With prayers for san­ity in Kash­mir

The vol­ume helps us move be­yond the usual ways of think­ing about Kash­mir that have proven abortive.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

Amidst the ag­gres­sive de­bates, ter­ri­ble vi­o­lence and atro­cious hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Kash­mir, some very se­ri­ous schol­ars within the broader so­cial sci­ences and hu­man­i­ties have been silently work­ing for a more ac­cu­rate and crit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of key is­sues to pro­duce a more in­formed and se­ri­ous di­a­logue to­wards re­solv­ing the cri­sis in Kash­mir. Pro­fes­sor Chi­tralekha Zut­shi of the Col­lege of Wil­liam and Mary, United States, is one of the most re­spected his­to­ri­ans of Kash­mir in the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion with a cou­ple of widely ap­pre­ci­ated books: Lan­guages of Be­long­ing: Is­lam, Re­gional Iden­tity, and the Mak­ing of Kash­mir (2003/2004) and Kash­mir’s Con­tested Pasts: Nar­ra­tives, Sa­cred Ge­ogra­phies, and the His­tor­i­cal Imag­i­na­tion ( 2014). Pro­fes­sor Zut­shi has re­cently edited a fine col­lec­tion of crit­i­cal es­says, Kash­mir: His­tory, Pol­i­tics, Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The el­e­gantly de­signed book with 14 sub­stan­tial chap­ters will in­ter­est all stake­hold­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, schol­ars, as well as gen­eral read­ers for its wide-rang­ing cov­er­age of themes and ideas, es­pe­cially in these times when the pol­i­tics of vi­o­lence has reached a dead-end.

The his­to­ri­ans in the vol­ume de­ploy an in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ap­proach, es­pe­cially by ac­cess­ing the Kash­miri lan­guage ar­chive through ethno­graphic re­search to un­der­stand de­bates and ques­tions on re­li­gion, re­gion and na­tion in the past and the present, in an at­tempt to tran­scend ide­o­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers that pre­vent a proper ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Kash­mir’s rich his­tory. Sim­i­larly, the con­trib­u­tors on pol­i­tics adopt so­ci­o­log­i­cal, ethno­graphic and lit­er­ary ap­proaches to cast a wide net on crit­i­cal ques­tions in­volv­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal marginal­i­sa­tion, be­sides vi­o­la­tions of dif­fer­ent kinds. The vol­ume also of­fers fresh schol­arly in­sights on un­der­stud­ied re­gions, such as Gil­git-Baltistan and Pak­istani Kash­mir, thereby broad­en­ing our un­der­stand­ing of the is­sue and re­gion of Kash­mir over a longue durée.

The short and crisp “In­tro­duc­tion” by the ed­i­tor helps nav­i­gate the unini­ti­ated in Kash­mir’s in­tel­lec­tual tra­di­tions and the var­ied re­sponses to con­flict and vi­o­lence for a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the in­tri­ca­cies of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial re­la­tion­ships in con­flict zones. There are a num­ber of points that the in­di­vid­ual es­says make, which might be worth high­light­ing, since they can be use­ful in com­par­a­tive terms for other em­bat­tled re­gions as well. These in­clude think­ing about these re­gions as more than sim­ply zones of con­flict; con­flict it­self as more than a bat­tle over ter­ri­tory be­tween states, but more in terms of con­tested nar­ra­tives, gen­der and other iden­ti­ties, and po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The mean­ings of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, more­over, go be­yond the po­lit­i­cal and can be ar­tic­u­lated in terms of who rep­re­sents a place and how, and the con­tes­ta­tions to these rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Fi­nally, the vol­ume re­minds us that pol­i­tics even in con­flict zones needs to be ex­am­ined in terms of caste, class, cen­tre-re­gion dis­putes, and so on.

To­gether, the es­says in this vol­ume help us move be­yond the usual ways of think­ing about Kash­mir that have proven abortive and only com­pli­cated this sen­si­tive is­sue fur­ther. The com­mu­nal­i­sa­tion of the prob­lem, on the one hand, and link­ing of sep­a­ratist vi­o­lence with in­ter­na­tional ter­ror-net­works, on the other, have un­for­tu­nately brought the is­sue to its cur­rent hope­less state, which can still be re­solved peace­fully through sin­cere re­spect for a mul­ti­plic­ity of per­spec­tives and an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the griev­ances of the re­gion’s in­hab­i­tants.

In this con­text, in­vok­ing Kash­mir’s own nar­ra­tive and re­li­gious tra­di­tions might be help­ful. As Zut­shi’s ear­lier work as well as the edited vol­ume il­lus­trates, Kash­mir is an amal­gam of mul­ti­ple in­flu­ences, peo­ple, and cul­tures that have co­ex­isted de­spite dif­fer­ences and at times con­flict. Kash­mir’s in­dige­nous mys­tics, such as Nund Rishi and Lal Ded, recog­nised di­vi­sions along lines of class, pol­i­tics, and re­li­gion, while also ad­vo­cat­ing for their re­dres­sal and ac­com­mo­da­tion, ideas that Kash­mir’s nar­ra­tive tra­di­tion cel­e­brates in mul­ti­ple lan­guages—San­skrit, Per­sian, Kash­miri and Urdu.

Thus, lessons from the past can help. His­tory should be seen not in the du­bi­ous sense of imag­ined wrongs of thou­sands of years past that must be cor­rected and re­venged de­pend­ing on po­lit­i­cal need, but rather as an in­formed un­der­stand­ing of the com­plex­i­ties of the pro­cesses which might in­clude con­flict of in­ter­ests as well as long­stand­ing shared so­cial and cul­tural prac­tices. We can­not al­low these prac­tices to be torn asun­der by po­lit­i­cal gim­micks that seek to fan sec­tar­ian prej­u­dices. In the lan­guage of Kal­hana, the famed poet-his­to­rian of Kash­mir, a proper un­der­stand­ing of his­tory can of­fer shantrasa, calm re­flec­tion and re­al­i­sa­tion in times of po­lit­i­cal abuses, ca­coph­ony and vi­o­lence. In­deed, there is need to rise above the usual com­mu­nal di­vide for much-needed san­ity on the is­sue of Kash­mir. Based on Chi­tralekha Zut­shi, ed., Kash­mir: His­tory, Pol­i­tics, Rep­re­sen­ta­tion, New Delhi: Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press, 2017.

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