Writing history of a zone where attempts to historicize events dwell on finding ‘heroes and villains’ and where corrupt academia has failed to relate with common masses, it becomes imperative for people to tell the truth about their own history. Zahir-ud-Din’s book, Flashback: Kashmir Story Since 1846, attains the distinction of being people’s history. Irfan Mehraj offers a deeper review of the book.
There can be no history without the distinction of what is and what is not so’, writes the late Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. In Kashmir the distinction is the source of political battles. Was accession to India necessitated by the tribal invasion in the east or were the forces already underway to make Kashmir a part of India? The author breaks into the myths around the event and gives us a peek into the interesting developments of the time. MK Gandhi’s visit to Kashmir “at a time when the sub-continent was to be partitioned in two weeks” points to deeper Indian agenda regarding Kashmir’s future. In the chapter ‘Gandhi and the Sale deed of Amritsar’ the author has given a convincing account of the visit as against the established beliefs. Following Gandhi’s visit, the then Prime Minister of Kashmir, Ram Chander Kak who apparently had no inclination towards India was replaced first by Janak Singh then by the Indian loyalist Mehr Chand Mahajan. Sheikh Abdullah whose role in the State’s accession to India is questionable was released in September 1947. According to the author all this points to Gandhi’s mission in Kashmir, “Gandhi’s visit changed the course of Kashmir history. He did what other leaders including Nehru and Lord Mountbatten could not do. He got Kashmir for India.”
The dubious role of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in securing Kashmir for India is brought out in the book. In the wake of fall of Muzaffarabad, the alarmed Maharaja sent his deputy Mehr Chand Mahajan to New Delhi for military assistance. Calling on Nehru at his Yark Road Residence where Abdullah was also staying, Mahajan made the demand of troops and failing which ‘he would knock on Jinnah’s doors’, this angers Nehru and he walks out. Abdullah comes to the rescue and pacifies Nehru. Later Mahajan wrote of Sheikh, “I am highly thankful to Sheikh Sahib for his help at the crucial juncture. He saved Kashmir from going to Pakistan.”
The celebrated British historian Perry Anderson makes a mention of Sheikh’s role along these lines, “Abdullah, ……. had been an ally of Congress in the years of struggle against the Raj, and become the most prominent opponent of the maharajah in the Valley of Kashmir. There his party, National Conference, had adopted a secular platform in which local communists played some role, seeking independence for Kashmir as ‘Switzerland of Asia’. But when partition happened, Abdullah made no case of this demand. For some years he had bonded emotionally with Nehru, and when fighting broke out in Kashmir in the autumn of 1947, he was flown out from Srinagar to Delhi by military aircraft and lodged in Nehru’s house, where he took part in planning the Indian takeover, to which he was essential. Two days later, the maharajah – now safely repaired to Jammu – announced in a backdated letter to Mountbatten, drafted by his Indian minders, that he would install Abdullah as his prime minister.”
Zahir-ud-Din devotes considerable attention to the circumstances leading to the accession of valley with India and while doing so unveils some interesting scenarios. Be it Pandit Nehru’s clandestine visit to the valley on October 25/26 1947 or the sighting of Indian troops as early as 17 October 1947 by Lt. General L. P Sen who recounts the same in his book Slender was the thread.
Using oral history, anecdotes and biographies as sources the author has unfastened events from the academic and official morass built around it. As witness to the first ever International Cricket match played in Kashmir on October 13, 1983 between then World Champions India and mighty West Indian team, the author shows how anti-India sentiments were given full expression by the spectators who displayed posters of Imran Khan to the amazement and shock of both the teams. This was not the end of it. During lunch time three youths appeared in the middle of the pitch and started digging it. The incident is significant for it shows that resistance to Indian rule was brewing and only later it grew into a full throttle revolt against the Indian State.
In what could be a comical example of the blatant misuse of Public Safety Act (PSA, 1978) by the authorities, the author narrates the story of the ‘deceased’, showing himself in the court to rescue his alleged slayer. The story serves to highlight the negligent and reckless invocation of PSA on part of the authorities without caring to ascertain the basic facts. This goes with the most recent cases of PSA being slapped on minors accused of stone pelting.
Looking back on six decades of institutional repression in Kashmir and sifting through periods of exemplary defiance shown by Kashmiris to Dogra rule, the author is stressing the want of continuing struggle in the form of memorializing the glorious tradition of resistance, the examples of which are littered throughout our beleaguered history. It’s in the tradition of resurrecting from history those events conveniently ignored or whole heartedly denied by the triumphalist agents of society that the author has succeeded as a chronicler. Writing about the first martyrs of the struggle, Zahir-ud-Din recounts the story of valiant Kashmiris defeating the Dogra monarch Gulab Singh in a fierce battle near Sheikh Bagh under the inspired leadership of Sheikh Imam ud Din, the last vestige of the Sikh rule. Due to British intervention, Imam ud Din had to give in. The martyrs who died in the battle were laid to rest at Shaheed Gunj.
At another place while commenting on the Hay Market Square uprising (1-2 May 1886), Zahir-ud-Din notes, “While the world commemorates the sacrifices of Chicago workers, nobody makes a mention of the Kashmiri Shawl weavers who resisted Dogra rule tooth and nail. On July 6, 1847 around 4000 shawl weavers observed strike against exploitation by the Dogra rulers. This is the first strike observed by workers anywhere in the world.” The strike came in the wake of severe taxes imposed on the shawl weavers by the Dogra ruler.
It is not surprising that the official history of the state stresses the struggle against the Dogra’s from 1931 onwards – the moment of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s emergence on the political firmament of the state, the struggle of shawl weavers, ironically finds no mention in the annals. In the road to national liberation, incidents like these act as milestones.
‘Truth is that which hurries on the breakup of the colonialist regime,’ proclaims Frantz Fanon. In Kashmir truth is the only heritage left of people quashed en masse to the route of freedom. Poonch massacre, Gow Kadal massacre, Chotta Bazar killings, Bijbehara massacre, Kupwara massacre, Kunan Poshpora mass rape. Zahir-ud-Din’s retelling of these events is invaluable. The task of historicizing, Zahir-ud-Din seems to suggest is to highlight the urgency of making our past a pattern for the present.
The author displays a lucid and coherent in the historical sweep covered in a single book. Chapters are short and the prose transparent. Younger readers would delight in its accessibility for a history text. Described by the author as a footnote to his larger work on Kashmir (which he is working on), the book encapsulates major events in Kashmir’s history from 1846 to the hanging of Mohammad Afzal Guru on February 9, 2013. The larger question of Guru’s hanging is a prompt to read this book. Zahir-ud-Din is locating answers in history and in most cases he finds them. For the people to shrug self deprecation of their selves; itself a colonial legacy, the author is showing the way by peeping into the history of this benighted land. It’s a book Kashmiris need to engage with to keep themselves fit to struggle and to resist.