Tuesday, November 17, 2009

History’s Stepchildren

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice ~Mark Twain

When it snows in Europe at night, for centuries children have bunched up near fireplaces to listen to the Cinderella story from grandparents on a rocking chair. It is a classic folk tale about a stepchild – Cinderella -- whose attributes are neither appreciated nor recognized. And how she achieves success after long bouts of darkness. Near to home we have a similar tragic fairy tale unfolding in the absurdly beautiful twin valleys of Chenab and Peer Panchal -- the step-children in the chequered history of Kashmir.

The Muslim divisions of Jammu have become a mere oversight in the estimation of all wise men -- historians, journalists and intellectuals. They are lost in the loud chatter on Kashmir. Largely overlooked because of the tendency of academicians to concentrate on the Kashmir conflict, the people living amidst the magnificent fir and deodar forests of Chenab and Peer Panchal valleys have suffered too much for too long. Excluded from all public discourse, they are only in news because of deadly traffic accidents.

There is a little nugget of history to the disconnect. The LoC of 1949 vivisects JK roughly into two equal parts. India and Pakistan’s joint military conference sat in the July of that year to draw the line, on a simple rag of a map. The etchings, needless to add, still draw blood 60 years on. Out of six distinct geographically linguistic and cultural regions of the state, three [Baltistan, Muzaffarabad-Poonch and Mirpur] came into the hands of Pakistan. All predominantly Muslim. The territory of Poonch including outskirts of Poonch town fell on the Pakistan side while the town itself remained with India. Two million unheard voices continue to live in the truncated Chenab and Peer Panchal.

Chenab valley comprises of Ramban, Doda and Kishtwar on both banks of the river Chenab. Pir Panchal valley in located on the west-end of JK and includes Rajauri, Poonch and parts of Reasi, mainly Gool-Gulabgarh. These are thickly forested hills. The timber found in them is among the best in whole of Himalayas. Kistwar produces gemstones and better quality Saffron than Kashmir [All we remember them for are old hags, Pity!] Reasi is mineral rich with high grade bauxite, iron and copper. The walnuts of Doda have no takers. We have long discarded them.

Both Chenab and Peer Panchal valleys continue to grovel in darkness. That is a shame. They are our people in culture and faith. Most people in these valleys are Muslims and speak Kashmiri. And they continue to remain backward – economically, educationally and otherwise. The road infrastructure and the tourism infrastructure is the poorest in JK. Jammu, paradoxically, likes to lump these valleys [for their population] with it just to score brownies in that never-ending shallow provincial squabble with Kashmir. There is no real sense of affinity.

It is an administrative skew as much as it is political. Doda is like Kashmir in many ways than one. It receives snowfall during winters but schools are entitled to summer vacation and not winter vacation, because ‘administratively’ it forms part of the Jammu region. Politically the Muslims of Jammu favored independence during the heady days of Abdullah-I’s quit Kashmir flux -- in contrast to Sheri-Kashmir's clear tilt towards India. NC’s very genesis had been valley-centric, never finding a great foothold in Jammu. It does not come as a surprise thus that subsequent NC governments – as well as Congress administrations – stayed at best indifferent to Chenab and Peer Panchal valleys.

In olden times Rajauri was the capital of the Kashmir Kingdom that ushered in a halcyon and bountiful era. The Pakistanis, when they took control of the other half of Kashmir, quickly realized that among all Kashmiris -- Poonchis make the finest fighting material. They are hardened, driven and unbreakable folks. Yet our media rarely features them. The Hurriyet boss Mirwaiz graced Chenab -- last week -- for the first time ever. Meantime the government's blasé attitude continues.

We cannot afford to let them down. We cannot afford to let their history and heroes remain unsung. We must not let them fall through the cracks.

In the end Cinderella returned to the palace where she married the Prince. Time we hug our castaway brothers.