The rhythm and vivacity of a nation lies embedded in its narratives. Many posers bother me. What is a narrative? If Kashmir has its own narrative, what is that? More particularly these questions stare into our faces whenever there is a debate over attempts made to change Kashmir narratives.
Narrative as rightly said by Yehudith Auerbach a scholar on Middle East crisis, ‘is a story about events that took place in history or are taking place in the present. These are concrete stories about dramatic events in the recent history or distant past of a nation. These stories are centered on a national heroes who have legendary spiritual or physical powers, embody the ethos of the people and its national identity, and provides it with a source of national pride and comfort at times of trouble.’ It draws its strength from men ‘immortalized in history books, songs, stories, and monuments and from national memorials that become places of pilgrimage for youth and children.’
Memories shape the narratives and give the feeling of national esteem that become central to nationalist movements and fortify sense of belonging to the nation. Sometimes back in this column, I wrote Laleh Khalili book “Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: the Politics of National Commemoration’ telling us how commemorations help in strengthening the national narratives.
Three days back on July 13, we commemorated 81st martyrs day in memory of the people who laid their lives on this day outside Srinagar, Central Jail. Some biased historians and some ‘heresiarch-compilers’ have time and again been trying to delegitimize the sacrifices made by these people by concocting the stories like that some of the killed on the day were jail inmates- criminals. Here I am not to recount the whole story that added a scarlet page to our history. However, 13 July 1931, by all stretch of imagination is the most important day in the modern Kashmir history. It is the founding day of our organized struggle for freedom. It would be pertinent to say our narrative was not born on this day, but it was a bolder expression of the narrative that was born seven years earlier in the shape of a memorandum that was presented to the British Viceroy Lord Reading.
To this day, I see this memorandum as mother narrative that has been running through all the political discourses in the state during past eighty-eight years. Many a reason, including the Silk Factory workers uprising against discriminatory policies against the Muslims and corruption, interference by the government in taking out of Tazia on tenth of Muharam and an article published in a Lahore Newspaper Akhabar-i-Am that resulted in sacrilege of Khanqah Shah-i-Hamadan and some Muslim religious places in Islamabad and Baramulla caused this memorandum. The seventeen point memorandum primarily moved by Saad-ud-Din Shawl and was drafted by Aga Haider if analyzed in right perspective is largely relevant today and contemporary Kashmir situation cannot be delinked from it. The demands included, ‘restoring the propriety rights of peasants to their lands forcibly snatched from them, reducing owners to tenants. Representations to Muslims according to population in the law making bodies.
In order to give Muslims an effective representation in services, all future vacancies be made available to them and incase Muslims were not locally available Muslims from outside Kashmir be appointed till such time as the local talent was available. Appointment of tribunal to inquire into complaints of corruption against government functionaries and weeding out corruption from services. The Governor of Kashmir should be a Muslim and if a Muslim of requisite qualification was not available, some Englishman may be appointed as the governor. The top slots of Police and Customs should be filled in by appointing Muslim Officers against them. Muslims should be appointed to the top positions in Silk Factory, where work force overwhelmingly was Muslim. Compulsory free primary education should be introduced. And people from this community should be recruited both as teachers and inspectors in greater number and sufficient number of scholarship be made available to them for higher education. The mosques and religious places occupied by the government should be immediately restored to them, corvee should be abolished, the Resident of Kashmir should be made accountable for trampling down of the rights of Muslims and so on and so forth.’ Almost a century after the issues confronting the people in the state are largely the same as contained in the memorandum.
It can be summed up that this memorandum overwhelmingly demanded restoration of the rights of Muslims that constituted eighty percent of the total population of the state. Taking the position of a spinal cord in Kashmir freedom struggle this narrative gaining strength to strength gave a direction to the movement that history remembers as Kashmir Freedom Struggle. The 13th July 1931 carnage outside the Srinagar Central Jail and the events that followed it not only strengthened the narrative but also added ferocity to it.That saw the crumbling of the feudal autocracy in the state.
The question is in the post-autocratic rule why and how we landed into the gorge of uncertainty. Looking at the question through the prism of history, I see the efforts at deconstructing the mother narrative by the leadership during forties as an important contributory factor for the messy political situation that followed the end of the feudal rule. Notwithstanding, the leadership fiddling with mother narrative by adopting expedient political postures the post 1947, narrative which I prefer to call as the peoples narrative was also born from the same womb.
It has been repeatedly expedient political posturing of leadership and diluting of the peoples narrative that for past sixty years has defeated resolution of the problem. On date, it seems that a section of leadership is again looking for diversionary routes, thereby largely eroding people’s narratives without realizing that it will be only adding complexity to the issue and making it more intricate.
To sum up let may say: Stronger narratives are like gushing streams that make their way through stones even.
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