Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kashmir: Reviving The Social Fabric

 Positive outcome of the recent flood may be the revival of the social fabric in Kashmir

In ancient times, Kashmiri Society used to be very interactive and sociable. It also used to be very lively and humour loving. According to a British writer one could get the best out of a Kashmiri with a kind word and a joke. In spite of the worst suppression from external rulers, the Kashmiri humour and liveliness has not withered. In some of the worst situations, they have not abandoned their sense of humour. This aspect of their character still remains unchanged. Kashmiris are also famous for giving nicknames to one and all! Yes, people sometimes get shocked and dumbfounded after every bad episode but they soon recover and carry on. Anyone who visits Kashmir after such episodes like a political turmoil or a catastrophic natural disaster would not believe that these are the same people who have gone through such tribulations! The resilience of a Kashmiri is limitless bordering even on total passivity. Of course that is the reason it is named as the valley of the saints in Kashmiri!
The social interactions have always continued in spite of the modernization and technological development. Till 1947 the main interaction with outside world was through the Jhelum Valley Road and Rawalpindi was the main contact point. There were caravans coming and going to Central Asia like Tajikistan and also to Chinese Sinkiang province. There was very little interaction through the Bannihal Road which used to be closed for six months of winter.
The partition and the subsequent conflict isolated Kashmir totally and the only interaction was through the Bannihal Road. The start of air services in subsequent years increased outside interaction. Still Kashmiris did not travel much. This was very true till late eighties. However, the turmoil of nineties totally changed the situation.
Two important things happened which had profound and far reaching impact on the psyche of Kashmiris. Pandits had to go out involuntarily which completely changed their outlook and social well-being. The Muslims went out voluntarily to escape the troubles at home as well as to look for newer pastures for their business and means of livelihood. As regards living in Kashmir itself, there was very significant social impact of the then prevailing situation. The entire social interaction came to a virtual halt. This was the result of continuous shut downs and official curfews. The unending cordon and search operations of the security forces looking for militants forced people to stay in their own homes. Life would virtually shut down just before the descending of the darkness in the evening. This continuous involuntary confinement totally disrupted the normal social interaction. There were only two occasions on which people would meet each other. In a marriage function or during a funeral!
For the intellectual class there was a total break in any meetings. Till nineties one of the central meeting points for the intellectuals used to be the India Coffee House. People used to sit here for hours on end discussing all topics. The journalists would meet here to exchange information. The closure of the Coffee House deprived people of a central meeting point. This continued disconnection remained even after easing of the situation. As a matter of habit people got stuck in their own homes. The usual visits to friends and relatives also declined to a great extent. The coming of the internet with umpteen social interactive sites like the Facebook caused total confinement of people to their homes. They could chat, speak or even debate through these electronic information highways. There was no need to take the trouble of moving out and meeting each other. People started turning into “couch potatoes”! This suited the authorities as going out to express one’s views could result in turmoil.
Then came the great flood. People were suddenly and in a violent manner physically displaced from their “couches”! There was total disruption and displacement. They had no alternative but to take shelter with relatives and friends. It was a forced social interaction. Interestingly, the most of the elite living in posh areas usually called the “Civil Lines” was involved in this forced displacement. In some places, four to five families were staying in a single house. The relatives and even friends who had not seen each other for a long time got bundled together! This forced displacement also compelled people to look for their relations as no one knew where his or her relatives had taken shelter. The things were rendered more difficult due to break down of the communication channels. This forced people to physically search for their near and dear ones in different places including the relief camps! In the process there was more physical interaction. Additionally, the relief camps in different parts of the city also became the centres for social interaction.

Now the moot point is whether this forced social interaction will revive the age old traditional social set up in Kashmir? It would be a very positive and welcome development if it does. Interaction at all levels is very healthy for the orderly growth of a society. The social interaction should not only be revived between relations, friends and intellectuals in general but between the people of different areas and regions. It may not necessarily start with political issues but a good beginning could be the discussion on environment which we have miserably and wantonly fiddled with, resulting in this massive flood of the century. One could demand a commission to pinpoint the criminal negligence which resulted in such massive devastation. Let us hope the broken social fabric gets revived as a pleasant and timely gift from this, otherwise, the most devastating flood in our memory!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Visoka’s Curse!

Sajjad Lone seems to be nearing his “Achievable Nationhood” after forgetting the unachievable part! From the vision of an independent sovereign Kashmir to dreaming to be the Chief Minister of the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir is a journey full of struggle and turmoil. Most of the so called Kashmiri leaders in recent times have travelled on this journey. The only certain thing in Kashmir otherwise plagued by uncertainty is the changing stance of people from all walks of life especially the politicians. They change their ideology, convictions and stances like changing of the t-shirts which some of them wear! This perennially changing attitude seems to be result of an ancient curse.
The Nilmat Purana verses 294-296 state, “O lord, then angry Visoka cursed Kasmira, "O wicked one, as I have been absorbed by you today by means of falsehood and you have informed Sati about my activities, so your people will be mostly liars, possessed of impurities, hired servants and dishonoured in the worlds"...........
Kashmir has a history of over 5,000 years. The earlier part is more mythological than realistic but last couple of thousand years till about 12th century A.D. have been more or less authenticated by Sir Aural Stein in the “Memoir on the Geography of Kashmir”, which forms the last part of his two volume translation of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. Stein had visited all the archaeological sites and landmarks mentioned in the first ever written history in the entire sub-continent. It makes an interesting read and one is virtually transported mentally into those bygone eras, some of which were golden while others were terrible times, worse than the recent devastating flood of the century.
The way we Kashmiris have been suffering for over last four centuries makes one think that there is really a curse on this “Paradise on Earth”. Even in earlier times there have been many episodes of suffering due to natural calamities or man-made causes such as internecine wars. Another interesting but unproven theory is about Jewish incursions in Kashmir which claim Kashmiris to be part of the missing tribe of the Israelites who were dispersed all over the world after the destruction of the second temple by the Romans. Jews too as mentioned in holy Quran were cursed by God after their ignominious behaviour mentioned in sura Bakara. In either case, there seems to be a curse on Kashmir which refuses to go away! However, one thing is certain. We have brought on these curses by our own misdeeds!
Most of the earlier travellers visiting Kashmir have been critical of the character and the behaviour of Kashmiris. The reasons for this behaviour have been given as the endless persecution of the local people by outside rulers. One cannot expect a person being persecuted continuously to exhibit any traits of decency, honesty and integrity. A person whose very existence is threatened can be expected to go to any length to save his own self. The worst traits and failings become part of the character and the concerned person feels no compunction in professing these without any moral or psychological remorse. These things get ingrained in the human psyche and a person considers these to be the expected normal behaviour.
After the devastation and displacement caused by the recent flood, one would have expected people to remain under shock for a long time. However, the rallies for the forthcoming elections give an impression that nothing has changed and the people are behaving as they used to do. There has been no chastisement as one would have expected from such a natural disaster attributed by many to be the “Divine Retribution” for our misdeeds! People are on the path to usher in the same lot of so called leaders who turned Kashmir into a virtual den of corruption, dishonesty and immorality.
Incidentally, the first victims of the curse were Kashmiri Pandits who got thrown out en masse from the place where they had lived for centuries. The Muslims left behind had to go through the worst period. Over a hundred thousand were killed, thousands were maimed, hundreds of women were raped, and property worth crores was destroyed. Even such terrible happenings did not make them change their attitude! Then came the recent calamity like the “Great Flood” in the “Paradise Lost”! This should have a made a change but no, not at all. The same story continues endlessly. One wonders when and how will the “Visoka’s Curse” go off from the vale of Kashmir? Will it ever go? Only the sages can predict!