Surprising it may seem but in today’s tumultuous world, when a deadly pandemic is on the rampage and most democracies are in ferment, whether it be the United States of America after President Trump’s loss in elections and, closer home, the massive and growing farmers’ agitation in India, while feudal and tribal religious radical forces grow stronger in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Kashmir valley and the country of Bangladesh have become unexpected beacons of peace, stability, and hope in a chaotic world.
While the Muslim-majority but moderate and secular Bangladesh is continuing to make great strides economically, Kashmir valley, another Muslim-majority region with a bloody, violent and unstable political history, is also emerging as a surprising oasis of calm and optimism. Bangladesh has been helped by the inherently secular nature of the Bengali Muslim, who has by and large ensured that Bangladesh remains on the path of secularism, democracy and economic progress despite the challenges of an overpopulated and impoverished nation. Kashmir valley, on the other hand, has been the victim of its history that has created the image of a Kashmiri Muslim as a violent, bloodthirsty, religiously radical, and intolerant one. There have been in the past many events in Kashmir that have cumulatively created this perception. What has unfortunately remained buried is the inherently intellectual, thoughtful, and pensive nature of a Kashmiri Muslim, which the world has largely forgotten.
And just when everyone expected Kashmir valley to burn to ashes with relentless violence and spilling of blood in the aftermath of the abolition of important constitutional provisions that effectively gave the former state of Jammu & Kashmir a semi-autonomous political status within the Union of India, the people of Kashmir valley and its majority Muslim inhabitants showed a mature restraint in not letting the region be further pushed into flames of death and destruction, which otherwise flare in Kashmir in regular and ominous cycles.
The recently held DDC elections in Kashmir valley saw enthusiastic participation of Kashmiri Muslims (and not just the Gujjar & Bakarwal Muslims) at a time when the world is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, political chaos in the USA, and the aggressive and prospectively politically destabilising farmers; agitation in India. This has come as a surprise to many political analysts who claim to understand Kashmir. The fact is that only a Kashmiri can truly understand a fellow Kashmiri. Kashmiri people often go against the prevailing political tide. This has happened many times in the past and it has happened now, too.
Despite the recent rise of religious extremism in Kashmir valley and the outwardly conservative behaviour of Kashmiri Muslims in the eyes of the outside community, the Kashmiri Muslim just like the Bengali Muslim remains inherently secular, moderate, pragmatic and forward looking. There is a lot more than that what meets the eye when it comes to understanding the psychology of a Kashmiri Muslim. In participating enthusiastically in the DDC elections, ordinary Kashmiri people have given a message that they are not rigid and fixated in their approach towards their political future. While their dignity and honour remain paramount to them, they are not dogmatic. Kashmiri people, including Pandits, have been victims of international geopolitics, but they have not shunned their political maturity. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi praised the people of Kashmir valley for their restraint and calm when the entire British India was burning in the calamity of communal partition that created the religious identity-based state of Pakistan, resulting in the mayhem of religious riots that took lives of lakhs of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Even as Jammu region bore the brunt of the brutal communal riots, the small Muslim-majority enclave of Kashmir was an isolated island of peace amid the violence-ridden newly independent nations of India and Pakistan.
Everyone knows the modern history of Kashmir valley and its eventual destabilisation and near destruction in the last three decades, which among other things has led to the creation and then hardening of a certain perception about Kashmiri people, especially its majority Muslim population.
The segregation of Kashmiri culture from the Kashmiri Muslim has led to this distorted image. Therefore, the peaceful conduct of DDC elections in Kashmir valley has come as a surprise to many, especially when elections in most parts of India are increasingly being marred by politically motivated violence.
This is, in fact, a golden chance for not only creating a new, sustainable and peaceful Kashmir but also for the people of Kashmir tp take the lead in restoration of peace and order in entire South Asia. The need of the hour is for the Indian government to now proactively engage with the people of Kashmir valley by restoring their honour and dignity, for which restoration of J&K’s statehood can be a good start.
Kashmiri people are among the most educated and intellectual communities of South Asia who have collectively created a rich, secular, dynamic and vibrant culture of music, dance, poetry, literature, science and routinely added to the intellectual pool of South Asia. If Kashmiris like Nehru and Allama Iqbal dominated the political and intellectual discourse of colonial and post-colonial South Asia, the contemporary Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit community is among the most enterprising South Asian diaspora ethnic groups that has influence all over the world, including in Gulf nations, Western Europe, and the United States. I think it is high time that Kashmiris reclaim their lost glory and make up for the lost time by taking the lead as a forward-looking community that emerges out of the ashes of pessimism and destruction, thereby setting a positive example for our increasingly cynical world.
—The writer fought DDC elections from Beerwah Budgam. Views expressed his own. [email protected]