Masked men of Kishtwar

The anger of a lost generation threatens the idea of J&K

Known in the past as the land of sapphires and saffron, Kishtwar today is a metaphor for the larger collapse of the idea of Jammu and Kashmir. Once, the state's greatest strength was its rich cultural, linguistic, religious and geographical diversity. Today, as most of these identities have morphed into shrill, polarised and communally charged monsters, the real danger to J&K is from within. Unless the nation acts today, the state is sure to implode tomorrow. For, much of what we are witnessing is a consequence of the warped and short-sighted policies of the Centre and the state.

Kishtwar, contrary to the instant commentaries that have appeared in the press, was not always a communal cauldron. I went there first as a child, only a few months old, in 1962, and stayed on till 1964. My father was posted as a divisional forest officer and as a young married couple, some of my parents' best memories are from their time in Kishtwar: picnics in the great meadow, the chowgan, driving along the mighty Chenab and the warmth and simplicity of the Kishtwari people. Every year, they went on horseback for the two-day yatra of Sri Sarthal Deviji, 30 kilometres from Kishtwar, and all the logistics from the horses and the tents to the food were arranged by the Kishtwari Muslims. Unlike the adjoining (the more developed and literate) Bhaderwah, there was virtually no communal tension, and as the sun set, everyone would rush home, lest the mythical dayans (witches with twisted feet) of the town preyed on them. There was harmony, a gentle togetherness and a resilience that prevailed until militancy overwhelmed the state in the 1990s. Indeed, in the 1960s, Kishtwar's greatest singer and poet, Ghulam Nabi Doolwal (Jaanbaaz) wrote what was his most popular song: "Maanun tse peyee, sahib chhu kunuyee, yaa yetti maanun yaa taetti maanun (Accept you must that the lord is the same, whether you accept it here or you accept it there)."

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