Discussing Jammu and Kashmir in the current environment of diametrically opposed narratives and counter-narratives is a most challenging task. Since ‘Kashmir valley’ generally denotes the historical State of Jammu and Kashmir to the outside world the other, less dominant areas of the region are less focused on – especially in academic and scholarly works. This latest book Kashmir: History, Politics and Representation edited by historian Chitralekha Zutshi and published by Cambridge University Press comes with a collection of scholarly essays on all parts of the erstwhile state, as it existed before the 14th of August, 1947. However, even here, it would appear a miss has been given to the strategically important region of Ladakh, bordering China.
With 14 chapters, the books starts with a long introduction by Zutshi who herself has two important works on Kashmir to her credit. She beautifully weaves the history of Kashmir from early times and connects it with present-day politics. She states that Kashmir is just not a geographical entity but an idea. Looking at various chronicles to define Kashmir, she analyses them and shows how Kashmiris have long been fretting about their losses at the hands of foreigners. For example, she notes “At the same time, the jeremiad that characterised Persian narratives such as Bagh-i-Sulaiman, written in 1778, captured [Kashmiris’] frustration at their inability to protect their mulk from the depredations of outsiders, as Kashmir was incorporated into the Afghan empire.” This struggle, in fact, started in 1586 when Kashmir’s last sovereign ruler Yusuf Shah Chak lost power to the Mughal emperor Akbar and was subsequently banished. What followed was tyranny shaped by autocratic rulers such as Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. They, however, could not reposition Kashmir as a polity until the late 1940s when Kashmiri nationalism got its modern roots and the unique identity was articulated with the expression ‘Kashmiriyat’. Zutshi, however, is worried by the fact that Kashmiriyat is under fierce attack now, according to her, “in the context of the contemporary conflict, especially between India and Kashmir, as Kashmiris seek to distance themselves from India and claim greater identification with the Islamic world, defined increasingly in West Asian rather than South Asian terms”. But that may not be a fully correct interpretation of the threat to Kashmiriyat. While religion plays an important role in today’s political struggle, the problem with Kashmiriyat is also about how the Government of India has owned it and the conflict between Srinagar and Delhi plays out prominently there.
While the colonial state endorsed Dogra rule, it did not shy from correcting its archaeological excesses, to demand protection for Muslim subjects and their sites
Mridu Rai’s essay on Kashmir and archaeology unravels how the British Empire forced the Dogra rulers to create the Department of Archaeology in 1904. Sadly, it was used by them to protect the monuments and temples of Hindus and the discrimination against Muslim heritage continued. She quotes the British Resident in Kashmir, Francis Younghusband, who reported that the durbar plainly did not “care to throw money on Muhammadans” or the restoration of their mosques or tombs. Pathar Masjid build by Mughal empress Nur Jehan in the seventeenth century became the rallying point for agitation by Muslims for their rights when Pratap Singh ordered it to be made an orphanage dedicated to the Hindu deity Hanuman. This was a blatant display of partisanship. However, she argues that while the colonial state endorsed Dogra rule, it did not shy from correcting its archaeological excesses, to demand protection for Muslim subjects and their sites.
“Contesting Urban Space” is an important essay by Zutshi herself that brings out the discord within the Muslim community as rivals fought for space in shrines. Divided into two groups led by Hamadanis and Mirwaizs. The clash even led to Governor of Kashmir passing an order in 1888 banning the Mirwaizs (the family now represented by Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq) from preaching at 22 shrines. Though the political narrative around these shrines has changed now and “we want freedom” reverberates from all of them alike, the tension continued for a long time and the traditional rivalry between Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and the Mirwaizs was well known – with Sheikh Abdullah extending official patronage to the Hamadanis. Dogra rulers’ reaffirmation that they would not interfere in religious matters was not based on reality as the government officialised the differences.
Andrew Whitehead’s fascinating essay is about the “Rise and Fall of New Kashmir”, the ambitious concept that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had put on paper to make Jammu and Kashmir a different – rather, independent – identity, that could nevertheless fit into the larger realm of Indian nationalism. Almost borrowed from the communists, “New Kashmir” was a progressive idea of partnership in political and economic uplift of a people who had suffered immensely. Whitehead believes that Nehru wanted to maintain an element of hierarchy in the relationship whilst Abdullah stood for equality and that is where the friction began. An enduring settlement between Kashmir and Indian nationalism, he says, has remained elusive because of New Delhi’s interference in Kashmir.
“Azad Kashmir” and Gilgit-Baltistan are two areas which are discussed very little in the context of Kashmir’s protracted conflict. However, two essays by Christopher Snedden give a complete background to the ups and downs of this region in terms of their political relationship with Pakistan and the rest of the state. Maintaining that both “Azad Kashmir” and GB are not de jure part of Pakistan, Snedden, who has written two critically acclaimed books on the subject, states that this region has suffered in economic development despite having three major assets: people, water and forests. He believes this is because of the heavily militarised Line of Control to the east which comprises a restricted zone. His piece speaks about the intense influence Islamabad has, despite the territory being called “Azad Kashmir” and having a President, Prime Minister and judiciary of its own. Martin Sokefeld gives an interesting account of how GB is not part of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. He traces the history of how Gulab Singh annexed it, but it always remained at a distance and that is why it declared its own “independence” in November 1947 and became part of Pakistan. Most of the people support full integration into Pakistan but for various reasons its status remains unresolved:“The overall perception in GB is that it has been held hostage by the Kashmir dispute.”
Women and children are believed to have borne the brunt of conflict in Kashmir. So, the essay “Law, Gender and Governance in Kashmir” by Seema Kazi makes a significant contribution to the picture. She discusses in detail how the security forces have in an “institutionalised” manner committed atrocities against women. She provides two horrible examples of mass rape in Kunan Poshopra in 1991 by Indian forces and the horrific case of Asiya and Neelofar in Shopian, from 2009. She takes a detailed look at Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act and how these laws have mauled civil liberties. “Rape of Kashmiri women by security forces is representative of the extra-legal nature of the Indian counter-offensive in Kashmir: it is equally representative of the state’s resort to extra legal means to inscribe political dominance on a recalcitrant ethnic minority through the sexual humiliation of ethnic minority women” she writes. She criticises the judiciary, too, for exacerbating the lack of accountability. She does not discuss, however, atrocities against women committed by non-state actors.
Haley Duschinski has made a significant contribution by discussing the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and brings to the fore how they made the issue of survival their politics after 1990. He discusses the politics within the community in detail but misses out on how the migration took place. The essay brings out how hatred against Muslims became the “thumb rule” for the demand to return. Caste politics in Jammu has hardly been discussed and discrimination on the basis of caste has remained an untouched subject. But Mohita Bhatia exposes the unimaginable level of discrimination with Dalits and Balmikis in Jammu region in a well-researched essay. Rita Chowdhari Tremblay’s essay on politics in Jammu and Kashmir is worth a read, as it asks whether governance can help counter the clashes in political ideology.
Vanessa Chishti focuses on a less political issue: Kashmir’s shawl economy. She tries to place it in the context of how it fitted into the European and British imperial imagination.
In the representation section, Dean Accardi’s essay focuses on exploring two important mystics of Kashmir, Lal Ded and Sheikh-ul-Alam Sheikh Nooruddin, and how they became a representation of Kashmiri identity. Kashmir’s spiritual landscape is heavily identified with them.
Ananya Jehanara Kabir looks at Kashmir in popular cinema since the 1960s. That representation, also, is unfortunately linked with conflict and not beauty. Suvir Kaul in his essay “Witness of Poetry—Political Feeling in Kashmiri poetry” looks at how poets found a medium for political expression. In fact, poetry has become a powerful means of resistance – to talk about dispossession, discord and a sense of loss.
Overall, the compilation brings much scholastic and academic rigour to subjects that have not been brought together in such a fashion before. For any student who works on Kashmir, this is simply a must-read.