Importance of Identity

Reinvent the role played by our ancestors in safeguarding what is called as the Kashmir identity, It is a historical truth and Arthur Brinckman was not wrong. In December 1867, when in his introduction to his forty-page pamphlet titled, ‘The Wrongs of Cashmere’ he wrote ‘that since the bargain (Treaty of Amritsar”) was concluded in 1846 the poor Cashmerees have been shamefully oppressed by the rulers we put over them that this oppression is getting worse. And these unhappy people have been asking us in every way they could, to release them from their wretched condition’. The subjugated overwhelming majority treated worst than cattle used every possible channel to reach out to the British in India and inform them that they had sold them to their vassal against their wishes. Besides, telling woeful tales about corvee and bigoted rule to the European tourist, some of whom like Robert Thorpe at great risks through their writings ably articulated the injustice done to Kashmiris to the British in New Delhi, they also sent petitions to the British Viceroys.

The SOS’s from, well-meaning Britishers like Robert Thorpe had set some British Officers into thinking, how best hapless Kashmiri could be helped. They agreed Kashmiris needed ‘spiritually and bodily help.’ These officers looked for help from the Church Mission Society (CMS) back home and requested them to send a medical mission to Kashmir. In constructing hospitals and providing medical care the mission did a wonderful job and also endeared itself to the people. For the belief of the missionary doctors “there is no more potent agency than the work of the Medical Missions for spreading Christianity, because of the popularity of the mission they like Arthur Brinckman and G.T. Vigne got a wrong impression. And started ‘hoping Kashmir someday becoming the focus of Christianity in Asia.’ To quote Vigne, “the Centre of a religion as pure as the eternal snow around.” Failing in converting common people- more particularly the hapless Muslims to their faith they saw socially ostracized leper patients in their hospitals as potential targets. These patients ‘owed practically everything to Christen work’ and when it came to converting their faith they were as hostile as any other common Muslim. As Ernest Neve has recorded from their standpoint a baptized person is no longer one of the great Mohammaden brotherhood- thus a renegade.’ For spreading Christianity the Church Mission Society saw education as another most important medium. It set up a couple of schools in Kashmir and in the spreading of education, it did the laudable job on two counts. One, it persuaded the most reluctant to get modern education. Two, for some people seeing the spread of Christianity as the mission behind setting up of these schools, it instigated and inspired Muslim as well as Hindu intelligentsia to set up schools for modern educations for their respective communities. Notwithstanding, some clerics opposing graduation of traditional Madrassa into a modern school, the founding of Anjuman-I-Nusrat-ul- Islam was a major milestone in spreading of modern education and resisting moves for dissolving the identity of the over ninety percent population of the land.

It was not only European missionaries who had failed to understand that Kashmiris are resistance and resilience personified. And they had protected their identity during most trying times. In early twentieth century an organization had set up its branches in Srinagar and through its propaganda under the umbrella of social transformation and education tried to play foul with the identity of the majority. Its missionary aims were thwarted by religious scholars by holding a public meeting. Even its top leader who had addressed a meeting on 2 June 1928 at Hazuri Bagh was made to bit the dust. These attempts to dissolve the identity of the majority of people worked as a catalyst for causing the 1931 eruption. Similarly, under the intoxication of royal receptions- river processions and cavalry carnivals arranged by Sheikh Abdullah and his party in 1948 Jawaharlal Nehru had also failed to recognize the innate resistance of Kashmiris when he had made, the 14 May 1948 letter of his daughter Mrs Indira Gandhi as the main pillar for his Kashmir policy. In this letter, she had written “Personally, I feel that all this political talk will count for nothing if the economic situation can be dealt with.

Because, after all, the people are concerned with only one thing- they want to sell their goods and have food and salt.” In mentioning about ‘political talk’, she was referring to the conditions attached to the “Instrument of Accession,” that by restricting conditional accession to three subjects only and promising allowing people deciding loudly recognized the Kashmir identity. For the euphoria created by Nehru and Abdullah that the battle for Kashmir had been won it took only a couple of years to evaporate. And make senior UN official Ralph Bunch say in February 1953 that ‘Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous place in the world’. A phrase that was repeated forty years later by President Clinton and since then has almost found a permanent place in the Kashmir narrative. Had not Nehru been guided by Mrs Gandhi letter and backtracking from his commitments and through conjured narratives tried to dissolve the Kashmir identity perhaps the situation in the subcontinent would not have come to such an impasse and Kashmir would not have become a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia.

I have recapitulated these historical realities to make a point that their indications, attempts are once again at play to melt the identity of Kashmiris by even removing any traces of references to the history and geography of the State. In seeing the ‘teaching of two maps in classrooms: one of India and the other of J&K in the government playing a major role in radicalizing youth’, General Bipin Rawat, had subtly suggested the moves ahead. The State Education Minister and the opposition leaders had rightly reacted to the statement. In fact, for strengthening the integrity of the State there is a need for reintroducing subjects like history and geography of Jammu and Kashmir that were removed in the early seventies. Moreover, the intelligentsia will have to reinvent the role played by our ancestors in safeguarding what is called as the Kashmir identity. The day our intellectuals learn to say like Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Write down! I am an Arab’ no one will try to fiddle with our identity.