Conjuring New Narratives

It is not a conundrum. It is not a big riddle. Even a school child is familiar with the dominant Kashmir discourse. For the past sixty three years, ever since India and Pakistan joined the comity of nations as sovereign and independent countries the discourse has   not only been dominating but tormenting what was once called as the Himalayan Kingdom. The discourse is so deeply entrenched in the psyche of ordinary Kashmiri that it would be not be that easy to knife it. It has avowedly, stealthily and sneakily seeping into the psyche of generations after generations.

To see the dominant discourse altered there has been often efforts to create alternative narratives. In fact the effort to alter the discourse started immediately after the departure of the feudal ruler from the state.  In the initial years at the advice of India’s first socialist Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru,   a whole range of ‘socialists and communist’ writers got engaged in   providing an alternative narrative to the state. Some known socialist writers were appointed in the state not only to look after but to orient mass media and education. Many of these writers including Rajinder Singh Bedi and Khawaja Ahmed Abbass in eighties told me that how closely ‘Pandit Ji’- was himself monitoring their efforts for providing a new ‘ideological pedestal’ to Kashmir. ‘It was a laboratory (Kashmir) for testing our ideology’- and ‘we by and large succeeded in changing the political narrative in Jammu and Kashmir that had caused the division of India’. Most of these socialist writers often asserted what they   called as ‘defeat of the two nation theory in Jammu and Kashmir to their political narrative. It is a matter of debate as well as further research that if it was the alternative narrative provided by the socialist writers that had shaped the thinking of a good section of top Kashmir leaders and made them decide against last Maharaja’s idea of not joining any of the two new dominions and retaining independence of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Or going against the resolution adopted the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in its 19 July 1947 resolution. The resolution by this organization had called for accession of the state with Pakistan. Even if the ‘socialist’ narrative had a role in shaping the outlook of dominant Kashmir leaders, it collapsed like a pack of cards in 1953- and it was the dominant discourse that took over precedence over the ‘alternative narrative’.

After 1953, we see a paradigm shift. Instead of endeavoring to conjure another ‘alternative narrative’ for replacing the dominant discourse the doctrine of carrot and stick was introduced. This doctrine enabled the new set of rulers to wade through the weedy and muddy waters and inflate their purses but could not alter the dominant discourse. Through sixties, seventies and eighties we witnessed the dominant discourse was marked by many troughs and crests. In mid-seventies an ‘honour and dignity’ a new narrative was invoked to replace the dominant discourse.

In nineties, like drifts of wood down the Sind the dominant discourse washed away every ‘doctrine’ and including the new narrative of ‘honour and dignity.’

It is historical reality that Kashmir in the words of Edward Said “became a theatre where various political and ideological causes engaged each other.” But instead of becoming the battleground the divergent cultures learnt to retain their identity without clashing with each other but it would be historically wrong to believe that the divergent cultures fused together and spawned a new culture. It is equally true that Kashmir despite suffering many chauvinistic and brute rulers with mindsets did not permit a clash of bigger magnitude between the different cultures, social ethos’ and religious beliefs but in late nineties we saw yet another narrative named as “Kashmiryat” being conjured. The word was created as an alternative to ‘syncretism’- that   broadly meant fusion of different religious faiths, religious beliefs and culture into yet another religious and cultural ethos. The word for common man passed off something akin to “Din-i-llahi of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Despite the word   not being   in agreement with the structure and syntax of Kashmiri language was picked up by some writers from outside the state as a synonym for religious tolerance and not as an alternative narrative to the dominant discourse. Many a researchers from outside the state out of share ignorance used the word as a synonym for Sufism or even the Reshi tradition.

Linguistic chauvinism is an important political phenomenon that has had many ugly manifestations in the sub-continent. Many states in the sub-continent have witnessed riots, deaths and destruction in the name of languages. In the post 1947 sub-continent, the Jammu and Kashmir has been the only state were language at no point of time emerged as a  dominant political discourse. There were some feeble voices raised both in Srinagar and Jammu over the introduction of Kashmiri and Dogri languages in schools but there is no history of language emerging as a political plank with any political party in power politics in any of the three geographical regions of the state. Of late there have been indications about conjuring the question of status of Kashmiri language as an alternative to the dominant discourse.

Kashmiri is the mother tongue of larger majority of the state. It is one of the oldest languages of Daradic origin and like all great languages of the world it has been assimilating words from all language- as Sufi has put it, “The original Daradic language has provided it supplied Skelton. Sanskrit has given flesh, but Islam has given it life.” The contemporary Kashmir language is more than sixty percent words of Persian and Arabic origin. If not rich but it has ‘respectable list of literary works’- since there is no major literature available of this language before the arrival of Islam in Kashmir historians like Sufi have very rightly said that the foundation of Kashmiri literature Was laid during the early Muslim rule.

But putting Kashmiri against Urdu in the state for changing the dominant discourse would be dangerous. In being passionate about conjuring an alternative discourse in the state it would be playing with the integrity of the state.

It is historical reality that Persian was language of the state up to 1846 and Urdu was adopted as the official language of the state during the feudal rule. And it continued to be so after the end of this rule. This language was both in theory and practice official language of the state before the in the state and every official business in courts, revenue department, government offices.

Seen in right perspective this language in fact over a period of time had emerged by 1947   as the link language in fact lingua franca of ethnically and linguistically diverse state of Jammu and Kashmir. After the end of the feudal rule the chauvinist within the National Conference and a section of leftist writers had mounted a lot of pressure on making Kashmiri as the official language of the state. It was but for preserving the integrity of the state that the then National Conference leadership did not buckle under the pressure of the ‘chauvinist’ and leftist within the party.

It seems that but for lack of understanding of the complex Kashmir situation a section of administration is also working against Urdu in the state. Truth is that that Urdu language as the official language of the state now exits just on papers, no business in civil secretariat or other offices in the state is transacted in this language and it is confined to older generation munshis in police stations writing ‘roz-namcha’ or some old ‘patwari’ in Revenue Department making entries in the revenue records in this language in Kashmir valley and some hilly areas of the state in Jammu province.

There is need to understand that encouraging regionalism, linguistic chauvinism even pseudo-sub nationalism for creating an alternative discourse in the state would be imperiling the geographical oneness of the state.
(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)