Book Review: Kashmir: Contested Identity
Author: Ashok Kaul, Format: Hardback/Social History
Pages: 257, Price: RS.750, Publishers: Rawat/2011
Ashok Kaul’s Kashmir: Contested Identity is one of the rare kinds of book on Kashmir written with the closeness to social history in its approach. So far, most of the writings on Kashmir were driven by the bandwagon of political inquiry, and used to be lost in midway without making any substantial gain. Similar is very much true, with the opinionated writings in print media, where contentiousness is itself taken as major source of narration instead to go deeper in the overall historical contexts that altered the age old harmonies of socio-cultural bond in Kashmir . Once a paradise; now this land is a field of ghost fighters. A.G.Noorani's endless writing on J&K with incessant fault findings in Nehru and subsequent political authorities of India could be a classical example of extreme from a great bibliophile like him. But the real solution lies in action, not in the self generated argument without any end.
Before reading this beautifully written book by Mr. kaul, I gone through a large number of works on Kashmir but alas, most of them either appeared me like the cunning reprising acts of similar perspectives or a source of subversion. Nowhere the crucial debate of “nativity” taken on the central stage, here author deserves all accolade for taking this matter forward on the Kashmir debate to the level of social analysis…such effort will sure diminish the hawkish grip of communalism from this State, if the search of lost identity could gain the popular support. Chances are likely, that its sooner than the later, the growing alienation of peoples for divisive movements and politics in State will take a decisive turn and its basis now will be the social cohesion which was once lost in the late 1980’s.
Book makes this argument lucid throughout its chapters besides covering the dangerous repercussions of cold war/power politics on Kashmir and also India’s own weakness that hampered the Kashmir cause at many historical turn. I always admire Salman Rushdie’s writings; especially few super assertive pages of his every book…also have similar take with his narration in “Shalimar the Clown”. He ends the book…”There was no India. There was only Kashmira, and Shalimar the Clown” –only new change will be in my views, that India will be existing in Kashmir, with the essence of Kashmira and Shalimar will be no longer the Clown, it will be a natural entity atleast.
Premshankar Jha’s realistic work, Kashmir 1947, was a crucial search to know what exactly went wrong in 1947. This book is making similar inquiry but with the added dimension of tracing the Kashmiriyat from scratch to its present status in badly conflict ridden Kashmir which now represents only the shadow of its impressive past and cultural sharing. Besides the perspectives of social history, Ashok Kaul has also done a meticulous research on the chronological history of Kashmir. There is also a detailed interpretation of Kashmiriyat through the iconic tells of Lal Deed and Nuruddin Rishi. I think, even today, very few can deny those traditions in historical perspectives…though in present action, a substantial number of peoples are defying those shared ethos. But the mass peoples are fed up now with the maliciously constructed conflict and they are showing temptations for normalcy in day to day life. Like, return of the Kashmiri Pandits and revival of shared neighbourhood instead of last two decades communal imposition on the local Muslim community that distorted their cultural outlooks or “nativity”.
Author, who himself is a part of the Kashmiri identity has given a proper look around on the entire Kashmir issue. Even after being remarkable part of the prestigious Banaras Hindu University for last three and half decades ,his own quest in life or academics have not changed much for those lost native possessions, he aptly represents the better left part of Kashmir which still is outside but not away from Kashmiriyat. Time is ripe now to acknowledge the humane point of view while searching the normalcy of Kashmir issue. Over the years, geo-strategic position of world has changed, so has strengthened India’s own position in the South Asian region. Naturally Pakistan, whose nationalism once used to flourish with their nasty tempering in Kashmir, now have to think million times before planning to sabotage India’s ground of “secularism” inside the State! Even with the heavy losses in Kashmir, Indian Union has emerged strong as a nation but in opposite, Pakistan has failed to shape its true national character for their consistent bad game in Kashmir. In plain speaking, people of Kashmir no longer have any consideration for Pakistan, separatist leaders are teethless and function without any credibility, and most notably, Pakistan is nowhere in comparison of India at any level. So, I am optimistic on the future course on Kashmir issue…so is this book and ofcourse its author too!
Atul Kumar Thakur
September 22, 2011, Thursday, New Delhi