Random Recollection

How to ruin a paradise?

Yatindra Bhatnagar

Paradise can be made. Paradise can be ruined. The choice is there but it depends on your goals.

There could be greed. There could be zeal for religious expansion and conversion. Corruption is also one of the means to an end for power grab and sticking to it by any means, fair or foul. Perpetuating your own dynasty, without being a monarch, is yet another sure way to ruin a peaceful, beautiful place full of dreams. From Sheikh Abdullah to Farooq Abdullah to Omar Abdullah – this dynasty followed the Nehrus. Both ended in disaster for the state and the country.

Sometimes you become helpless. Sometimes you also go along with a ruthless, shortsighted somebody who fools you with his tactics.

All that and dirty politics ruined a paradise called Kashmir. Separatists were so much encouraged and pampered, armed infiltrators from Pakistan welcomed by some anti-national groups, and authority (Police and troops included) so much hated that it was a regular ‘ritual’ to throw stones at them. So much so that even a reporter of the prestigious daily newspaper like the Hindustan Times boasted to have joined such a rowdy group and himself pelted stones at the law enforcement people. On top of it, the paper printed that report of stone-throwing by its own reporter. It was disgusting and totally shameful.

National Flag hoisting had become a dangerous matter for years. A national leader like Murli Manohar Joshi (the then BJP President) had to be escorted by troops to hoist The Flag in the famous Lal Chowk in Srinagar, the Capital, on Republic Day, January 26, 1992.

Later, even in 2011, the BJP’s Youth wing leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and many others were arrested and prevented from entering Kashmir and hoisting the Tricolor. Said Sushma then: the flag burners are given protection and the flag hoisters are being arrested. Jaitley had said: since when hoisting the national flag has become illegal in our own country?

This happened in Kashmir, with the Congress government in power in India and Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister in J&K. Shameful, indeed.

The beautiful mountainous area called Jammu & Kashmir, including Ladakh, has been a paradise for centuries, the place where ancient sages wrote epics. The land where history of Hindu Kashmir was written and followed for centuries before Islam was even born.

As Subhamoy Das, the co-author of “Applied Hinduism: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World” wrote that the splendor and salubriousness of the Kashmir valley are legendary. The greatest of the Sanskrit poets, Kalidas, had written that Kashmir is more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness.

Yet another great, Kashmir’s greatest historian, Kalhan, called it the "best place in the Himalayas--a country where the sun shines mildly…"

The earliest history of the area dates back to Mahabharat era, some five thousand years back. Later, some 2500 years back, King Emperor Ashoka, who had become Buddhist, spread the new religion, an offshoot of ancient Hinduism, and the land became a great hub of Hindu-Buddhist religion and culture – the land of Shaivism and great scholars of repute. 

Legends have it that Rishi Kashyapa, the saint of antiquity, reclaimed the land of the Kashmir valley from a vast lake known as "Satisar", after the goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva.

In ancient times, this land was called "Kashyapamar" (after Rishi Kashyapa), but later that became Kashmir. The ancient Greeks called it "Kasperia," and the Chinese pilgrim Huen-Tsang who visited the valley in the 7th century AD called it “Kashimilo.”

The 19th century British historian, Sir Walter Lawrence, wrote about it: "The valley is an emerald set in pearls; a land of lakes, clear streams, green turf, magnificent trees and mighty mountains where the air is cool, and the water sweet, where men are strong, and women vie with the soil in fruitfulness."

Even after Islam was born and spread with invading armies, Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir lived in harmony for at least seven centuries. The Rishi tradition of Kashmiri Hindus and Sufi-Islamic way of life of Kashmiri Muslims not only co-existed, but they complemented each other and also created a unique ethnicity in which Hindus and Muslims visited the same shrines and venerated the same saints.

However, some of the Muslim invaders destroyed many Hindu shrines and thousands of Hindus were forced to embrace Islam.

After the Mughal rule of comparative peace and progress, a dark era of about 70 years started when Afghan despots ruled Kashmir. The combined Muslim rule lasted nearly five centuries, till Kashmir became a part of the Sikh empire of Punjab in 1819. It was to be later become a Dogra kingdom of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and formed the state of Jammu & Kashmir that lasted for another hundred years. [The modern state’s map was made by the British in the late 1880s.]

The conflict started with India’s Partition and Pakistan’s invasion of the state in 1947. The blunders of Nehru complicated the issues and subsequent developments gave rise to personal ambition, dynastic system, power grab, dreams of independence, Islamization, ethnic cleansing, corruption and terrorism.

On my several visits to Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh I found not only double standard but corruption and ethnic cleansing, tolerance for the separatists and lax administration that made incursion possible.

Article 370 and 17 A helped concentration of wealth in fewer hands, and alienation of the common people who did not get enough promised fruit of the Special Status.

On one of my visits I found lower rank government employees spending hundreds of rupees a day on gambling. How did they get that much money when their salaries were around 500 rupees a month?

The answer was: corruption.

Of course small amounts of money came from smaller favors like registration of motor vehicles, planting of trees (where you get money for hundred plants but actually plant five) etc. Big money went to big people like land grab (some by driving out Hindu-Pandits – there were half a million affected) or forced transfer of property.

That’s how an ordinary school teacher like Sheikh Abdullah became Sher-e-Kashmir and his family probably owner of half of Srinagar real estate. I heard that a huge mansion belonging to a Parsee businessman from Bombay attracted the attention of the Sheikh family and that Parsee ‘sold’ his property to Abdullah for a few thousand rupees (about less than a hundred dollars at that time.)

Another politician’s son forced even the central government’s All India Radio to give away a part of their own big yard, free of charge for the man’s so- called youth organization.

There are reports that almost all the separatist leaders’ children go to the best schools and colleges in the state, in the country, and in some foreign countries to get the best education (including for subversion, I suppose.) Where does that money come from? I can guess one source: Pakistan. 

Now since ‘anti-corruption Modi’ has taken steps to put the Jammu-Kashmir-Ladakh region on the right track, I hope one of his missions would be to put a stop to massive corruption that has made a few rich families filthy rich without known legitimate sources of income. A fit case for thorough investigation, indeed!

Only then the area known as Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh would again become the paradise. It was Paradise Lost, but we can have  Paradise Regained, for sure.