Stories of/from Kashmir

Stories! There are no good stories in Kashmir. There are only difficult,    ambiguous, and unresolved stories. (166).
– Basharat Peer.

Kashmiri nationalist author, Basharat Peer comments on the existential challenges faced by the Kashmiris as well the complexities of narrativising the conflict situation and its human dimension in his memoir, Curfewed Night (2008). Kashmir valley regarded as paradise on earth has been in a state of armed rebellion against the Indian state since the 1990’s. Some of the primary causes of discontent among Kashmiri populace is gradual erosion of political autonomy guaranteed by the constitution of India through article 370, political interference in Kashmir valley by successive governments in New Delhi, and all pervasive otherization of the Kashmiris as Muslims due to gradual rise of Hindutva politics in northern India.

Marginalization of Kashmir valley in the political sphere is accompanied by cultural otherization of Kashmir valley and its inhabitants in the non-Kashmiri Indian public sphere, especially perpetrated by dominant ‘regimes of representation’ in Bollywood movies since the 1960s and recently spearheaded by the hyper-nationalist Indian media. Kashmiri literature (Anglophone, Urdu and Koshur) and movies representing the armed conflict resort to a counter otherization of Indian state and Indian populace. In Kashmiri cultural representation of recent political events, Kashmir is imagined as a geographical/political space distinct from Indian national space. Literary authors like Basharat Peer, Anjum Zamarud Habib and Wahid Mirza painstakingly represents the alienation they feel outside Kashmir valley. The Kashmiri nation has been imagined by the geographical extent of the putative nation as well as through cultural symbols and markers of Kashmir valley, the scenic beauty of Kashmir, the beautiful gardens of Srinagar, Chinar leaves, the references to Kangri, Pheran, kahwa, the Kashmiri tea and Papier mache artists and patterns evoke a distinct cultural identity for the ‘Kashmiri’ nation. Frequent references to Lal Ded, Nooruddin, Kalhana and others evoke the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir.

Post 1990’s, Kashmiri nationalists, both ideologues and armed militants draw their lineage from the anti-Dogra protests of 1931, prior to Kashmir’s incorporation in the Indian union. While the Dogra regime is criticized vehemently by Kashmiri nationalist/secessionist politicians and authors for historical/political reasons, the putative nation imagined by them denotes the geographical extent of the erstwhile Dogra Kingdom, encompassing areas now politically controlled by the nation states of India, Pakistan and China. A certain degree of seamless continuity has been projected by Kashmiri nationalists in their struggle against the Dogra monarchy of colonial India and the post-colonial Indian nation state. There is a great degree of ambivalence in what constitutes the goal of Kashmiri nationalists which is signified by the semantic confusion surrounding the word ‘Azadi’, yet anti-India sentiments are popular among Kashmiri masses. Despite mild criticism, there seems to be an easy acceptance of Islamised discourses occasionally bordering on Islamic fundamentalism embedded within the nationalist discourses in Kashmir. Kashmiri nationalist scholar, Gowhar Fazili historicizes the use of Islamic discourses but presents them as the inevitable choice for emergent Kashmiri nationalism. Kashmiri nationalism primarily presents an ideology of resistance against Indian nationalist discourses which in turn tries to subsume Kashmiri sub-nationalism within its folds. In a bid to project an oppositional stance against Indian nationalism which espouses secularism and appropriates the discourse of Kashmiriyat in the context of Kashmir, Kashmiri nationalism adopts Islamic religious discourses. Kashmiri nationalist resistance is projected as ‘Jihad’ against the Indian state which is perceived as un-Islamic by certain sections of Kashmiri nationalists. While Islamized discourses and rhetoric are legitimized as the only mode of presenting a counter-hegemonic discourse to that of the secular discourses of Kashmiriyat, now appropriated by the pro-India factions in Kashmir in sync with pan-Indian nationalist discourses, what remains unacknowledged is the selective victimization of the minority communities in general and the Kashmiri Pandit community in particular.

India as a nation has been equated with the Indian state in Kashmiri imagination. Kashmiri nationalist writers like Kaul and Peer construct Kashmir as a distinct geo-cultural space and simultaneously portrays India as an alien space in order to validate the nationalist claims of a separate nationhood for Kashmir. On the one hand, these nationalist resistance narratives negate any heterogeneity and inconsistency with the putative ‘Kashmiri’ nation and on the other hand they also create a monolithic representation of India, primarily represented through Indian soldiers, bunkers, torture centres and army cantonments. Ironically, the Pandit narratives, though, politically inimical towards the armed resistance for self-determination also evokes a distinct cultural space while describing Kashmir as opposed to Jammu or other parts of north India. Even in this mode of representing “Kashmir”, cultural markers and symbols of the valley gets preponderance though Kashmiri nationalist authors as well as ideologues claims a separate nationhood for Kashmir, with Jammu, Ladakh and Pakistan administered Kashmir as constituent parts. Though exclusion in terms of religious affiliation has been voiced by the Kashmiri Pandit community and occasionally acknowledged by Kashmiri nationalists as well as Kashmiri literary authors there is absolute silence about regional exclusions. The simmering discontent of the people of Ladakh towards the hegemony of Kashmir valley and the detrimental impact of the movement for Azadi in these regions has never been acknowledged by Kashmiri nationalists.

While commenting on the socio-political situation of Kashmir, eminent political scientist, Ashutosh Varshney, writes that there are two stories from Kashmir, one from the valley and the other from the migrant camps of Jammu. Discourses surrounding Kashmir conflict are heterogeneous with internal contradictions embedded within each of them. Kashmir valley, mired in conflict for the last three decades, is the storehouse of many stories of personal and collective tragedy. There are multiple stories, of azadi seeking Kashmiris, pro-India Kashmiris, pro-Pakistan Kashmiris, Indian nationalist, hence, exiled Pandit groups, perspectives from Jammu, Ladakh, all jostling together, creating a cacophony of perspectives determined to baffle mainstream, largely complacent and nationalist India. Mainstream Indian discourses of anti-national, therefore, bad, Kashmiri militant as opposed to nationalist, therefore, good, Indian is incapable of fathoming divergent discourses emanating from Kashmir. The simplicity of this binary exposes the general ignorance and apathy of the Indian masses and the political elite. Kashmir seeks, rather, demands empathy and patience and not binaries.


Works Cited:

Fazili, Gowhar. “Our memories come in the way of our histories.” 30 Jan 2013. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.

Peer, Basharat. Curfewed Night. Noida: Random House India, 2008. Print.

Varshney, Ashutosh. “Three Compromised Nationalism: Why Kashmir has been a Problem.” Ethnonationalism in India: A Reader. Ed. Sanjib Baruah. New Delhi: OUP, 2010. Print.