Book Review

Why I Picked This Book?

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism is one more book in my quest to know more about various aspects of Kashmir and the ongoing conflict. While reading a book on a specific subject you come across other books on the same subject from different authors. I came to know about this book and searched for Nandita Haksar and found that she is a prolific writer, human right lawyer and the first person to challenge the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act commonly known as AFSPA. This made me pick this book to get some insight on Kashmir from a different perspective.

The Book

Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism – From the Cold War to the Present Day, is a book that gives us a glimpse of the history of Kashmiri nationalism. The author talks about Kashmiri nationalism after independence during the cold war years and post-insurgency that started in the late 80s. It has been told through the lives of two Kashmiri men, one Samapat Prakash, a Kashmiri Pandit and Communist trade union leader and Mohammad Afzal Guru, hanged to death for his role in the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

The book provides a brief history of Jammu and Kashmir from Mughal invasion to Sikh and Dogra rule and then finally accession to India by the ruler Hari Singh. The revolt of Kashmiri people against the Dogra rule and the emergence of Sheikh Abdullah as an icon of Kashmiri nationalism. What direction the Kashmiri nationalism took post-independence and how different political parties came into being owing to different ideology. One would get to know how things came to the point where people of Kashmir revolted against Indian forces and Indian government, and how the armed struggle started in the 1990s.

Sampat Prakash does not and Mohmmad Afzal Guru did not characterize the struggle for Kashmiri independence as a religious war. Afzal in a letter to me, wrote: ‘When Naga conflict is not Christian why conflict in Kashmir is branded as Islamic? Fundamentally, it is political, social and historical in nature.’

But Sampat Prakash now concedes that religion has become an important factor in the Kashmir movement. The ascendency of the Hindutva factor and the rise of political Islam cannot be wished away. He is grappling with redefining the meaning of Kashmiri Nationalism.

It is interesting and informative to know the post-independence history of Kashmir through the life and experience of Sampat Prakash. This is the first time I have read about Kashmir and the role of Communists and trade union in unifying Kashmiri people across religion on the issues of wages, better working conditions and the general betterment of people at the lower rung of the economic hierarchy.

There are many historical facts and anecdotes that one will come across which are sometimes interesting, sometimes sad but always informative. The way Indian government at the center handled the state of Jammu and Kashmir is something to think about.

The author throws some light on the sham democracy was run in Jammu and Kashmir. Barring couple of elections most of the elections whenever they happened were rigged in the favour of a party that agreed with the central government in Delhi, thus alienating the people of Kashmir further.

In 1962, the elections were so obviously rigged that when Bakshi won sixty-eight of the seventy-four seats, Nehru wrote to him on 4 March saying: ‘In fact, it would strengthen your position much more if you lost a few seats to bonafide opponents.’

The book tries to understand the meaning of Kashmiri nationalism from the perspective of Afzal Guru, convicted and hanged for the attack on Indian Parliament. It takes the readers through the life of Afzal Guru and what nationalism meant to him and many like him. The details about his involvement in the parliament attack, how he got involved, how was his life before parliament attack and much more. It will give the readers a different perspective of the things the readers know about him.

It is not the two protagonist whose life and death (in case of Afzal Guru) the book is focused on. These two are the medium through which the author tells us the story of Kashmir and Kashmiri People and Kashmiri Nationalism. What it means to the people of Kashmiri and how the narrative has changed over the years. Though we get to know a lot about the lives of these two as well one of whom is a Kashmiri Pandit, a trade union leader and a firm believer of the Kashmiriyat. and the other, Afzal Guru who wanted to become a doctor but went on to become a militant, went across the border for arms training came back and then became disillusioned by it, arrested, convicted and finally hanged to death for his role in the Indian Parliament attack.

An insightful and informative read for anyone who wants to know about Kashmir and the meaning of Kashmiri nationalism, and its meaning has changed over the period.

About The Author

Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer, teacher, activist and writer. She has been instrumental in setting up the country’s first human rights courses at several universities. In 1983, she became the first person to challenge the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the Supreme Court. She successfully led the campaign for the acquittal of one of the people framed in the Indian Parliament attack case, and has been taking up the cause of migrant workers in the Northeast. Nandita’s published works include Demystification of Law for Women (1986); Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal: Patriotism in the Time of Terror (2009); Rogue Agent: How India’s Military Intelligence Betrayed the Burmese Resistance (2010); The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in North East India (with Sebastian Hongray, 2011); ABC of Naga Culture and Civilization (2011) and Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in North East India (2013) and Kuknalim: Naga Armed Resistance(With Sebastian Hongray, 2019).

Our Verdict

The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism is a brilliant book to understand the Kashmir’s modern history through the lives of two Kashmiri people. A must read for anyone who has interest in understanding the Kashmir conflict, its history and the present state of affairs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *