Political Uses of the Official History of Kashmir

The newly formed Institute of Kashmir Studies has provoked a shrill debate among academics, and also in some sections of the civil society. The debate, despite its frequent tumble into abuses and allegations, is only a sign of how the story of Kashmir can no longer be a monologue, but must contend with its democratic polyphony. There are many stories of Kashmir now, all vying for validity, but none commanding authority. The history of Kashmir is no longer something which can be imposed from above: the subaltern will ensure that it will always remain in the making, and never find its conclusion. It is being created as it is spoken about.

The postmodern re-evaluation of the nature of history has managed to put the old correspondence theory under a cloud. The earlier emphasis that the past is “out there” for us to discover and reconstruct, unmediated by language, does not hold substance, since it is widely agreed that language is a contaminated medium, facts/evidences are pre-fabricated, and our understanding of the past stands upon layers and layers of narratives; all of which, instead of leading us toward any “basic truth,” actually drive us farther away. Kashmir’s history, like Kashmir itself, is getting written, written-over, and rewritten. It is not that new irrefutable evidence is emerging, but the realization has dawned that the version of history, which till now we thought was “the history,” is just a story; and, it is possible to have alternative stories.

This present process of history-creation, however, is not taking place in a neutral, fair space. As happens always, the votaries of the official story are afforded an authorial high ground by the state: this dominant version of history in return legitimates the authority of the occupier state. Any mark of dissent is branded as malignant, and sought to be erased.

Take, for instance, R. K. Bhat’s vitriolic response to M. Ashraf’s comments (both published in Greater Kashmir daily) on the institute’s vision statement. It would be pointless to decry Bhat, who clearly betrays an ill intent in trying to noisily silence Ashraf by calling the latter “rabidly communal,” “bigoted,” and a supporter of “ethnic-cleansing” of Kashmiri Pandits, rather than engaging in a scholarly manner with some of the pertinent issues that Ashraf raises.

Bhat’s spat is like a bubble coming out of the gelatinous potage of old hegemony. He is shocked to see someone showing a dare to challenge ‘his’ history; perhaps this is what has evoked a venomous outburst from him instead of stirring him to be circumspect about his own position. Bhat’s ignorance even leads him to portray as a “fact of history” the myth that Kashmir got its name from “Kashyap Muni,” a sage imagined by Kalhana in his kavya (poem) called Rajatarangini, and repeated ad nausea by Brahmins since then. Such Brahminical crudity will not find the natural acceptance it did once. From history Kashyap has been dethroned, and returned justly to its mythic status.

It becomes important now to add “it is believed,” or, more importantly, “a religious community believes,” before we proclaim that Kashmir took its name from a drummed-up sage called Kashyap Muni. But Bhat will keep yapping fictions as facts. His potage has been solidifying for many years instead of becoming more fluid like the society around him. The arrogant certainty with which he deludes himself is twice removed from present debates about the discipline of history. He not only refuses to accept what he remembers as the history of Kashmir as just another narrative, but he also urges others to privilege improbable myths as history. In places with moderately decent academic freedom Bhat would be laughed at, but in Kashmir we have been forced listen to pseudo-historians like him.

It is important to keep in mind what Michel Foucault has taught us: hegemonic discourses are hand-in-glove with power, in that these discourses reinforce power. The discourse on Kashmir’s past, too, is deeply linked to power, i.e. the continuation of Indian control over Kashmir. As a case in point, the categories through which Kashmir’s past and present are viewed are not, and can never be, adequate. Categories like “syncretism” and models like the “cultural mosaic” were constructed in the last few decades and inflicted upon Kashmir’s past. I am not arguing this to give credence to equally stupid viewpoint that Kashmir had either a pure Hindu or a pure Islamic past, but to question the uses and abuses of ‘syncretism’ as a category of understanding.

‘Syncretism’ points to a commonality of some doctrinal elements and not simply to the commonality of everyday life practices. At the doctrinal level, Hindus and Muslims have never shared much, apart from certain universal values, which all religions share. Of course, everyday life in Kashmir has been to a great extent marked by hybridity. But that is the case with most other societies, thus making Kashmir no exception.

In his work on kinship relations of Kashmiri Pandits of a southern Kashmiri village, T. N. Madan ignored Muslims who constituted a huge majority of the village, as if there was rigid segregation of the two communities. Well, if Madan couldn’t detect any syncretism in the late 1950s how is it that we have suddenly found it now? Why are India-loyalists bandying syncretism around so much?

Syncretism has political uses. Muslim syncretism suits India’s ‘national integration’ project: it softens the Muslimness in Muslims, and reveals a Hindu influence on them. It matters little that the same syncretism is not required to understand Hindus in India. The “pure” form of Islam (whatever that means) is naturally assumed to be dangerous, but pristine Hinduism (again a misnomer)—in the way Kashmiri Pandits value caste purity—is seen as unproblematic, even desirable.

Kashmir’s syncretism is also called “Kashmiriyat,” which is made out to be the dominant feature of Kashmiri society. How is it that a fragile social interaction between 95 percent Muslims and 3 percent Hindus is constructed as the dominant feature of Kashmiri society? Clamouring Kashmiriyatists may erase the class dimensions of that interaction, but to suggest that everything was hunky dory is to live in a state of denial. For instance, the way Madan “objectively” mentions Muslims (rarely as he does) as performing impure rites for Hindus, as midwives, or tillers of Pandit land, or Muslims in general being “polluting,” without pausing for a moment to question why it should have been like that, underscores this point. Similarly, the lack of any major Kashmiri Muslim rebellion during a large chunk of the Dogra period does not indicate that relations between the explicitly pro-Hindu rulers and their systematically impoverished Muslim subjects were harmonious, as Bhat suggests.

Since we now have the understanding that the official history is used to prop up Indian state’s legitimacy, we can unearth its basic components. For instance, the clue to work loose the mainstream Indian discourse on Kashmir is quite starkly presented in Bhat’s article itself when he seeks to find the basis for Kashmir’s inclusion in India in Hinduism. Bhat spends almost 90 percent of his piece finding this Hindu connection, while he half-heartedly devotes a small paragraph on 700 years of Kashmir’s latest history.

My intention is not to suggest that times and societies prior to Kashmiris’ transition into calling themselves Muslims cannot be a proper subject of history-writing, but the way emphasis is put on trying to find roots of Kashmir’s ‘essence’ in Hinduism, is at best ridiculous.

The same way what the vision document of the Institute of Kashmir Studies, which Bhat cites, claims—historically Kashmir has been integral part of the cultural mosaic of India and no study of Kashmiri thought and cultural is possible without situating it in the broader perspective of Indian thought and culture—smacks of a brazen attempt to add one more piece of state historians’ fantasies to the official, and politically-expedient, history of Kashmir. That “India” as a geo-national construct, and “Hinduism” semiticized to be its official religion, being 19th century products of elite, upper caste, imagination should be taken into account before dimwits are tasked to come up with such half-baked statements.

For other Kashmiri historians who have been contesting arguments such as that of Bhat’s for decades now, they too must display caution while claiming to know “facts.” The real contest is not about whose facts are right, but about who displays a critical capacity to expose the inbuilt power equations within dominant forms of historical narrative. A postmodern consciousness expects us to keep in mind the relativity of our own historical interpretation, and awareness that after all it is just another story. Otherwise, we commit the mistake of seeing the past through our present lenses, like a Bhat or a Madan does, who see Kashmir’s past as a history of persecution of Kashmiri Pandits!

In Kashmir, though, one has to acknowledge that the state propagates the official history (which is what the Institute of Kashmir Studies envisions to do), and those people who contest it are either muzzled or marginalized. Kashmir’s nonconformist historians are accountable to the marginalized, yet politically alert, Kashmiris, who have often been bruised by state-sponsored histories. This is what democratization of history narratives means. People no longer take “facts” without a pinch of salt.

Historians need to catch up with that habit. If that is done, then people like Bhat would need a lot more than an armoury of abusive polemic, and the Indian state much more than the military muscle, to stifle budding challenges to the hegemonic discourse on Kashmir’s past and present.

(Originally published in Greater Kashmir of June 29, 2008).

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11 thoughts on “Political Uses of the Official History of Kashmir

  1. Brother I have included this blog in my list of kashmiri bloggers. Do check the list on my blog and see how more kashmiris are into this.The sole aim is to connect all kashmiri bloggers and create big blogger community. And I aim to come up with a bloggers meet on 14 August 2009 in Srinagar.Salaam

  2. It is weird that you are championing about plurality of views and pinches of salt, but give no objective counterpoints for the arguments of Mr Madan or Bhat. Okay, the name of Kashmir is not derived from Kashyap mira (the lake constructed by kashyap muni), but what is your other derivation ? Does it fare any better in a linguistic or historic sense ?The Afghans called themselves Yousuf-jai (descendents of an ancient Israelic tribe called Yousuf) This theory validated their conversion to Islam and placated their minds. But all the historic and linguistic data points out that “Afghan” is derived from “Ashvakan” an ancient Aryan tribe mentioned both in Avesta and Rig Veda. Accepting a hindu or buddhist past is not about sacrificing an Islamic identity. For example, Iran is proud of its rich cultural heritage. On the other hand, Pakistan took enormous care to erase the whole 2000 years of its Hindu and Buddhist past (which is quite longer than the 800 years of its Islamic one). Why are the muslims in the subcontinent paranoid about accepting their own heritage ? They fear that this acceptance somehow subjects them to rule from Delhi. Come on, stop looking over your back. Claim your heritage and be proud of it. About Kashmiri-pandits, why is it that there is only one caste in Kashmiri hindus ? Kashmiri hinduism is an ancient vestige of older practices when caste didn’t exist. How can you talk about the caste purity of pandits, when they don’t even observe caste amongst them ? Caste rules began to surface just around 1000 years ago. Kashmiri muslims were hindus before they got converted. Same is the case with any muslim in the subcontinent. This is the reason why you see syncretism (a thread running from the past) just like how you see pagan influences in christianity followed in south america. This syncretism is not brought about by “interaction” with the 3% hindus who refused conversion. And to say that hindus don’t have Islamic practices is ridiculous. Hindus number more than muslims in people making piligrimages to the dargas of Sufi saints. Muslim mendicants such as the Sai baba of Shirdi are revered by Hindus as personifications of God himself. About pure hinduism, it doesn’t exist. Hinduism is by definition not a religion like Islam or Judaism. It is a set of a hugely diverse set of philosophies – ranging from atheism and polytheism to monotheism and monism. Pure Islam, on the other hand, is a well known concept. Islam is very stringent in its demands to adhere to the Quran. Hinduism poses no such demands on its followers.I understand that you support Kashmiri regional independence. Well go ahead. But you don’t have to use false arguments to justify that desire. You might get some points from your co-conspirators but you will get none forthcoming from scientists anywhere in the world.

  3. We are to be blamed for the mess we are in– The previous generations (SORRY TO SAY) of Kashmiris were not serious people, they easily believed others– may be long years of tyranny had effected their political thinking .I as a young boy in 70s has seen all this-when people used to go in to pointless and fruitless discussions and fight with each other and also ask any elderly person about earlier times he will say the same—The political decisions are not taken on personal or myopic considerations .It has exactly happened ,when people believed blindly in their leaders and took them for granted and the leaders were prejudiced and narrow minded .They lacked nationalism and were against each others throat. This has been tragedy of past kashmiri Muslim leadership –they had never shown tolerance to each other. They kept their false ego above peoples interest.Today we are reaping for their misdeeds and nation of Kashmir is in turmoil.One should not fear from introspection. God doesn’t change destiny of nations unless they are ready for a change.August 27, 2008 7:38 PM

  4. There are dozens of web sites and blogs in the name of Kashmiri pundits who are Spewing venom against kashmiris Muslims so it is need of the hour to answer these allegations .One site claims that Kashmir is land of Kashmiri Pundits and Muslims have no claim on the land .The false claims of genocide and exodus from here is their main point. They are going from place to place and garnering sympathy.It is duty of historians ,sociologists and political scientists to answer these fictitious stories. This topic of forced conversion is a good initiation .We have to answer them with Logic and reasoning in no way one should become emotional.We have to give historical background of Kashmiri Hindus conversion to Islam and the situation at that time. The false propaganda speaks the ignorance of the hypocrites that they are challenging our basic belief .Our tolerance and respect for other religions is taken as if we our incomplete believers. The so called Kashmiriyat is used to prove that kashmiris profess a different Islam. We acknowledge that Kashmir is a land of Sufis and Pirs and these people had been very peaceful and its effect on people of this land is evident. For centuries we have been living under tyranny yet we lived and respected our tormentors .But our gentleness was considered as our weakness .Now some of the kashmiri pundits have opened the Pandora box . we have to expose their deeds for last five hundred years ,we reserve the right of defence.August 27, 2008 1:58 AM

  5. · An appeal to Muslim historians and intellectualsIt is need of hour to answer the distorted claims of history of Kashmir written by the following so-called historians. This is one sided and biased view of history in which kashmiri Muslims are presented as foreigners and oppressors. Kashmir is shown to be a Hindu land .Just a 5% population is shown to be only aboriginal people .The followings books are on net. They need a befitting reply by logic and reasoning. Almost all these books are written by so called think tank of KPSAn Outline of the History of Kashmir by Prof. L. N. Dhar Kashmir: Distortions and Reality by Dina Nath Raina A History of Kashmiri Pandits by Jia Lal Kilam Converted Kashmir: Memorial of Mistakes A Bitter Saga of Religious Conversion by Narender Sehgal Kashmir: Past and Present Unraveling the Mystique by Mohan Lal Koul Kashmir: Wail of a Valley Atrocity and Terror by Mohan Lal Koul Kashmir: The Storm Center of the World by Bal Raj Madhok translated by K. N. Pandit ·White Paper on Kashmir by Dr. M. K. Teng and C. L. Gadoo ·Kashmir Article 370 by Mohan Krishen Teng Kashmir: Constitutional History and Documents by Mohan Krishen Teng, Ram Krishen Kaul Bhatt, Santosh Kaul ·The Kashmir Story by M. L. Kotru ·The Poplar and the Chinar Kashmir in a historical outline by Dr. Subhash C. Kak ·Understanding the Kashmir Turmoil by Anil Maheshwari Legal Documents of Kashmir ·Historical Chronology of Jammu and Kashmir State

  6. Dear commentators,Thank you for your kind responses. We all need to look into how Kashmir is represented, and who has represented Kashmir for the most part. I believe such an analysis is a challenge that we need to accept. It has a potential to reveal what history and what voices were trampled over in service of India’s continued occupation of Kashmir.Dear Ray Lightning,I have never argued for erasing or ignoring pre-Muslim past in Kashmir. In fact, I am excited to know what Kashmiri society looked like in earlier ages. At the same time, let me state this: It is not so much Muslims in Kashmir who have refused to accept, what you call “Hindu”–Buddhist past, but it is the Kashmiri Pandits who refuse to accept the reality of Muslim lives in Kashmir. And the latter has very dangerous consequences, for it is intimately linked to the present politics in Kashmir. No one can erase the traces of Kashmir’s antiquity. I believe we can all debate our past much better, and in fact preserve it more effectively once Kashmir becomes a free country. Indian occupation, and its overt Hindu nature, has put its power to one side’s disposal against the other.I have never doubted the fact that there are some fanatic Muslims in Kashmir (always a fringe though) who are dangerous for the body politic of Kashmir. But they can be fought better only after Kashmir becomes independent. At present, Indian oppression in Kashmir is so huge that it unites the reasonable people and the unreasonable, the liberals and the fundamentalists, the pro-Freedom and the Pakistani fifth-columnists. As I said earlier though, the unreasonable, fundamentalist, Pakistani fifth-columnists are just a fringe. We can all fight their views better in a free Kashmir. India needs to leave, swift. I have difficulty respecting your “Aryan” views, for I am already aware of how a similar logic created havoc for Jews in Nazi Germany. I don’t believe in “pure races” or direct lineages. That kind of exclusivism leads to bloodshed: History is witness. Kashmiris are not an ethnic community, or a homogenous society. What unites Kashmir as a nation is a common Political need for freedom and independence.

  7. Ray lightning,Pandits in Kashmir haven’t been a casteless Hindu society. But what happened to the 3 percent Brahmin Hindus was that their lower castes that they had been oppressing through a rigid caste system converted enmasse to Islam, which they found offering them a sense of equality. Only the Brahmins did not convert, that is why the 3 percent Brahmins remained as they were–3 percent. The lower castes who converted to Islam were even after conversion treated as lower in the heirarchy by the Brahmanical system, that is why Muslims were referred to as Mlecchas. I remember that as a kid if I went to a Pandit home and entered the kitchen it would be washed and purified immediately after I left. And the same happened when my other Muslim friends went to Hindu homes. Our home wasn’t cleaned when Pandits set foot there. Or Pandits didn’t clean their homes after they had other Pandits guests come over. The idea is that caste, which is based on the notion of purity, was ingrained very well in the Pandit Hindu society. At the same time, there were other divisions that emerged among the Kashmiri Pandits, for e.g. between those who were the priestly class (Gors) and those who were in the adminstration (the Karkuns). Or the divisions between Pandits, Bohras and Purbis among Kashmiri Hindus. T N Madan maintains in his “Family and Kinship” (his anthropological study on Kashmiri Pandits of a village close to where I live )that though Bohras and Purbis had assimilated into Pandit culture but “intermarriage and interdining are as yet exception rather than a rule.” (page 14)One can, however, say that the same thing existed among Kashmiri Muslims. The divisions between Peers, Dooms, and the larger undefined mass of Kashmiri Muslims are also glaring. Although interdining happens, but intermarriage is not so common. But things have begun to change because the larger undefined mass has somehow become a tad upwardly mobile.To say that 3 percent Hindus are responsible for bringing about “syncretism” in Kashmir is stretching the argument too far. First what you call “syncretism” is to be found everywhere in the everylife of a people. Second, Hindus in Kashmir are just another small community in Kashmir, though, historically quite powerful because of their association with ruling powers, like Hindu Dogras first and later the Hindu Indian state. There are other communities like Sikhs, Shias, Valley Sunnis, Paharis, Christians, Bakarwals, Gujars etc who live side by side. If by syncretism you mean tolerance, then let me tell you it is a necessity than a simple virtue in Kashmir. It is important that Kashmiris remain tolertant and hospitable in the face of Indian occupation, and beyond that.

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