wyeah chu waavas, rye’h tche'a aabas
tche'a tchenima’etche taar’e Sonn’e Batt’e nis Rabaabas [3] [4]
samaan katt’i jaan’ewar az subh-u-shaaman?
shina’eyah az game’tch shahran t’e gaaman
s’u gamut ra’awerith ga’emi shahar kha’eit
shah’eir kahras ander doshwaiy ga’emeit ma’eit
khoda sa’eba ye kyah Resh Waa’eri goemut? [5]
phulai barjast’e ae’ses ddo’eth pye’omut!
jaddan he’inz ae’es yo’es arzath t’e wasmath
so’e pharka’eweith wa’elith tcham naal shahmath
diwaan aalav tchasai aame’tch b’e fa’eryae’ed
yimav jo’edugarav ka’ermeit tchaham jae’ed
yiwaan ae’esim mye’a pae’tch yo’et so’ent’e laaraan
sattut, bul-bul, ka’etij ae’es oo’el yearaan
karaan ae’s aae’s samith yatt’i sha’eid-yaanah
samanbal ooe’es mil’etcharuk thikaanah
pholaan gaet’elis andar ou’es noor-e-pragaash
de’yaan butraat  az, dam-phe’it  tchu aakaash
yi raawur  az, ti paghas laebn’i nye’arun
gulistaanea’en sa’eakil shaatthan tchu phe’arun
su’e katti churgish, gye’awun jaanawaran hyuind
samanbal ro’oev yaaran dilbaran hyuind
gatchaan faryaad wa’edunah bas tchu go’eshan
zarud bue’th soe’nt’e gomut nyee’ir po’eshan
y’e ka’eim yath babbr’i baagas dro’oeth woyum?
y’e ka’eim harnas wan’nas manz teer loyum?
y’e ka’eim soe’ntai harud kornam bahaaras?
y’e ka’eim moglan Dilawar kho’oer daaras? [6]
watan daaran y’i ka’eim ka’er laar hai-hai?
me’a Nooras tchaar wo’etum naar hai-hai [7]
b’e dimm’ena naall’e, kar’ena jaamm’e az chaak?
me’a Gous-ul-aazam-um astaan’e gov khaak [8]
y’i kam pue’tchnaan pa’ach tche’im tchaayi ruzith?
gatche’im na az su’e ye’im asraar buzith!
y’e kamm sa’en tchoor pha’er moll’e’lis khazaanas?
tye’ongul halmas barith tche’im po’eshe paanas
atthaiy ma kae’nsi roe’tmut ka’ensi wannihyea
mizaazas da’elmetis tthaeh’raav ann’ihyeas
poshaakah sar-sabz ousum mye’a baalan
timai nyeath’ena’in nyesanga az che naalan
awaaiy aawaar’e jangeil jaan’ewar ga’iy
pareshaan ba’estiyan wa’etith tawai pa’iy
mateame’it ba’el che ma yeim se’h t’e haapath
tthikaanai rood ma kunni tihindi baapath
khasaan ajna’eib janggi doh-raat baalan
wanan kas kyazi yei’m bechaar’e naalan?
khoda sa’eba tche ousuth chaar’e kormut
wanan ousuth mo’elul taajah tche jo’ermut
mye’a koea’tah, daan’e ka’echtaamath ch’e haajath
mye’a taamath aayi gre’ah-tchaarich ye shahmath
be chas kre’ashaan, aadam mo’et chu go’emut
wechaan chas aab’e male’un trea’she pye’omut
sambaalav ka’rr yi wa’eraeni wuja’eri
tamashai atth ti roo’edyeim wechni sa’eri
ya’etti Lalle maa’eji Nund-e-resh choov amry’eat [9]
yaetich kasrat pakaan kun’irech allam hy’eath
cha baasaaan Arnimaal Naiku-as cha faerya’aed [10]
so’e Habb’e kho’etoon bawaan Yusuf-as daae’d [11]
karaan sub-o-shaam chas faeryaad-za’eri
watan so’erui mye’a chum ratt’e sa’eir tchopa’eri
gatav chum naal wolmut, gaash rootthum
khabar khoochith katye’an kaanttur te’i bye’utthum
be chas na aae’il naashas pye’ath pareshaan
zameen dam-phue’it gamech rooshith chu asmaan
agar bann’ihae y’e aadam-zaad insaan
jahaanas zoezi ha teli amn-o-aaman
chu afsoos tchoor phaerm’eit maal’inis che’im
be kadd’e hakh ae’ech digav seety’ean, wechak te’im
so’e churgish beyyi t’I karhav subh-o-shaaman!
hochan thaerineiy t’i wech’ehav beyyi so’e baaman!
soeroodah-saaz beyyi wazz’ihae kannan manz
grazun go’ech wigni wanwun path wanan manz
karakh na dar-guzar sae’ri khata sa’ein!
tae’ji katti ass’i kare’in zanh band’gi cha’ein
tcha’eke’irmeit woo’eil waawan kus ko’etan loeg?
ajjab na’eb-grya’ein sapud, katti boz’enuiy toeg!
be tcher kyah aad’eman hinz karr’e shikayat
wuchum yi t’i wonum tchann’e kanh hikayat
watan dokh’elad korum, afsoos pro’evum
mye’a paanas nish t’i pann’enui paan rovum
Zareef-an yelli prue’chu’em tcha’ekh kyazzi daem-phu’eitt?
be ko’etah thaavv’eha tas-nish t’i kha’eitt kha’eitt
yi gu’edryeomut chu ta’emchi ka’er mye’a baawath
diyiv ro’ekhsath wae’n phal pha’el tchaand’e taamath.”

© Zareef Ahmad Zareef

English translation:


First please accept my salaam that lovingly I give
A subtle fable I have to narrate, be fully attentive
A couple of distressful decades have passed away
Still so very difficult it is to breathe easy today
If the tongue is held, the report will remain unknown
Who’ll then know tomorrow of trials today undergone?
For lifetimes we have been tyranny and fetters bearing
Only whom an ember hits knows the pain of burning
I saw on a pomegranate perch a sparrow sitting sadly
I asked that sparrow why it was trembling terribly
She said, “What to tell you, only to God I’ll reveal
For if He takes pity, only He can end this ordeal
But if you too lend ear, what I saw you’ll be shown
Not some stranger, no, it was done by folks our own.”
Speaking, the sparrow turned her eyes to Heaven
I noted it all down so that others too could listen
“O God, fell on alien shores such a frail sparrow
In frightened flight hit upon sandbars of sorrow
Time became rabid here in every village and town
When the dance of death occurred at dusk and dawn
The old and innocent young, mothers and fathers
Lost all peace, pressed into crevices and corners
Sons in the laps of their mothers were butchered
Whoever they ran into on gallows were smothered
Where in the graveyard is bridegroom whose?
Where in the cage is king of falcons whose?
I saw in each house Judgment Day was on
Bound by shackles, even eyesight was torn
I fled my home, sought shelter with strangers
I Kashmiri am, I could not mix up with others
In strange lands I did spend some twenty a year
Now returned home, I seek my folks everywhere
Who has went where and got held, I cannot tell
Who in these desolate ruins will be doing well?
Everyone is unsettled, all by worry troubled
Ruin has befallen, abode into wasteland turned
As if flowers in the garden have been hit by hail
All became dumb: bulbul, thrush, nightingale
Who has looted away that lush verdure of mine?
That lofty pine, shadowy forest shelter of mine?
Silver caps of mountains are with cobwebs covered
The shepherd knowingly went astray with his herd
That youth of Spring has been by Autumn gulped
The shade of plane tree canopies a thief has swiped
The bulbul is woeful, downcast the neck of the flower
The bee is dreary, now where will it gather nectar?
Laughter of rose petals grew petulant towards me
My! A spreading stain on the bosom of my red poppy
What all I had to see with my eyes, I felt deep regret
From whose sight has the sun at midday set?
Where was that tree on which my nest used to lay?
We used to thank you, O God, every night and day
The velvety cypress was hacked by which woodcutter?
Who stole my shade where the embers now smoulder?
Who have torched my forest and slunk away?
Deplorable it is that folks slumbered at midday
Who from where with an axe did the garden enter?
Who has guzzled my surging Nila Naag’s [1] water?
What our predecessors did for lifetimes nurture
Having lost all that, now memories must fester
Wizened sages, saints, mystics, knowing masters
Did not their feet and sins cleanse Vyeth’s [2] waters?
Today a sick and sticky thin trickle she has become
She flows faintly, so frail and feeble she has become
Nursing a boil in bosom is the flowery homestead
A blaze has brought heartburn to its stately head
Didn’t I once warble many a mellifluous melody?
My mouth plugged and muzzled was by which enemy?
The lark and bulbul seem to forage around hungry
The birds that used to feed their chicks mulberry
Figs, jujubes and planes have ceased existence
Spring turned to autumn as nature lost its balance
The water is on fire and the wind is laced with poison
The strings of Sona Batt’s [3] rubab [4] are badly broken
Where at dusk and dawn is the birds’ congregation?
Villages and towns are now sites of utter destruction
Losing an idyllic life, villagers took to the city
Both have been maddened by urban severity
O God, to the Rishi Vaer [5] why such bad luck?
In full bloom it had been when the hailstorm struck
That which was the earning and fortune of our forebears
Blown it all, now this bird a serpent-necklace wears
I am calling you, O God, I come as a supplicant
These magicians are responsible for my enchantment
In spring this land used to be visited by myriad guests
Hoopoe, bulbul, swift: all would weave their nests
We indulged in revelry here when we used to gather
This gathering ground was a place of being together
Inside dark bowers used to dawn light so incandescent
The land is now wretched, suffocated the firmament
Future generations have to search for today’s lost treasure
The garden-dwellers through desert sands have to wander
Gone is the pleasant oratory and singing of birds
Friends have lost the gathering ground of beloveds
One’s ears can only hear pleading and wailing
Meadow flowers now bear pallid faces in spring
Who with a sickle wiped away my garden of basil?
Who at my gazelle shot arrows in the jungle?
Who in spring got my garden in autumnal throes?
Which Mughal hanged my dilawar [6] heroes?
Who chased the natives from their land, alas!
To Noora’s Tsrar [7] reached the fire hand, alas!
Must I not wail today, must I not my raiment slash?
My Ghaus-ul-Azam’s shrine [8] has been burnt to ash
Who slinking in the shadows trust are tearing?
Would He not leave today without secrets hearing?
Whose thieves purloined this precious treasure?
In my flower-like body I hold a raging ember
Nobody has ever held anybody’s hand and advised
And the disposition of the ill-tempered subsided
My hills once wore a gorgeous green garment
Fleeced and denuded, today they all lament
That is why homeless wild beasts now wander
Troubled thus, into human settlements they enter
Not for nothing assailing are many a lion and bear
Now that there is no shelter left for them anywhere
Climb the hills do unfamiliar gunmen night and day
Whom will they ask why, the poor beasts, pray?
You, O God, had bountiful resources provided
You had the forests with a costly crown mounted
As for me, a few food grains for me are enough
Even for me, the stars are unlucky, the going tough
My throat is parched, the humans have gone crazy
I am seeing that even the abode of water is thirsty
When will we this destruction and devastation tackle?
Everyone keeps on watching this like some spectacle
Where Lalla fed Nunda a drink of immortality [9]
This land’s diversity bears the standard of unity
Seems like Arinimaal to Naiku does complain [10]
She is Habba Khatoon showing Yusuf her pain [11]
Day and night I am submerged in pitiful mourning
My land from all quarters is in blood drowning
The darkness has engulfed me, the light is sulking
Know not where out of fear my dear mate is hiding
So depressed by the destruction of my nest am I
The earth has become exhausted, sullen is the sky
If only this son of man became humane truly
The world would then peace and harmony see
But alas! Plunderers did into my homeland sneak
If I find them, I’d peck their eyes with my beak
Oh that again we sing day night mellifluous melodies!
Oh that again we see new sprouts from dried out trees!
Would that choral chants resound in the ear again!
Would that the fairy songs in backwoods roar again!
Won’t You towards our transgressions be lenient?
We never did learn to be towards You obedient
By whirling winds scattered, who was where thrown
The sky strangely shuddered, to listen we didn’t learn
How can I, a mere sparrow, complain of men?
I narrated only what I saw and this is no fiction
My land I made despondent and regret did I gain
I from myself lost my own self, all in vain
When Zareef asked me why you are grief-ridden
How much could I have from him kept hidden?
Only that which has happened I did to you convey
Bid me goodbye, to look for grains now I go away.”

© Translation, Sualeh Keen

Translation notes:

[1] Nila Naag = Alternative name for the famous Verinag spring, the traditional source of River Jhelum. Originally, named after a Naga king or snake-deity mentioned in the ancient myth Nilamata Purana named Nila, whose habitation was close to the spring near the Verinag village. Since in local parlance, nag means ‘snake’ as well as ‘spring’, as per folk etymology, ‘Nila Nag’ also means ‘Blue Spring’. There is also a small lake sharing this name situated in a valley between two spurs descending from the Pir Panchal range.

[2] Vyeth = The local name for River Jhelum; classically, also known as Vitasta.

[3] Sona Batt = A renowned Kashmiri rubab-nawaz or rubab-player from Kreer Pattan village in Baramulla district, who regaled the audience of Radio Kashmir with his matchless performances.

[4] Rubab = A lute-like traditional Kashmiri musical instrument originally from Afghanistan. It derives its name from the Arab rebab which means "played with a bow" but the Central Asian instrument is plucked, and is distinctly different in construction.

[5] Rishi Vaer = ‘Garden of Rishis’, a name given to the Kashmir valley since ancient times due to the multitude of saints living there.

[6] Dilawar = Bravehearts, the name given to Kashmiris who criticized the usurping and taking away of local treasure — comprising of precious metals and stones and priceless pieces of art — by the Mughal emperor Akbar. Thereafter, in Kashmiri language, the word mogul became synonymous with ‘one who is cruel’ and the pejorative terms poga mogul or shikas mogul refer to ‘one who destroys’ or ‘one who impoverishes’ respectively.

[7] Tsrar-i-Shareef or Chrar-e-Shareef = The tomb of 14th century Kashmiri Sufi saint Hazrat Sheikh Noor-u-din Noorani (Nunda Rishi), which got razed in a fierce encounter between Indian troops and the Mujahideen led by Major Mast Gul, a Pakistani militant, in 1995.

[8] Ghaus-ul-Azam = Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (1077–1166 CE), an Islamic religious figure, teacher, preacher and writer. Muslims of the Indian subcontinent call him "Ghaus-ul-Azam", and in Kashmir, he is also known as “Dastageer Sahib.” The 200-year-old shrine of Dastageer Sahib at Khanyar in old Srinagar city was an epitome of Kashmir architecture embellished with ornate Khatamband ceilings and elaborate carvings with grand chandeliers adorning the main prayer hall. The shrine was gutted in a mysterious fire in June 2012.

[9] Amrit = Ambrosia, or the drink of immortality. A popular legend has it that when the 14th century Sufi saint Shiekh Noor-ud-Din (Nunda Rishi) was born, he refused the milk of his mother. Lalleshwari (Lalla Ded), a great Shaivite mystic poetess, arrived suddenly and addressed the saint-in-making thus: “Ashamed you were not to be born, yet ashamed you are to suckle from a breast!” Nanda Rishi had instantly suckled from Lalla Ded’s breast, which, of course, had no milk. This was considered as a symbolic transmission of mystical powers and Nunda Rishi is considered a direct ‘inheritor’ of Lalla Ded’s syncretic tradition.

[10] Arinimaal was an 18th century Kashmiri poetess and ‘Naiku’ was her husband. It is said that Arinimaal was married in her childhood to Munshi Bhawani Dass Kachroo, a respected person in the Afghan court. His Persian poems, entitled “Bahar-i-Tavil” is considered a significant contribution to Persian language and he wrote under the nom de plume 'Naiku'. Arinimaal’s married life was blissful, until her husband ‘Naiku’, under bad influence, deserted her. Arinimaal became dejected and took to writing sad poetry, expressing her loved for her estranged husband. It is said that eventually, in old age, ‘Naiku’ realised that he had been unkind to his wife and decided to be with her again. When he reached her village, however, he saw that her dead body was being carried away for cremation.

[11] Habba Khatun was a 16th century Muslim poetess from Kashmir. Her story is that of a peasant girl named ‘Zooni’ who came to marry Yusuf Shah Chak, who later became ruler of Kashmir, after which she was called Habba Khatun. However, their happiness did not last long. The Mughal emperor Akbar came into prominence in Delhi, and he called Yusuf Shah there. In 1579, Yusuf Shah was compelled to go to Delhi, where Akbar had him arrested and kept in prison in Bihar. Poor Habba Khatun was separated from Yusuf Shah. The songs of Habba Khatun are full of the sorrow of separation. After her came Arinimaal, who also sang mournful lyrics.