What’s in a name?” Well, if Shakespeare were living in our times, he might reconsider his words. In our period there are some particular names that hold rare and strange connotations. Some excite thoughts of luxury, progress and prosperity, while some trigger anger, abomination, carnage and such like in the mind. The latter classification includes the word “Kashmir”, a densely militarised zone amid a chain of mighty Himalayas. It has been an abode of civilisation for centuries, ruled by various dynasties and autocrats. No one has missed a chance of adoring and praising it but everyone has fallen short of giving it the honour it deserves. For the last seven decades the valley has endured endless tribulations, with its inhabitants the worst sufferers. This situation is a direct outcome of resistance between the rulers and the ruled.
Jammu and Kashmir is recognised as a disputed territory in international forums. Nevertheless, confusingly, the nature of this dispute remains shrouded in obscurantism – known to few, with not much documentation available. The book, “Kashmir Saga”, is an attempt to throw some light on it. The book is divided into four parts and begins with a geographical description of Jammu and Kashmir, along with a brief mention of its disputed nature: a bone of contention between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, while a large chunk of its territory rests under Chinese occupation. Then follows a short historical background which is mostly based on Kalhana’s Rajtarangini. The book casts light on the despotic and oppressive ways of different dynasties, especially since the decline of the Varmans till Dogra rule. The author believes “decline of Varmans landed Kashmir into political instability.” This was the time when chaos and confusion was the order of the day.
In the second part, which can be termed as the crux of the monograph, the writer touches on a sensitive issue. After decolonisation, people in the sub-continent belonging to different ethnicities and religions grew apprehensive about their future. Muslims , the largest minority, resisted compulsive assimilation that finally resulted in the division of the sub-continent into the two dominions of India and Pakistan. Proclamation of Independence Act of 1947 led to withdrawal of British paramountcy over princely states, with the exception of three: Hyderabad, Junagarh and Kashmir. The first two territories were annexed by India through force under the justification that a Muslim ruler can’t decide the fate of a Hindu-majority population. But the same justification was missing in respect of J&K. Here, a Hindu maharaja’s accession to India was deemed legal, although Muslims constituting the overwhelming majority in the state.
The author has given examples of minorities who have been bound to respect the verdict of the majority. He has given a number of instances where minorities have not been allowed to become an impediment to exercising the right to self determination, like East Timor, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia. “In case of Quebec province of Canada, decision for status quo was taken with a margin of just one percent votes,” the author informs.
To our misfortune, Kashmir has received nothing more than lip service from world powers. Civil society, too, has turned out to be a fiasco. The writer says, “(Indian) civil society has failed to fill up the vacuum, resulting in legitimization of oppression and tyranny perpetuated by the Indian state.”
To legitimise its stranglehold, the author says, India has tried to hoodwink the world by portraying elections as an alternative to Kashmiri aspirations. The book reveals the fakery of Indian democracy vividly: “Kashmiris altogether have a different experience of democracy. For them democracy has been off the people, far from the people, and buy the people for legitimising a relation to which they were not a party.”
The third part is based on UN resolutions on Kashmir and bilateral agreements between India and Pakistan. In the fourth section, a chronology of events has been listed. The book, written in a simple and lucid manner, is a good read for beginners. It is also a catalyst for budding writers to come up with more solid and evidence-based content to address the long-festering Kashmir issue.
The writer is studying for a master’s in public administration. [email protected]