Sometimes a book can remind you of a song; not a quote, a movie, or even another book, but a powerful, ever-lasting number. Though in the case of Kashmir: Virasat Aur Siyasat (published in Hindi by Anamika Publishers), it was a mash-up of a very famous quote and a song that played on loop in my head. The book was launched on October 8 at Constitution Club, though the author, renowned journalist Urmilesh, refused to call it a book launch.
It was the 92 day of unrest in the valley since Burhan Wani’s killing. The book was also launched on a day when another teenager had been killed, this time, succumbing to pellet injuries, with the death toll rising to 91. And it was a day after Shah Faesal, the first Kashmiri to top the coveted Indian Administrative Services exam, wrote a facebook post which went viral, “I am director of shut schools, I need a job.”
In a poignant yet apt manner, emperor Jehangir’s quote, Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast (If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here), merged together with Phil Collins’ Grammy winner Another Day in Paradise in my head.
The book is the second offering on Kashmir by Urmilesh, after his travelogue Jhelum Kinare Dahaktey Chinar, which won him the Hindi Academy Award. Urmilesh started his Kashmir reportage, like many others, during the Kargil war of 1999. But he has been going back to the state since and engaged with it, its fault lines, its institutions and its people. The first edition of Kashmir: Virasat Aur Siyasat was published in 2006. The current edition comes with two additional chapters in hardback cover.
Currently, as our sabre-rattling is at its peak and jingoism is passing off as journalism on both sides of the border, Kashmir is the reference point for nationalism. In such times, the book makes a strong case for historicity, perspective, empathy and engagement. It challenges the dominant narratives on Kashmir- the portrayal of a homogenous Kashmiri. It shines a light on the many Kashmiris with their many aspirations, the pacifist Kashmiri, the separatist Kashmiri, the Kashmiri who is the victim of militancy, the Kashmiri who is victim of state militarisation, the militant Kashmiri, the Kashmiri who is part of the state machinery, and the Kashmiri calling for self-determination.
The book is expansive in scope, from the accession, Shiekh Abdullah’s leadership, through Article 370 and its centrality, to 1989 and militancy to militarisation and via 2010 unrest till today when the fault-lines are becoming so deep that talking with each other is becoming harder and talking at each other, the norm. The chapter dealing with Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest and the dismissal of his government elaborately deals with the issues that many observers feel, led to the Kashmir crisis. It describes the realpolitik of Sheikh Abdullah’s engagement, dialogue and accession. This book is a corrective intervention to re-telling of history that is rampant today where Sheikh Abdullah is routinely portrayed as the antagonist.
The timing of the book is perfect. It comes at a time when war-mongering is at its peak and normalisation of relations with Pakistan a distant possibility. In the chapter, “Kashmir through partition and accession”, the description of Mahatma Gandhi’s first visit to Kashmir is instructive. According to Urmilesh, if the then-leadership had paid heed to Gandhiji’s views on the state and its future with the seriousness it deserved, then the Kashmir problem would not have been the festering wound that it is now.
The book details four critical occasions when India and Pakistan seemed close to reaching a solution to Kashmir issue, with Dr Manmohan Singh’s tenure being one of the critical phases. Alas, Singh didn’t get the support from his own party that he needed. Against the realpolitik of six parliamentary seats of Jammu Kashmir versus 500+ seats of rest of India made a frank, open dialogue with trust and imagination impossible.
Considering Urmilesh’s show Media Manthan on Rajya Sabha TV, is the only dedicated media watch programme on national television, it is appropriate that the book has a new chapter on the narratives of the Kashmir conundrum in mainstream media, especially the TRP chasing, Hindi heartland media where anti-Pakistan prism has always been the dominant rhetoric. The chapter offers an insightful perspective of what such hyper-nationalism, from the safety of studios does to finding a peaceful and lasting solution that works for all.
In our current times when TV studios are making war-room dioramas for anchors to play with and news-casters come in battle fatigues to discuss military options to the Indo-Pak issue and retired military personnel are amping up the belligerence, this book makes an unrelenting case for calm, the need to understand the problem with historical and fact-based perspective, engage with real Kashmiris and talk with them, not at them.
It also flags the crippling dangers of hyperbole in finding any solution to Kashmir, Indo-Pak relations ever. This is a necessary red-flag, considering the latest Nobel Peace Prize to Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos is also under scanner for hurting, rather than helping, the cause of peace, especially when the opponents i.e. the FARC rebels are not part of the peace prize (it takes two to tango and both sides to make peace, and awarding the Nobel to only one side, especially when the peace deal has lost popular vote in Columbia also wore off some shine of the Nobel). And Shah Faesal has already pleaded for the need to protect national interest from the national media, the self-appointed vigilantes of the national interest………..in jingoistic TV studios. So if a Nobel peace prize can hurt so much, imagine the damage hateful journalism, one-sided narratives, reductionist binaries can inflict. And that is a caution aptly made in the new chapter of the book.
There can never be a wrong time to plea for sanity, as this book displays. Considering RSS leader Indresh Kumar has also called upon the central and state governments to engage with stone-pelters and misguided militants, the point cannot be emphasised enough.
This book is an essential reading, in our current times of false binaries, othering of Kashmiris and newsroom noise.
My only complaint, considering the book is an offering from a man who hosts India’s only dedicated media watch show on TV, it would have been good to know of the stand-out examples of balanced and nuanced reportage in Hindi on Kashmir. And if there were no such example, then the reader needs to be informed of that as well. This is especially important, considering there are examples of sterling reportage in conflict situations too, like Gideon Levy did for Haaretz in 2014 during the peak of Israeli bombardment of Gaza Strip.
Going back to Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise, the song is here. Lines that particularly speak to the current situation, the lack of empathetic engagement, both with the pellet-gun injured Kashmiri and with our soldiers at the frontline:
……………………She calls out to the man on the street
He can see she’s been crying
She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can’t walk but she’s trying
Oh think twice, ’cause it’s another day for you and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you,
You and me in paradise, think about it……………..
Kashmir: Virasat Aur Siyasat is published by Anamika Publishers and Distributors Private Limited and can be found here.