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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Candidly Baring out the Stark Realities of Kashmir

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Humra Quraishi

BOOK REVIEW

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism—From the Cold War to the Present Day by Nandita Haksar; Speaking Tiger, New Delhi; 2015; pages: 335; Price: Rs 350.

The Many Faces Of Kashmiri Nationalism— From The Cold War To The Present Day (Speaking Tiger) is Nandita Haksar’s latest book and, perhaps, the most significant. It not just captures the very historical backgrounders to Kashmiri nationalism but in that process also throws open the dark realities of the prevailing situation.

She has traced this history not through any of those conventional modes but through the very lives of two Kashmiri men: Sampat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and a communist trade union leader who became active during the Cold War years, and Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim who became active in the early years of the Kashmir insurgency and who was later hanged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail...

In fact, the very forte of this book is its focus on Afzal Guru and with that the focus on the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. Nandita has very, very deftly weaved in Afzal’s letters/correspon-dence with her and this includes a 10-page-long handwritten letter which he’d written from his prison cell. Nah, none of his long and short letters tucked in the pages of this book carry terrorising offloads or thoughts or sentiments. On the contrary, they come across as not just philosophical but humane and emotional—written with raw emotions...

To quote Nandita from this book,

Although Afzal had lived in the closed and claustro-phobic cells of Tihar Jail, his mind was open, and he continued to read extensively. Tabassum said after Ghalib was born, Afzal would complain: ‘Waai Pyaari mye mileha kanh goaph (O Pyaari, I wish I could find a cave to read in).’ After his imprisonment, Tabassum would tease him: ‘Goaph mileye? (Have you found the cave now?)’, to which he would respond: ‘Zabardast goaph! (Incredible cave!)’

...Afzal wrote long letters to friends. Sometimes he would make copies and give me one or send it to me through his channels. Most of these letters were in English. In the letters he discussed his ideas about religion and nationalism...

Like many other Kashmiri Muslims, Afzal too had become disillusioned by the idea of nationalism and had taken refuge in Islamist ideologies. For Afzal, both India and Pakistan had betrayed the Kashmiris. He was worried about the radicalism of the new generation. He called it indoctrination and expressed his concern in a letter written from Jail No 2, in Tihar Jail, to a fellow Kashmir: ‘Our home is in a state of ANARCHY (morally, politically, socially etc.) sandwiched between two antagonistic Forces. One country is simmering other on indoctrinating the highly volatile kids mobilising the noble feelings of these uneducated and unaware youth for their own existence and survival. They want to engage the huge Army stricture with huge budget by handful highly motivated people. The other side the Army want to rest and to have highly luxurious life. It is this hypocrisy that made few people to change the state of simmering of pot into boiling state. It got boiled but unfortunately these two countries do not learn rather they do not want make people live in peace.They are living on the threshold of the same boiling stage. I was not alone nor am I. I do not belong to any org. I belong to feelings and ideas (felt globally) by those who are being humiliated, tortured and silenced unwilling.’

In fact, Nandita’s focus on Afzal through his letters makes him stand out as a well-read man who was thinking ever so constantly. I quote her from this book—“Afzal was wrestling with the ideas of religion and nationalism. In a long letter written to me on January 8, 2008 he asked: ‘Respected Nandita, when Naga conflict is not Christian why conflict in Kashmir is branded as Islamic. Fundamentally it is political, social and historical in nature. Robert A. Pape’s book, Dying To Win, has given a sophisticated analysis of 300 suicide attacks (from 1980-2003) out of which 76 were executed by the LTTE. The common cause he says is political and social injustice, oppression and brute policies of the political establishment or occupational powers.”

In this book she also focuses on yet another of his letters in which Afzal Guru writes on the state’s senseless policies:

The constant humiliation and trauma will ...ignite the heat of conflict. These policies will cultivate the militant and radical culture towards irrever-sible end. Police stations have become terror and slaughter houses. Families of killed people do not go to police station because it is police station which is spreading the sense of terror into the hearts and minds of people. You may be feeling this exaggeration of state terror but this is a bitter fact of constitutional colony that is Kashmir.

She further highlights yet another letter of Guru wherein he reasons out why economic packages alone will not solve any of the problems in Kashmir—‘Jesus, the son of Mary (Maryam) (Peace be on them) says man cannot live by bread alone. Economic packages cannot bring peace in Kashmir. The people who are constantly living in the flux of humiliation and fear does not need bread for which Allah has given every person for a single mouth. What people need is a political framework in which they don’t feel themselves vulnerable, humiliated or terrorised...

‘The closure of all democratic means and vents will naturally push the educated youth towards radical wall. Noam Chomsky says if we do not believe in the Freedom of expression for the people we despise we don’t believe in it at all. RSS’s philosophy and its political, social and militant offshoots and offsprings are communalising and polarising whole of political and social fabric and this culture of hatred is penetrating the other local institutions as well and don’t exclude Tihar Jail. There is no doubt ISI is also playing its own role in this process through its own devices of hatred. In fact, ISI is nurturing on anti-India rhetoric.’

In fact, this 335-page long book ends with a 10-page-long handwritten letter which Guru wrote to Nandita (which she’d received on January 8, 2008) and the sentiments and thoughts contained in this letter makes you sit up, and makes you introspect on the very concept of death penalties, on state hangings! Because of space constraints I cannot quote extensively from it; just these last lines from his handwritten letter—‘In the end I request you don’t colourise or dress my words in any colour or dress except a purely responsible human concern for humanity ...I am in universe in such a way that I am myself universe - I live in a space but I am spaceless.’

As I had mentioned right in the beginning, this focus on Afzal Guru’s letters is the very forte of Nandita’s book, for through these the reader is aware of not just the ground realities but also of the undercurrents.

Of course, there’s ample focus on the other significant developments and the continued, rather continuing, political mess in Kashmir. In fact, compounding the mess is the BJP-PDP alliance, to put it in Nandita’s words—‘The results of the latest elections of 2014 show how deeply divided the people of Jammu and Kashmir are along communal lines ... the two parties who have formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are as different as the North Pole is from the South Pole.... Some public leaders have hailed this alliance as a triumph of Indian democracy and an opportunity for reconciliation between Hindus of Jammu and Muslims of the Kashmir Valley. But there are those who warn that this could well be the beginning of the partitioning of the State’s people by two colluding communal blocks.’

And it’s through the fire brand trade union leader, Sampat Prakash, that the reader gets introduced to many other realities of Kashmir, which had otherwise been brushed under the many-layered political complexities These are detailed racy accounts which bring to the fore those lesser-written-about characters and locales ...each standing out to relay the complex realities of the region.

What’s remarkable is Nandita’s candid and fearless honesty in baring out stark realities. She doesn’t mince words to expose the various realities, so that the reader is aware of the truth. Truth at any cost. There are no dilutions and no slants or twists.

This book is important, a crucial must, for all those who want to read the truth about the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.