Book Review: Resurrecting Unsung Heroes of Kashmir

Cover Images of English and Urdu editions of the book | Courtesy Zahir ud Din

Kashmir's history is contested as much as its territory. Zahir ud Din's book resurrects those men and women who are erased from mainstream history and are not even found in the footnotes of contemporary historical narratives. 

I grew up in the nineties in Kashmir. It was the worst of times and it was the best of times. For me and many like me, history wasn’t a boring school textbook to be pored over and memorized – the history of Kashmir was an alive reality, which we experienced every day. We were told by our elders, some of whom are still among with us - that we were born in history. History was right upon us. Kashmir was made in the nineties, they would say. We were growing up amidst heroes, they insisted.

All this was true except that there was a disconnect.

For many years, I was of the view that the entire Kashmir’s history, or at least the best part of it, was when I was born (in the early nineties) and continues till today. Our entire education, done at schools where lessons at history strangely stopped at 1947, didn’t teach us the history of people of Jammu and Kashmir. Author and senior journalist Zahir ud Din’s book Gumshuda Sitarey and Bouquet: Unsung Heroes of Kashmir and his entire oeuvre has been to correct this wrong, inflicted on our collective memory by successive regimes of power.

This book helps us, the generation of the nineties, to locate ourselves in a tradition of resistance laid down by men like Allah Rakha Sagar, Abd us Salam Rafiqi, Ghulam Nabi Gilkar, Dr. Ghulam Qadir Wani and others. It helps connect our historical struggle in the present – in contrast with the widely circulated belief that the nineties was a rapturous moment when Kashmir erupted in an unprecedented call for freedom. This book shows that resistance was going on much much before that – in the eighties with luminaries like Dr. Ayub Thakur and Dr. Ghulam Qadir Wani at the forefront, or in the sixties and seventies through men like Ghulam Nabi Gilkar and even before that during the 1930s with men like Abdus Salam Rafique and others.

Zahir ud Din’s work is an attempt at bringing forth a revisionist history of this battered place that has been not only neglected by mainstream historians but left to decay by academics as no scholarly work has been carried out on these men and the histories they represent.

At a historically opportune time like this, when contestations over Kashmir’s history have sparked controversial debates, Zahir ud Din’s book throws a beam of light on men and women who have been forgotten in the crevices of history. Kashmir is not just an internationally known armed conflict, it’s a battlefield of history. Competing narratives on our past, present, and future are always seen vying for space and legitimacy and this book is a brave attempt at staking a claim on Kashmir’s past and thereby its present and future.

At a time when sections of our society have embraced alien ideas of resistance and rubbished Kashmir’s indigenous struggle for freedom, this book presents them with a challenge. I believe its only when we let our history challenge us and our accepted political beliefs can we be empowered. Zahir ud Din’s book empowers by offering a history of these ignored men and women, whose legacy – in one way or the other we have inherited. In order to move forward, we need to embed these narratives of brave and courageous people into our present and infuse it with confidence.

This book teaches us that for a people resisting occupation, history is power. This book teaches us that history is not some textbook which children should memorize at school but a successive progression of events in the lives of ordinary men and women who contest and struggle against hegemonic political beliefs. Zahir ud Din’s book is a testament to the fact that Kashmir’s resistance movement is rich and diverse and he has done a commendable job by bringing it to us. What remains to be done now and perhaps as a cue for young historians and writers is to take this historical narrative forward by investing their intellectual labour in further producing narratives of alternative history.

We must remember that Kashmir still only is a blip at the international radar of conflicts. Zahir ud Din’s book should serve as an optimistic sign that all is not lost and that preservation is resistance also. We must write our way to freedom.♦

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