Understanding Kashmiri Aspirations


The motivators of various initiatives to bring peace to Kashmir first need to understand the sentiments and the aspirations of Kashmiris

An unprecedented uprising has just somewhat abated after five months. The uprising which had been triggered by the killing of a local militant leader of Tral, Burhan Wani had acted as a Tsunami sweeping away everything in its path. Kashmir was virtually at a standstill for almost five months. There was one refrain everywhere, “Azadi”! We may not have seen the end of the unrest but it is essential to understand the basic sentiments and the aspirations which give rise to these unprecedented upheavals. Thinking that the people have been brought to their knees by the use of excessive force and everything is settled would be the usual blunder committed by the authorities after every such uprising!

Some people take Kashmir’s movement for emancipation to have started from early thirties when Kashmiri Muslims rose to demand their basic rights from the autocratic rulers. However, Kashmir’s history does not start in thirties only. If one wants to understand the Kashmir’s present problem and especially the perennial unrest, one has to go back in history to the times when Kashmir lost its sovereignty and was merged into the Mughal Empire.

Since that first take over, Kashmiris never got a breather and had to face the external masters one after the other who by their notorious means of oppression squeezed out every sign of civility, honour and self-respect out of them. Kashmiris have never accepted external rule willingly. They have been fighting external hegemony even before Mughals, right from the era of the Sultans when they fought and chased away the Sayyids. Similar to the present rule in Kashmir engineered by external forces over a period of time, Kashmir was in the same situation in the time of the Sultans.

According to Dr. Abdul Ahad, the historian, “the reign of Sultan Hassan Shah is remembered not for any tangible achievement but for the disrepute he brought to the Sultanate by falling into lap of luxury and pleasure…”The rule was full of corruption and oppression. It was during this period that Malik Ahmad Yatu, the Prime Minister of Hassan Shah invited Sayyids to fight against Tazi Bhat, the Commander-in-Chief of the Sultan. “The Sayyids, a riotous group of great notoriety who had been turned out of the valley for their nefarious designs, not once but twice (by Bud Shah and, subsequently, by Hassan Shah) accepted the invitation and swooped”. They took over Kashmir by their notorious machinations. However, the Kashmiris rose against this external rule and valiantly fought the Sayyids under the leadership of Jahangir Magrey and others. The Sayyids were humiliated and had to surrender and run away. Thus Kashmiris were able to restore their own local rule.

However, the trend set in those early times for inviting outsiders for settling local scores has been Kashmir’s undoing through subsequent periods under Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. This continues even during the present times when people either look towards the Western Countries or to Pakistanto bail them out from the present oppression. The same had been Sheikh Abdullah’s weakness in looking outside for riddance from the autocratic rule of the Maharaja. Had he stood on his own, the things may have turned out quite differently.

It is not correct to claim that the Kashmiris are not a separate nation. By all definitions of nationhood, Kashmiris constitute a nation. Kashmir is the only place in the sub-continent which has a record of written history from the earliest times. Kalhana wrote the earliest book of history in the sub-continent, Raja Tarangani in the twelfth century A.D. Kashmir’s history goes back few thousand years B.C. Throughout the external rule there have been many uprisings. The Shawl Baf’s uprising in 1865 was an attempt against the oppressive external rule. The Silk Factory strike and the presentation of a memorandum to Viceroy of India in October, 1924 was another bid by Kashmiris to throw off the external yolk. The massacre of July, 1931 gave the real impetus to Kashmir’s movement for total freedom from external rule. Sheikh Abdullah was thrown up as a charismatic leader by this movement. It is Kashmir’s misfortune that he got confused and fatigued towards the end and left his people in the lurch!

Kashmir’s political movement has always suffered by the personality cult nourished and encouraged by outsiders. However, the present day youth are no longer looking at the “Gods that fail”, the name a friend had given to this personalised leadership in his article some time back. Although some forces are still trying to prop up various new leaders or “Gods”, yet the youth do not follow these blindly. The days of “Ala Kari Wangan Kari, Bab Kari” are gone now. As shown in the last couple of agitations in 2008, and 2010, the youth rose en masse on their own because of convictions and it is the” Gods” who had to follow the youth. Attributing the idea of Independent Kashmir to Sheikh Abdullah is a gross mistake. Attainment of absolute freedom is ground in the psyche of every Kashmiri because of the centuries of external suppression. Sheikh Abdullah only voiced it openly. It may be a debatable question whether an independent Kashmir is possible or not in the present circumstances but no one can deny that every honest Kashmiri has always desired absolute freedom. A place where he could live with dignity and honour and could walk with his head held high.

There have always been attempts to cloud the Kashmiri aspirations by confusion and irrelevant debate. Recent comments of a bureaucrat are a typical example of this deliberate confusion. As Immanuel Kant while describing the “Theory of Causality” says in his “Critique of Pure Reason”, one gives a thesis, then anti-thesis and then tries to have synthesis but ends up by creating what he calls the “Dialectical Illusion”! It would be better not to confound the reality but to accept the fact that the Kashmiris have certain basic sentiments and aspirations which need to be attended to without wasting any more time. All the peace initiatives, dialogues and the reconciliatory efforts should start with that premise. There can be no lasting peace without that. We will go on witnessing storms and tornados off and on till that is done.

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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