Talking Identity It set me thinking `who am I'?

It set me thinking! In connection with the observance of the World Heritage Day, I received an invitation card from a government organization, the motto on top of the card read: `Preserve the Heritage – Preserve the identity.’  The motto by all stretch of imagination is innocuous but for me it subtly made a huge political statement and stirred many a question that called for answers.

Who am I?  Where are my roots?  What is my identity? Do I have an identity of my own or I am just a part of the sub-continental identity? Does this identity provide basis to my grand narrative?   How and why has   my ‘identity’ become part of the “dominant discourse”?

To tell me who I am, some years back a beeline of “scholars’, “researchers”, “think tanks” and NGOs from arid planes of the Central India  and the Western sea coasts flew over fourteen thousand feet high Pir Panjal Mountains to arrive in Srinagar. Many made it for the first time to this historic city to lecture me on my social ethos and cultural moorings.

Some nongovernmental organizations from metropolises organized seminars in the state and outside on ‘syncretism of faiths in the Kashmir valley. That they saw as synonym for Kashmir identity. To tell a Kashmiri Muslim who he was and what were his roots a Mumbai based institute run by a Bohra Muslim reformist some years back organized a three-day seminar in Srinagar. The seminar stirred a hornets’ nest, generated marathon debate in media, and was largely denounced as an attempt at creating an alternative narrative and confusion. Surprisingly, these debates on fusion of faiths and their shaping   identity focussed only the Kashmir valley and not the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir.

These debates were not confined to seminars only but were taken to the Universities and institutions were created within the temples of learning for promoting and propagating a particular brand of identity. Obviously, these had the official patronage and were politically motivated.

How far these attempts succeeded in engineering and constructing alternative narratives is not   subject of  this column- it may need some rigorous and in-depth  research for understanding  the impact of the attempts made at changing the people’s narrative in the light of phenomenon’s like that of 2008, 2009 and 2010 that followed these debates, seminars and workshops. I may not also be right person to analyze how ‘culture was a sort of theatre where various political and ideological causes engage one another’ and help in the evolution of national identities and how far culture had contributed in shaping my identity.   – this I believe is the domain of scholars and not generalists.

Taking recourse to generalist’s definition, ‘identity is a sense of belonging to a nation or state’. It largely speaks about wedlock to one’s culture, history, language, national symbols, literature and social-ethos. It is yet another debate if religious beliefs or faith is also a factor in the national identity. In his book, Islam and Pakistan’s Identity Dr. Javid Iqbal has   made an in-depth analysis of religion being an important factor in the national identity. In his words:

“The book makes a case that the nationality of Pakistani Muslim is based on common spiritual aspiration. The Two Nation Theory enabled them to develop a consciousness of their identity and forged a cultural and social solidarity, which ultimately formed an ideological basis for creation Pakistan. In other words Islam released the catalytic impulse for nation-building in the Indian Sub-Continent.”  The concept of religion and national identity has also been deliberated upon in yet another book Pakistan Between Secularism and Islam edited by Tariq Jan. That religion provides edifice to national identities is the ideological linchpin of many organizations in South Asia and some other parts of the world.
Having said that the   national identity is a sense of belonging to a state or a nation the question that   haunts my mind is what is this much talked about Kashmir identity.  Historically, I am told that twelve tribes,  the  Nagas, the Pishachas, the Darvas, the Abhisaras, the Gandharas, the Juhundras the Sakas, the Khasas, the Tunghaqnas, the Mandavas, the Antargiris and the Bahirgiris were first settlers  thus my ancestors. There are also tales about the later settlers, the Yavanas -foreigners. The Yavanas include Huns, the Kashans, the Greeks and the Turks thus my ancestry is an admixture of various tribes and races that at different times had different beliefs and followed different religions.

If I say my heritage is my identity, the question is that have I inherited culture, language, literature, national symbols, social ethos or faith from these early settlers or the races and tribes that dwelled in this land later.  Since I do not find even the vestiges of that period persisting with me, the answer to this question could be simply no; I have not inherited anything from these early settlers.

As against this, I see the influences of the fourteenth century distinctly visible in every aspect of my life that is culture, social ethos, literature, language- thus one can say that Kashmir identity was born in fourteenth century, and I for one see Mir Syed Ali Hamadani as its founder.

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