Investigating Bias

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Poet historian Khalid Bashir Ahmad has served the government in various capacities. But his contribution to Kashmir society came many years after his retirement, writes Masood Hussain

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

Frustrated over the bad TV that Kashmir is facing for the last couple of years and has already devoured a tourist season, Kashmir unionists have finally found a supporter in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Speaking from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, Modi, said that Kashmir cannot be solved by the bullet or the abuse.

Modi used the most appropriate word, the Gaali, in his speech. For the last few years, a hyperactive Delhi media has been using every kind of abuse and fabrication of facts, to package Kashmir in the frame that has historically remained a hallmark of alternative narratives, usually suiting the rulers and the state. These narratives were used to make Kashmir’s picture postcard frame attractive, while demonising its people.

It is in this backdrop that a former civil servant and poet Khalid Bashir came with a detailed analysis of the phenomenon. There could not have been a better occasion for his contribution to be read and appreciated.  In his highly researched book Kashmir: Exposing The Myth Behind The Narrative, that Sage published last month, Khalid has given context and sub-text to the falsehood of a narrative that remained unchallenged for almost half of the last millennium.

His book is the first scholarly critic of what has been told, retold and packaged in the name of three millennia of “recorded history”. The book has traced the origins of the “narrative” and helped it link with its market requirements in different eras of Kashmir’s past and present. As the impressively investigated book takes readers to the contemporary Kashmir, it dawns that the deliberate tarnishing of facts and realities lay in a culture of falsehood rooted in Kashmir’s first major socio-cultural transition when Buddhists Kashmir faded away. It is a narrative based on myths and irrationality that envisages, among other things, the emergence of human beings from snakes and reptiles (Nagas) at a time when, modern science has established, intelligent human races existed on almost all Karewas of Kashmir. This book challenges the very basis of the historiography on basis of reason and logic.

Khalid’s critique takes off from the Neelmath Purna itself. A mythical poetry about the legends and culture, the treatise was composed at a time when Meherkul presided over the decimation of the Buddhist Kashmir and converted their religious spaces into the temples. It was that era when the Shaivite faith evolved in such a way that it even accommodated the Buddha as well.

It was almost 600 years after that Rajatarangni was written which is being considered as the oldest historical text on Kashmir. “The Nilamata Purana provided the cultural background to political and social history that Kalhana weaved with his mastery over words,” Khalid writes. “He fully absorbed in his text the Nilamatas mythological content and built on the foundation provided by it.” This includes the copying of the drainage of water from Satisar and details about many Kashmir rulers.

Author questions the very fundamentals of Kalhana’s history, insisting that while he could be correct in case of a few hundred years, it is absolutely impossible that he had knowledge of almost three thousand years. It is where he mentions how Kalhana has claimed using his “mind’s eye”. The author has painted an image of Kalhana as the elite who lived with a hate for local language and was in absolute love of Sanskrit. Though Kalhana has consulted 11 earlier writing – not available now, he has himself been doubtful of their accuracy. There have been certain writings by his contemporaries suggesting that Kalhana was a prominent versifier, a poet. Finally, Khalid has quoted Kalhana writing: “If the poet did not see in his mind’s eye the existences which he is able to reveal to all men, what other indication would there be of his possessing divine intuition?”

Rajatarangini was rediscovered during the Sultanate era and translated into Persian. By then, the ‘river of the kings’, as Rajatarangni means, had lost 300 years. Its continuation was taken by Sultan Zainulabidin when he appointed Jonaraja to continue with the work. Later, Srivara took after his teacher’s death and the process continued with the Prajyabhatta and Suka, succeeded them. The series of four Rajatarangni’s concludes with the arrival of Mughals.

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

While Khalid has no problems with the later parts of the chronicle, but he offers details about how these “historians” employed by the court used their prowess to demonise their employers. The book has dedicated a complete chapter to the narrative surrounding Sikander. While history has packaged him as a fiercely anti-Hindu zealot and an iconoclast, the author has sourced contemporary texts to prove it otherwise. The main factor that the court historians have used against the medieval king was his keenness to create an Islamic state and implementation of Shariah. This is despite the fact that it was one of his top men Seha Butta, a convert, who was, according to Rajatarangni, responsible for whatever has happened with the non-Muslims.

Then Khalid takes the reader to the power politics in Kashmir detailing how the Kashmiri Pandit emerged as key players during the Mughal and Afghan era. The chapter has interesting insights into how the small community ruled the roost and managed to stay in power by hook or by crook. Later, when Afghans were replaced by Sikhs and then swiftly by the Dogras’, there were interesting developments in the evolution of the privileged Pandit from a power centre to the toll of occupation and suppression.

Finally when the situation started shifting with the mass movement against the autocracy, the book details how this movement was scandalised right from day one. On July 13, 1931, when a massacre marked the beginning of new Kashmir awakening after a domination of many centuries, a serious attempt was made to record as the ugliest communal event in the history of Kashmir, a narrative that still forms part of the right-wing Kashmir story.

As larger political events started impacting the Godforsaken space and numbers started mattering more than the mass, certain people had amassed, strange events started taking place. The book offers interesting events that were more of a reaction to the ‘inheritance of loss’ than isolated reactions to particular instances. It uses the summer 1967 agitation over the love affair of a Pandit damsel Parmeshwari Handoo who converted and became Parveena Akhter to demonstrate the frustration accumulated over the years. The book eventually moves to the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits during the amorphous years of militancy following which the ‘aborigines’ started a movement for the homeland, the Panun Kashmir. It blasts the myths built by a willing media about the ethnic cleansing by offering tell-tale facts about the migration and the killings. The book concludes with a long chapter on media, its emergence and management in Kashmir and how it was mainly managed by the modern era versifiers writing music for the ears of Delhi.

Never ever, the book lacks connect with the narrative it builds brick by brick: how the real narrative of Kashmir’s society and politics was misrepresented throughout and how it came so handy to the managers of power in Srinagar and, off late, Delhi. Author has meticulously investigated events using all the available records, in certain cases interviews as well. The narration is simple but powerful and it rarely lacks a connection with the time and space, almost in a chronological rhythm.

While the book challenges the established historic scholarship, it also faces many questions: Can a modern logical and scientific research be compared with a poet’s mind, writing a millennium back? Why has not the scholarship of last half a millennium raised these questions about myths and legends as effectively as this book does? And if the scholars have dropped broad hints on Kalahana’s inaccuracies, why they still continue using it as the basics to Kashmir’s recorded history? Some people do believe that the book is attempting imposing contemporary conflicting narratives on Kashmir’s history, retrospectively. The debate will now generate and the author is pretty sure of his answers.

There are, however, two important things about the book that need an emphasis. Firstly, the book has come at a time when the market is seeking answers to the clear bias exhibited by a pro-state narrative? Secondly, Khalid has added one vital pre-requite to all the scholarship from now on. No scholar would be historically correct in the analysis of Kashmir’s distant and near past unless he or she goes through these 400 pages first.

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