Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Books

Zahid provides his perspective of two recent publications dealing with Kashmir

(Mr. Z. G. Mohammad, 59, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)


My Kashmir and Curfewed Night: “Darkest Sides of Luminous Fa├žade”

Hope and despair - yes optimism and despondency have lived with Kashmiris like two sides of the same coin ever since Kashmir tumbled into basket of global disputes. It fell in the basket of international disputes on 1 January 1948. It was none other the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who decided to put it in the UN basket. Ever since that day a tug of war has been going on between hope and despair for the resolution of this dispute. Sometimes hopes for the resolution brightened and sometimes despondency overwhelmed.

And ever since the day it was put in the UN basket, it has been a hot subject for journalists, scholars and historians. Hardly a year passes when about a dozen of new titles are not added to already bulging bibliography on the Kashmir dispute. It in fact is difficult both to keep track and pace with the number of books written on Kashmir problem and its allied dimensions. This year 1.e. in 2008, two important titles that caught my attention have been ‘My Kashmir- Conflict And the Prospects of Enduring Peace by Wajahat Habibullah published by United States Institute of Peace Press and Another has been ‘the Curfewed Night’ by Basharat Peer Published by Random House. The two books are different from many other published from New Delhi as they have been written by people who have experienced living through the conflict that has consumed tens of thousands of people during past sixty one years. The Curfew Night is odyssey of a young man who has grown up under bayonets like thousands of Kashmiris in his age group.

My Kashmir is different book. It not just an eyewitness’s reportage of happenings in Kashmir but it is an insider account of the Kashmir situation. It not only provides a slit to peep into the mind of establishment but exposes many behind the scene hideous decisions taken at the highest level to subvert democracy in the state, to deny fundamental rights to the people and it also exposes the ugly role by the state bureaucracy in subjugating people. The book as very aptly writes Teresita C. Shaffer, in her forward ‘has combined several approaches in this thoughtful and incisive book that is part memoir, part history and part prescription.’ The memoirs of the authors unveil many behind the scene happenings. One may not agree with the prescriptions offered by the author for resolution of the problem but they do provide an insight into the thinking in highest echelons of power at New Delhi.

The author in his introduction to the book raises a pertinent question that if Kashmir situation was simply a Hindu-Muslim problem as seen by many Indian intellectuals. The author has shied away from debating over this question, which has simplest answer in the history of the dispute. He very frankly admits that he has been looking at Kashmir as a member of Indian Administrative Service ‘committed to India’. Despite his deep commitment to Indian State the author in his book has brought out certain hard realities with courage of conviction about New Delhi’s handling of Kashmir. Compared to 1990s when Kashmir was poorly understood, he writes that there is growing awareness of Kashmir sensibilities in India and abroad. ‘The employment of Kashmiris as journalists as newspaper correspondents have made a striking contribution to this awareness.’ The 1990’s undoubtedly saw birth of a whole crop of journalist some highly talented and committed to objectivity.

He briefly touches history of Kashmir and birth of Kashmir problem. In dealing with question of accession of the state the author has avoided joining the controversy about its date and fact. But he very boldly writes that “neither India’s nor Pakistan’s case rested on justification by the will of the Kashmiri people. But here lies a paradox: India’s Congress Party, which led it into freedom, had traditionally argued for decisions in case of problematic accession by reference to people, whereas the Muslim League had argued for decision in case of problematic accession by reference to people, whereas the Muslim League had argued in favor of decision made by the princes. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir these positions were reversed”.

In the series of blunders made by Indian government in Kashmir the author calls 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested as the first from ‘the standpoint of relations’ with this state. The author’s knowledge of 1953 happenings is scant and faulty. Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest in 1953 was not provoked for his attending the Afro Asian Conference in Algiers and meeting with China’s Prime Minister Chou en Lai. Sheikh met Cho en Lai in 1965 and not in 1953. There were more than one reasons for Sheikh’s deposition in 1953, major one was his abolishing of big landed estate and land to tiller reforms. The author has put at rest the theory of Sheikh having entered into conspiracy for an independent Kashmir with the United States through Adlai Stevenson. ‘Nehru did not buy this theory.’ Had the author delved deeper into the subject it would have been revealed that the theory was not only invented to ‘alienate India’s left until then supportive of Sheikh but to placate the Hindu chauvinists that were agitating against state’s autonomy including having a separate constitution, flag and head of state being designated as Prime Minister. The after events have fully authenticated that the whole exercise of 1953 was undertaken to fully integrate the state with India as was demanded by the communal organization.

So far memoirs of the author are concerned they take lid from many an incidents that had hitherto remained shrouded in mysteries. He shares his rare experience as SDM Sopore about the mysterious fires that had swept across Baramulla in early June 1970. He laments his helplessness as a civil service officer before army and police not in nineties but in seventies. Police would not bother to take civil administrators into confidence about any action even during the rule which in general terms is pronounced as period of ‘liberalization’. Quoting an instance author writes, “I was presumably the highest authority within the sub-division, but I did not know even Damoo’s arrest, let alone its reasons. Of course I pretended to know, nodding sagely and smiling enigmatically.’

The fort of the book is author’s memoirs as Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Commissioner of border district of Poonch, highly politically volatile district of Srinagar and Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. And for his proximity with Nehru-Gandhi family the book drops many hints that provide scope for in-depth studies for understanding New Delhi’s Kashmir policy. The author has also attempted at identifying the ‘deepening mistrust’ between Kashmir and Indian Government. The author exposes that how sham elections in the state were facilitated by the state bureaucracy. He narrates awful story as how he was instructed by his superiors to rig the 1977 elections. To see the Janata Party triumphant in the elections the government had passed instructions to all Deputy Commissioners to arrest National Conference cadres under Preventive Detention Act. He writes that the then Chief Secretary Pushkar Nath Kaul had called an explanation for being slow in issuing detention orders against the National Conference workers. The 1987 elections were ‘sullied’ so believes the author. It was in fact Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister who upset the apple cart of both sleuths and bureaucrats who had drafted plans for rigging the 1977 elections.

The book is an important addition to the great list of studies and books for understanding the post 1990 development. It in fact gives a candid analysis of post 1990 developments in the state. One may not agree with the conclusions drawn by the author but the book is essential read for all scholars and academicians engaged in Kashmir studies.

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