Recreating Kashmir’s blood-soaked history
Reviewed by B. L. Chakoo

Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus
by Colonel Tej K Tikoo.
Lancer. Pages 680. Rs 895

Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their ExodusIN Bharistan-i-Shahi, a chronicle of medieval Kashmir, we read that Kashmiri people died like "insects in fire," as a Mongol warrior and adventurer, Zulqadar Khan and his soldiers who hailed from Turkistan, killed everyone "they could lay hands on." Those who fled to the near forests and mountains were passionately pursued, captured and brutally killed. Men were put to gratuitous violence and women and children were sold to the cruel merchants of Turkistan, whom the invaders had brought along. Zulquadar Khan gave a fatal blow to the Hindu kingdom, and "took with him fifty thousand Brahmans as slaves."But while crossing the Devsar pass, fierce storm, rains and snow buried them all: "Not a single soul survived: Neither the soldiers nor the Brahmans."

In fact, history has never been kind to Kashmir. From the early 14th century onwards and for "many centuries thereafter" Kashmir ( which, according to Nilmat Purana, was at one time called Satideva as it was a huge lake named Satisar, the lake of goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva ) had several times been invaded by cruel and merciless Muslim rulers and adventurists who continuously spread a reign of terror, violence and hatred for Hinduism in the valley. That consequently led to the destruction of its marvellously built temples and, finally, to the mass killings of its aborigines — the Aryan Saraswati Brahmins or Bhattas. (The word Bhatta is a derivative of Sanskrit term Bhartri, meaning a scholar.)

However, such widespread death, destruction, loot, ruthless religious persecution, and forceful conversion to Islam created, at that time, enormous insecurity, fear and panic among the Brahmins of the land, resulting in their many exoduses from Kashmir. Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus, a book on a subject of obvious importance and based on serious research and meditation — is a complex and brilliant piece of historical investigation with regard to all these exoduses, including the latest forced exodus in 1989-1990.

Written with scholarly passion, freshness and personal engagement, it brilliantly and fondly recreates the history of Kashmir from ancient times to its modern life that reeks of gunpowder, blood and death. However, it is also a book in which the writer’s political and religious views and history collide to produce "a kind of history" that is entirely new — and, perhaps, unforgettable.

It opens with a brief but thoughtful "Preface," which offers us a good chance to take another longish look at the historical fact that how by the middle of the 14th century, extensive use of the sword "coupled with aggressive proselytizing," bloodletting, persecution of Hindus helped not only establish Islam in Kashmir, but also how it kept the Valley "burning for the major portion of the past seven centuries."

In addition, the writer is here implicitly lambasting the Government of India’s frustrating lack of resolution and its "compulsions of unprincipled politics" regarding "Article 370 of the Indian Constitution," which unnecessarily gives "the State a special status," preventing its total "constitutional merger" and creating "a permanent psychological barrier" between the people of the State and the rest of the country.

The five chapters that follow constitute a presentation of a framework in which Tikoo offers not exactly a deep analysis but Kashmir’s profile that is worth reading: its history in relation to ancient Indian civilisation; its early Hindu rulers who "encouraged Muslim influx into the Valley" to counter the supremacy of the Brahmins: Its Sikh rule that gave Pandits a long-awaited "respite:" and its invaluable contribution to philosophy, religion, history, literature and Hindu sciences.

Subsequent chapters provide a detailed consideration of what is, in fact, the guiding concern of the entire book: The problematising of the Kashmir problem by Pakistan and some Indian political leaders. Issues such as those of Article 370, of Pakistan’s intervention in Kashmir, of the independence of the State, and of militancy are discussed with an incredible plethora of detail, both political and historical. The concluding chapters are more specifically focused on the unrestrained killing of Pandits during their exodus in 1990, on their psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and anxiety, and on the politically motivated views on their return and rehabilitation.

This elegant and rather distinguished book on Kashmir seems, in the end, tentative and inconclusive. It is also, despite its initial claims, uniformative on the suggestions of "Kashmiri victims" — further testimony, indeed, to that "gap in consciousness"between these victims and their intellectual or political sympathisers of which Tikoo so often complains.