By Wajahat Qazi
I have always been amazed by the resilience demonstrated consistently and constantly by fellow Kashmiris against great odds-the depredations induced by the conflict and the ravages of nature. My wonder at the indefatigability of Kashmiris has been lent a sharp edge by my vantage points: I would like to think that I have an insider-outsider perspective on Kashmir. The bounce and verve of my compatriots is more obvious and pronounced looking at Kashmir from outside in. How have or how do people cope up with 28 years of militarization of conflict and all that this entails? How did people in Kashmir bounce back after devastating floods hit the vale in 2014? How do people- especially those who depend on daily routine for their daily bread- cope up when Kashmir slides into spasms or interludes of life coming to a standstill and the economic uncertainties thereof? These questions nagged at me intensely. But I have now found my answers.
And, like perhaps, stuff that is often obvious but obscure(d) from view on account of ignorance, I found my answer(s) in the unlikeliest or likeliest of places(depending upon one’s point of view or perspective): the answers were revealed to me in the dingy confines of auto-rickshaws. ( To avoid the inconvenience of traffic congestion in Srinagar City and the hassle of finding parking space, I travel in auto-rickshaws- essentially modified scooters that can have space for three people inside, around the city). Auto-rickshawallahs or drivers axiomatically depend for their livelihood upon the intensity and volume of daily commuters , the amount of disposable income that commuters have and can spend on an auto-rickshaw ride, and these , in turn, depend upon the nature and volume of business activity and flow of money. This is the economics of the auto-rickshaw business. But Kashmir being Kashmir, that is , a place, where haalaat( conditions) are unstable and political uncertainty spills on over to economic uncertainty and economic conditions, what do auto-rickshawallah’s do when haalaat(conditions) take a spin? How do they cope?
In God they trust! That is, auto-rickshawallahs repose and place their trust in God.
This is the answer I invariably received when I posed these questions to auto-rickshawallahs. It is this fact that helps them cope up with challenging conditions defined by complex uncertainty. It could be stated here that the faith that auto-rickshawallahs have and repose in God is broadly representative of faith of Kashmiris. In human terms, there is a limit to what people can endure- generally speaking- psychologically, emotionally and even in material terms. It is only perhaps faith that helps and allows people to endure beyond their human limits and limitations. The same holds true for Kashmiris. Critics might point out that there are places or locales where the exigencies and nature of conflict or natural disasters is so severe and intense that Kashmir would pale by comparison. Examples that could be cited would be Syria, parts of Sub Saharan Africa and so on. Disagreeing with critics would amount to a quibble but , in the main, the same insight would hold. The natural endurance of people , in these places, would be strengthened by faith or weakened by the absence of faith. This is a psychological, psycho-analytic and spiritual point or , more accurately, a combination of these.
Disaggregated, with reference to Kashmir, faith in God with an Islamic imprimatur, Kashmiri Muslims’ psycho-religious and emotional framework has been shaped by Sufism. Sufi masters of yore, during their wanderings to and in Kashmir, introduced Islam to Kashmiris in the idiom of Sufism. Broadly speaking, Sufism inspires Islamic action through Compassion, mercy and love- all, it needs to be pointed out, essences of Islam. Given the focus on compassion and love for mortals , the Creation and the Created, Kashmiri’s psycho-emotional and religious worlds or their inner worlds have been intensely shaped by this dynamic. Kashmiris then are a kind, compassionate, benevolent and humanitarian people. This assessment has a bearing on the core argument of this essay. While the prolonged conflictual conditions that obtain in Kashmir have rendered Kashmiris a little self absorbed, and inward, but, in the main, the conflict has not made them turn against each other. Consider a factual. Take the conflict induced and incubated violence out of the picture or equation for a moment, Kashmir, turns out to be a peaceful place- counterintuitively so, given that the conflict, the easy availability of guns, at one point in time, or the broader break down of law, should have engendered criminality here. But this has not happened. Crime rates in Kashmir are lowest- relatively, of course. Moreover, the general norms that make society society or the norms of civility have held in Kashmir despite the conflict. Of course, there are aberrations, but the norm that holds supports the analysis delineated here.
Kashmiris endure the privations and stress- economic, social, political and emotional- induced by the conflict and natural disasters on account of faith. In the absence of faith, conditions here would have been hopeless and perhaps even intolerable. Crime, anomie, decrepitude and social breakdown would have ensued. While the existence of faith makes Kashmiris’ endurance worthy of poetic adulation, but the fact remains that conflict has Kashmir in a vise like grip. Kashmiris, at the risk of an understatement, could do better without it. Will a conflict free day ever descend upon Kashmir? Only God knows and in Him we repose our trust.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]