Kashmiriyat and Composite Culture

Commodore D S Sodhi, NM Retd
The composite culture of Kashmir was and is a reality of the Kashmir valley that flourished through interaction between people belonging to different faiths. People affiliated to different faiths have lived together in Kashmir since centuries and the religious affiliations never affected their sense of belongingness to each other as a Kashmiri. Immense contribution was made by noble sufi saints, Peers and other blessed souls in enriching, elevating and refining the lives of the people. Their influence was a huge contributor towards building this culture. Kashmir was exposed to educationists, intellectuals, sufis, artisans from central Asia and Persia who brought with them new cultures and life styles that to some extent did fascinate the local people. From Hinduism to Buddhism to Shivaism and to Islam, the religious groups did influence the culture by one way or the other. Similarly, some of the artisans, scholars, academicians who travelled outside Kashmir and interacted with famous cultures of the world on their return influenced and enriched the local culture. There was a similarity in a number of social customs between the Muslims and the non-Muslims may be attributable to the common ethnic descent. Like any other land, Kashmir too had its own fairs and festivals. Since time immemorial Kashmiris have been observing both religious and secular fairs and festivals. Most of these important fairs and festivals find mention in the chronicle Nilamata Purana. Another aspect that has been making news in the recent times is the term ‘Kashmiriyat’. The word Kashmiriyat does not find any mention in any important historical accounts like Rajatarangini, Nilmata Purana, and other credible accounts. Author and lawyer Nandita Haskar when asked about Kashmiriyat has said “This is an artificial concept being promoted by the State which shows that Hindus and Muslims have been living happily for a very, very long time, even though (earlier) Kashmiri nationalism was more inclusive (with people coexisting despite divergent views)”.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 23 April, 2003, after one of his trips to Jammu and Kashmir, made a very emotional statement in Parliament. He said in the Lok Sabha, that during his recent visit to Jammu and Kashmir, he assured the people, that, we wish to resolve all issues – both domestic and external – through talks. He also said that the gun can solve no problem; brotherhood can. He further added, in my public rally, I congratulated the people of Kashmir on participating in the Assembly elections in large numbers. They exercised their franchise defying the threat of bullets. I assured them, we have come here to share your pain and suffering. Whatever complaints you have, will try to address them collectively. Knock on the doors of Delhi, and Delhi will never close its doors for you. The doors of our heart will also remain open for you. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by the three principles of Insaaniyat (humanism), Jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir’s age-old legacy of amity). However, today unfortunately Vajpayee Ji himself is unavailable to provide any further guidance. The slogan ‘Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat’ coined by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was revisited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech in Katra on 20 April 2016. While inaugurating Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Narayana Superspeciality Hospital at Katra, Prime Minister Modi called Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s doctrine of “Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat” as the only way to solve Jammu & Kashmir’s problem. He reached out to the people of turbulent Kashmir and indicated willingness to hold dialogue under the framework of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’. However, in an article former Jammu and Kashmir BJP Vice President and Political advisor Prof Hari Om brought out that “There is no reference to the term Kashmiriyat either in any piece of Kashmiri literature or in any history book that was produced before 1975”. He urged PM Modi to revisit Kashmir pre-1975, to see for himself that the term Kashmiriyat was not in vogue anywhere in Kashmir. Despite initial resistance, under the heading of Political initiatives, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ensured inclusion of initiation of dialogue process with all political groups including Hurriyat Conference in the spirit of “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat” in the “Agenda of Alliance” whilst formation of the Coalition Government. With resistance shown by the people of Jammu for the use of word Kashmiriyat, the people of Kashmir have now made it an ego issue. Narendra Modi, again on 15 Aug 2018 during his Independence speech whilst speaking of reaching out to the people of Kashmir once again invoked the vision of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee for Kashmir.
A detailed analysis of “Kashmiriyat” has been done by Toru Tak in an article published in Apr 2013. He brings out that today, the term Kashmiriyat is widely accepted in the discourse on Kashmir. It normally signifies the socio-cultural Kashmiri identity, which is often considered indigenously secular. The political idea of Kashmir as the land of communal amity – the main component of the meaning of Kashmiriyat today – was given primarily during the post-1947 days, although the term Kashmiriyat was then yet to be coined. Immediately after sending the Indian troops to Kashmir in October 1947, Nehru had proclaimed: This fair land, which Nature has made so lovely, has been desecrated by people who have indulged in murder, arson, loot and foul attacks on women and children. The people have suffered greatly from shortage of the most vital necessities of life and yet under the inspiring lead of Sheikh Abdullah, they have stood together in the hour of calamity and showed to the rest of India an example of what communal unity can achieve. Whatever the future may hold, this chapter in the history of Kashmir will be worth reading and we shall never regret that in their hour of distress we have been able to be of assistance to these gallant people. Nehru’s definition of Kashmir as the land of communal amity was a powerful one, and permeated the mind of the Indian public. T N Madan, one of India’s pioneer anthropologists and a Kashmiri pandit, has written about the advent of the term Kashmiriyat that “the first thing to emphasise is that Kashmiriyat is not a Kashmiri word. It may not therefore be claimed to be native category of perception”.
Mohammad Ishaq Khan, a prominent Kashmiri historian, remembers the circumstances where he had first heard the term from his fellow researchers during the mid-1970s. He brings out that during the days of post-1975 Kashmir accord, Kashmiri intellectuals were in dilemma as to what political vision they should conceive of for the future. The scholars and intellectuals in academic hubs sometimes engaged in conversations on current issues. In one of those chats, he claims to have heard Mohammad Amin (Ibn Mahjoor), incidentally the son of Kashmir’s poet G. A Mahjoor, saying, there is only one option now: we must support a regional party, the party that is rooted in Kashmir and is retaining the culture of Kashmir. That would be “Kashmiriyat”. Mahjoor might have heard the term from somebody else, Khan adds, but it was the first time for Khan to encounter the term. Soon the term also appeared in the Urdu dailies of Kashmir – especially in the Srinagar Times. In the 23rd September 1975 editorial of the Srinagar Times, titled “Newspapers in Srinagar and Urdu Language” (Srinagar kay akhbar aur Urdu zaban), we find one of the earliest instances of the term’s appearance. The article’s concluding part states: The editors of Srinagar’s Urdu papers are not accustomed to the right type of urdu language. Therefore, it would not be very surprising if Kashmiriyat appears in their journalistic language. The term Kashmiriyat in this article signified simply Kashmiri-ness, although the air of Kashmiri nationalism/regionalism was palpable throughout this editorial. The term Kashmiriyat may not have been well-established in the mid-1970s, but the Kashmiri nationalist consciousness was certainly on the rise during this period. In another old editorial of Srinagar Times (14 August 1975) titled “Culture and Kashmiri Literature” (Tahzib aur Kashmiri adab) one found clear markers showing the formula of contemporary Kashmiri nationalism. The article proceeds to state: “The endeavor to sustain Kashmir as a cultural unit has persisted, and behind this is the passion for preserving its cultural individuality.
In mid-late seventies, the reiteration of Kashmir’s cultural identity was not only sought by the Kashmiri intellectuals and journalists, but also administered “from above” by the Government of the day. It seems to have been popularised in 1983, when one of the political parties used the term for its campaign in that year’s assembly elections. During the electin campaign of 1983, the atmosphere got communally divided and Kashmiriyat inevitably sounded like the slogan of Kashmir’s “Muslim” identity, and some voices of concern were raised to save Kashmir’s original “composite” culture vis-à-vis such communal propaganda.The term Kashmiriyat started getting popular outside Kashmir in nineties and the aspect of Kashmir’s indigenous secularism which was being considered as a bond between Kashmir and rest of India seemed to be frequently referred to by intellectuals in debates and conferences. This form of Kashmiriyat may be called India’s (Hindu-majoritarian) version of the idea of secular Kashmir; it was basically the recurrence of Nehru’s definition of Kashmir. One of the prominent exponents of the term Kashmiriyat, of this version, was the Nehruvian M J Akbar, who’s Kashmir: Behind the Vale (1991) popularised the term in India.
The word `Kashmiriyat’ has been used / abused during the past two decades and is often quoted in debates and conferences. What is it that makes it so unique for the people of Kashmir? Some connect it to the tolerance Kashmiris have displayed since centuries but if that be so then why did the exodus of Hindus take place? Kashmiris have always resisted the external aggression that started with the invasion by Mughals but what pains is that why didn’t the Kashmiris resist the nefarious designs that resulted in ouster of the Hindus. These days any act of rendering assistance / help to a tourist or a person of any other faith is also being linked to Kashmiriyat. Mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir in the year 1989-90 came as huge blow not only to the Kashmiri Pandits but the entire humanity and the community has been living as refugees displaced in their own land since last twenty-nine years. This exodus has been a setback to the frequently quoted concept Kashmiriyat and Composite culture. With this exodus, age old customs and cultures were wiped out in an instant. The Kashmiri pandits since have suffered a lot and are an aggrieved society. Economically weak people are struggling and many of them have faced psychological problems. Whether we like it or not, we will have to accept the fact that with the exodus of Kashmiri pundits from the valley, the concept of Composite Culture and Kashmiriyat has taken a big hit and may become irrelevant and Kashmiriyat may no longer remain a cementing force. It is now being seen as a negative, secessionist concept fraught with communal and separatist overtones. The only way to get back the confidence in this concept is to establish peace in the valley on priority and having Kashmiri pandits back in their home land.
The views are personal
(The writer is an author and a social activist)