Have I become inert? I am moved to ask this question for not getting provoked at the statements of some leaders targeted at changing the people’s political discourse in the state. On Friday, a statement by a “leader” that in normal course would have made me to react and tear his statement to shreds on share basis of history and realpolitik failed to provoke me. Not perhaps because of inertness but for believing that he had become irrelevant.
Instead, what pricked my conscience and reminded me of my failures, as a columnist was the book titled ‘Religion, Inter-Communal Relations and the Kashmir Conflict,’ by Yoginder Sikand published by Rupa Publications India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi in 2011. The book is provocative and deserves talked about a bit in detail. It did not prick my conscience for its contents but of whole of my tribe failing during past two decades in focusing on the sufferings of the people living in Chenab Valley and lap of Pir Panchal. The people living in these hilly tracts have suffered as intensely as people living in the valley have. Nevertheless, their sufferings have most remained outside the media gaze.
Not only have columnists and writers in the state failed to provide voice to the urges, aspirations and plight of the people living in hilly districts of Ramban, Doda and Kishtiwar but also they have largely failed to attract the attention of genuine researchers from the state. Some researchers sponsored by some organizations and agencies have come up with some works on these areas from a particular perspective but what could be called unprejudiced and independent study is yet to be published. The book under reference is also result of projects sponsored by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Maharashtra, Mumbai headed by Asgar Ali Engineer; Delhi based Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) and an International NGO, Oxfam.
Primarily based on inter-communal relations in old Doda district the book besides, exposing the machinations of various political organizations for widening gaps between Muslims and Hindus during past two decades also provides in insight into the traumatic situation as has been obtaining in the hilly region.
In his preface to the book, the author writes that he ‘strongly believes in the right of every nationality to political self-determination.’ Summing up briefly history of the dispute he writes, “Ardent defenders of Indian state’s stance on Kashmir ought to know that India’s leaders had repeatedly vowed to respect this basic human right of people of Jammu and Kashmir when, on its own initiative, India took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, agreeing before the entire international community to hold a plebiscite in the region to allow the people of the State to decide their own political future.” He attributes conflict to India not respecting its own commitments. In his words: “Put briefly, the ongoing conflict in Kashmir is principally the result of Indian state reneging on such a solemn promise. In other words, no long-term and meaningful solution to Kashmir conflict is possible without the people of Jammu and Kashmir being permitted by India and Pakistan too to exercise that right in free and fair manner.”
The 187 page hardbound book has been divided into five broad sections and every section focuses on one or the other dimension of the conflict and calls for an in depth debate. Analyzing nationalism, religion and the Kashmir conflict from his perspectives the author writes that Kashmiris ‘reluctantly’ recognize historical and cultural links with India and these are merely seen as ‘incidental’. Sikand does not recognize Kashmir as an economic issue that could be solved by loans, income generation projects funded by government of India. Such measures are “not going to make a much a dent in many Kashmiris Muslims’ fervent desire for independence from India”. The author candidly analyses the reasons for Kashmiris coming out on streets and states that these protests are not for economic reasons. He also sees the competing understanding of religion and religious based identity as principal basis for desire of many Kashmiri Muslims to be independent of India. He critically analyses the role of the organization believing in what he calls ‘conservative and supremacist version of Islam.’ At many occasions it seems that the author has been chasing a particular line with set objectives but even then it is a major work on this region.
The book though sketchy in many respects brings out the political aspirations of people in old Doda district into focus. The author intensely focuses on inter-communal relations in the district. He is highly critical of the elements more particularly pujaris from outside the state playing a role in creating wedge between communities that traditionally have been living close to each other. The author in detail analysis the role-played by Tablighis those are faster emerging as the dominant religious group. Despite some Hindus suspecting their activities, the Tablighis are allowed to work freely by government, as they ‘disdain’ politics and remain away from ‘Kashmir conflict.’
The book has two chapters on Kulhand massacre in which unidentified gunmen killed twenty-two Hindus. Author has thoroughly discussed the role of twelve thousand Village Defence Committee members overwhelmingly Hindus armed and funded by the government. The author has exposed dubious role played by BJP in the district for flaring up communal clashes. How BJP has been using VDC’s in the district the author writes, “Using the VDC card the BJP clearly appears to be projecting itself as savior of Doda Hindus, even though this means further antagonizing the Muslims.
The philanthropic activities in this district are negligible Hundred of orphans and widows continue to remain uncared. There are no orphanages worth mention in these in areas and the welfare centers of the government are worst of all. The author while calling for a greater role by Muslim organization of India in the state in two chapters he is highly caustic about the role played by the Jammat-e-Islami in the state. But makes the book bold are the chapters about Dalits of Jammu and callous attitude of Indian civil society towards human tragedies in Kashmir. (page 105-111).
The book is a good read but at there is grim minder that valley based writers have not been fair to these far-off districts.