By Sankrant Sanu
November 01, 2010
The activist-author ignores history when she says Kashmir was ‘never integral’ to India. Her India is a figment of her imagination. The real India is rooted in civilisational history which tells us how Kashmir was all along a part of Bharat
In the ‘pro-azadi’ conference in Srinagar, Arundhati Roy stated that “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. This is the historical fact.” Later on, in response to predictable cries of sedition over her utterances, she responded that it’s a poor country that would punish its intellectuals for raising their voice for justice. Both the idea of India and the idea of intellectual freedom in these two quotes are interlinked.
How can we tell whether Kashmir was a part of India? First, we will have to define India. On one account the modern state of India is a creation of the British. That India is defined simply by sketched lines of the 1947 partition. Whether Kashmir is part of that India is covered in the legalese of Instruments of Accession and UN resolutions. When Arundhati Roy cites as ‘historical fact’ that Kashmir was not a part of India, we have to look much before the partition.
If India is defined by the political boundaries of empires, certainly Kashmir has been part of India from the Mauryan Empire to the Kushans and from the Mughals to the Sikhs. But political boundaries have often changed. The idea of India is bigger than the boundaries of kingdoms. The boundaries of kingdoms in ancient times did not have the rigidity of national borders of today with passport and visa barriers. Even during wars when boundaries changed, the life of non-combatants in India — scholars and artisans, farmers and householders — continued uninterrupted. The Greek scholar Megasthenes found this remarkable in the 3rd century BC and he noted this fact in his Indica.
There is an idea of India that transcends the boundaries of kingdoms. Could there have been a Mahabharat without the conception of Bharat? All the kings of Bharat participated in this war, including those from Kashmir. Draupadi’s father was the king of Panchala, the ‘Pir Panjala’ of today. The rivers of Kashmir are mentioned in the Rig Veda. From ancient times the land of Kashmir has been an integral part of the Indian civilisation. Kashmiriyat, the spirit of harmony between communitie,s is no different from ‘Indian-ness’, the spirit of Indian pluralism.
In our stories and legends, the sweep of our philosophies and schools of thought, there was a unity to this land that far transcended political boundaries. This is why Adi Shankaracharya — from a remote village in Kerala — would have the conception of setting up Mathas in each of the four corners of India. He travelled to Kashmir at Srinagar (the abode of ‘Sri’) and to the Sharada Temple (now in ruins in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), a pre-eminent seat of learning in India, and opened the ‘South India’ gate to it by demonstrating his knowledge. This is why in the legend when Shakti is cut up, the pieces of her body land in various parts of the entire land mass of greater India with the Saraswati Peetha, appropriate to Kashmir’s position as the ‘head’ of India and its centre of learning, located in Kashmir. It does not matter if the stories are legends. What matters is that, from ancient times, the people of this land have conceived of it as a unity — in the story of the Shakti Peethams even as one body — and Kashmir has been an integral part of this Indian civilisation.
More than a part, Kashmir has been the crown. Before being converted to a hotbed of terrorism it was the seat of Sanskrit scholarship. From Kalhan and Kalidas (who extolled its beauties) to Nagarjuna and Abhinavgupta, it has represented the highest of Indian civilization. Kashmir Shaivism left its impact on the entire country and Nagarjuna and the Buddhist scholars took that even beyond the borders to China and Japan. It is this civilisation that nurtured the freedom of thought and expression that Arundhati Roy so passionately seeks. It is this civilisation that has nurtured pluralism and vigorous debate between the Shaivaites and the Vaishnavites, the Shramanas, the Buddhists, the Brahmans and the Jains; yet promoted exo-existence and mutual harmony. It is this civilisation that welcomed the Sufis and the persecuted Jews and Parsis, fleeing from the Islamic invasion of Persia (now Iran). Kashmiriyat — the mutual harmony between communities — is nothing other than Indian-ness. And it is because Arundhati Roy is in India that she can voice these opinions. It is because of Indian freedom that Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who shared the pro-azadi stage with Arundhati Roy, along with Maoists and other ISI-supported forces, can give speeches in India espousing separatism from the Indian state.
Geelani is quite clear in his vision of a Kashmir taken out of India. In Nava-e-Hurriyat he spells out that “Our goal is the establishment of Islamic Government… the freedom (that Kashmiris are struggling for) is for the sake of Islam”. What would Kashmir become if another partition of India takes place? Luckily, we do not have to hypothesise. We have clear examples in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Will Kashmiriyat be better supported in the Islamic state of Kashmir? The evidence would suggest otherwise. From Saudi Arabia to Pakistan we have models of repressive Islamic states denying basic freedom and democracy to their citizens, let alone to their dhimmi minorities. Pakistan is a simmering cauldron of continuous sectarian violence and a military controlled state. Can the Indian people really let another crucial portion of the Indian civilisation be surrendered to Pakistan-hood?
There is a paradox between Arundhati Roy’s cry for freedom within the Indian state for her advocacy of ideologies that have a track record of denying it. As she makes common cause with Islamists and Maoists she is well aware that rebels like her would be the first to be strung from a tree or a lamp post were either of these to actually come to power. So, she can speak comfortably between the courtesy of the Indian civilisation and the impotency of the Indian state.
Yes, the Indian state is colonial and repressive not just in Kashmir but all over India. We all want azadi-from corruption, from the bureaucracy, from the state failing to fulfil its basic functions. Yet, despite all that, grassroots democracy is growing and the Indian civilisational ethos is best positioned to give birth to a pluralistic, democratic, responsive Indian state.
And I would not advocate the Indian state to act against Arundhati Roy. The Indian state is itself disconnected from the Indian civilisation and its ham-handed actions would only lend stature to Arundhati Roy’s platform of victimhood. It is up to us then, the Indian thinkers, to keep Arundhati Roy’s balloon deflated. Intellectual defeat and ridicule, rather than imprisonment, would be more in line with Indian-ness of which Kashmir has politically, spiritually and intellectually been an integral part.
-- The writer is an entrepreneur and researcher based in Seattle and Gurgaon. His areas of interest include history, religious and cultural studies and technology.
Source: The pioneer