Ashok Kaul’s Kashmir: Contested Identity is one of the rare kinds of books 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 the midway without making any substantial gain.
Before reading this beautifully written book by Mr Kaul, I went through a large number of works on Kashmir but most of them either appeared to me like the cunning reprising acts of similar perspectives or a source of subversion. Nowhere has the crucial debate of “nativity” been taken on the centrestage. Here the author needs all accolade for taking this matter forward on the Kashmir debate to the level of social analysis. Such effort will sure lose the hawkish grip of communalism on this state if the search of lost identity could gain the popular support. Chances are likely, that is sooner than rather later, the growing alienation of people for divisive movements and politics in state will take a decisive turn and its basis will be the social cohesion which was once lost in the late 1980s.
The 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 turns.
Premshankar Jha’s realistic work, Kashmir, 1947, was a crucial search to know what exactly went wrong in 1947. This book makes 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, the writer has also done a meticulous research on the chronological history of Kashmir. There is also a detailed interpretation of Kashmiriyat through the iconic tales 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 people are defying those shared ethos. But the masses 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”.
The 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 a half decades, his own quest in life or academics has not altered 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 the Kashmir issue.
Over the years, geo-strategic position of the world has changed, so has strengthened India’s own position in the South Asian region. Naturally Pakistan, whose nationalism once used to flourish on its nasty tempering in Kashmir, now has to think a 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 as a stronger nation but in opposite, Pakistan has failed to shape its true national character for its consistent bad game in Kashmir.
In plain speaking, the people of Kashmir have no longer 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 about the future course of the Kashmir issue—so are this book and its author.
By Atul Kumar Thakur