Kashmiriyat — The Face Behind The Veil

Kashmiriyat — The Face Behind The Veil

The coinage smacks of a separatist agenda. There is no such thing if you were to study the state’s people(s) or even compare Kashmiris with other Indians. Vajpayee upstaged it wisely with his “Insaniyat”. Modi must see the politics in play behind the name-game.

The views expressed here are personal.

Every time there is a spate of killings in Kashmir, almost everybody with any investment in the Kashmir situation rushes in to protest the incongruity of the event in the context of the fabled liberal traditions of Kashmir, or what is now fashionably also known as Kashmiriyat.

It has been a while since Kashmiriyat began doing the rounds — to the extent I can’t really say who or what actually coined it. It could have been a coinage of the Maharaja era, or even the separatist Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front’s accidental discovery in arguing the cultural isolation of the Kashmiris. Although, why they would ignore Jammu-yat or Laddakhi-yat, I wouldn’t know. It could also have been a National Conference plant, in arguing its case for greater autonomy for a very special people.  It is a pliant enough word to have been used by the rag-tag Hurriyat, in their hurry to become amenable to any international platform that was available, and it is often used by the Indian political establishment across the floor when they want to rub in the distinction between this Kashmir and the one that is not this.

The loaded name is rearing its head once again in the discourse on Jammu & Kashmir.

The truth, in this case, is not somewhere in between but somewhere completely else. This attempt to brand the socio-cultural ethos of the Kashmiris, as distinct from the Jammuites and the Laddakhis, serves to not only undermine the other two cultural identities, but it accents dangerously the distinction of being a Kashmiri. That this is also patently incorrect is another matter, for how different is essential Kashmiriyat from Punjabiyat? What is it that makes the Kashmiri unique, which does not the Jammuite or the Ladhakhi? Or even the Bihari or the Bengali? Is it the salubrious climate? Or is it some stunning example of secular behaviour that, some would hope, puts the Gujaratis to shame?

Hardly! Kashmiriyat is only as unique or as average as any other socio-cultural component of the region. And in that too, it does not possess as flattering a lineage as say, Bengal, if only for a people’s intellectual and other achievements.

Kashmiriyat as tokenism is yet another variation on the theme. When we want to propound the fictitious secularism of Kashmir, we use this variation wholeheartedly. But when it takes on meanings as a distinctive community of a people who have other politico-religious ambitions, we duck. This is precisely what then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to skirt when he famously proposed “insaniyat” (humanity) as a more encompassing paradigm to bringing peace in the Valley.

And when it is used to speak of a distinct culture, its users usually fail to provide its context. If the Kashmiriyat of the Kashmir we still have with us is the liberal and benign variety, what of the Kashmir on the other side? Is that Kashmiriyat too, or is it PoKashmiriyat?

For the world community, this word is fast achieving a flexible quality of application depending on what the pressure points are. The West has liked this word because it gives them the handle to rub in the distinctiveness of the Kashmir region — and therefore its problem — with no reference to the state, and without upsetting the Indian viewpoint. This dubious quality of the word, quite in keeping with the political character of the region, is the perfect way to talk in a variety of tongues about the same thing without anybody discovering the real intent.

Then there is the quintessential spin-doctored version of Kashmiriyat, as a wonderfully benign, Sufistic version of Islam that is so unique that you find it nowhere else in the world. Quite right, that you find it nowhere else on earth. For, where else do you find a land that has, over the last 700 years, systematically expelled wave after wave of Kashmiri Pandits from its confines with no weapon other than religion? Here is a people who stand testimony to startling reduction in their count repeatedly — from over 29 per cent of just Srinagar City in 1873, (Fredrick Drew, Census of 1873) to less than one per cent in the entire Valley today. Is this is the vaunted tradition of Kashmiryat?

That a minuscule minority, representative of the last remnants of any figment of pluralism in the Valley, could become the focus of such an organised onslaught over such a long time! And we were still all keyed in to watching The Pianist win an Oscar for its director, a Jew, who purportedly survived the Holocaust—when the coinage Kashmiriyat was gaining currency! Hey, we have our very own holocaust here, and it’s called Kashmiriyat, but is anybody looking?

The only constant, it seems, is that nobody seems to want to put the reality in its correct perspective. After all, if this sort of violence does not belong to Kashmir by culture or religion, why does it happen with such regular frequency? The intensity has only varied till 2015. While the Pandits were cleansed out in 1989, there is still little hope of their return to their home and hearth.

I can just about visualise the champions of India’s secular traditions rising in an echo against what is implicit in this statement. But would they care to ask if this kind of a campaign can survive century after century without bearing in its soil a small seed of what makes all this possible? No it can’t, for without the seed there can be no tree; without a nurturing climate there can’t be fruition.

There are commentators who want to wish away any finger-pointing at Kashmiris by pointing fingers at the north western borders — and the tradition continues even till today. But is the pusillanimous nature of the Kashmiri the only weak link that allows one morbid regime after another to find just the right environment in this place, all through its history, to practice such a long drawn cleansing? Be that as it may. To absolve Kashmiris, for what has happened in the Valley, is to excuse a people their complicity in what has always happened in Kashmir.

Let us not allow the word to veil the truth: If Kashmiriyat represents liberalism, Auschwitz was Disneyland.

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