*Paradise Lost


The Indian subcontinent is riddled with a plethora of problems; it has become a killing field during the last couple of years. The affairs of Kashmir had attracted many persons to write about the maladies confronting Kashmiri citizens, but an account from the viewpoint of ordinary Kashmiri citizens are very few.

Siddhartha Guha Ray is not only a trained Historian of repute, but also an active participant of Human Rights movement in the country. This dual role enabled him to look at the “Kashmir problem” from a perspective that offers the readers a fresh and thought-provoking *book [Paradise Lost--A Contemporary History of Kashmir (1947--2020), by Siddhartha Guha Ray, Setu Prakashani, Price Rs 500,1st edition, January,2022]. This monograph covers a bigger canvas, refreshing the memory about the events in Kashmir till the beginning of 2020.

Guha Ray begins by informing his readers that “Since the end of the colonial rule and birth of two independent countries—India and Pakistan—in 1947, both the countries have been using Kashmir as a pawn to fulfil their narrow national interests. This attitude has proven to be detrimental to the interests of the people of Kashmir. The hopes and aspirations of the people of the Valley have been trodden upon time and again, their basic rights marred by faulty policies and highhandedness of the state.” This quote does not appear to be just an assertion on the part of the author, which he very carefully and meticulously established, blow by blow, from the events as far back as August to early October, 1947, then the Instrument of Accession (October, 26, 1947) of the Independent Entity (Kashmir) to India, which, Guha Ray described as “ … pinned as the starting point of the current crisis”.

RSS was active from the very beginning in this region that occupied a very strategic geographical location in this subcontinent and started engineering the critical situation by employing its most potent arm in its arsenal—the communal riot. The major communal riot took place against the Muslim population of Jammu by these outfits and in connivance with the “law-enforcers” of Maharaja. Rigging an election, constitutional manipulations, Article 370 and its eventual liquidation, all these events are analysed through the lens of a keen observer of human rights activist.

According to Guha Ray, “The real trouble in the Valley began in the late 1980s and the 1990s, when Kashmiri youths took up arms to protest against India’s misrule.” Instead of offering a linear, simplified narrative of a very involved problem having many dimensions, Guha Ray delved deep into to reach the epicentre directly, when he did not ignore the externalities involved in this scenario. He says, squarely, “An unfortunate development in the entire episode was the emergence of Pakistan sponsored militants in the Valley which weakened the movement for Azadi. Kashmir was converted into a ground for proxy war between India and Pakistan.” In ten chapters of the book, Guha Ray reconstructed a long tale, bringing in the first place, an up to date description of the events till August 5, 2019, when the Article 370 was finally scrapped, but also offers a through analysis of the events unfolding a complex history of the region concerned.

 There are a number of “allegations” levelled against the human rights activists that they usually remain silent about the mindless killings and gross human rights violations in act or otherwise by the “militants”. Some persons, usually close to mainstream media and status quo are very much vocal against right activists’ “dual standard of sense of judgment”. Guha Ray stands out in this score too. He declared, “ … I must admit that human rights violations by the armed opposition groups, particularly the militant outfits, should never be overlooked nor [be] considered any less severe. Senseless killings by militants in the Valley should also be condemned in strongest and unequivocal terms. Several rights organisations, national or international, rightly condemned violence and killings perpetrated by the militant organisations. Violence and massacre in the Valley carried out by the Indian state machinery appeared gruesome, but irresponsible acts of violence by the pro-Pakistan militant outfits like Hizbul Mujahideen, Laskar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-ansar are equally atrocious.” He denounced, in no uncertain terms the senseless acts, like the abductions of respected academician Prof Mushirul Haque, the Vice-Chancellor of Kashmir University and his secretary Abdul Ghani. The General Manager of HMT Company, Mr H L Khera was also kidnapped by some militant outfit, which was condemned by many belonging to the fold of human rights groups.

One sees the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 1980s, when the Congress Party begins to see the virtue in the “Hinduisation” of Indian politics under the leadership of dethroned Indira Gandhi. She quickly repairs her personal hostile relations with the RSS and a tacit collaboration began between these two parties, true to the older tradition of Congress.

In the 1983 election of Jammu and Kashmir, people witnessed this change of stance by the Congress,then it was known as Congress (I). Congress (I) branded Abdullah’s National Conference Party as “antinational and covertly pro-Pakistan.” Sikh and Muslims were “vilified as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘secessionist’”. The Golden Temple episode is yet to come. The Emergency-famed Jagmahon dismissed several state Assemblies in Jammu and Kashmir, applying the infamous Article 356, though in the Instruments of Accession it was specifically mentioned that Indian Government cannot apply this power to Jammu and Kashmir.

Protests against the undemocratic and hostile steps adopted by the Indian Government and their representatives in Jammu and Kashmir were gaining momentum day by day. Guha Ray quotes Balraj Puri, “The method of dealing with the agitation on each issue and the force employed for the purpose could have varied according to its nature. Again a distinction could also have been drawn between violent and peaceful as also terrorist and non-terrorist forms of protests. But the uniform and indiscriminate approach and the extent of repression only strengthened the existing anti-government anti-India sentiments and enabled the militant elements to identify completely with the non-militant popular unrest.” Guha Ray dealt with the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley to Jammu and other places to unravel the behind scene stories of Delhi politics.

The repression of Indian army against innocent Kashmiris beggars description; even the school-going children were not spared by the CRPF persons. School-going children (aged about 11 or 12) were gathered for tuition in their teacher’s residence on March 31, 1990, when a group of CRPF Jawans broke open the door of the house and singled out only that child having a Muslim name and shot him dead.

One of the very popular and respected Muslim leader, orthodox and fundamentalist in attitude and practice, yet very critical about militant’s senseless violence was purported to be killed by one of the militant outfit in May 1990. There was a big procession with his dead body in Srinagar. Alarmed by such a large gathering and unprepared to content any large scale violence from this gathering, the Indian security forces opened indiscriminate firing against the peaceful mourners, absolutely unprovoked, resulting in a killing by bullet 47 innocent Kashmiri citizens.

Violence always begets violence, so has senseless killings. The blame-game on these occasions abounds and only accelerates further violence. But there are saner voices as well, which Guha Ray reveals with his painstaking research. To quote him on the issue, “Killing and terrorising the pundits in the Valley by the militants was obviously dastardly acts of violence which deserves to be condemned in unequivocal terms. If the Indian security forces were guilty of killing the innocent Muslims in the Valley, the militants also could not be absolved of the crime of killing innocent Pundits. But one thing must be emphasised that the atrocities on the Pundits in the Valley were heavily publicised and on many occasions the reports and narration on such atrocities and violence came on the threshold of exaggeration. The ruthless ferocity of the Indian security forces, however, did not receive much space in the national press”.

 Hriday Nath Wangchoo was hailing from a Kashmiri Pundit family who stayed back in Srinagar and became a champion for the cause of human rights of ordinary Kashmiri citizens. December 5, 1992. He was shot by some “miscreants”. The security forces immediately orchestrated a campaign that it was done by the militants. But all the militant outfits condemned this act in no uncertain terms, called a bandh, which was successful. It was widely believed that BSF personnel were behind this heinous crime.

Things had taken a sinister turn at the turn of the century. Forcing unwilling people to vote, applying indiscriminately the draconian “laws” like POTA, POCA, AFSPA, the Indian security forces played havoc jeopardising the peaceful civilian life throughout the Valley. Guha Ray had documented all such major events, carefully giving his readers the interpretation put forward by both the victims and the victor, very often demolishing the concocted stories handed down by the biased media. A case in point is what had “happened” in Kupwara near the LoC at Machil Sector, where, people were informed by the Indian security forces that they had courageously repulsed an attempt at infiltration by the enemy. Later, it was established beyond any shade of doubt that the entire episode was stage-managed by the Indian security persons as there was no such encounter ever happened there.

The case of Maqbul Bhatt and later that of Afzal Guru will remain as a big black blotch in the annals of history of Indian judiciary. Guha Ray mentions “On the day of Afzal Guru’s execution ( 9 February, 2013), Srinagar and other major towns of the Valley were barricaded and indefinite curfews were imposed. People remained confined to their homes. Three people lost their lives over clashes with the police and scores received severe injuries. Internet services were partially stalled, and newspapers did not reach the people of the Valley for three days”. Killing of Burhan Wani by the Indian security forces on July 8, 2016 gave rise to a wide range of protests where ordinary female folk, even school children took part in large numbers. Within a span of just four months, between July and October, 2016 an unbelievable number of 15000 persons, as reported by the Indian security sources, sustained bullet and pallet injuries, because “they were supporting the militants to vitiate the peaceful life of the ordinary people of the Valley”. This was the communiqué of the official sources. But who were those “perpetrators of violence, vitiating the serene tranquillity” of the Valley? A large chunk of injured persons were women, whose age ranged between 50 and 65. The next larger chunk of injured persons were children, age ranging between 8 to 11, most of them were girls. Shujaat Bukhari was assassinated on June 14, 2018. He had been receiving constants threats, which had been executed nicely on that fateful day!

In his brilliantly written Postscript, Guha Ray succinctly summed up what people understood as “Kashmir Problem”, which, in essence is a crisis for the nation. Had poet Tagore been alive, he would have been tempted to write a new piece, with a new perspective and would have titled it as “Another Crisis of Civilisation”.  

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Vol 55, No. 11, Sep 11 - 17, 2022