In past, Kashmiris were naïve & simple. It was the time when the gradual progression of science in Europe had not yet crossed the mountains of valley of Kashmir. Modern technology & fast modes of communication were not yet discovered. The material prosperity & modernization had not yet touched the people of this landlocked country. So, in those situational conditions of simple & straight living, the people generally ascribed the causes of their misfortunes, even the ones that were caused by ecological & geographical disorders of inclement weathers, storms, floods, famines, earthquakes, & even by diseases, whenever they befell them, to the curse of their past sins & crimes. Hardly a day passed, records Sir Walter Roper Lawrence, when he did not find during his days in Kashmir, the Kashmiris making reference to the curse and the sins that brought about the curse. They “believe themselves to be under a curse”. The sins, they were told by priests, were their “lying & malice”. So, “they rarely laugh or smile, but are easily moved to tears.” I Kashmiris think that the curse is not always result of their own sins but, sometimes, they trace the origin of their suffering to the sins & crimes of others. It happened so with the carpet weavers of Kashmir in past who, despite toiling hard & long, earned minimum money & failed to lay by something for future. They ascribed the cause of their ‘penury’ to the ‘sin’ which their forefathers had, in the beginning of 17th century, committed ‘by rebuking’ their original ‘trainer, benefactor’, who had traveled to far off Persia to learn & rediscover the declining art of carpet weaving in Kashmir. Named, Akhun Sahab, was the master, to whom their forefathers, thankless disciples, had turned their backs when he was in need of help from them whereupon he denounced upon them curse in these Kashmiri words: Zindus dung-dawal marit nirnak nah kafan ti . II
The guilt burdens a wrongdoer when some suffering or pain befalls him after his sin or crime. If no suffering or pain visits him, thereafter, the sense of guilt does not engage his mind. The concept is masterly explained in S T Coleridge’s classic poem, The Rime of Ancient Mariner (1798) where the Mariner did not have initially feeling of guilt & fear after killing Albatross that was following the ship. It came to him & the sailors only when in the aftermath of Albatross- killing, the ship was lost & wandered in a thick fog for several days, attacked by dreadful spirits of death & destruction. The sailors blamed the Mariner for their torturous suffering & pain which, they said to him, was caused by his sin & crime of killing a harmless sea bird which made them put the corpse of Albatross around his neck like a cross symbolizing execution for his wrong deed. They all died of thirst in the excruciating pain that ensued killing of Albatross with Mariner, however, left alone to survive by the Spirits of Death, but only to tell the world the story of his sin & crime, & the curse he carried for it. The suffering & pain of sailors before dying, one by one, slowly & painfully, was also curse on them for rejoicing & supporting his wrong deed. III
The metaphors in Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner about sins & crimes & their consequential curse of suffering & pain, of punishment & penance, have its origin in all religious Scriptures of the world. So, whenever there is a wrong action, there is, sooner or later, reaction against it from the unseen sources of nature. This was a general belief among the people in olden times when the distinction between sin & crime remained blurred as both were treated as wrongs reprimanded with equal indignation by society & authority. But, as the societies progressed & developed towards modernism & democracy, bringing with them substantial changes in people’s thinking & beliefs, more freedoms & liberties, material properity, the two concepts got disconnected & separated, leaving punishment for sin to God’s realm, while punishment for crime has been placed in jurisdiction of law courts. Nonetheless, the vivid symbolism of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner continues to have application equally to both crime & sin.
The crime is prescribed as an act punishable by law or breach of a legal duty or a criminal wrong. IV As it brings harm to the society, individually & collectively, so the curse for it. The curse is the punishment handed down by the judge to the criminal.
But where “dark is the nation, insane the king” what will happen, you must be already aware of the story behind this Urdu idiom, Andher Nagari, Chaupat Raja. Yes, the king sentenced a thin man, who was innocent, to the gallows instead of the fat man, actual guilty, whose guilt was proven beyond doubt. Why? Because the noose of gallows did not fit the neck of the fat man. But it does not happen where the kings in olden times & judges in modern times are awake & watching. So, we saw two Peers of Kashmir, Mushtaq Peer & Gulzar Peer, sent to prison (curse) for their crimes. But the question that begs an honest answer from all members of Kashmiri community is: Were there only these two Peers who did the crimes in our heavily crime-sin-ridden society? The answer is: No. Our whole community is infested with large number of ills & evils of criminals & the arms of law are not long enough, for political & other reasons, to reach them. But “if I were in the position of Your Honour, said the wretch, [they/criminals] should not, for all the trouble, [they have] cost the [wretch/victims]’, “go away scot free.” V
There are so many MUSHTAQS, authorities-in-power, or hand-in-hand-with -power, in Kashmir’s autonomous organisations, semi-government institutions & government departments trampling upon the rights of the most deserving & meritorious candidates as their minds are hag-ridden with nepotism, favouratism, bribery, personal likes & dislikes, deep seated biases & prejudices. Likewise, there are so many GULZARS VI in the society who have converted blooming gardens of others into desolate deserts by their black deeds. One of the MUSHTAQS, fully known to me, once holding highest rank in an organisation, one day unashamedly said before a gathering of employees that a “meritorious” employee working in his institution was worthless & naught till his pen confirmed & decided it in his favour [by promotion, he meant]. The words smacked of a typical post-medieval monarchial mindset. It seemingly stunned one & all in that crowd of deaf & dumb employees. I remember of that sick-minded “corporate shame” once promoted such officers who were “not-eligible even” for next scale of promotion in his institution, which he erroneously thought he owned, as privy purse of an ex-prince of British India, and the only one officer who was “only eligible, senior most & much more qualified & experienced than those promoted” was singled out for non-promotion by him for “personal grudges” against him. VII It was a gross misuse of official power & breach of “fiduciary duty” by a ‘corporate monarch’, not different from what Mushtaq Peer had done as BOPEE chairman. VIII 700 years before Henry Bracton, the English Judge has said: Even if “the king is under no man, [but] he is under God and law”. VIX Lord Macmillan has pithily summarised the whole idea in these words: “If no profession is nobler in its right exercise, so no profession can be baser in its abuse”. X
As Gulzar Peer’s “alleged” moral turpitude saddened the society, XI so “poor girls”’ “alleged” exploitation & sex scandal ‘involving’ top notch of politicians, bureaucrats & executives of Kashmiri society shook the moral pedestal of the Kashmiri-community. For more than a decade, the criminal proceedings against the ‘accused’ remained pending before a trial court at Chandigarh. XII
Irony is that while some suffer “curse” for their criminal wrongs, more suffer not, neither feel guilty or compunction, for their crimes against innocent Albatross. XIII Reason being they don’t undergo any consequential suffering or pain for their crimes. They face neither curse nor cross of Albatross that represents unfortunate wretch of their wrongs in Kashmirian society. They fail to understand something that they have to say to themselves: “They are guilty, they are wrong”. XIV They belong to socio-economic elite class of Kashmiris who “buy good legal brains” to defend themselves before courts & protract the criminal proceedings against them under procedural laws. Their lawyers know the “skill” of twisting and turning actual facts into mere allegations & vice versa, as the case demands. Their sermons hog the headlines of the Dailies. “White collar occupational” criminals XV are respected & eulogised, admired & invited-special-guests on special occasions & functions where they deliver, thus, sweet sermons on things of self-interest for self-aggrandizement. Amid rousing cheers of the audience, I in a corner soliloquize: Has long arm of law failed to wrap its fingers around the thick necks of these scot-free killers & their accomplice in the killing of innocent Albatross of Kashmir: careers, characters, chastity, competence & merit. XVI
M J Aslam is Author, academician, essayist, storyteller & freelance-columnist: