Introduction to 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.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Defining Kashmiriyat through the Eyes of a Specialist in Comparative Religious Philosophies

Maroof's thought provoking essay highlights the role of shared spirituality in defining one's cultural identity, and no where is that aspect more relevant than in an ancient land called Kashmir

(Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, 31, was born in Kunan, Bandipore. He has pursued a career in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, completing Bachelors's degree in veterinary sciences (BVSc) at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (FVSc & AH), Shuhama campus of the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), and MA English through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He is presently posted as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS) at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Dachigam. Dr. Shah is the author of two books, and has lectured as a visiting fellow at the Jaipur University on Western Philosophy. In his leisure time he pursues studies in comparative religion, philosophy and literature.)

Kashmir: The question of identity

It is idle to talk of identity in traditional cultures like Kashmir. The crisis of identity is a modern problem and grafting it on traditional cultures is inadmissible. Kashmiryat doesn’t cater to the problem of identity, neither does it need to. Alienation, crisis of identity, need for an identity card or house/land of one’s own are all modern issues that arise only in a particular context of secular nationalism.

For the cultures rooted in Tradition (as traditionalist authorities understand the term which is metaphysical understanding of what the Quran calls as Din-al-Haneef) the question of personal identity is irrelevant. In fact a person named so and so is inexistent according to the spirit centred traditions. Roots are never severed from God or the real home in heaven in the first place and there is no warrant for any identity crisis. Mythical origin of Kashmir may still be held to give it a divine anchorage. Its history, as the history of other traditional cultures, is less important and what is to be foregrounded is the meta-history that informs its historical unfoldment. What gives individuality to traditional cultures is a shared spiritual/metaphysical space, a distinct expression of spiritually grounded cultural forms. Geographical boundaries are often transposed into what has been called sacred geography. Modern nation states and their aggressive nationalism are often based on certain shared linguistic, geographical and historical ground and it is not connected with the sacred in any sense. While talking of Kashmiri culture and identity one can’t sideline its spiritual orientation, its grounding in the sacred. It is not to be reduced to regionalism of any sort. It can’t be defined in theological terms because mystical ethos of Kashmir has to be approached in terms of more universal notion of metaphysics. Kashmir has been the home of almost all great religions, Semitic and non-Semitic and in fact it is a model state showing how religions can live with one another and complement rather than compete for the spiritual requirements of people.

Kashmiryat, if at all it could be delimited in terms of geography, still can’t be exclusively defined. Once upon a time the Kashmiri Kingdom extended far wider than it currently does. Does this mean that we should attempt to regain our previous glory in terms of the land? Kashmiryat is neither a geographical nor a religious, theological, or political notion.

It is the question of identity of Kashmir that has been hotly debated in recent times. In the light of perennialist insights this vexed issue could be resolved in a satisfactory way. We can't bracket any period of history or any of the major traditions Kashmir has been hosting in determining its present identity. A locally rooted but transcendentally grounded universally valid identity that could not be disputed by any sect is provided by Reshiyyat that can't be identified with or subsumed under any one historical movement or religious tradition. Identities must be trans-national trans-ideological in an age that swears by coexistence. They must have a heavenly foundation rather than one manufactured on earth. Kashmir has housed or appropriated most of the major world traditions. It has been argued that to its sacred ambience all great religions and civilizations – Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim – have contributed. Reshiyyat (Kashmiri adaptation of Sufism) rather than any imported model based on this worldly secularist humanism is an ideal framework to give it a locally grounded global identity. Reshiyyat asks us to transcend all local, regional, divisive identities perpetrated by various groups and to be grounded in the universal or cosmic or divine Reshi identity that duly encompasses and appropriates other identities as well.

The whole world will be ours if we rediscover our lost Reshi identity. Shiekh Nuruddin became Jagat Guru or Shiekh-ul-Alam by transcending all identities of self, caste, race, nationality and even religion taken in its exclusivist sense. In his universalistic inclusive humanitarian transcendental cosmopolitan vision of Reshiyyat could alone by true Kashmiriyat grounded.

Kashmiryat can’t be understood as Kashmiri nationalism. The concept of nationalism is foreign to the metaphysically oriented civilizations; it is a modern heresy ill applicable either in Hindu or in Islamic milieu. The mystical/metaphysical grounding of any culture implies that modern political appropriations of it are suspect. Traditionally Indians have never been power hungry or nationalistic in the modern sense. They have in fact been soft preys because of their different priorities. Being more interested in the territory of their souls/spirit they have been somewhat indifferent to external territories and borders. Kashmir has been religiously and culturally a part of both India and Pakistan – more precisely this subcontinent. Its present political status is not to be linked to its ancient history or religion and culture which it shares with both Pakistan and India. Kashmir is a political problem which is better not linked with any politically motivated discourse or appropriation of Kashmiryat. It is an abuse of Kashmiryat to be deployed for narrow party or political ends.

Kashmir’s independent sovereign self or spirit or individuality is yet to be properly discerned and it needs in depth study of its religions, mythologies, folklore and most importantly the underlying metaphysic, of which all these are applications or expressions in symbolical or mythological language. Kashmir’s essence (and thus identity), as the essence of all traditional cultures, is to be discerned at the most fundamental level or ground of metaphysics. And it is sad to note that there have been hardly any serious attempts at approaching the issue in such terms. It is most often presumed that Hindu, Saivist, Buddhist and Islamic discourses are not expressions of a single identifiable Tradition, different expressions of a Unitarian (tawhidic) metaphysic but different, often contradictory religious/theological formulations. It is assumed that we have different philosophies/metaphysical formulations to contend with. Reshi “synthesis” of all indigenous philosophical/religious traditions is yet to be appreciated and metaphysically expressed by our scholars. And we are talking of inclusive notions of Kashmiryat! It is also to be lamented that our culturologists (if we have any) have yet to understand and identify the metaphysical basis of different cultural dimensions of Kashmir. From the particularities of dress to our religious and social rituals and different traditional crafts nothing is explicable except with reference to metaphysics or beliefs received from timeless dimension in which prophets and sages live and breathe. Unless we have an all-comprehensive and inclusive understanding of all cultural expressions, all folk beliefs, all religious traditions which encompass us (and this primarily needs metaphysical instead of theological/sociological/literary or linguistic analysis or approach) we can’t talk of Kashmiri culture or Kashmiri identity. Comprehensive conception of Kashmiryat requires understanding the Tradition, the metaphysic that underlies diverse religious and philosophical expressions that we find here.

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