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Unprecedented shutdown against Supreme Court hearing on Article 35-A shows Kashmiris’ concern not only to protect their unique identity but their very existence! 

Before one delves on the threat to the existence and the identity, it would be worthwhile to describe the unique Kashmiri identity. There are many theories about the origin of Kashmiris. It is one of the most mysterious and exciting topics. Some say we are descendants of Aryans who came from Central Asia. However, one can say with certainty that we are not in any way very close to other inhabitants of the sub-continent especially those living in our southern neighbourhood. Physically we are of a fine stock, well built and tall. We have sharp and regular features. Generally people are lively and intelligent. Full of fun and fond of amusement. The beauty of our women has been well known and praised by writers and poets for a long time. We do look like an ancient race with complexions varying from very fair to ruddy and sometimes even blond. In Europe as well as in many other countries we are mistaken for Turks or Iranians or Greeks and in some cases as Spanish or Italians. Some people even call us the “White Indians”! Raj Tarangni describes original inhabitants of the valley as Pisacas and Nagas who used to create trouble for Brahmans. Kashmiri Brahmans popularly called Pandits form a distinct class of their own and can be considered to be the purest specimen of the ancient Aryan settlers in the valley. Rajtarangni also mentions that the valley was once a big lake (Sati Sar) which was drained by Kashyapa after killing the Demon Jalodbhava who was guarding its outlet in Baramulla. Well, the Geological formation of Karewas, layers of sedimentary clay deposits, found everywhere in the valley, does confirm the existence of a lake. There is only one definite and irrefutable scientific evidence about the beginning of human civilisation in Kashmir and that is the Neolithic (New Stone Age) dwelling sites in many parts of the valley out of which Burzahom site is the most studied and well known in the scientific community. The site is famous because it was the first such site discovered in Kashmir. It has dwelling pits, burial pits and some megaliths. The Neolithic (or the New Stone Age) Period of this site dates back to around 3,000 BC. In a way the place represents the site as well as the period where from the first inhabitants of our beautiful valley came. They could be termed the original Kashmiris who started inhabiting this valley like their counter parts in many other areas of the world.

In ancient chronicles the land of Kashmir is extensively mentioned by Greek, Chinese, and Arab historians as a beautiful valley deep in the Himalayan Mountains. This Himalayan girdle very difficult to cross especially in ancient times has protected Kashmir’s unique identity for centuries. Mahmud of Gazhni and even Alexandre the Great could not cross the barrier! Kashmir has seen many religions through centuries. Saivite Hinduism, Budhism and finally Islam. All these religions had a peaceful and a very smooth change over. In ancient times and till sixteenth century Kashmir was an independent sovereign country. Mughals finally annexed it to their empire in 1586 by treachery after failing twice to subdue and conquer it by force. After that Kashmir went under Afghans, then Sikhs and finally the British sold it to Dogra Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu for rupees seventy five lakhs vide the infamous Treaty of Amritsar. During all these centuries of foreign rule, Kashmiris maintained their unique identity even though the foreign rulers turned them into miserable wretches draining out all civility and self-respect from them. All the foreign rulers like Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras have gone into virtual oblivion. However, Kashmiris are still there with their unique identity.

As revealed in the secret documents recently released by the British Home Office, as a result of the British Conspiracy hatched at the instance of Sir Winston Churchill when he still was the Prime Minister, the British divided the sub-continent and created the Kashmir dispute. This was done to forestall the Russian advance towards the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. A film on the subject is available on Netflix! The film is “Viceroy’s House”! Had this conspiracy not been hatched and put in practice, Kashmir may have emerged as an independent sovereign state in 1947 itself after the departure of the British! It has also been revealed that the so called tribesmen were not in reality Pathan tribesmen but mercenaries engaged by the British themselves from Hunza area. There are so many other revelations in the film made on the subject. As a result of this conspiracy and due to the blunder of their own popular leader, Kashmiris got themselves locked into a Gordian knot out of which they are unable to come out. During all these years there have been umpteen attempts to modify Kashmir’s unique identity linguistically, culturally and economically. However, all these attempts have failed. That has left only alternative of physically displacing them from the area. So far this has not been possible as the Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh in 1927 passed the state subject law to protect the identity of his subjects in all the three regions of the state. Maharaja in spite of his being a hereditary ruler loved his subjects and took care of them by safeguarding their future. The present attempt of repealing the Article 35-A of the Indian constitution is aimed at removing the state subject law thereby enabling the masses from the mainland to virtually drown Kashmiris in the flood of people which may come in by the removal of the barrier.

The two days complete shutdown is totally unprecedented in the recent turmoil. Everything was closed and off the road. Even the raidee walas (carts selling eatables etc.) and the auto-rickshaws were off the road. Not a single shikara moved on the Dal Lake. Even in the peak of militancy one had not witnessed such a total shutdown! This has given a clear warning to the new conspirators bent upon dissolving not only Kashmir’s unique identity but the very existence of a Kashmiri.  A Kashmiri may tolerate all the suppression and oppression but when it comes to safeguarding his unique identity and the very existence he can go to any length regardless of the consequences. It would be in the interests of the entire sub-continent if the message given by this unprecedented two day shutdown is heeded and measures are initiated not only to protect Kashmir’s existence and unique identity of its people but to address the basic political problem which has been plaguing not only the sub-continent but the entire South Asia for last 70 years. The sooner the advice is heeded, the better!

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

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