Our memories come in the way of our histories: Gowhar Fazili
Guest post by GOWHAR FAZILI
Rahul Pandita’s book Our Moon Has Blood Clots must be looked at both as a personal account of suffering as well as a political project that implicitly and explicitly makes use of that suffering towards a particular end. The undertaking is a legitimate one on both counts. What the book manages to achieve on each, warrants a fair and dispassionate assessment.
His narration of events experienced by the Pandits is a welcome exposition of subjectivity around a range of traumatic events, humiliations, killings and betrayals undergone prior to and after the outbreak of mass political rebellion in Kashmir in 1989. The events thus narrated, especially the account of the personal experiences of trauma do make one strongly identify with the suffering of the families involved and agree with the wide swathes of subjective anger and hurt shared by the community. The chilling accounts of individual and mass killings and the circumstances that made them possible, call for collective self-reflection, remorse and atonement. This account also calls for serious reflection on the fragility of human associations and trust in exceptional circumstances that we normally take for granted.
The book as well as the promotional interviews around the book push the claim that not only certain militants but also many ordinary people, including those personally known to the victims, were responsible for the exodus through their acts of omission and commission. This claim is substantiated through a range of indictments based on personal encounters with individuals, shared nuggets of information, as well as the interpretation of the larger political symbolism and slogans which were seen as a deliberate attempt to intimidate Pandits, and Pandits alone. While it is difficult to deny that a number of individuals took advantage of those anarchic times to gratify personal hate and lust for loot, it makes for an overstatement to underplay the equally frequent narrative of mutual support between individuals that one gets to hear during conversations between the members of the two communities privately. Such underplay does violence to those aspects of shared memory.
The arrangement of harrowing experiences from the beginning of time, through July 1931 to the present as though there is a seamless, teleological continuity between events separated by time and space makes the narrative monolithic and monologic and effectively unconvincing, though one can understand how deeply felt hurt and anger can lead to such simultaneous cathexis and amnesia in the mind of the subject.
Kashmiri Muslims overlook the impact of the use of overt religious symbolism in their rebellion against the state, upon the minorities who were thus othered by default. But that it was intended purely to scare them off is again an overstatement given that any mass cultural or political rally in Kashmir even prior to 1989 articulated itself through religious symbols, and there are historical reasons for this. Besides this over the years the secular symbolism and political language that did exist in Kashmir was largely appropriated by the occupation and deployed to further the status-quo. For this and many other reasons resistance to the status-quo took on a religious tone. Also the struggle drew inspiration from various movements active at the moment across the Muslim world where Islamised resistance was pitched against secular neo-colonial regimes or military occupations like that of Kashmir.
This does not absolve those who led the rebellion in Kashmir of their failure to invent symbols that would have been more inclusive. Besides this the groups like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) did ride the wave of dissent and use the erosion of the state to further its brand of political Islam and pan-Islamism and found ready subscribers. JI was one of the largest non-co-opted groups with the ideological resources as well as the organisational base to do so besides being actively patronised by Pakistan for its own ends. This appropriation of the national liberation struggle for exclusivist communal ends requires much introspection and revision on part of those who subscribe to the movement for Azadi.
On the other hand the book presents Pandits as politically benign throughout history, while the period post the arrival of Muslims on the scene is spoken of as ‘Islamisation’, implicitly as though Islam were something essentially vile. It does violence to the community, its intellect and will to presume that they were mostly converted forcibly by the invaders. The ascendance of Islam in Kashmir is at least as much to do with its civilisational appeal, its novelty as a spiritual experience, its relative egalitarianism and the realignment of hierarchies that result with any major socio-political change; as to the superior military and administrative prowess of the kings and queens who took over from Pandit or Buddhist Kings. Such exclusivist reading of history in Kashmir makes for Hindutva-like historiography. Communal historical narratives do persist in the privacy of our homes but any scholarship worth its salt should seek to challenge such naïve accounts of self.
While looking at Pandits as politically benign, Muslims are effectively stereotyped as perpetrators of systematic violence with the exception of few incidental individuals thinly sprinkled across the narrative. It also seamlessly combines the politically loaded stereotype of the ‘brutish tribal invaders’ of 1947 with that of the local militants and protestors of 1989, missing out on the respective contexts of the Dogra state-sponsored Jammu genocide of 1947 that triggered the tribal raid as a response, as well as the immediate political context that led to militancy in 1989.
The book elaborates on the bigotry of Muslim regimes over many pages but shrinks the hundred plus years of appalling, communal atrocities by the Sikh and Hindu-Dogra regimes that preceded 1947 into a few token sentences. The continuities with the Dogra regime that set the tone for Indian occupation are completely missed. The book ignores the causes of cyclic political upheaval in Kashmir and the history of political intrigue and violence that has sustained Indian control since 1947. In the immediate, it fails to even mention the Centre’s intervention to install Ghulam Mohammad Shah (Gulle Shah), followed by the systematic rigging of 1987 elections and accompanying repression that led to mass rebellion. Such systematic state violence and complete failure to make any political redress led to a tipping point following which violence spiralled out of hand. This is not to say that Pandits were legitimate target because of their identifications and silences, but to illustrate how perceptions of violence are selective.
The superior claims to Kashmir based on mythologised communal history does violence to humans who predated any known religion in Kashmir (like the well known stone-age inhabitants of Burzahama). By implication erasing all those non-caste inhabitants like Aaram, Doomb, Chopaan, Haenz, Watal, Gujjur, Bakerwaal – in fact the whole of peasantry who have as much claim to Kashmir as any blue-blooded Pandit, Syed or Sufi regardless of the fact that they may not have left much of a written record to vouch for themselves. They are there in flesh and blood for everyone to see. The failure to find them in history does violence to Pandit claims of superior knowledge and learning — the claims that are naively repeated (subtly or explicitly) throughout this book and many other Pandit self-accounts. The connection between power and knowledge is somehow completely lost on them. The pride in being exceptionally learned and the anxiety over losing that exclusive privilege is a palpable, unresolved undercurrent.
These claims are not unlike the exclusivist elite Muslim claims to history that do not consider the contributions of their Hindu, Buddhist and non-religious ordinary and exceptional ancestors as their own (as though they have all sprung out of the womb of Ka’aba and not Kashmir). History needs to be understood as the dialectics of power in which all are implicated regardless of whether we see ourselves as political or numerical minorities or majorities or neither or both at the same time. Minorities and majorities are constantly in flux and depend on how we choose to identify ourselves as well as the result of markers and experiences that have shaped us and that we are for various reasons unwilling to let go. All this does not mean to say that the historical/political takes precedence over the personal and intimate but that the personal is irretrievably braided with the historical/political and any claims to naiveté and innocence in this regard are patently false and pretentious.
The violence of the elite embedded in the system is of a different order than that of those who challenge the system on the streets. The violence is in their silences and in the very disproportionate representations at the expense of the excluded and the marginalised. This holds true for both the Pandit as well as the Muslim elite. The failure to forge a non-communal language of politics and resistance and the resultant communalised violence and communal subject positions is a collective failure of the Kashmiri self as a whole — including those who claim superior knowledge and access to power, or those who have the numbers and the will to resist on the streets. The exclusive political affinity to Pakistan or Saudi-Arabia for a Muslim is as communal as the exclusive political affinity of a Pandit to India. It is the reverse affinities that are more interesting. These may be a result of political masochism, of one being a political sell-out or an outcome of spiritual transcendence beyond the scope of rational understanding. Being Kashmiri necessarily demands some understanding of, and affinity with the shared cultural and political experience. Any attempt to distance oneself from it, distances one from the essence of being a Kashmiri. This holds true for all communities.
The narrative demarcates and crystallises the self communally. The ‘other’ is a seamless monolith collectively responsible for the religious minority’s suffering, even while sections from among those designated as the other were equally vulnerable to the anarchic situation because of their political and class affiliations, or to the violence of the military unleashed by the state on people in general. At the heart of the problem is the failure to imagine community except in terms of religion as a pure indivisible and non-overlapping category with no internal and external contradictions. This may be a failure of imagination or deliberate political choice. The greater onus for this in my opinion rests with Muslims because of their superior numbers (though Pandits could have greatly helped with their historically inherited superior access to knowledge and power).
Further the identification with the symbols of the state like BSF (Border Security Force) in one’s backyard is also noteworthy. The uniformed men who were and are perceived as a threat and as intruders by the majority in Kashmir are seen as a source of security by the Pandit community. Similar identification and abhorrence of the symbols of the state are communally shaped. Pandit identification with India and alienation from resistance is as communally driven as Muslim disregard for Indian presence in Kashmir and identification with Pakistan or the militants of Pakistani origin. Sadly we have failed to find security in each other and look for it among non-Kashmiri co-religionists.
Early militancy had multiple inspirations, only one of them was Islamism. It served the interests of both the Indian and Pakistani establishments to split Kashmir along religious lines and we let them succeed. Further the systematic revenge that the Indian state has been taking on the people of Kashmir for who we are has further impeded emotional recovery and possibility of serious effort towards communal reconciliation.
To look at Pandits as active political actors would also mean to understand their complicity through silence over the systematic state violence that has prevailed in Kashmir pre- and post-Pandit departure. Their identifications and influence with the Indian state makes it ethically imperative upon them to take a moral stand against the policies of the state they identify with and press for a just political solution in Kashmir. Otherwise it will be safe to assume that the status-quo suites them politically and that they leverage their influence and suffering in favour of the exclusionary right-wing politics in India.
It is important to emphasise that India has not only been fighting militancy in Kashmir but the population itself as a whole along with its political claims. Leveraging tribal raids, Islamism and violence against minorities in Kashmir to undermine or drown out those political claims is ethically as well as logically unsustainable. This may find emotional resonance with the Hindu rightwing in India and sadly that may be exactly what is sought.
(Gowhar Fazili is a PhD scholar at the Department of Sociology in the Delhi School of Economics.)
- Kashmir Vale: An Open Letter to Rahul Pandita
More on Kashmiri Pandits from Kafila archives:
- Raju Moza: Why Kashmiri Pandits May Never Return to Kashmir
- Siddhartha Gigoo: ‘Snakebite or Sunstroke?’
Related posts from Kafila archives:
Previously by Gowhar Fazili in Kafila: