Thinking Ordinary: Meanwhile Let’s Dissect Kashmiryat’

We have been using the idea of Kashmiriyat for quite a while now without ever elaborating and without presenting any precise and discernible theme or themes. In our discussions we generally use Kashmiriyat as sine qua non for peace, humility, hospitality and religious harmony. This may be the idea but when we see in practice, we observe two sets of completely contrasting and contradictory facets of it. It is an irony that Kashmiris have been resisting/ fighting the same demons as they have been nurturing, albeit unknowingly or unwittingly or who knows deliberately?

Kashmiriyat on the one hand, is resistance, pure and simple. Kashmiris have struggled and resisted oppression, exploitation, hunger, disease, floods, tremors, extreme weather, invasions and a ruthless hierarchical social order. Kashmiris resisted when they converted en mass to Buddhism to escape the rigours of caste based exploitation but not much later had again to survive another onslaught of the counter revolution that was brutal, relentless and long drawn.

Mihirkul was a typical representative of the counter revolution symbolising cruelty and death with massacres of whole sale Buddhist villages. Kashmiris kept resisting till the opportune time when Rainchan presented himself on the scene, having overthrown the old order and Kashmiris almost en mass again converted to a new faith that proclaimed equality and non discrimination. This way Kashmiris created a new social order although politically they still were at the receiving end of power.

Political situation changed completely with the arrival/ annexation/ occupation by the imperial Mughals, followed by Pathans, Ranjit Singh and the Ghulab Singh family. There is ample evidence that testifies to the fact that Kashmiris were fully aware of their political rights and to gain those they began their resistance immediately after the Mughal invasion and subsequent occupation. Describing it would be beyond the scope of this piece but one that is too close to my heart, requires a passing reference and that would be the first labour uprising of the world Kashmir in 1865, with some 102 casualties, that took place about 21 years before the famous Chicago labour agitation. Resistance continues and this way one can safely assume Kashmiriyat is resistance against social and political repression of all sorts.

On the other end of the spectrum it shouldn’t be that difficult for us to admit the existence of a diagonally opposite Kashmiriyat within us. Not since yesterday or the day before but for ages we see racism structurally weaved, designed and crafted into the social fabric of Kashmiriyat layer after layer even among the ones who have been resisting it. Racism is practised not against individuals only but many communities, Kashmiri speaking and non Kashmiri speaking, that are racially ridiculed. Almost all of us poke fun and crack jokes without ever caring to realise the pain it causes to the individual, group or the community.

On the receiving end of this shameless racism currently are in particular the Gujjar and the boatman community. It is absolutely shocking to listen to a daily programme on one radio FM programme in the morning wherein Gujree accent of Kashmiri language is used to feed racial humour to a large attentive and willing audience. And we haven’t discontinued the racial discrimination as per the ancient “religious” caste system against certain people who have been “condemned” to do certain jobs and/or practise certain professions since times immemorial.

Seldom we see a Kashmiri marrying with any member of these communities as if it were k’ufr. Add to this the prejudice and discrimination Kashmiris show towards darker skinned people both Kashmiri and non Kashmiri. Lighter skin is considered a sign of beauty and colourism is ingrained into the minds of young children and female folk use all sorts of “fairness creams” particularly during marriage functions. Even the only Kashmiri legend “Heemal Naigray”, revolves around colourism where in Naigray is a dark/black skinned gentleman of “low birth” who needs to be cleaned by bathing him in a “white” milk tub while Heemal, his beloved, a light skin princess, is taunted for having an affair with Naigray. Heemal Naigray is part of the popular folklore around the country side.

Similarly patriarchy and misogyny runs writ large among us. Predominant majority of women have never been able to inherit ancestral property since times immemorial. Nothing has come to the rescue of this 50 percent of the population. Going by the modern trends in the sex ratio of the population one can easily gauge the antipathy of the Kashmiri society towards the girl child/ women.  While women have been an essential component of all resistance in Kashmir, no resistance moment exclusive to women has been allowed to develop that would resist the exploitation of women or fight for their socio-political rights.

We may not like it but the two facets of Kashmiriyat do exist side by side. If we ignore the later we would be doing great injustice to the former.

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Ali Malik

Author is an astute Kashmir observer with an interest in and stamina to correct the wrongs of the history.

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