Book Review: A superficial crash course on Kashmir

Book Review: A superficial crash course on Kashmir

Arshid Aziz

Kashmir: Rage and Reason
By Gowhar Geelani
Rupa Publications
Pages: 288
Price: Rs 395

On July 17, 2019, the book ‘Kashmir: Rage and Reason’ by Gowhar Geelani was released at the India International Centre in New Delhi. Kashmir has attracted many writers and scholars, but with the writings of Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed, Kashmiris themselves have produced what can be called “new-age Kashmiri writing”, unveiling the tortured history, state violence, and the sufferings of Kashmiris. Gowhar’s ‘Kashmir: Rage and Reason’ also belongs to this genre of new-age Kashmiri writing.
Geelani, too, is a part of the generation born amid conflict that has seen death, destruction and violence all through the past three decades. The book introduces him as a widely travelled journalist, a political analyst, and television commentator. ‘Kashmir: Rage and Reason’ is his maiden book and offers a fresh exposition on some incidents that mostly happened in the recent past of Kashmir. The preface of the book begins with the freedom song, “Jaago, jaago, subah hui, fateh ka parcham lehraya” (wake up, wake up, the dawn has arrived, victory’s flag is flying high). He speaks about his childhood memories of the 1990s when freedom slogans and songs played from loudspeakers. With the start of armed resistance in Kashmir, school-going children of the author’s generation learned new words and phrases like curfew, crackdown, cordon, custody killing, catch and kill, torture, interrogation, arrest, detention and disappearance. Geelani also talks about the new trends and shifts in the resistance movement of Kashmir. The recent violence in 2016, 2017 and 2018 according to the author has motivated him to write this book. The author mentions the following reason that led him to write down this book, “Such tragedies are an inseparable part of the Kashmir story today, which is not known to many outsiders. This is perhaps why many non-Kashmiris often ask: ‘why is there so much of rage in Kashmir? What does Kashmir’s angry generation want? What is the reason behind this rage?’ Kashmir: Rage and Reason attempts to answer these basic questions”.
The first chapter of the book, titled ‘Teenager to rebel icon’, talks about Burhan Wani, the commander of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), who was killed on July 8, 2016, in an encounter with Indian forces in Bumdoor village of Islamabad (Anantnag) district. The chapter also mentions the author’s travel to Tral, Burhan’s hometown. The author says that Burhan “infused fresh life into an otherwise declining armed rebellion” (p 8). Geelani without any strong evidence makes the remark that Burhan “effectively conveyed the powerful message that Kashmiris can rise against New Delhi without seeking Pakistan’s ‘diplomatic, political, moral or financial’ support…” (p 8). Actually, Geelani tweaks facts about Burhan who was affiliated with HM, which openly advocates Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. In his audio and video messages to the people, Burhan himself never held this view that Kashmiris don’t need or are against the support of Pakistan. Otherwise, it would have been a major headline like the ones his successor, Zakir Bhat aka Musa, created. Burhan time and again called for Pakistan’s diplomatic, political and moral support for Kashmir.
In chapter two, ‘Why Tral bleeds green’, the author discusses the claim that people who support Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan are associated with Jamaat e Islami (JeI), a well-known socio-political and religious organisation in the state. Geelani writes, “Among the anti-India proponents, there are those who favour independence but do not necessarily support Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan” (p 20). The author doesn’t himself take any position regarding this viewpoint of people – Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan or independent Kashmir. To counter this narrative (JeI’s role for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan or Militancy) the author mentions an eighteen year old militant, Shakir, who belongs to Rathsuna village of Tral.
According to the author, “there is no influence of JeI in Rathsuna” (p 36). Geelani gives examples of other militants who were not affiliated with JeI nor radicalised by Islamic literature. The author by dint of examples argues that Kashmir’s resistance movement is neither communal nor inspired by global jihad. He writes, “The fifth generation of Kashmir firmly believes that Delhi is in denial that the Kashmir dispute needs a political solution. That’s why some also make a decision to pick up the gun, knowing full well that their symbolic defiance may not be enough to defeat India. But there is a romantic notion attached to this act of defiance – that, at least, they fought the oppression and did not choose silence. Their struggle, they say, is not driven by hatred. It is driven by a passion that they can challenge the Indian State morally” (p 41).
Geelani also counters New Delhi’s propaganda that the Kashmir resistance movement is sponsored by Pakistan. He opines, “Perhaps Delhi needs to discredit Kashmir’s indigenous mass uprising and make an argument at international forums that it is a victim of ‘Pakistan sponsored terrorism’ in Kashmir. However, facts on the ground in 2016 tell a different story” (p 24).
The chapter 3, ‘Homeland or caliphate’, starts with the question whether Kashmir’s Tehreek e Azadi is a political movement or an Islamist one? The author explains why a majority of Kashmiris openly support armed rebellion against Delhi’s rule. “Why people continue to support local militants is because most Kashmiris feel oppressed, dispossessed and disempowered on multiple fronts, as spaces for democratic dissent stand choked in the restive region. There is a ban on peaceful assembly and student politics in universities is not allowed either” (p 51). He further writes, “The fact is that the militants have come to symbolise defiance and resistance towards the State and New Delhi for the ordinary Kashmiri” (p 51). The author discusses JeI and claims that the organisation is facing a crisis on Kashmir’s political turf. Here, too, the author fails to give a graphic account of the crisis of JeI. He says that in Kashmir, “some accuse the JeI of ‘doublespeak’ and lack of courage to admit its contradictions displayed at various junctures” (p 71). What kind of doublespeak JeI displays Geelani doesn’t mention.
The author writes, “Due to the absence of any empirical study to ascertain whether the inclination towards pro independence is more dominant in Kashmir than that towards pro Pakistan, the general impression is that most Kashmiris have a preference for independence over merger with Pakistan or even staying with India” (p 72). He further says, “In the absence of a credible referendum, attributing concrete figures to either perspective is difficult” (p 72).
‘A nationalism of multiple identities’, chapter 4 of the book, talks about the so-called tribal raiders of 1947. Here, the author goes by the dubious narrative that Pakistan had backed the tribal raiders (p 102). But on the basis of accounts of several foreign authors and historians, it has been established that the tribal invasion was a spontaneous reaction of the Pathans against the Dogra and Sikh atrocities on Muslims of J&K. For example, the Australian historian, Christopher Snedden, in his book ‘Kashmir: the Unwritten History’ argues that those who invaded the valley were neither tribals nor were backed by the Pakistani army. They were, in fact, pro-Pakistan Muslims of south western J&K that later became known as Azad Kashmiris. Even the then Prime Minister, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, on 13th July 1953 accepted in his speech that “after research we came to know that whatever had been said about the tribals was fabricated, false and a mere exaggeration” (Tareekh I Hurriyat Kashmir, Vol 3 p 402, by Rashid Taseer). There are various historians and academicians like Ghulam Ahmad Pandit (Kashmir: Azadi Ki Dehleez Par), Gopalaswami Parthasarathy (GP: 1915 – 1995), Mehmood Azad (Tareekh- e- Kashmir), PG Rasool (Masla-e-Kashmir Ki Tarikhi Asliyat), Munshi Muhammad Ishaq (Nida-e-Haq) etc who have contradicted the Indian narrative regarding the tribal raiders. Geelani has failed to mention any account of such writers.
Chapter five, ‘Violence to non violence: a lost opportunity?’ is about the violence that has ravaged Kashmir. The author mentions AS Dulat’s book ‘Kashmir: the Vajpayee Years’ and quotes him, “1989 onwards, armed militants were trying to destabilise J&K at Pakistan’s behest. They would target pro-India Kashmiri Pandits and those working specifically for India’s intelligence agencies” (p 126). The author regrets that violence has become a stumbling block in the way of peace.
In chapter six, ‘A new language of resistance’, the author narrates how in the last few years Kashmir has developed a new language of resistance – intellectual resistance and narrative resistance, something that “Kashmiris hope can produce an Anne Frank to document their misery and resilience” (p 147). He argues, “Times are changing fast, as are the dynamics of resistance. Young Kashmir is intelligent and assertive. It refuses to rely on crafty and manipulative one-sided narratives from either New Delhi or Islamabad” (p 148).
The chapter seven, ‘Hell in paradise’, narrates the violence, tortures, killings and above all, the Pandit migration. Gowhar pines for the communal bond which existed between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits. About the Pandit migration, the author’s tone is apologetic and is devoid of any clear position. To quote him, “As proud Kashmiris, we could have fought the circumstances that led to the migration. Perhaps it is my idealism. I am aware that those were not ideal times; neither are these” (p 183). But, on the other side of the page, he gives an opposite view: “I believe that the Muslim community in the valley is partly responsible as a whole… we should not have allowed unfortunate circumstances to dictate our decisions, our lives, our history and our present, and above all, sunder our cultural and emotional bond” (p 184). About the assassination of Kashmir’s popular socio-religious leader, Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammad Farooq on 21 May 1990, Geelani claims that his killers were possibly from a “pro Pakistan militant organisation”.
In chapter eight, the author argues that truth in Kashmir is overlaid with competing narratives and interpretations. He mentions that journalists are targeted for speaking the truth, something he has himself experienced. He writes, “A journalist should, under no circumstances, become a government’s stenographer or an activist for a cause. The job of a scribe is to constantly critique those in power, challenge people at the helm and ask tough questions” (p 211).
Geelani lashes out at the Indian media for spreading concocting narratives, false propaganda, and misinformation about Kashmir. He says, “The role played by a majority of journalists from India, especially those working for television channels (barring rare exceptions), has dented their credibility in Kashmir. The partisan, biased, unfair, one-sided and often provocative coverage of Kashmir by a large section of the electronic media has played a detrimental role in misguiding the general masses in India about the real problem in Kashmir” (p 221).
In the 9th chapter, the author says that despite the enormous violence that Kashmir has experienced, the world is yet to take cognisance of this brutal conflict. He argues that Kashmir’s political struggle “involves identity, ethnicity, religion and nationalism” (p 229). These are the very dynamics which must be understand to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. Peaceful negotiation is the sine qua non to establish peace and prosperity in the region, he argues.
In the last chapter, ‘A leadership crisis’, Geelani argues that New Delhi is losing Kashmir “psychologically, emotionally and morally” and also the battle of narrative in Kashmir. The chapter mentions that New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar have pathetically failed to produce any statesman who can resolve the Kashmir problem. The author talks about the double-dealing mainstream politicians in Kashmir. He also discusses the split of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) into two factions. On Syed Ali Geelani, he says, “He (Geelani) is revered in Kashmir for what he is and what he stands for. He commands tremendous respect in the valley for his perceived steadfastness and incorruptibility. Geelani is the calendar and currency in Kashmir’s resistance politics. He is a living symbol of anti-state resistance” (p 275).
To sum up, the author has presented a running commentary on some events, especially recent ones, in Kashmir. The book progresses in a linear manner and has chosen not to dig deep into the history of Kashmir. Geelani’s narrative lacks critical acumen and doesn’t impress the reader due to lack of enough punches. Geelani mostly keeps his opinions in the grey zone on important matters that require clear and vivid commentary. The book, however, is a journalistic work and a genuine documentation of some events. Even if it doesn’t appear as a thoroughly researched book, it is an effort similar to the “new-age Kashmiri writing”. It may not be for a local audience, but the book is relevant as a superficial crash course for people who don’t know much about Kashmir.

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