Interview: ‘The Ghosts of Past Still Haunting Masses in Kashmir’


IN Shah Faesal’s sudden and snappy political step, many see the shades of the Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who “came out as a changed man from his detention”. But while some, especially National Conference loyalists, dismiss such comparisons as far-fetched and absurd, the debate has once again resurrected the contested legacy of the unionist politics in Kashmir.

Academician Dr Altaf Hussain Para is someone who recently captured some of the fascinating accounts of Sheikh’s political life, and his conduct as “the tallest leader of Kashmir” in his critically-acclaimed book, The Making of Modern Kashmir: Sheikh Abdullah and the Politics of the State.

Published by Routledge in 2018, the book presents an inside-view of the history of modern Kashmir through the life and times of the much enigmatic yet complex mass leader and analysis of events which led to the emergence of a contested identity of the region.

Currently busy working on an oral history project and a textbook on Kashmir History, Dr Para in a candid chat with Kashmir Observer throws light on why one needs to understand the past rationally, talks about the Sheikh’s contradictory stances and U-turns, and expresses his views on the major developments of the valley as well as present day affairs.

Looking back at the history, do you think most of the bygone historical and political occurrences to present day developments have only contributed to the ‘tragic story of Kashmir’?

Let me begin by underlining that every contemporary society of the world has its share of tragic historical experiences with only a slight difference in time span and intensity and Kashmir is no exception to this historical generality.

Now what makes Kashmir, including few other societies of the world, somehow different with regard to its experiences with the past is the fact that while most of the nations have overcome their tragic pasts including the menace of colonialism, the ghosts of the past are still haunting the masses in Kashmir.

Despite having a glorious past with a recorded historical experiences and contribution to world thought, governance, technology and art, Kashmiris have been subjected to the worst kind of humiliations, negligence and dehumanization since the Mughal conquest of the Valley.

Kashmiris were thrown out of the history by Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and the worst came when the entire nation was sold by British to a courtier of Sikh Darbar.

After many failures, Kashmiris saw an awakening in the beginning of the twentieth century under some external and internal influences. They started asserting to once again find some place in history so that they carve out some respectable space in the comity of nations.

In nutshell, one needs to understand Kashmir history rationally without any prejudice if one really wants to know why Kashmir is what it is today.

What do you feel about Kashmir’s general discontentment or dissatisfaction with the Abdullahs and other top political players? And what’s your opinion on the recent backlash on Omar Abdullah’s statehood demands? 

Sheikh Abdullah who emerged as the face and symbol of Kashmiri resistance against autocracy, feudalism and communalism in the thirties of the twentieth century and an undisputed leader to shape their destiny, has been accused for making frequent U-turns and somersaults and using mass aspirations to advance his political power.

For instance, while he vigorously championed the case of democracy and socio-economic justice during the anti-colonial and anti-autocracy movement in Kashmir, he himself supervised an administration from 1948 to 1953 with least regard to democratic and constitutional values. People who disagreed with him were subjected to worst kinds of tortures and discrimination.

Also after his dismissal, he patronized a two-decade long movement creating a deep-rooted secessionist mass psyche among the people which he failed to eradicate when he negotiated terms with Indira Gandhi to regain power.

He even caused a huge disrespect to his supporters by calling the movement, which saw the death of hundreds and imprisonment of thousands of his followers, as political wilderness.

Although Omar Abdullah has issued some clarifications with regard to his recent statement, some people see in him a politician who can make any compromises to occupy some position in power. Although it appears an unpalatable reality, ever since Sheikh Abdullah tasted the forbidden fruit in 1975, political class across the board in Valley is still struggling to gain a popular trust and that is unfortunately one of the dimensions of the problem as well.

Dr Altaf Hussain Para

Do you think the Kashmir issue is largely demonized and contested because of narratives based on selective history and biases by the certain “custodians of knowledge”?

I must say that all political leaders and political parties across the globe have been dishonest to the historical episteme. They selectively quote history to suit their ideologies.

If past is unpalatable, they either manufacture ‘facts’ or fictionalize the history to fit it to their agendas. ‘If there is no suitable past,’ as they say, ‘it can always be invented’. Also there is no single perspective to the past.

In fact there is no history; there are histories. Past cannot be judged through a single perspective. If you do, you will end up capturing only one dimension of a picture like a group of blindfolded men giving a contradictory description of an elephant.

People cutting across their ideological positions need to look at the past rationally if we really want to make decisions regarding our present and future wisely.

As a historian, do you see any plausible end to the crisis of Kashmiris?

Looking at past experiences based on my engagements with historical events, I must say I am optimistic with regard to the future.

Post Covid-19, I see a better and peaceful world emerging with human life being valued more. Now the world is experiencing how difficult it is to live in lockdowns and under constant threat to life. This will definitely reduce bitterness around and will create better conditions for a peaceful and dignified co-existence.

Already a year has passed since the abrogation of Article 370, what will it mean for the region in the course of history?

The abrogation of Article 370 last year was only the first step in order of a chain of other such steps the union government is taking since then. Things are still unfolding and it will be too early to have an opinion about its impact in future.

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