Kashmir Today: Come As A Tourist, Then Leave Or Get Killed
NEW DELHI, (IANS) – He says when it comes to writing on Kashmir, there is an emotional quotient involved. That is not just because he was born there but also because the Pandit community, which has contributed immensely to diverse spheres, was forced to leave the Valley and become a migrant in its own country.
Author Sandeep Bamzai’s latest book, ‘Gilded Cage: Years that Made and Unmade Kashmir’ (Rupa) chronicles the time from the emergence of Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir’s politics up to his arrest to the disillusionment of the Kashmiri masses from their leadership. From Jinnah’s obsession with Kashmir to Sheikh Abdullah’s hatred for Jinnah, from Jawaharlal Nehru’s comprehension of the Valley being a shop window for his brand of secular politics to Maharaja Hari Singh’s streak of remaining independent in the face of both India and Pakistan, this book covers the vital years that defined Kashmir’s accession to India.
The author, whose latest is the third part of the trilogy after ‘Bonfire of Kashmiriyat’ and ‘PRINCESTAN: How Nehru, Patel, and Mountbatten Made India’, says that he feels a certain compulsion to write the Valley’s real story as superficiality seems to have become the norm and many people are just not interested in delving deep into history.
“Frankly, as a nation, we have not documented our own independence and freedom struggle adequately. There are many unsung heroes of the freedom struggle and those who ascertained integration of different states and Kashmir’s accession to India, including V.P. Menon, K.N. Bamzai, and Dwarka Nath Kachru. It is important that the real story is uncovered, something that pushes me to write.”
A non-fiction, ‘Gilded Cage’ that speaks of exhaustive research reads like a thriller, something which makes it accessible even to non-history buffs. Bamzai, a student of economics who did not study history formally calls himself an ‘amateur historian’ who has developed a fascination for modern history.
While writing ‘Gilded Cage’, the author looks at the key dramatis personae of the time who were involved in Kashmir between 1931 and 1953 and splits them into two parts — protagonists and antagonists. In the narrative, there are some dark figures and nationalist personalities. “I have tried to build a narrative in the push and pull of the protagonists and antagonists. The other thing, much different from my other two books in the trilogy is the conscious tighter narrative and fiction-like flow. I have written a story building on the tent poles with the papers and the documents that were given to me.”
Talk to him about the contemporary situation in Kashmir, and Bamzai says the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A has been a seminal measure in ascertaining integration and mobility. “And it was done so effectively that one must give complete credit to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister for that.”
He, however, feels that unless peace is restored in the Valley, it would be unfair to expect Pandits to return to their homeland. “You cannot build a ghetto for them on the left or right side of the Jhelum. The community would never back that. It has been 30 years and people have moved on and built their lives again from scratch… The Pandits being targeted in lone wolf attacks in the Valley are soft targets, who being economically backward could not move out of there. The message coming out of Kashmir is: ‘You can come here as a tourist, but not live and work there if you are a non-Muslim. We will kill you. And that is exactly what is happening,” he says.
The author, who has worked in major media houses in senior positions for more than 40 years now admits that both Indian and international media have failed to acknowledge the true forced migration of Pandits from the Valley. Stressing that nobody really cares, he says while many people are making a huge hue and cry about the film ‘The Kashmir Files’, it is the only time that the truth has been revealed. “Even today, as we speak, there are camps outside Jammu where economically backward Kashmiri Pandits continue to live in hell. Honestly, everybody seems to have just washed their hands off this community, maybe that is the reason I keep revisiting this theme.” In favor of early elections in the Valley, he feels that the same can be expected in 2023, soon after the snow melts, maybe as early as May or probably with the ones in Karnataka. Adding that various parties are already preparing for them, he adds, “There is Farooq Abdullah on one side, one cannot say if the Congress will be with NC or not. There is BJP on the other side and Ghulam Nabi Azad is the X factor. An elected government in Kashmir is extremely important. And I must add that Manoj Sinha, the Lt. Governor there has spearheaded serious developmental work, recognized even by the locals. The kind of investments coming to the Valley will result in major employment, something that will be instrumental in weaning the young away from the gun.”