Discourses with Designs

“Appeals to the past are among commonest in the interpretation of the present. What animates such appeals is not disagreement about what happened in the past and what the past was, but uncertainty about whether the past really is past, over and concluded, or whether it continues, albeit in different forms, perhaps”. This   first paragraph from Edward W Said’s book ‘Culture and Imperialism’ persistently echoed in my mind while sitting in three-day seminar on Tradition and Dissent in Indian History with Special Reference to Kashmir organized by the History department of Kashmir University.

 I wrote   sometime back in this column that the University of Kashmir has now for the past many years slowly and steadily shedding its image of ‘goody-goody school’ and emerging as a centre of scholarship, the seminar organized by the history department was a manifestation of   its new avatar. The department besides inviting some scholars from outside the state had invited a whole range of professors, writers and young intelligent scholars to make their presentations and participate in the deliberations. The beauty, I should say forte of the seminar was that it engaged the attention of participants during all the three days but its lopsidedness I believe was its weakness. Majority of the speakers both from outside as well as from the University remained engaged in ancient Kashmir history and religious philosophies during those times. Some of the presentation bordered on myth-making and passing those myths as totems for the new generation. There were hardly any deliberations on tradition and dissent in the contemporary Kashmir history.

The deliberations many a time set me thinking if ‘history’ was not now being used as dominant discourse to undermine the peoples’ discourse. Kashmir has   dubious history spreading over centuries  of rulers conjuring imaginary histories  and creating alternative discourse for extending legitimacy to their occupation and anti-people policies. Dr. Shayam Narayan  in his presentation titled King, Chronicle and Contesting Voices in the Making of ‘Historiographical’ Tradition of Jammu, in scholarly presentation very beautifully pointed out how Gulab Singh had engaged chroniclers to conjure an imaginary stories and fabricating histories for providing legitimacy to his rule. But, this   tendency of myth-making and fabricating histories did not end up even after curtains were drawn on the Dogra period but continued in more systematic and organized manner even afterwards.

Long before Noam Chomsky in chapter titled ‘the functions of the University in a time of crisis’ in his book For Reason of State had delineated the role of the universities by stating that ‘the university should be centre for radical social inquiry, as it is already a centre for what might called a ‘radical inquiry in the pure sciences’. It should loosen its institutional forms even further to permit a richer variety of work and study and experimentation, and should provide home for the free intellectual, for the social critic, for the irreverent and radical thinking that is desperately needed if we escape from the dismal reality that threaten to overwhelm us.’ Notwithstanding the University enjoying autonomy it transpired that some hidden fear lurks amongst scholars to articulate their view points. The fear reminded me of a book ‘Cloak and Dagger’ by Robin Wink I had read two decades back. It told a story about American Universities during the Vietnam War and before. But should that fear detach   scholars from the happenings around them and prevent them from talking about tradition and dissent in contemporary history. Talking about contemporary history, debating over dominant discourse and peoples discourse in our situation becomes more relevant that looking for dissent in ancient traditions. It is not to subvert the importance of ancient or medieval history  but ‘the aim of contemporary history said historian  Michael D. Kandiah, is to conceptualize, contextualize and historicize – to explain- some aspects of the recent past or to provide a historical understanding  of current trends of developments.’ Debates on contemporary history should not become a taboo in our universities and academic institution. Scholar should not be discouraged from researching on contemporary Kashmir situation including the dispute. Sincere and honest debates amongst scholars on contemporary history  could go long way in ending predicament of people of the state.

 Looking at Kashmir history from Kandiah’s point of view our contemporary history could be broadly   divided into four phases: One, period of Awakening  1847-1931 , two,   Uprising 1931-1938 third,   end of the feudal rule 1938-1947 and fourth, birth of the dispute and the consequence thereof.  Instead of understanding analysis all these four phases of contemporary history there are always have been efforts to create alternate discourses and distorting the facts. A scholar in the seminar rightly put it Kashmir from the time of Moguls   has been caught up in the web of alternative discourses.  Some chroniclers have portrayed Kashmiris as a timid race, a nation of cowards and it was given dubious title of “Zulam Parasat”- tyranny worshipper. And over period of time this image not only became a perception and belief but a discourse that was given currency to subjugate and suppress this nation. At no point of time was an institutional effort made to correct this misperception.  This discourse was used as demoralize people of the state even after the end of autocratic rule. This discourse when seen in right perspective prompted the virtual division of the state in 1947.

Cowards do not rise in revolt. Timid do not challenge the empires. In   1847, when Gulab Singh, who was known for his greed resorted to excessive taxation people did not accept it as fait acompali but revolted. According to Lt. Reynell Taylor, Assistant to Resident at Lahore who had been deputed to Kashmir to investigate the grievances of the Muslims, “Four thousand shawl weavers went on strike went on strike 6th of July 1847 in protest against heavy taxation and oppression and corruption of tax collectors. They demanded higher wages. They left on foot for Lahore via Shopian. They also demanded higher wages…Taylor went in person to persuade them to return to Srinagar. Some of their demands were accepted.”  Again we see on 29th April 1865,  shawlbafs , who according one estimate ‘numbered twenty seven thousand and were working on eleven thousand looms’ rising against the cumbersome and cruel tax system that made them live a famished life. The uprising was met barbarically and brutally.   Twenty nine people were drowned alive. Hundreds were whipped, tortured and imprisoned. Many were removed to Jammu prisons died in custody. I need not  recap the details- many here are conversant with happenings during the Shalab movement. It was not only exploitation that was rampant but corruption was state policy in the words of Prem Nath Bazaz, “corrupt official was not looked down upon as contemptible human being. He was respected   and the government never tried to check him. Nay, he was encouraged.” There was total dissent against corruption in overwhelming population and this dissent found manifestation in 1924 Silk Factory workers revolt. “About two hundred cavalry soldiers armed with spears and guns were let loose on the defenseless people. Several were killed, many injured, some women were disrespected and many were arrested.”  The theory of timidity and cowardice was coined by the brutal rulers and their collaborators. Traditionally most of our historians, even some contemporary out of political expediencies have been glossing over the role of the collaborators. The collaborators have played very dubious role   not only during the periods of the Sikhs and the Dogras but even during the period of Afghans. These collaborators not only helped the brutal rulers to consolidate their position but also prompted them to take oppressive decision. Some of which even worked as catalysts for resentment against the majority of people against the rulers. Saraf Writes   “It was under their advice that in very flush of victory, the Sikh closed Jamia Masjid for public prayers; the Musalmans were forbidden to say Azan …..The cow slaughter was declared as crime punishable with death.”……………………… There is need to understand the 1931 upsurge, the role of the All India Congress and the All India Muslim League during Kashmiris rising against autocratic rule, the birth of the National Conference, the dilemmas that dominated during forties and birth of the dispute and developments thereof with discerning eye and a dissent.  History testifies that conflicts are never creating alternative discourses but heeding to peoples discourses.

(Adapted from Columnist’s presentation in the seminar.)
(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)