Nothing

You sit and hold your face

On the cusp of your hands

And outside the window

You see nothing

 

Your gaze is firm and intense

On the snow-capped happiness

It shimmers in its whole being

But tell nothing

 

A river races down the meadow

Its sorrow roars and flows

And flows down like a serpent

You listen to what it wants to say

You hear nothing

 

At a far off distance a soul sings

Big willows leaning on its body

You close the window and retreat

For the song says nothing

 

In your dreams

there is a light in the center

It glows and glows eternally

And everything moves towards it

But you

For you watch in silence

perhaps in awe and horror

You are alone, you see around

And there is nothing

 

 

 

24 January 2017

DCU

11:40 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism, A Review

Book: The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism (From The Cold War To The Present Day)

Author: Nandita Haksar

Print Length: xvi + 335

Genre: Non Fiction / Narrative

Publisher: Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2015

ISBN: 978-93-85288-18-0

Reviewer: Muhammad Tahir

book cover

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism belongs to the narrative genre that has a long pedigree in the literature on Kashmir. This genre, in English language, was probably started in the late 19th century by the European orientalists like Walter Lawrence, Francis Younghusband, Tyndale Biscoe and others, who described Kashmir and Kashmiris from their subjective points of view — and oftentimes implied that Kashur was a mendacious character.

In the recent past, Humra Quraishi (Kashmir: The Untold Story, 2004), David Devadas (In Search of Future: The Story of Kashmir, 2007), and Justine Hardy (In the Valley of Mist, 2009), to name but a few have added to this corpus of narrative literature.

If Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2008) provided a long overdue native perspective on Kashmir, the other works mentioned above, obviously, were an outsiders’ probing gaze on the natives. Since Haksar’s ancestors had long migrated out of Kashmir in the 19th century, and by her own admission she is an Indian by body and spirit, we can safely say that hers is a rather non-native or, as she would prefer, a liberal Indian’s perspective on Kashmir.

“I thought of it,” says Haksar in the book, “as a fight to defend Indian democracy, with the emphasis on Indian.” Here she is referring to Muhammad Afzal Guru’s case.

After Afzal was hanged in February 2013, Haksar and her colleague N D Pancholi — who also drafted Afzal’s mercy petition — had withdrawn as Guru family’s lawyers citing that their involvement had ruffled feathers of Indian nationalists and had invited “anti-national” label for them, and also their solidarity had been suspiciously perceived by some political groups in Kashmir. Therefore, in a way this book has provided Haksar a much-needed opportunity to salvage her image among those Indians who cast aspersions on her nationalistic credentials.

Throughout the book, Haskar emphasises that hers was essentially a political fight, because she wanted to “pave the way for another kind of politics” — open up more democratic space and won more friends for India among Kashmiris.

Sampat Prakash is the main protagonist in the book. He emerges as an audacious, passionate socialist who leads an influential labour organisation Low Paid Government Servants Federation, and through his tireless work he manages to get some important benefits for the working class people in both government and non-government sectors. Moreover, as an ardent believer of Kashmiriyat and Kashmiri nationalism, Sampat also briefly joined JKLF. Here he diligently accompanied Yasin Malik on his 2007 Safar-e-Azadi campaign and toured even “risky’ areas of Kashmir. Though, he considers this experience as a significant one, but a grudge remains: that his part in the campaign was not well acknowledged.

So, it is through Sampat’s recounting of his life-tale that Haksar tries to chart the history of the trade union movement in Jammu and Kashmir. This strategy pays off. Because Sampat has been a stupendously perceptive witness to many hitherto unknown events and intrigues in the political history of Kashmir, and he lays bare before the author perhaps the first historical account on trade unionism in Kashmir, providing interesting and insightful details about its major troughs and crests and its dramatis personae.

Afzal-Guru

Another prominent figure in the book is Muhammad Afzal Guru, whom Haksar knew very well, and to whose family she extended unconditional hospitality at her Delhi home. Naturally, she is privy to many episodes and events around Afzal and Syed Abdur Rehman Geelani (Prof SAR Geelani) which have an intriguing and controversial character to them.

So, what really make these two characters, Afzal and Sampat, to stick together and allow author to weave a coherent narrative? For Haksar, Sampat represents a secular spirit within Kashmiri nationalism that is better represented by the syncretic culture of Kashmiriyat. Oddly enough, Haksar seems sceptical about this term, but Sampat believes in it and cites his experiences in the labour movement as its reflection. Afzal, on the other hand, is story of a Kashmiri nationalist, who started off as a secular JKLF activist, but overwhelming circumstances and a long jail term made him reflect deeper on life and its meanings and eventually took him into an Islamist position. For Haksar, these two ideological strands represented by these two Kashmiris define facets of Kashmiri nationalism in the post-1947 period.

While the author demonstrates that she empathetically understands Kashmiri people and their issues and criticises, and rightly so, the Indian state for its brutalities and suppression within Kashmir and its persistent policy of militaristic approach to the Kashmir conflict, there are certain problems in her narrative, however, which I want to highlight — I am interested in discursive strategies employed in the book.

Seemingly, Haksar is an advocate of Kashmiri Self-Determination, but in this book she seems to falter on this position at the very beginning when she writes “Afzal was born as a citizen of independent India.” This is a problematic assumption on which Vishal Bhardhwaj also tripped up in his movie Haider when the film rolls with the words: “Srinagar, India”. But, the more problematic aspects are certain tropes and apocryphal stories and statements that abound her narrative. As a self-professed liberal she seems predisposed to dislike other ideologies, especially Islamist, and that naturally brings certain biases into her narrative.

For example, she claims, without referencing any empirical study or survey, that 16 percent of Muslims in J&K are Salafist, and as an evidence we should see new mosques in Kashmir that are built on “Saudi architectural style” . This is a spurious claim because Saudi architectural style is a vague term and even if we accept it for argument’s sake, then Dargah Hazratbal shrine would count as a classic case in Kashmir, because it is modelled on “Medina mosque”.  For me, Saudi architectural style actually conjures up Basharat Peer’s 2012 New Yorker article “Modern Mecca” which describes the bulldozed heritage in that country!

I am reluctant to call it an Islamophobic streak but she does veer close to it on many occasions. For example, on page 240 she writes: “But the challenge before Sampat Prakash was not militant Islam, but the rise of militant Hinduism.” One is misled in believing that there will follow, perhaps for the sake of balance, a critical discussion on militant Hinduism. But that is not to be, and just some pages later, she comes back to write: “over unlimited kebabs and a few drinks at Barbeque Nation, he [Sampat] shared his concerns over the rise of Ahl-e-Hadith’s version of Islam [in Kashmir]”. Her focus again and again comes back to what she calls as “radical Islam”, but there is no actual discussion on “militant Hinduism” or Panun Kashmir’s fascist Hindutva.

That Kashmiris are cowardly and effeminate in nature is a peculiar trope to describe natives, a trope with a long pedigree that orientalist made quite use of till Edward Said ruined their party around 1978. But Haksar carries it all off with a blithe indifference and shows us how a “ferocious-looking militant” actually fainted at magician’s trick of slicing a women into two, and how this all seeming machismo and manliness of a bearded, Kalashnikov wielding young Kashmiri is nothing but pretension, because “Bismillah said before the insurgency Kashmiris used to faint at the sight of blood and would cry even if they saw an injured bird” (170).

Nandita Haksar with Afzal Guru Family

In uncritical terms, she describes Pandits as ingrained secular and scholarly people, while as Muslims as non-secular. This dichotomy is achieved through the character of Badruddin, who, we are told, was beaten up by a Muslim teacher because he couldn’t properly pronounce an Arabic word, but when Badruddin met a Kashmiri Pandit he “instilled in him a love of science”. Whereas kindhearted Pandit teacher emphasised on secular education, the Muslim teacher “introduced Badruddin to books by Maulana Maududi” (172). This dichotomous view perhaps explains why she is so sceptical about the notion of “Kashmiriyat” and seemingly negatively predisposed towards Kashmiri leaders.

Haksar also plays with the familiar boilerplate trope of proxy war, and for an effect she uses Kashmiri Muslim characters as channel for such articulation. Sample this: “The headmaster said the insurgency was revenge for the breaking up of Pakistan, and the creation of Bangladesh.” She also wrongly describes Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar as a “Pakistani militant”, ignoring the fact that he is a native of Downtown Srinagar where he is known as “Mushtaq Latram”. Moreover, while the book is supposedly about many facets of Kashmiri nationalism, yet the discussion on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad runs disproportionately on more pages than the discussion about the emergence of the Kashmiri nationalist formations, which only gets passing mention. So, what purpose does a longer and recurrent discussion on Pakistan-based militant groups serve other than reinforcing the statist idea that the Kashmir armed struggle is a “proxy war”.

One of the problematics in her narrative is the strategy of false equivalency and false balance which comes to the fore in statements like these: ‘…thousands of Kashmiri were killed by militants and Indian security forces…’ (223). Notice the placement of militants before the Indian forces as an attempt to distort the fact that the Indian forces and the Kashmiri militants are not at parity — militarily; and while the former is essentially for systematically controlling and brutalising Kashmiris on behalf of the post-colonial state, the latter emerges from and acts on behalf of the occupied Kashmiris and receives the popular support.

One of the most preposterous statements in the book was perhaps this: “He [Kuka Parray] had returned a disappointed man as he felt that Pakistan was not helping Kashmir but destroying its ethos” (167). By this logic Kuka Parray must have been a man of ethics, principles, and compassion. But Haksar does not tell us on whose behalf he, in turn, started destroying the Kashmiri ethos by creating a brigade of brutal renegades who tortured and killed people with impunity, raped women, razed down houses, smuggled timber and did all the terrible things?

The most telling example of the gaps in her narrative, though, is her take on the uprisings since 2008. She frames the 2008 mass civil agitation as a clash of “religious fundamentalism”, conveniently ignoring that the 2008 mass protests had assumed a nationalist character, turning into one of the largest anti-India uprisings in the 21st century Kashmir; that many elite Indian newspapers had in fact taken notice and carried opinion pieces advocating independence for Kashmir; that 2008 was in fact a watershed moment for the Kashmiri nationalist movement as it mobilised hundreds of thousands of people who demanded end to the Indian militarised occupation in Kashmir; that the 2008 mass agitation also deflated the Indian statist, and predominant Indian civil society, discourse of ‘Pakistan’s proxy war’ and brought international focus on the Self-Determination movement of Kashmiris. And yet, curiously, the 2009 Asiya and Neelofar rape and murder case and the 2010 mass civil uprising is completely omitted in the book.

Her biases also reflect in the way she peddles unsubstantiated claims and takes political rhetoric for reality: “Kashmir treated Jammu like its colony”, or “while much money had been spent to develop tourism in Kashmir, nothing had been done for Jammu” (245). These terms “Colony” and “Nothing” are casually and uncritically thrown in the sentences.

In the Afterword, Haksar briefly dips into the holy waters of the conflict resolution and here she disappoints by taking the route of chimera called Insaniyat a la Prime Ministers of India when they pop in Kashmir to deliver their political homilies to arranged audiences every now and then, and leaving us with the nagging question as always: what does she really mean when she says I support Kashmiris right to decide their own future?

Post-script: When self-professed liberal Indians begin to describe Kashmiris, the experience dictates that the latter should always take their words with a large pinch of salt.

__________

First published in Kashmir Life on April 5, 2016: http://www.kashmirlife.net/the-many-faces-of-kashmiri-nationalism-a-review-101253/

Godman’s Goose

In 1992 three Pulwama villages invoked draw-of-lots to decide where their faith-healer Syed Gayas-ud-din Bukhari should stay. Babhaar, a dusky Pulwama hamlet won. Quickly, the god-man migrated out of his native Rupwen village in Budgam.

Bukhari’s murid (follower), sheep-herder Dost Muhammad Wagay gave-up sheep-husbandry and followed his Pir to Babhar. As a watchman of Pir’s new home, Dost stayed put there, ever since.

The new Babhar residence of the Pir remained crowded with his followers, who visited him regularly. For establishing a spiritual centre by Pir, Babhar’s four zamindars (landowners) — Syeda Begum (Mrs Abdul Ahad Malik), Ghulam Mohammad Mir, Farooq Ahmad Sheikh, and Ali Mohammad Sheikh — gifted land. Pir’s popularity had surged donations and offerings. Within a decade, Pir’s new residence flourished into a vibrant spiritual centre, attracting people from all social and economic classes.

“Even the rich and influential would pay a visit here,” says Dost Muhammad, now a frail elderly in his 60’s.

The seminary known as Darul Aloom Rohani Markaz, tucked inside dense apple orchards, is spread over 6.6 kanals. Inside the walled seminary, air of tranquility and silence pervades. Shrubs and evergreens encircle its manicured garden.

Amidst this serene quietude stand a couple of structures. Right at the entry, a two-level concrete and glass structure, painted in white and green, greets a visitor. It is the Rohani Markaz (spiritual centre).

“This is the place where Pir Sahib used to sit with his followers,” explains Dost Muhammad. “It is now locked, but if you peep through the glass windows you can see his framed pictures inside.”

On the right side is a well furnished white varnished mosque, decked with traditional pagoda-style tin roof. Abutting the mosque on the far side rests Bukhari in his tomb.

The place where Pir used to sit.

Pir’s loyal followers still visit his white-washed brick and mortar tomb — burning incense sticks around it, hanging garlands, tying votive threads on the window handle bars. They donate money in the brown steel safe that sits comfortably at the tomb’s entrance.

“His murids regularly visit the shrine and organize niyaz (a feast in somebody’s memory),” Dost Muhammad informed while advising to remove shoes before stepping on the tomb steps.

There are other structures around also. A two storey building used as a dormitory for the students of the Darul Aloom, a concrete one storey building where the Pir used to sit after migration, a big store house, and a stone plinth of an abandoned construction — now converted into a kitchen garden.

“Previously this place thrived on the footfalls,” says Dost, “politicians, police officers would come here. It was always a lively place.” But not anymore.

Currently, all is not well with this serene habitat. After Pir’s death in March 2009, the 6.6 kanal property has turned into a site of dispute, dividing relatives and the villagers. The centre for community’s spiritual growth has now become a devise issue.

The division is unique. On one side stands Pir’s 58-year-old son Syed Mukhtar Ahmad Bukhari, and Majeed, one of the land donors. Opposing them are Syed Bashir Ahmad Andrabi (Pir’s son-in-law) and the three remaining land donors. The dispute is already seven year old. They lodged FIRs and petitioned courts, and on one occasion, entered into physical brawl also.

Grave of Pir's mother

Pir’s son Mukhtar and his supporters hold that since the seminary’s property belonged to the Pir, his children are its natural and legal inheritors.

Opponents, however, contend that the land was gifted for building a religious institution — a Takeer (Trust) — and not as a personal property.

“When my illiterate father and aunt [Syeda Begum] donated their ancestral land they did it for the sole purpose of establishment of a Trust,” says Abdul Qayoom, son of a land-donor Ghulam Muhammad Mir. “After Pir’s death, his son, who had rarely visited the seminary, claimed ownership.”

Qayoom alleges that Mukhtar even sold seminary’s land at Sombur, in Pampore outskirts, which Pir had purchased from the donations raised at Babhar centre.

But Mukhtar refutes the allegation. “We (one son and four daughters of Bukhari) are the rightful owners of everything that our father owned, and only an owner can sell the property,” he explained.

What makes the case a curious family dispute over property is the presence of Syed Bashir Ahmad, Pir’s son-in-law, in the opposition camp. Working in Handicrafts department, he lives in Srinagar. Presently, the seminary is in occupation of the group that Bashir supports.

Qayoom says more than 100 students are currently enrolled in the seminary, functioning under the guidance of Maulana Shakeel ul Rehman. “It was the wasiyat (will)” says Qayoom, “of the Pir Sahib that Syed Bashir Ahmad should become his spiritual janasheen (successor)”.

Mukhtar neither accepts his brother-in-law as Bukhari’s ‘spiritual’ successor nor does he accept that the land, including the seminary, belongs to any institution.

“My brother-in-law in cahoots with the other party started this dispute,” Mukhtar said. “He claimed he is entitled to care-taking of the property. However, we filed a case in the civil court against him and the Pulwama court has issued a stay order, barring his entry into the premises.”

Qayoom argues that seminary cannot become a personal property because different government departments have also donated to it: toilets by Block Development Office, funds donated by MLAs and Deputy Commissioner, and RDA.

“Actually it is our land donated for a purpose,” explains Qayoom. “If they try to make it a personal property we will take it back.”

When the property transfer was under process in 2010, the opposing group had submitted their objections to the Additional DC Pulwama before 90 days. But, they alleged, a revenue officer was influenced to ensure the land ownership to Pir’s son.

Three years ahead of his death, Qayoom claims, Pir had written a wasiyat stating the property belongs to the Trust and there are witnesses to vouch for that. These documents, however, were kept by a judge.

Mukhtar alleged that his opponents joined by Maulvi Shakeel ur Rehman started Darul Aloom after evicting his family forcefully from the property in June 2010.

Ruhani Markaz

“We had to leave as we feared for our lives,” says Mukhtar. “We had no other option. The case is now pending with DC Pulwama.”

On June 26, 2010 at 5 pm, according to Mukhtar, some 5 to 7 people barged into the seminary premises wielding sticks. They attacked his family and few other people. Mukhtar was with a neighbour at the time, but his son was at the seminary. In the melee one Mohammad Abbas Sheikh was critically injured and hospitalised.

But the opposing group has a different narration about the June 26 incident. They allege that men supporting Mukhtar attacked their women Syeda Begum and Saja Begum, then in their 60’s.

Both the groups registered cases against each other with police. “We lodged an FIR against physical assault. They lodged a counter FIR alleging molestation of old women,” says Abdul Majeed, another resident whose family had also donated 2 kanals of land to the Pir in 1998. But unlike other three families he supports Mukhtar’s right to inheritance, insisting the land transfer to the Pir was through a gift deed.

“The Quran and Sharia makes the inheritance clear,” says Majeed, “Property transfers to legal heirs. The land was given to Pir in 1992 and till 2009 there was no Darul Aloom around. He died in 2009 and after three months the property was transferred to his children.”

Majeed alleges that opponents have “forcefully” brought poor kids from remote corners of Kashmir to the seminary to keep it running. “At the moment, i guess, there must be barely 15 students enrolled. They just want to make money through it. They want the donated land back and talk of Trust is just a smokescreen,” he says.

But why didn’t police help them if the court, as he claimed, had ruled in their favour?

“I approached the police several times. Even I visited the then SSP. But they are dragging the case. Police informed the court that they failed to locate the disputed land site!”

Police, this writer talked to, said they are not authorised to talk. Off the record, however, they said the jurisdiction of the case lies with the revenue authorities. “Legally speaking, we can just provide protection but cannot evict any party,” says a police man at Police Station Pulwama.

Qayoom alleges that Majeed is siding with Mukhtar because one of his relatives, the erstwhile general secretary of the Trust, has misappropriated cash and gold that came as donation.

“He was the bank account holder on behalf of the Trust and I have evidences against him,” alleges Qayoom. “He used Rs 75 lakh of seminary money for the construction of his own house.’’

Majeed refutes these allegations.

Mukhtar, a deputy secretary in Legislative Assembly, says the land donators lack even a shred of evidence to prove that they gave land for the Trust.

“It is a 20 years old thing,” says Mukhtar, “why was the Trust not legally registered in these years? When he (Pir) was alive why didn’t they ask him to register the Trust? If the lands transfer documents were executed in 1995 why didn’t they follow it up till 2009?”

Dost Muhammad

Admitting to the existence of a “religious centre” on the site, Mukhtar said: “it is our pesha [profession] and our livelihood depends on it. Our forefathers too were part of it. We are in this business for the last 100 years or so.”

Hinting at the traditional association of certain castes with the pesha, Mukhtar says his brother-in-law is no Andrabi, but a Shah. “His claims on enrolment make no sense as the property ultimately belongs to me. They are just illegal trespassers occupying the premises against court orders,” asserts Mukhtar.

Talking strictly within the legal framework of inheritance, Mukhtar admitted selling a land plot at Druss. “Suppose I have intention to build a mosque but I die suddenly and I have legal heirs, isn’t it their choice whether they build it or not?” he asked. “His (Pir’s) intentions were indeed noble, but he couldn’t complete it, so what can one do! It is now the discretion of his legal heirs whether they want to continue their father’s mission or use it for their own purpose. Others have no business meddling in this.” He said same argument holds true for another land sale at Sombur.

Asked about his father’s intention in purchasing the Sombur land, Mukhtar explained thus: “If Mirwaiz Kashmir purchases a land that does not mean that he will necessarily build a mosque everywhere.”

“One has his family to look after also. Rohaniyat (spirituality) is fine but one has to live also.”

At ground zero, the new generation is cracking jokes. “The Pir duped the naïve peasants,” one young man, claiming to be equidistant from the warring factions, said. He, however, believed the seminary, if permitted to grow, would contribute positively to the community.

“If the Pir has transferred the seminary property to his heirs, it is a clear case of fraud,” said Tariq Ahmad, a PhD scholar and a Babhar native. “Such cases have made people increasingly wary about pir-muridi system.”

Seminary hostel.

Interestingly, the faith in Pir was unquestioned among warring factions. Village majority believes that Wasiyat must prevail.

Interestingly, the watchman Dost Muhammad’s existence is lost to the parties. He has diligently taken care of the seminary for the last 20 years, at times even sleeping empty stomach. He does not get any salary, but his solemn faith in his Pir keeps him going. Elderly Dost somehow managing a meagre sustenance, tending the kitchen garden and doing the domestic chores.

“Pir Sahib told me,” Dost said with a clear conviction in his soft voice, “If I work here, I will get great rewards in the life hereafter.”

__________

First published in Kashmir Life on 21 June 2016: http://www.kashmirlife.net/godmans-goose-issue-14-vol-08-108835/