The book focuses on the impact of the Azadi movement and militancy on education, role and contribution of women in the past, the present and the future with the hope of reconciliation based on pre-90 status of Kashmir. The author begins the book with a poem:
Together we walked through the seasons/Without any reasons
Sunanda Nehru Ganjoo, having a Master’s degree in Social Work is herself a victim of Kashmir turmoil. Married in 1987 she was pregnant and the expected date of delivery was mid-May 1990. Her family in Kashmir also received warnings to leave the valley. Her plans of expecting a baby in the cool atmosphere got shattered. She quotes Alsafa and Aftab. She talks about January 19, 1990, killing of Kashmiri Pandits, killing of Muslims on the pretext of being mukhbirs(informants) and above all, she talks about those who opted for not leaving the valley:
‘Can anyone imagine their psyche when most of the minority community was gone and Islamic fundamentalism was at its peak? How did they survive?’
Mentioning about the gross exploitation of the agrarian population by the then rulers that resulted in the political and social uprising in the thirties and forties she feels humbled at their contribution to the state in various spheres giving example of Hari Singh introducing the concept of jabri schools (compulsory education). She also talks about the role of Christian missionaries that arrived in the valley in 1864. In 1888 Dr, Fanny Butler started a dispensary in Srinagar. The foundation stone of the state hospital SMHS was laid by the Marquess of Linlithgow, the viceroy of India in 1940.
Referring to Tyndale Biscoe’s book Sunlight and Shade she writes that education imparted in both Hindu and Muslim institutions continued to be religion-oriented. Muslim boys were taught Arabic in mosques whereas Hindu boys were taught Sanskrit by Brahmins.
Sanctioned by the state government in 1926 Women’s Welfare Trust came into existence in 1925. Its focus was on the education of women. Father of G K Muju, Pandit Dina Nath Muju, was a lifelong member of Women’s Welfare Trust. Unfortunately, terrorists mercilessly killed him in 1990.
Vimla Kaul, the wife of the social reformer Kashyap Bandhu, became a role model for several young women. She was the first woman to study in all boys’ Sri Pratap College. Social reforms took place with the establishment of Government College for women, the first women’s college on Maulana Azad road. Kashyap Bandhu, a strong proponent of Arya Samaj ideology was the man behind changing the pheran culture to sari among Kashmiri Pandit women and introduced salwar kameez also.
1899-1950 was a renaissance period amongst Muslims on social-religious and educational fronts. Maulvi Rasool Shah awakened the Muslims educationally on becoming the head priest or Mirwaiz of Srinagar. Sunanda Ganjoo writes on the rise of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah plus the historical and political aspects of Kashmir.
The kernel of the book is the outflow of courageous stories of the contributors to Kashmir in the hour of agony. Khemlata Wakhlu became the minister of tourism from 1983-87. She left NC later and joined Congress in 2000. She showed exemplary courage by entering into open dialogue with the separatists telling them about the futility of the idea of Azadi. She tells them even Pandits could have participated in the struggle for Azadi but instead separatists killed them. During the captivity for 45 days when asked whether she wants Hindustan or Pakistan she replied that they are in Hindustan but if they want, there could be neither Hindustan nor Pakistan, but Azadi (independence). Khemlata says all the Hindu shrines have been protected and new ashrams and temples have been constructed but she remains silent on the encroachments and desecration of many temples in the valley. Khemlata is wrong in saying that Pandits could have participated in the Azadi Movement. Pandits can in no way do that.
Neerja Mattoo is a multifaceted personality. She has translated three collections of Kashmiri short stories and has written two books on Kashmiri cooking. She retired as Head of the Department of English and Principal of women’s college, Maulana Azad Road 1996. She inspired the younger generation with true nature of Kashmiriat. Recently she came out with a book on the women poets Arnimal, Habba Khatoon and Lal Ded.
Laying stress on making Peace Education one of the goals Sunanada Ganjoo talks about the peace initiatives and about the rebuilders.
Nusrat Andrabi, an educationist, says that in 1988, her son had only Pandit friends but her younger daughter does not know a single Pandit. She has been actively involved in peace initiatives with Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation started by Rajmohan Gandhi. Vijay Dhar’s Delhi Public School came into existence in 2003 at last. Nazir Benazir is working in the field of ecology and removing the menace of polythene. Nighat Shafi runs an NGO HELP and works for love and peace. She started an orphanage with 30 children that expanded to 250 souls. Suraiya Ali, the youngest of the five children of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah talks of the coming up mosques spreading Wahabi ideology and muffling of secular and liberal voices. Rahi Riyaz Ahmed is creating a band of earnest volunteers who get trained in health, education, environment conservation and networking with various public and private social service organisations. Sajad Ahmed is channelizing the youth towards sports. Gurmeet Singh is weaving gender studies with formal education. Undeterred by the valley’s scenario she has been able to give a voice to young students. Dilafrose Qazi and her husband Dr. Shabbier Qazi started SSM College at Parihaspora, Baramulla in 1998 housing engineering college, business management school, a polytechnic, and a B Ed college. Meanka Handu is attempting to bridge the divide through her comedy show on YouTube called Asvun Koshur. Vasanta and Kashyapa schools have immense contribution in the field of education. Sunanada Ganjoo has quoted many things from G K Mujoo’s writings. The role of G K Mujoo in the field of education is significant. The author terms Hasrat Gadda, founder of Funkar Cultural Organisation, a writer, translator and editor___ a last scion of symbiotic art, culture, and language in Kashmir.
In the chapter, ‘Why this Compilation?’ Sunanada writes:
‘Today, there has been a tremendous rise in literacy and educational attainment of young girls and boys ( especially amongst the Muslims), but divisive and fundamentalist forces are gradually pervading and curbing their freedom of expression…….as a Kashmiri, I wanted to draw attention to the great legacy of our land and give an opportunity for diversity, tolerance, secularism and freedom of expression , and above all humanity to survive. This is our last chance before it is too late.’