Exploring the history of Kashmir

The book titled Kashmir Past and Present puts forward the novel idea how a few budding intellectuals pooled their ideas, intelligence and hard work under the guidance and academic leadership of their senior colleague Professor Mohammad Yusuf Ganai, and became a catalyst for moulding the nature of conducting research in Kashmir’s history. The edited book has 15 chapters by reputed and budding scholars and examines many aspects of Kashmir’s regional history and in the process, diligently explored extensive caches of the diverse early and contemporary sources. The result is this cohesively articulated volume. Through various sections and subsections, these scholars have studied social, economic, political, technological, environmental, literary and folk aspects and very prominent issues pertaining to religious life, literature, popular culture, religion and village life in Kashmir.

The tone of this edited book is grasped by the very introduction which demonstrates its quality by articulating varied theoretical perspectives, and connects the same to the study of the Kashmir region. The timing of this volume is also of great importance. We are living in a time when Kashmir has been badly trampled by political ramifications that are no less than an ongoing war, where individual freedom has been overrun by variety of brutalities. In such circumstances, the expression of this volume is a significant extension of our horizons beyond the questions of personality, of conflict, and of religious division—which loom so large on the region and beyond. Importantly, this book is an eye opener for our region’s intellectual community, policy makers and intelligentsia.

Professor Ganai’s work is subtle in bringing a more convincing relief for the region’s academics, public, and for the sense of region’s culture. In the introduction, he states, “Being linked with the neighbouring regions, it is distinct from them, with at least a segment of its resident’s conscious of belonging to the region and articulating this consciousness.” Avoiding setting the discussion into any particular political mould, Professor Ganai has marshalled an impressive array of examples, with classified evidence and allowed it to speak for itself in all its complexity. According to Professor Ganai, “A rounded study of region required an interdisciplinary approach, taking note of the peculiarities of its historical experience, complexities of life in various sub regions and plurality of the regional culture.” He is content to endorse that when people are powerless legally or peaceably to remove their hurdles in restoring regions identity, they can also try to improve their lot by strengthening their intellectual moorings till other alternatives open up.

The first chapter of the book is titled ‘Regional Manifestation of Kushan Rule in Kashmir’, and is written by Dr. A. R. Lone. The central question that Dr Lone poses regarding the necessity of exploring Kushan history is an important one that needs to be grappled by scholars in future too, i.e.,  “within the corpus of literature available on socio-cultural and political history of the empire, some regions are over emphasized while others (such as Kashmir) are sparsely represented”. It would be useful to know, about the exact contribution of Kushans in facilitating the relationships between various communities, their social, cultural religious and political life. From his essay, it should be deduced that this is immensely stimulating, founded in extensive bedrock of documentary and archaeological sources. Historians concerned with ancient past of India and Kashmir owe a considerable debt to Dr lone for this substantial and scholarly contribution.

Elegantly written and presented in typically modest fashion, is the essay on ‘Natural History of Kashmir: Mughal Tryst with Regions Fauna (1586-1925)’ by Dr. Mehraj-u-din. It deserves to be widely read. Dr. Mehraj-u-din states, “What is more creditable about these royal naturalists (Mughals) is that they do not rely on mere hearsay, but make a clear distinction in their writings between personal observations and what has been reported to them by others” It would be mistake to regard this essay  simply as Mughal History. Dr. Mehraj-u-din has thoroughly examined the subject and his work is more solid than inspired and is bound to be descriptive rather than analytical. This is a novel contribution to the study of natural history.

‘Masnavi Tradition in Kashmir’ by Dr. Sajad Ahmad Darzi, will certainly encourage number of further studies. This concisely written and well produced essay will always be regarded as pioneering and indispensable research into this field of literature. Dr. Darzi explains, “it is erroneous to think that Kashmiri poets totally subscribed to literary tradition that was followed by the collaborative poets of tyrannous rule”. This description is admirable and engaging. Certainly those pursuing research into this aspect will find this essay of considerable value.

‘Beyond the Fine Texture of Silk: The Development of Industry and its Labour’ by Dr. Shiraz Ahmad Dar is a detailed essay. It throws light on the predicament of Kashmir’s silk industry and its linkages with the region’s economy. The study is obviously helpful to economic historians too. It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect the author to have answered every question; inquiries underway will doubtlessly elucidate several of them including the essential aspect of the deplorable conditions of workers. Dr. Dar explains, “The Srinagar silk factory also remained closed for two to three months in a year for which no wages were given to workers’’. His distinguished presentation in this essay is evidence of author’s mastery of the subject.

Dr. Abdul Waheed Bhat’s essay on ‘Rice Cultivation in Kashmir’ presents many useful insights. The technical detail is of high density but it does not obstruct the flow of text which is skilfully constructed to combine narrative description interlinked in variety of ways. Dr. Bhat explains, “Rice related agricultural activities are so connected & contemporaneous that one feels handicapped to draw a clear cut line between one activity and the other”. The analysis of all aspects is supported by well designed arguments. Dr Bhat’s enthusiasm for history of technology seems to be considerable. To be fair, this study does represent a serious attempt to explain the pattern of cultivation. It is a brilliantly structured study with rare originality and often interesting, informative and occasionally stimulating analysis. It is a combination of scholarship and imaginative interpretation from wholly a new perspective.

The chapter on ‘Colonialism and Political Restructuring in India: Punjab Crises and the Making of Jammu and Kashmir State’ is written by Dr. Sadaf Sanaullah and Dr. Javed ul Aziz. It provides much needed dossier on the history of evolution of modern Jammu and Kashmir State. Importantly, the scholars have successfully blended a fascinating variety of opinions, and causes, and analyzed them in relation to his basic theme, demonstrating along the way both substantial research and imaginative use of disparate materials.  They explain, “It was also expected that the state of Jammu and Kashmir, along with what remained of Sikh kingdom, would act as a bulwark against the Afghans preventing them to extend their influence beyond Indus.’’ At a time of increased public interest and apathy of government to address it only through disproportionate coercion, the essay offers invaluable material on the subject and does succeed in varying measure in providing illumination. Both the scholars have intelligent grasp of this period and have build their narrative critically with a new source base.

 ‘Villages in Kashmir History: A Case Study of Audsoo (1846-2018)’ is written by Professor M. Y. Ganai himself. It is a clear and well documented essay on a bewilderingly complex and profound social issue. There is much in the study of history of this village including their plight as represented here to appeal to professional historians. He explains, “It was owing to extreme poverty in villages that the villagers used to have seasonal migrations to the plains of Punjab in search of livelihood”. It is an important exercise in new cultural and social history of Kashmir, rendered for the first time in region’s history by any intellectual. Concise, fresh and lucid, Professor Ganai’s essay adds weight to the aspirations of scholars who have great appetite for new emerging ideas in Kashmir and outside. His brilliant pattern, and the organization of this village study, has implications that go far beyond the history of Kashmir.

The presentation of ‘Agenda of Reform in Muslim Community: Secular and Sacred Education in Kashmir’ by Dr. Younis Rashid and Dr. Javed Ahmad Dar is based on meticulous and difficult research. It is both rich in detail and comprehensive in scope. It provides answers to several highly important questions being debated in Muslim society today. “They attempt to evaluate the present by negotiating with past through their ideological moorings.”  Without strikingly contradicting the opinions of scholars who worked in this field, such as Mohammad Yusuf Abbas, Abdul Fida Felahi, S.A.A Maududi and others, the essay establishes its fundamental importance and is a subtle contribution. The analysis provides much clear view than some of the previous works on the subject.

It is gratifying to know that in Kashmir’s history-writing, the genre of poetry is given its space by Ms. Zameerah in her chapter on ‘Progressive Poetry and Freedom Struggle in Kashmir’. Ms. Zameerah’s contribution is unique because it pertains to an important aspect that has followed a serious neglect in Kashmir’s history writing. Inspite of the introductory nature of this theme, there is much to recommend that this essay is a great scholarly achievement. It demonstrates that Zameerah’s learning is immense and her knowledge of literature on freedom struggle is huge which is commensurate with the herculean efforts she has made to relate both the aspects of poetry and freedom struggle. She explains, “For the better appreciation and re-enactment of past, the symphony of history and poetry must go together. However, the poetic assertions must be corroborated by privileged sources of history”. It makes a significant contribution to history of freedom struggle and is a real asset that will be as a useful supplement to other works in the field.

‘Exploring the Role of Hamdard: A Study of its Agenda and Working (1935-1947)’ by Dr. M. Ibrahim Wani, has extended our general understanding and highlighted the need for research in such areas. Dr Ibrahim has drawn much evidence by monitoring the real contents of this newspaper rather than depending on the bland and less immediate views expressed by writers about the paper. He explains, “The newspaper (Hamdard) not only dealt with the local, national and international politics but was also focussed on issues connected to public welfare, economic emancipation and cultural progress”. This in itself is a substantial contribution and provides a wealth of detail after cautious scrutiny. This interesting study deserves serious attention.

‘History, Memory and Protest: Debating Nationalism in Kashmir’ by Dr. Farukh Faheem is a fascinating essay with wealth of detail. His arguments are convincing. To quote from the chapter, “We want to join India without any kind of mental reservations, but how can we do it as long as we are not convinced about the complete elimination of communalism in India”. What is remarkable in this essay is the way the author has tried to introduce the concept of nationalism in historical context of Kashmir by helping to set the framework within which discussions will take place in future too. He has indeed accomplished a considerable task, despite the limitations of his sources.

The chapter on ‘Mapping Mahjoor’s Desire for New’ by Dr. Aamir Sadiq reassures us to find that significant contribution of the great poet has everlasting fragrance of history. It is a welcome addition to history and literature written with cool lucidity and contains much that will repay the study of attentive scholars. Therefore, this conjunctional factor – disillusionment with the long time dominant mode of mysticism and metaphysics and disillusionment with the decades old hegemony and colonial suppression of Kashmir – saw new literary spaces and movements emerging. Mahjoor was undoubtedly a leading light of this new literary site. Dr. Aamir Sadiq has done extensive research and well utilized the sources for reconstructing his major points. It is a brilliant essay about ideas and a history of people’s lives in early 20th century and how these were laudably influenced by the new social and economic developments. He explains, “It was only under the influence of progressive thought that many leading writers, including Mahjoor switched over from Urdu to Kashmiri for forceful articulation of feelings and expression”. The major strength of this essay is its exhaustive and detailed research as a historian that gives the reader a comprehensive understanding without interrupting flow of his discussion.

Professor Majrooh Rashid’s chapter ‘Changing Colours of Kashmiri Culture’ gives a highly readable account of Kashmiri culture. The author seems to opt for a view that tends to see the Kashmiri culture as a primary force in the regions multi-cultural life. He explains, “Our concept of charity and oblation are almost the same as they have been in our recent and ancient past. The impact of the indigenous ways of thinking, with regard to God and his worship is quite visible in our religious practices. The religious psyche of Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Muslims are in tune with each other’’. Effective organization, coherent treatment of sources and elegant formulation of analysis are the attractive qualities of this essay.  The essay has successfully achieved its purpose for generating wider interest of scholars. Professor Rashid, a senior academic, has effectively created an agenda for further research. It is an essay of considerable merit.

The chapter on ‘Historicism and Wisdom in Kashmiri Folk Sayings’ by Mr. Mohsin, emerges to grow in stature both in history of folk culture and history of events. The reading of this essay will be rewarding for all those historians who want to gain knowledge about the critical conditions in which this aspect of Kashmir’s folk culture grew. Mr. Mohsin explains, “it was the spirit of live and let live that made the rural society survive.” By any standard, this is an exciting essay which would claim an appropriate place in historical literature, when pursued further. All the sources are very elaborately examined with authentic detail, and are more faithful to the text in lending credence to the arguments.

The chapter on ‘Marriage Payments among Shia Muslims in Kashmir: Continuity and Change’ is written by Dr. Humaira Showkat. She has good deal to say about this sect of Muslim society, and explains, “Marriage customs among Muslims in general and Shias in particular are directly or indirectly linked with traits of old culture, which has become a part of cultural heritage, an important dimension of social structure and an inseparable aspect of social life.” It makes illuminating connections between the events described and the society in which they take place. Though differing slightly in historical approach, it is certainly a valuable presentation because the entire description is vivid, authoritative and insightful. The description is successful on its own terms and the author has succeeded admirably in meeting the objectives of useful surveys of scholarship in socio- religious history.

It is difficult to assess this volume as a whole and to deal fairly and adequately with a work of this kind in a brief review or to list all authors of fifteen contributions including introduction elaborately. Clearly, the aim of this volume is to provide information and to provoke discussion. They essays presented are balanced in length, presentation and coverage. The structure of the study reveals that the treatment is not symmetrical but some major themes emerge and recur. A couple of papers are little more relevant in substance than methodology. The volume would have been strengthened by an extensive bibliography for usefulness of readers, although this lacuna does not tend to obscure the variety of its merits. However, these points should not be seen to detract from excellent work. Perhaps, the most important question that arises relates to the nature of results achieved. The volume clearly illustrates that research of high quality is being done on topics which happen geographically to fall within the territorial limits of Kashmir. What has emerged from this meeting of minds is that there are many areas in Kashmir’s history that need our attention even if we have to constantly revise and revisit our views.

By and large, this monumental study is rich in sources, deep in detail, and exhaustive in scope. It is a regional history built on layer upon layer of micro and macro study observations of scores of brewing ideas that can take Kashmir’s thirst for new academics forward. It is a sound monograph and a painstaking investigation. The most striking feature of this work is how persistent its historical pattern has been in addressing the issues that take place in serious history writing in particular, and social science research in general.

(R Rattan Lal Hangloo is Former Vice Chancellor, University of Kalyani and University of Allahabad. Before this, he was a Professor (History) at Hyderabad Central University. He is originally from Hangalgund, Kokernag, Kashmir. At present, he is Honorary Chancellor, Nobel International University, Toronto, Canada.)