Kashmiriyat lives

A generation has grown up amid violence. Yet, the state can fall back on its heritage of tolerance, confluence

Written by Wajahat Habibullah | Updated: July 18, 2017 6:55 am
marnath yatra, amarnath yatra terror attack, pilgrims attack, j&k attack, kashmiri attack, indian express news, india news, indian express opinion Devotees on way to Amarnath shrine (Representational image)

At 8.20 pm on the night of Monday July 10, as a bus chartered to carry pilgrims from Gujarat and Maharashtra, concluding a pilgrimage to Amarnath, returned down the national highway towards the Banihal pass, it was fired upon by three motorcycle-borne terrorists. The bus was carrying 56 Amarnath pilgrims to Jammu from Baltal, the base camp for vehicular transport to the pilgrimage centre, ensconced in a mountain cave enshrining Amarnath. It was passing Batengoo in Anantnag district, within a stone’s throw of the district headquarters and 65 km south of Srinagar, whence it had departed at 5.30 pm.

The bus was part of the pilgrimage convoy, which is provided meticulous security, perfected over years of practice, but it had fallen behind the rest with a burst tyre, which took an hour to replace. Although the highway to Jammu was closed to the convoy after 7.00 pm, this bus had passed 18 check-posts without being stopped. The terrorists tracking the convoy would have had the time to identify their victim and deploy.

At 8:15 pm, these very motorcyclists had fired on a check post manned by the Special Task Force, Special Operations Group & Central Reserve Police personnel in Khannabal, a suburb of the district headquarter Anantnag, with no casualties. But then the bus was fired upon repeatedly, first at a petrol pump in Batengoo, then again as it sped away with the driver, Sheikh Salim Gafoor, swinging his vehicle to block the attackers, and fleeing for several kilometres with the bus receiving up to 60 bullets, as terrified passengers desperately rolled on the bus floor. Seven pilgrims were killed, six of them women and 18 injured in the attack — the death toll has since risen to eight. The Deputy Commissioner Anantnag, Syed Abid Rasheed Shah, who hastened to the victims in the hospital found them all benumbed, unable to speak.

But so vulnerable was the chartered bus that had it not been for the presence of mind displayed by the driver, Gafoor Bhai, the casualties could have been much higher. To his gritty determination must go the credit for having saved over 50 lives.

As would be expected, this terrorist assaut on an unarmed, peaceful group of citizens pursuing a religious mission shocked the country and triggered a burst of outrage across the world. There was media discussion and debate, demonstration and protest, criticism of the government and expressions of indignation. The narrative of the event exposes fatal lapses, which will require accountability. But if the terrorists had sought to promote a cause through this execrable act, they had succeeded in doing the exact opposite. Most importantly, the Kashmiri public, itself in a state of disaffection for the past year, was swift in voicing and expressing its outrage.

At the dawn of Independence, as Northwest India was engulfed in unprecedented communal carnage, Mahatma Gandhi had seen a ray of hope in Kashmir. Despite a bloody communal eruption in neighbouring Jammu and the murder of some Kashmiris in Jammu, there had been not a flicker of communal frenzy. This was part of the Kashmiri heritage, evolved since the advent of Islam in Kashmir through a vibrant Sufi movement, and conceptualised in the early 20th century by its intellectual elite, mostly Kashmiri Pandit, as “Kashmiriyat”. This was the theme of Kashmir’s freedom movement, culminating in its accession to India. Kashmir has for centuries been characterised by non-violence, dismissed as faint heartedness by its more masculine critics. Its characteristic religious harmony, epitomised by the teachings of Sheikh Nooruddin — Nund Reshi to his Hindu devotees — was himself inspired by the Saivite ascetic Lal Ded, or Lalla Arifa to her Muslim followers.

This heritage goes well beyond mere tolerance, converging on confluence. Kashmiris have an unmatched reputation for hospitality, an asset to their centuries-old tourist industry. The onset of violence since the late ‘80s, the rise of terrorism and consequent disorder leading to severe restriction in the exercise of civil liberties, has resulted in a whole post-’90 generation of Kashmiris being nurtured on pure violence.

Early in this period, in a deliberate effort by Pakistan’s ISI to unleash communal sentiment, the cultural sinews binding Kashmiri society came undone and under Governor Jagmohan’s rule in 1989-90, the vast majority of the miniscule Kashmiri Pandit community fled the Valley. Today a scattering of Kashmiri Pandits numbering a mere three thousand are all that remain. Does the terrorist attack of July 10 mark the eclipse of Kashmiriyat?

India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh boldly applauded those that have kept Kashmiriyat alive, for which he has been bitterly trolled. But facts indicate that the attack was masterminded by two Punjabis infiltrating from Pakistan. Although there is no doubt that they had garnered local support, the revulsion of Kashmiris, expressed in Facebook and street demonstration, which includes youth otherwise sympathetic to separatists and the very leadership of the Hurriyat, has been near universal in its condemnation, looking together on this tragedy as an assault on their civilisation. Syed Sehrish Asghar, a young Kashmiri IAS officer of the 2013 batch of the Punjab cadre and wife of the Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag, lamented (‘The night Amarnath Yatra was attacked’, IE, July 14): “The perpetrators of this heinous crime are not Kashmiris or Muslims or perhaps even human.”

Yet Kashmir’s civilisation is but a manifestation of the magnificent tapestry of India’s own civilisation. Let us not forget that it is through Kashmir that Buddhism with the teachings of Ramanujam travelled to Tibet, where it has flourished despite grave vicissitudes. Kashmir’s capital city still carries the name given to it by the Emperor Asoka. Srinagar was also the place where Adi Shankaracharya, meditating on a mountain that still carries his name, found enlightenment in Advaita, itself the font of Sufi thought. Perhaps then, in the enveloping gloom with the terror attacks in Kashmir and the lynching across India, the people of India, including Kashmir, can unite once more under the aegis of a timeless heritage.

The writer is a former chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities

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  1. D
    Dr. Prithipaul
    Jul 19, 2017 at 7:13 pm
    The Kashmiriyat which is now the empty word being quoted frequently in the newspapers never su ded the exclusiveness of the kashmiri Muslims. Otherwise the fundamentalist, Wahabi and Afghani Islam would not have taken root in Kashmir and Pakistan would not have had such an easy way of trumpeting its form of violence so openly. The separatists too cannot conceive of an Umma which would include all non-Muslim minorities. That is a contribution which they could have made to Islam as such. Jinnah created a state for the dissemination of a narrow-minded, inward looking, rigid, intolerant, Islam that revels in its iconoclastic vocation. That was a missed opportunity. The malady of violence will last for a long time. Indian Islam has not yet produced the medicine to cure it.
    1. N
      Jul 19, 2017 at 7:11 pm
      Lynching, violence, temples destroyed and genocide are part of Kashmiri culture where shaivite heritage is destroyed and the original inhabitants were either butchered, converted or driven away. These atrocities happened every generation culminating in complete ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits. This author talks about Heritage of tolerance and confluence, where is that in Kashmir?
      1. N
        Jul 19, 2017 at 7:12 pm
        I said where is that b tch in Kashmir?
      2. B
        Bert Brech
        Jul 19, 2017 at 4:48 pm
        The usual BS.
        1. S
          Jul 19, 2017 at 9:37 am
          People can nitpick one or two sentences from the article but the message here is the only way India can progress. Live and let live. Accentuate the positive in the other. Each work on our negatives. We cannot become another Syria or Iraq.
          1. N
            Jul 19, 2017 at 7:14 pm
            Kashmir is nothing less than syria or Iraq for Hindus. almost all temples destroyed and ethnic cleansing complete
          2. A
            Jul 19, 2017 at 8:30 am
            Nice try selling the fake Kashmiriyat. Only some deluded fools are going to fall for this nonsense. There is only Islamiyat in Kashmir which made the poor Pandits flee for their lives and which makes young Muslim men and women terrorists and stone pelters. You can try peddling this narrative over the MSM, but it is not gonna work in the age of social media. People have more information at hand, and they can clearly see what is happening in Kashmir. It is crystal clear that it is not a struggle for Azadi or self determination. It is Islamism, the wahabbi/ fi version, at work and Indians will make sure that it fails, come what may!!
            1. d
              Jul 19, 2017 at 12:29 am
              For seventy years this violence has gone on, simply because of the stupid haste with which par ion was accepted without fully working out all the details. The British succeeded in their parting gift of divide and destroy.
              1. C
                Jul 19, 2017 at 3:08 pm
                The British knew where Nehru's sympathy lay. He was part of the plan. And why not? He was desperately in love with the Governor General's wife. He would agree to anything.
              2. L
                Lucky Sky
                Jul 18, 2017 at 9:32 pm
                In one of the para. writer quotes "Kashmiri Pandit fled from the valley". Writer should correct himself "They were made to fled when Islamic extremism grew in the Kashmir". And the process of targeting Hindu, Sikh and other minorities started since 1950's. All Indian should read autobiography by Shiekh Abdullah "Aatish-e-Chinar" where he has mentioned quite many times that the true cause of separate Kashmir state is not possible until Hindus are kicked out who acts as agents of Indian state. The son Farooq and g son Omar Abdullah has further worked on the cause. Historically, any nation across globe where Islam has grown demand for separate state is common. e.g. Cyprus, Myanmar, Chechen, phillipines to name a few.
                1. F
                  Faku Faking
                  Jul 18, 2017 at 10:12 pm
                2. U
                  Jul 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm
                  " Let us not forget that it is through Kashmir that Buddhism with the teachings of Ramanujam travelled to Tibet Let us not forget that it is through Kashmir that Buddhism with the teachings of Ramanujam travelled to Tibet"! Now the Kashmir is full Muslim terrorist Pakistanis who cleansed non Muslims and recently killed Yatra doing Hindus. Do not forget that now Islamic terrorism is coming through this place. Then give back it!
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