Why Kishtwar violence won't fracture the Sufi legacy that unites Kashmir

On the day of Eid-al Fitr, violence of a communal nature visited Kishtwar - a district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This was preceded by sectarian disturbances in Budgam - another district of the state.

These disturbances given their communal and sectarian overtones were rather unheard of in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. That these are rearing their head in a state known for and defined by values of tolerance , interfaith harmony and amity is alarming. However, the reassuring factor is that these incidents may, in the final analysis constitute aberrations and not really disturb and fragment the multi cultural and multi denominational fabric of the state. This assertion warrants elaboration: it naturally takes into a a digression and tour of the nature of Islam in Kashmir.

 Why Kishtwar violence wont fracture the Sufi legacy that unites Kashmir

Representational image. Reuters

The defining feature of the society of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is Sufi Islam. It was in a 1400 AD that wandering, itinerant Sufis arrived in Kashmir, a scenic, placid place ruled and governed by Hindu and Buddhist rulers. A dialogue between the Sufi variant of Islam and the reigning ideologies and beliefs ensued.

Gradually but inexorably Sufi Islam transformed both the outlook and the beliefs of both the rulers and the ruled. Sufi Islam became the way of life for a majority of the peoples of the valley. This process was non-conflicting and dialogic. The spiritual quest as defined by Sufism was held to be universal with different means to the same end: nearness and even union with the Ultimate Reality.

This found a resonance in the minds, hearts and spiritual geography of the people of Kashmir and people almost en mass became Muslims. The ethical, spiritual and ideational superstructure of the then Kashmiri society, its value system was not disturbed by these wandering Sufis but integrated with the corpus of Islamic beliefs and faith. The Buddhist or Hindu method or way of incantation was not touched but improvised upon and people were allowed chanting verses of the Quran or other recipes derived from the Quran collectively and in unison. Those that did not convert were not forced to accept Islam and live amicably and peacefully with the dominant Muslim majority. There is not a single record of forced conversions or hostility towards minorities. A uniquely syncretic and tolerant culture evolved with a Sufi and spiritual ingress. The political convulsions that Kashmir historically underwent did not disturb or throw into question this paradigm.

This paradigm held and endured for centuries so much so that it constitutes superstructure and sub-structure, value and belief system of the people of Kashmir. Even the painful and aberrant interlude of militancy in the state- a convoluted chapter in the history of the state that is now coming to close did not interrupt or throw into disarray this paradigm.. All in all then Kashmir was, continued to be and is wedded to the tolerant, syncretic and inclusive strain of Sufi Islam.

What then explains the latest sectarian disturbances in Kashmir? Is Kashmiri society moving toward a new paradigm and frontier? Are Kashmir’s traditional values defined by an ingress of Sufi values being supplanted by more radical and extreme ones? Does the fate of Kashmir hang in a precarious balance on account of these? The answer to these questions is a resounding ‘NO’. What undergirds this response?

The evolutionary dynamic of societies and the deep path dependence of culture-a set of iterated and institutionalized expectations over time- suggest that cultural change is difficult even when it is incremental. This does not mean that cultures are static and never change but that the philosophical sediments underlying and overlaying cultures are deep and profound and resistant to change. The same holds true for Kashmir. The legacy of Sufism and the social and cultural philosophy this has spawned in Kashmir is profound. Its tentacles are deep and widespread. No amount of dislocation and disruption can affect such change in Kashmir that it destroys the sub and superstructure of Kashmiri culture defined by Sufism.

This explanation, however, leaves unexplained the reasons for the recent sectarian disturbances in the state. The sectarian disturbances and the latent anger in Kashmiri society that manifests itself from time to time could be said to accrue from the transition that Kashmiri society is making at a range of levels-political, social and economic. Kashmir is emerging from the detritus of conflict and is making a transition to a post conflict society which axiomatically entails changes at systemic and sub systemic levels. Transition points can be painful and lead to ungainly behaviour in some quarters-either those left behind by the gale of change or those hurt by it. This may account for the recent sectarian clashes in Kashmir which, by the way, have not become a trend. These are isolated incidents and there is no pattern to these.

Kashmir was and continues to be informed by the values of tolerance, inclusiveness and pluralism-all accruing from the legacy of Sufism. This is woven indelibly into Kashmiri collective conscious and unconsciousness. The Sufis left their mark on Kashmir and its is well nigh impossible to erase. Kashmiri society has witnessed difficult times and even these did not affect the tone and tenor of Sufi Islam in Kashmir. In fact, under conditions of extreme stress, it was to Sufism that Kashmiris turned to as a coping up mechanism. The recent disturbances are in the nature of a blip and constitute teething problems in times of transition. Sufism and the Sufi legacy and the attendant values of tolerance and pluralism constitute the determinative influence on the Kashmiri psyche. This is time worn and time tested. The Kashmiri psyche will not fracture and fragment under any influence or stress. In fact, it is the values of Sufi Islam that will help Kashmiris grasp the future with vigour.

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Updated Date: Aug 20, 2013 17:22:21 IST