Last few days we have been bombarded with the word Kashmiriyat and how it must be protected etc etc. Hence the immediate question was what is Kashmiriyat? And in what manner it is different from others?

Basically Muslims have two sects viz. Shia & Sunni and they have been fighting in all over Islamic world. However, at least at the surface, this problem never persisted in Kashmir. In olden days, Kashmir was the main spiritual centre for Hinduism as well as for Sikhs. The Islamisation of Kashmir started around 700 years ago but cult of Sufism was more prevalent in Kashmir. And hence the culture of Music and dance was very popular in Kashmir.

Then around 16th century, the Kashmiriyat word came into vogue to signify cultural values of Kashmir. It was a very tolerant society then and all cultures & religions co-existed very peacefully. Kashmir had more Dargah’s than Mosques. It used to be common sight to find a Mandir and Dargah side by side. Even very few women would wear burqa. It was in a way, a very liberal Islamic society. The word Secular is a very abused word today but Kashmir was a symbol of secularism in the Islamic world.

The world of Kashmir has turned upside down in last 100 years or so. The British, may be, were partly successful in putting a wedge by their divide and rule policy. The feud with Hindus, which was all around India since 1920’s, didn’t affect Kashmir much. However it started percolating and it came to a flashpoint in 1947 during partition of India. I am not going into the events that happened then as well as who did what. The dirty politics from both India and Pakistan has ensured that the fire keeps burning till today.

However the situation was not totally lost even after 40 years of partition. I will narrate an incident which happened in 1971. My friend, a Kashmiri Pandit, had a house in Srinagar. On both sides of their houses, Muslim families resided and a Sardar family resided in the front. During the India Pakistan War, a mob of Mujahideens came to burn down the house of my friend. His father was away in Mumbai and he was in the house only with his mother & brother. The two muslim neighbours came forward and told the mob that we really can’t stop you as you outnumber us but if you really wish to burn the house then start with our house. Fortunately the mob relented and my friend was saved.

Unfortunately today Kashmiriyat is very loosely defined and hardly understood by most of the Indian Population including Muslims. Hindus might say that we have always been tolerant and all other religions have co-existed so what’s different in Kashmiriyat? The difference that it is in Islam and its more cultural than religious. In my opinion Kashmiriyat was never religious fanaticism but unfortunately today the core has got lost in the jingoism.

But then in the 1980’s, the politics reached its nadir in Kashmir. A democratically elected government was dismissed unceremoniously. This proved to be the last straw and Kashmir changed forever. People in general lost complete faith in the system.

Unfortunately during the last 72 years, the Kashmiri population has only seen misuse by the local govt, separatist sentiments played with by our dear(?) neighbours, malpractices, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. This has ensured that this article 35A has been badly abused. The constant brainwashing, radicalising has further alienated the locals. They have also been deprived of higher education and employment opportunities. It is so surprising that miscreants of 5 districts out of total 22 districts have held the state and the country to a ransom. The terrorists brought in radical Wahhabism and resulted in largest ethnic cleansing by driving out nearly 300,000 Hindu Pandits. By 1989, in the streets of Srinagar appeared bearded young men who marched into liquor shops and forcibly closed them down by smashing bottles of liquor on the pavements. They walked into hotels and ordered bars shut. Cinemas were forcibly closed and women who did not veil their faces risked having acid thrown at them. A new ‘identity’ was imposed on Kashmir. They have promoted terror and have destroyed the Sufi & tranquil culture (Kashmiriyat) of the region.

It is said that the locals in Kashmir feel that if outsiders come and settle in Kashmir, the Kashmiriyat will be in danger. But that so called cultural spirit has already died long ago.

It is true that any migration of population affects the the locals. But then isn’t the same thing happening all over the world? The refugee migration is changing the entire fabric of Europe. The same is true for workers migration from UP, Bihar & Bengal to other states. It is impossible that states in India can remain culturally isolated from each other.

But the locals will feel the pain and look at such migration with fear & suspicion. Don’t we in Maharashtra talk about how our Marathi Sanskuti (Culture) has got corrupted with people from other states? We also wish that outsiders don’t come here. May be that’s the same feeling people in Kashmir have. They have remained isolated for more than 70 years and hence the fear is more palpable.

Today Kashmir is again at the crossroads after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A.

The government has taken the first step but it would be their primary as well as moral responsibility to ensure that fruits of the change reach the door step of every Kashmiri. They will also have to tackle the mischief & menace makers. I don’t know if it’s possible to win them over rather than alienating them further. It is easier said than done. I also fervently hope that the Govt Forces, Banks and PSU Companies to give jobs to Kashmiri’s. If they get work, it will help them greatly.

The Prime Minister spoke of how Kashmir had ‘the potential to become the world’s largest tourist destination’. That Kashmir existed once but no longer does. It was destroyed because of the advent of the new Islam that blew into the Valley in the Eighties.

Article 370 was no more than a symbol of Kashmir’s special status. In reality Kashmir enjoyed hardly more autonomy than any other Indian state, and this supposedly special status has been a playground for secessionists and jihadists. Hence the fear that, with the abrogation of Article 370 Kashmiris will lose their identity, is really stupid.

Unfortunately the identity of Kashmir today is that of an Islamic state in the making. The young men who now lead the insurgency make this clear every time they make a new ISIS-type recruitment video. Neither India nor Kashmir can allow an Islamic state. Its economy is almost entirely based on tourism, and tourists do not flock to jihadist countries no matter how beautiful they are, for the simple reason that religious fanaticism can turn even paradise into a hell. If Jihadists had not taken over and started laying the foundations of an Islamic republic, it was possible that Kashmir would already have become ‘the world’s largest tourism destination’.

My other concern is that the locals who have been alienated for so long will view every move with suspicion. They are also sentimental so if they don’t see any visible change in their well being, they may turn the other way.

Hence the people, from this heaven on earth, also have to make efforts to integrate in the mainstream and usher an era of development or else they would turn themselves as puppets in the hands of radical Islam and Pakistan. I can only hope that better sense prevails and this Jannat doesn’t become a Jahannum.

To abrogate Article 370 is fraught with risks but, if it can bring back the magic that Kashmir once had long, long ago, then the risk will be worthwhile.

Keeping my fingers crossed. Amen.

Yeshwant Marathe

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