Tillers of the Land

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Since attempts are relentlessly made to separate generations in Kashmir by thousands of light years, into which space the State can inject its own calibrations of memory and amnesia; it might seem like eons ago but in reality only some 60 years have passed since the Kashmiri peasantry obtained ownership of the land which they used to work on, thanks to a singularly progressive and visionary land reforms programme. The powerful slogan ‘Tiller of the land is the owner of the land’ whose force and poignancy has, in my opinion, parallels only in Iqbal’s jis khaet se dehqaan ko muyasar na ho rozi, os khaet ke har khosha-e-gundum ko jalado ensured that post-Dogra (and post-British) Kashmir set on a real path of decolonization and freedom. (Sadly, the same cannot be said of much of rest of the erstwhile British Empire.) Unfortunately, the journey down that path was short-lived, for reasons known to all. 

After the redistribution, the peasantry took to the land as the virtuous to the gardens of Eden. Land became an even more prized possession than it otherwise is; it was a repository of memory and Justice’s atonement for centuries of back-breaking servitude. These features were even more important because freedom had shown itself to be fragile and evanescent and until it could grow new roots, the land had also to be protected as its nurturer and sustainer. It is therefore not surprising that in the early years of the post-Dogra era, the politics of freedom emanated from the land (and every possibility of the pun held true). Those interested in freedom were most directly also concerned and connected to the land. In time, Article 370, an asinine ride for Kashmiri leadership dreaming of high-horses, was diminished step by step till it became a rat’s ass; but pertinently, the meaning it came to hold in the hinterland was that no outsider would be able to buy land in Kashmir, ever. 

Perhaps this was the reason the State introduced many schemes and programmes to snip the contact between people and the land, on the one hand absorbing huge numbers into service sectors (of the government, mainly) and on the other hand neglecting agriculture and related activities by allowing, some would say forcing, the death of numerous patterns and historical wisdom and ignoring sustainable advancements and improvements. The alternate explanation about the unstoppable march of history and modernity in which the State is just an automatic catalyst incriminates the Indian State in particular and the concept of State in general even more. Anyways, be that as it is, the movement away from land manifested itself as a huge stark reality in which the State was the enemy but the government the job-provider. The Nag had been made to bite its tail. 

The years of armed rebellion and the shock and awe which the Indian State has been executing against it meant that human life became cheaper in Kashmir than windfall apples. In classical Malthusan terms, but in reverse, land lost value as even life could not find any. The practice of selling land –a taboo since those events many light years ago –and moving to safer zones took roots and began to grow. And if land could be sold to escape and save one’s or family’s life, it was only a step further to sell it to make life easier for the family, construct a new house, buy a second-hand car, get a job as a laboratory assistant in the education department. The impoverishment of the poorer sections during the peak years of the rebellion played its part. Many bullets fired by the Indian State and the militants missed the heart but every single bullet managed to shatter the anchors which held those lives down. 

Now a time has come to pass where we hire labourers from outside, whom we recklessly club together as Biharis, to build our houses, clip our hair and reap our crops. These new tillers of our land remind us nothing of the promise in Iqbal. We do not engage in meaningful conversations with them. We do not want to know their history. We think we do not need to appreciate how they became landless, loveless, honourless; a perfect labour force which works hard, takes little wages and can soak in a universe of humiliation. We rage, a wide-ranging all-purpose hate consuming us like a fire which we do not understand. Meanwhile, their masters back in their country, our masters in our country, lament with careful precision the delay in the abrogation of Article 370. 

The article was first published in October, 2012.

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