‘Distortions in (Kashmir) narratives often served the interests of rulers’

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Khalid Bashir Ahmad explains his Kashmir: Exposing the Myth behind the Narrative

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What could be the reasons that the “untruths” you have investigated and exposed, remained unchallenged for last many hundred years?

KHALID BASHIR (KB): What I have attempted at is to bring to the fore facts and developments that refuse to sit with the Pandit Narrative. These facts have remained the least known for a very long time. There could be many reasons why these myths or ‘untruths’ remained unchallenged so far. For one, the majority community was completely disempowered after the return of non-Muslim rule in the nineteenth century, when the Pandit community narrative was reinvented and supplemented with additional stories, and forced to live a life of abject dispossession where their priorities lay elsewhere than challenging a twisted narrative. Secondly, post 1947, scholars who could have approached this subject and bring out the facts were, for reasons best known to them, not drawn to it. Perhaps they chose to remain politically correct by taking up less controversial subjects.

Poet (former) bureaucrat Khlaid Bashir’s book being relesaed in Srinagar. (L-R) Yousuf Jameel, Khalid Bashir, Prof Abdul Qayoom Rafique and Mohammad Sayeed Malik. KL Image: Aijaz Ganai

KL: You have read Kalhana. Who was this writer who dominated whole of history for such a long time? What were his sources of information?

KBA: Kalhana was a twentieth century local Sanskrit versifier. Not much is known about him as he has left behind no account of his life. From whatever little information one gathers from his own work, it appears that he was son of Champak, a minister of the eleventh century ruler, Harsha, in-charge of border areas. Kalhana was a great poet whose power as a versifier is unparalleled; a fact that is appreciated even by the translations of his work. He had a strong bias for Sanskrit which he described as deva-bhasha or the language of gods. Not many people know the fact that he despised the local language of Kashmir even as he is considered an outstanding icon of the land. He even derides as “a descendant of a family of spirit distillers”, a ninth century ruler of Kashmir, Samkaravarman, for the sin of speaking in local language which he describes as “vulgar speech fit for drunkards”.

Regarding sources of Kalhana, by his own admission he had consulted as many as eleven earlier works excluding the Nilamata Purana. None of these works have come down to us but what is incredible is that he himself debunks all these sources on account of either being troublesome reading owing to the author’s misplaced learning or no longer existing in complete state or having become fragmentary in consequence or lack of dexterity in the exposition of the subject-matter or no part being free of mistakes. The shaming of these sources by Kalhana raises an important question: Wherefrom did he obtain information about 3,000 years of Kashmir’s past, preceding his own time? Did he rely on the same inadequate sources or did he reconstruct prehistoric Kashmir purely with his poetic imagination? In either case, the authenticity of an overwhelming portion of his work is put to a serious question. By the way, he himself admits to using his “mind’s eye” while composing his tome.

KL: Since Rajatarangni was written by different authors at different times. It was being written during the era of Sultans as well. We have other accounts about those periods of history, in comparison, what is net distortion between the two narratives in the medieval era?

KBA: For two centuries after Kalhana composed the Rajatarangini, there is no chronicle known to have existed in Kashmir until Jonaraja was tasked by King Zainul Aabideen to take up the thread from where Kalhana had left. Then we have Srivara and others who followed the suit. The narrative in the Rajatarangini is loaded with myth and for an overwhelming portion of the first 3000 years it is a description of persons and events that cannot be traced in other sources. Scholars and even diehard admirers of Kalhana are constrained to regard his work as authentic narration only for his own period and a couple of centuries before that. So far as the medieval period is concerned we find a definite bias against Muslim rulers in the narratives of Jonaraja and Srivara, barring Zainul Aabideen who patronized both.

KL: There is a long chapter in your book about a Shahmiri king Sikander who was known to history for idol-breaking. Why was this particular king demonized in comparison to his predecessors and successors? What is the reality about the Bout Shikan?

KBA: In the Pandit Narrative, Sikandar is the most maligned of all Muslim rulers. He is portrayed as a vicious iconoclast who demolished temples “day and night” as if he had no other State business to attend to. There is no extant or non-extant temple whose desecration or demolition is not placed at his door. Worse, he is accused of destroying temples which were levelled either centuries before he was born or did not exist at all. One of the reasons why Sikandar was demonised the most could be the fact that he was the first and the only Muslim ruler who tried to introduce Shariah in administration. However, his detractors completely ignore many other factors that absolve him of his supposed crimes against the minority community. The discovery of an image of Brahma from a Srinagar temple bearing an inscription in Sharda script attributing its installation to Sikandar belies the accusation against him of being the worst idol-breaker. Also, massive earthquakes suffered by Kashmir throughout its history have now been scientifically established as the real culprit for destruction of huge stone buildings like temples. Sikandar, it may be recalled had married a Hindu woman, who converted to Islam, his senior most minister was Rai Magre, a Hindu, and his army chief, Achaladeva Achala, also was a Hindu,.

KL: The distortions have remained a historical reality in Kashmir. But what were the major narratives that were built around Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras, which as a historian, you think were fake and fabricated?

KBA: I consider myself a student of Kashmir history rather than a historian. Having said that, the Pandit Narrative describes the Afghan rule as the worst period of oppression and persecution. However, from the community sources itself, we come across huge evidence that do not go along with this assertion. We observe Kashmiri Pandits during this period holding high positions in the administration and in the words of a twentieth century prominent Pandit writer, Jialal Kilam,  being a happier lot compared to Muslims and the “political power generally and largely centered in their hands”. So far as Sikh and Dogra periods are concerned, the rulers obviously could not be accused of persecution of Kashmir Pandits. Here, the blame was shifted to their subjects in the majority community who were accused of religious persecution and eating out the employment sources of the Pandits. This was the period when Brahman historians and writers had made a comeback. While these worthies added many a tale to their community narrative they remained blind to the worst atrocities and religious persecution committed by non-Muslim rulers against their Muslim subjects. If it was not for the writings of the European travellers and civil servants the most horrible excesses ever committed against humanity would have remained unknown.

Khalid Bashir Ahmad, the author. KL Imnage: Aijaz Ganai

KL: How did Kashmir’s hagiographers justify certain historic events like 1846 sale of Kashmir or the Jammu massacre in 1947?

KBA: There could be no justification for the sale of an entire people along with their land and resources that, with no parallel in human history, was executed by the so-called Mother of Democracy in 1846. Any historian worth a name would not justify such an obnoxious deal. However, by eulogising the rapacious rulers who bought Kashmir with its people and administered it ruthlessly, some of them did actually accord support to this sale.

As for the Jammu Massacre, despite being the most gruesome in nature for the active involvement of the State, the carnage has remained the least talked about bloodshed of 1947. Somehow, our historians have failed to bring to the light the genocide of Muslims of Jammu, may be because we tend to take up only soft subjects. You may recall, it was only after we did an exhaustive research based piece in the Kashmir Life in 2014 that the Jammu Massacre started catching attention of writers here.

KL: How these distortions became narratives of the state. By state I mean the subsequent governments? Can we say that distortions were carried out to suit the state and the state funded all these exercises? Did not you find enough of cases of clear distortion after 1947 as well?

KBA: Distortions in narratives have often served the interests of rulers. In many cases, they have invested in building such narratives. You can take, for example, the narrative build around the incident of July 13, 1931 where the victims of violence and oppression were sought to be projected as oppressors and villains of the peace. Maharaja Hari Singh’s Government helped create such an image of his Muslim subjects who were asking from him no more than equal rights with their non-Muslim compatriots. Officially, all sorts of false and malicious information, including scandalizing the ancestry of Muslim leadership, was fed to the Press to paint an awful picture of the majority community. It helped an autocrat to hide his misdeeds. Likewise, the post-1947 official political narrative on Kashmir is at variance with facts and the ground reality. To say that the State has funded all distortions that exist in our historical accounts would be an exaggeration. However, where distortions have suited its interests the State has put in its resources for their propagation.

If you look at different elements of the Pandit Narrative like the alleged hounding out of the aborigines, their forcible conversion, massive destruction of temples etc., the narrative suits the present political dispensation in India as it strengthens its argument that Kashmir originally being a Hindu land and the need to reclaim it as such. So you find an explicit support for the propagation of this narrative.

KL: You have written a chapter about the exaggerations in detailing the migration of Kashmiri Pandits? Why was it done and why it continues to be the main policy input on Kashmir despite being incorrect?

KBA: The migration and its adverse effects on a community are the facts of history that cannot be contested. However, there are differences of opinion on what caused the Pandit migration or on statistics related with it. My book discusses those causes and on the basis of facts contests the statistics given out in the Narrative. Since exaggerations in migration narrative serve the existing dominant discourse on Kashmir one is not surprised to see these being used as the State policy input.

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