Describing a People

Describing a People

It flows like a true Pahari stream with graceful dignity and unaltered purity.

Even as many firsts can arguably be attributed to “The Paharis”, the most striking feature of the book is the strict adherence to the script emanating from the sub title “ethnography of a genuine tribe of Jammu & Kashmir”. The isolated historical references and specimens have been organized so discretely that a thread of continuity excites the curiosity of the reader, till the very end. The author had the luxury of resorting to occasional hyperbole in the absence of a codified written account on the subject but by conforming to the unadulterated purity of thought and expression, Syed Shakeel-ur-Rehman, the author of ‘The Paharis’, has demonstrated an editorial propriety worth accolades. This indeed is a successful endeavor of not only defining the ‘Pahari speaking tribes’ of J&K in its entirety but also exposing the endogenous, exogenous and structural reasons hampering the socio-economic transformation of this genuine tribe.

The style is neither scathing nor accusatory, neither attributive nor exaggerating and neither sweeping nor extolling. It flows like a true Pahari stream with graceful dignity and unaltered purity.

The Pahari Tribes of J&K have not only been a subject of administrative apathy and discrimination, they have also suffered on account of prejudices and perpetual misinformation spread by their compatriots in the tribal sections. Their language though included in the Sixth Schedule of the State Constitution has been subjected to interpolation and doctored elucidation by the successive regimes and the administration seldom tried to set things right. The callous approach catapulted the rise of Pahari literary movement in the late seventies, spearhead by the J&K Pahari Cultural and Welfare Forum entailing the recognition of Paharis as a separate ethnic group. This, however, is no less than a Shakespearean tragedy of our recent history that some fellow tribes claiming sole entitlement to the democratic dividends have been carrying out a sustained propaganda aimed at creating misunderstanding of monstrous proportions regarding the issue. The inevitable sufferers of this smear campaign have been the Pahari speaking tribes of our State. No democracy can afford hegemony of one tribal group at the expense of other.

Shakeel has dwelt at length with the various aspects of Pahari ethnography ranging from social mores to cultural psyche, language and its dialects, occupational preferences to art forms and social customs to religious practices with concrete, contextual and historical references. The evidence produced in support of his claim is neither concocted nor fabricated. 

Instead the author anchors himself in the ground realities and the bulk of evidence is existential and reflective. Even the circumstantial proofs are easily verifiable at any point in time. Therefore, there is no risk of running in evidentiary quicksand and pitfalls while reading the book. The seasonal migration proves that Paharis are a semi-nomadic tribe and share all hardships of primitive life along with other tribal groups but the discrimination on account of speaking a particular language and unwarranted procrastination in recognizing them as a separate tribe is a blot on our democratic set up which requires to be rectified as soon as possible.

The author has given detailed account of festivals and traditional sports popular amongst Paharis, which suggest that though the new sport forms do pose a challenge, Pahari tribes have eminently retained their natural and distinctive character in the arenas of social customs and traditions. The description is in the form of vivid narrative and excites perennial interest of the reader out and out. Shakeel may not have grown up in a full blown Pahari dominated habitat but has displayed masterly skills in defining varied aspects of the community with deft touch and meticulousness. While detailing the recreational activities, the writer has been elaborative enough but the conclusion that the Pahari tribes have generally monogamous marital preferences needs further research. The decline in the instinctive polygamous orientation can also be attributed to economic factors rather than social reasons.

Shakeel’s description of ‘Saiful Maluk’ the ‘Magnum opus’ of Pahari literature mostly hinges on infallible romanticism that permeates most masterpieces of the written classic as well as oral literature. The Platform could also be used more appropriately for placing on record the tremendous contribution that Pahari classical as well as folk literature has made to enrich Islamic mysticism. It is an undeniable historical fact that mystical renditions in Pahari literature formed the bedrock of Sufism in vast swatches of North and Northwest India for centuries together and almost all classic epics of the arena from the writings of Farid-u-din Ganj-e-Shakar to Bhullay Shah to Mian Mohammed Baksh stress upon divine love in simple language which is mutually influenced and benefitted. Pahari language of the time may not be the lingua franca but it certainly was the soul of a majority of fine arts of the era. The music forms require detailed accounts as well since ‘Raag Pahari’ has skipped the author’s view. It is hoped that the next edition of the book will take care of this omission.

The photo gallery reflecting the tribal culture and primitive life style of the community is a valuable addition in the book. These pictures speak for themselves and corroborate that the much hyped demographic transition is yet to make a mark as far as Pahari community is concerned. For inclusion of more expressive and depicting pictures in the next edition of the book, the author may visit the museum of Kashmir Women’s College, Sopore run by social activist and educationist Ateeqa ji. Madam Ateeqa is from Sopore and during her tenure as DEO Baramulla/Kupwara has raised a marvelous collection of invaluable specimens and manifestations of Pahari life style and various art forms stored in the college museum.

By all accounts the author deserves the appreciation for coming up with the first formal reference book on the life and history of Pahari tribes of the State. The earlier efforts on behalf of Pahari section of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and languages are isolated and issue specific. Though ‘Sheeraza Pahari’ can simply be termed as trail blazer for ensuing research in the area, nonetheless Shakeel’s work reflects a comprehensive approach, incisive analysis, comparative study and firsthand account of various aspects of Pahari Tribe and the author stands eminently tall amongst his contemporaries. It is a rare example of ‘stand and deliver’ in extremely testing times. Khush Dev Maini’s work, ‘The Pahari Tribes’, the only earlier effort on the subject though exhaustive is clan specific and individualistic in nature. Shakeel’s approach on the other hand is holistic, detailed and inclusive. His work encompasses the community as a whole. 

The cover photograph certainly includes more than one legend and perhaps the name of Mufakr-e-Kashmir, instrumental in inclusion of Pahari language in the Sixth Schedule of the State Constitution deserved mentioning as well. There is equally another legend sitting on the second right of ‘legendary Sheikh sahib’. The author may better reflect the names of all members of the delegation in the next edition.

To sum up the book not only deserves to be called a manual of Pahari speaking tribes but is also expected to engender further research in the field. It is a valuable addition to tribal literature in particular and an easy reference for the students and scholars undertaking research projects to understand the tribal culture and history of the state.

The book has been rightly attributed to unsung heroes of the community whose sacrifices and struggle has succeeded in clearing lot of confusion allowed to hover around Paharis only for the sake of political correctness. As the grandstanding of Paharis gains momentum, the fog and mist over the intellectual horizon and political landscape of our state is bound to disperse thereby spelling the doom of blurred vision and shortsightedness. It is high time that Paharis are recognized as a separate and distinct tribal entity and necessary measures taken to include them in the mainstream of life. Shakeel’s work will certainly prove to be a big leap forward in this direction.


The writer is a KAS officer presently posted as Additional Deputy Commissioner Kupwara.