A living document of historic resilience

Shefali Chaturvedi
Book – ‘Kashmir Ka Parameshwari Andolan’
Publisher – Prabhat Prakashan
Author – Ashish Kaul
Price – Rs 300

Author Ashish Kaul’s latest offering ‘Kashmir Ka Parameshwari Andolan’, published by Prabhat Prakashan, resembles a poem. A poem with some missing lines! I stumbled upon this important piece of Kashmir’s history a few days back. The book introduces the story of an event in 1967 when Kashmiri Pandits, just two per cent of Kashmir’s population at the time, had brought the Valley to a standstill.
The story opens up with the last day of July 1967 when Parmeshwari Handu, a Kashmiri Pandit girl, mysteriously disappears without prior notice which used to be the case those days – no threat call or letter. Her widowed mother embarks on a desperate search throughout the “Rainawari” and its surroundings, but to no avail. The local Kashmiri Pandit community accompanies her to the police station, where they file a missing person report. However, even after extensive efforts, Parmeshwari remains unfound, and news eventually surfaces that she has married and converted to Islam, leaving her mother in a state of utter shock and disbelief. She recounts that at no point the 17-year-old girl was under any pressure which could force her to take a drastic step like fleeing her family for a Muslim man without any notice. Nonetheless, she gathers herself and demands immediate reunion since the girl is legally a minor. As the Kashmiri Pandits rally behind the poor mother, the quest to bring back a Hindu daughter soon turns into a movement and the Valley is filled with the echoes of “Bring Back Our Daughter” slogan. Reading the account of this revolution feels like experiencing a flowing poem, with vivid words and images. It was not merely a movement to bring back a daughter, but it grows more than that. It serves as catalyst to express anger emanating from painful events that Kashmiri Pandits struggled to ensure for the last 600 years.
Divided into five chapters, this book encompasses distinct sections. The first chapter delves into the history of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, their sacrifices to preserve their religion and culture. The second chapter introduces us to “Parmeshwari Handu,” her family, Rainawari, Sheetalnath Temple, Dal Lake, and Kheer Bhawani temple. Remarkably, while reading this chapter, an unspoken connection is forged with these places in Srinagar, drawing us closer without conscious realization. The third chapter unfolds the formation of the movement after Parmeshwari’s disappearance, the processions held in various locations, and the subsequent paralysis of the administrative system affected at the behest of those sitting in positions of power. The fourth section revolves around the political activities surrounding the movement, apprehensions of potential consequences on contemporary politics, power dynamics between the central and state governments, and a tale of lathi-charges, tear gas shell firings, and gunfire that mark the suppression of a once peaceful movement. This chapter unravels hidden twists and turns, and black spots, which, if maneuvered carefully and cautiously by community leaders, the governments, political parties, and the majority in Kashmir, could have saved the movement from an abrupt end. The story of this movement comes alive through the conversations and discussions of five young friends who convey the entire narrative through their interactions, debates, and deliberations.
Despite seriousness of events, some incidents in the story evoke a victorious smile. For instance, the incident at Sheetalnath Temple, the epicenter of the movement, where electricity and water supply were cut off, and barricades restricted movement. The concerns of the youth over the movement’s limited reach beyond the locality are palpable. In a stroke of inspiration, a young person brings a solution by introducing a loudspeaker to the protest site. Reading about this incident briefly immerses us in the restlessness of the protesters, and the arrangement for the loudspeaker brings a collective sigh of relief to both the characters and the readers.
As we delve further into the story, written in a simple language, it becomes evident that if the governments and people of Kashmir had exercised a little more caution, there would have been no betrayals, and the dark years of 1990s would never have left its mark on Kashmir’s history. Author Ashish Kaul presents a unique writing style that skillfully portrays various locations in Srinagar, the stages of the movement, the narrator of the story, political parties, and even the 20-year-old “Aazad Bharat,” with Sheetal Nath Temple serving as a significant and enchanting character throughout. While the story originates from 1967, it reflects the collective resilience of the Kashmiri Pandits and adds intrigue to the narrative. In essence, this book serves as a living testament to that historic movement, immersing readers in its events and making them a part of the story. Like a search for lost verses of poetry, it captures the truth of that time and holds up a mirror to the reality of today.