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Of Nationalism, Autonomy and 'Azadi'

Ajay K. Mehra

Edited by Nyla Ali Khan
Macmillan India, 2012, pp. 262, $85.00


This collection of nine essays brings analytical reflections from as many Jammu and Kashmir scholars. In a brief but succinct Introduction, the editor, who herself belongs to the political ‘first family’ of the State, highlights the difficulties of academically comprehending and grasping the phenomenon of Kashmir and creating an understanding of this ‘simple complexity’ amongst future generations.   Khan highlights the multifaceted impact of this perpetual conflict on society in general and on women and children in particular and on the generations to come. She refers to ‘Kashmiriyat’ as the multi-cultural spirit of coexistence and foundational strength of Kashmir. However, with most of the minority Kashmiri Pandits exiled to different parts of the country due to the xenophobic politics of terror pursued by some and the Government of India bumbling through available options, there is a communal divide that discussions on the two other parts of this three-part State—Jammu and Ladakh—cannot and must not escape. Essays in this volume combine personal experiences as well as academic analysis. Naturally, the arguments arise from a mix of history, political developments, social consequences of conflict and victimhood.   No discussion on Kashmir can begin, let alone be complete, without an understanding of the construction of this identity over centuries, creating a multi-cultural salad bowl of Islamic, Shaivic, Sufi and Buddhist ideals—the concerns of the first section in the book containing two essays by Mohammad Ishaq Khan and Rattan Lal Hangloo, both historians. Khan weaves an absorbing narrative of Kashmir where personal differences did not turn into communal rivalries, despite a discriminatory Dogra rule, and its gradual slide into the politics of ‘jihad’, which was not part of its syncretic cultural ethos described as Kashmiriyat. The resulting securitization of J&K has brought in its wake not merely persistent inconvenience, but also indignities of a quotidian nature, which make any official claim of eerie normalcy hollow. Yet, Khan concludes on a positive note: ‘Notwithstanding banal attempts at distorting Islam and Kashmiriyat for sustaining the battered mainstream ideologies of India and Pakistan, still a vast potential underlies my experiences with Islam and history for the development of a realistic and practical approach to the crisis of identity politics in Jammu and Kashmir.’   Hangloo’s interrogation of Kashmiriyat, a concept that has ‘gained currency’ with armed insurgency despite fuzzy conceptual clarity and empirical reality, explores its various manifestations. Used mainly to underline communal harmony, multi-culturalism, ...

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