Published On: Mon, Mar 10th, 2014

Crimean Tartars and Kashmiri Students

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By Dr Syed Nazir Gilani –

William Wakefield a medical officer in the service of Her Majesty the Queen of England visited Kashmir Valley in summer of 1875. He examined the manners and customs of the inhabitants very closely and came out with exceedingly candid but harsh commentary.

Out of all other observations about Kashmir, he writes in his book “The Happy Valley: Sketches of Kashmir and the Kashmiris” published in June 1879, “And Kashmir is a theme well worthy of a poet. Nowhere in Asia, nor even perhaps in the remaining quarters of the globe, can the parallel be found of such an earthly paradise; a paradise in itself as formed by Nature, but made doubly beautiful by its surroundings. For these are bare, rugged and frowning rocks, a wilderness of crags and mountains, whose lofty summits tower to the sky in their cold and barren grandeur-a solitary and uninhabitable waste. Yet in the midst of this scene of unutterable desolation there lies spread out a wide expanse of verdant plain, a smiling valley, a veritable jewel in Nature’s own setting of frightful precipices, everlasting snows, vast glaciers, which while adding to its beauty by the contrast, serve also as its protection”.

Wakefield could not be accused of any personal bias against Kashmiris when he records that, “In character the Kashmiris have some good qualities but these are outnumbered by their failings and faults. They are the most inveterate liars to be met with in the East, and that means a good deal in part of the world where the inhabitants generally seem to imbibe the talent of lying with their mother’s milk”.

An over all record of habits and manners of many other nations around the globe may possibly help us to find our kins and help us not to feel discriminated against. Historically inherited and carried forward manners and habits are correctable, if these form part of the text books taught in our schools, colleges and universities. It is disappointing that Kashmir history is not drenched in the ink which could have helped us to map our present mannerism and habits with those recorded by non-Kashmiri observers.

One principal cause for being specified as “inveterate liars” may have been the instrument of oppression and slavery used against these people. Wakefield’s reference to Kashmiri dress makes an interesting read. He writes, “For this (dress sense), however, they are not to blame. In ancient days they possessed a distinct and more appropriate costume, which was forbidden by the emperor Akbar after his conquest of the Valley, about the end of the sixteenth century, and replaced by his order by the present dress, which from that time has undergone no material change or alteration”.

There is a consolation in time and we have moved 139 years into recent times from the point marked by Wakefield in 1875. However, one cannot deny the fact that history and community identity seems to live nearby at all times. The question of Crimean’s of Russian origin and the question of Tartar Muslims in Ukraine is the fresh example.

Lawmakers in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region voted on Thursday, 6 March, 2014 in favour of leaving Ukraine for Russia, which already has the Black Sea peninsula under de facto control. The Crimean parliament also voted to hold a referendum on the move in 10 days’ time. Residents of Crimea will face a simple choice: Stay in Ukraine or join Russia. It’s not clear how easily the region could split off if the referendum endorses the move.

The autonomous region has a 60 percent ethnic Russian population, having been part of Russia until it was ceded to Ukraine in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. But not everyone may be as keen on coming under Moscow’s direct influence. A quarter of the peninsula’s population is Ukrainian and about 12 percent Crimean Tatars, a predominantly Muslim group which has suffered oppression under former Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The parliament in Crimea installed a new, pro-Moscow government late last month after pro-Russian armed men took control of the building. It had previously said a referendum would be held at the end of the month on greater autonomy for Crimea.

The ethnic Tartar Muslims have bitter memories of deportation in 1945 by Stalin and groups like Right Sector in Crimea, C14 and 88 (Hail Hitler) in Crimea have started marking the homes of these Tartar Muslims, taking them back to a painful reminder of 1945. The Crimean Tatars were forcibly expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s government. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars began to return to the region in early 1991. Tatars have started fleeing Crimea for western Ukraine.

Putin, the Russian President, has insisted that Russia has the right to use military force in Ukraine if necessary to protect ethnic Russians. Expert around the world are of a firm opinion that whatever the result of the referendum to join Russia, it may be meaningless. “It does not follow that if Crimea votes to join Russia, that anyone will accept it.” Michael Crawford, a former long-serving British ambassador in Eastern Europe has cautioned that “For Russia to start cherry-picking bits of the former Soviet Union, cranking up referenda in Kazakhstan or Latvia or wherever you like, to try to carve off bits, would be against international law, and it would be something Vladimir Putin has said he doesn’t want to do.”

A close parallel could be drawn between the Tartars of Crimea leaving for western Ukraine for safety and the decision of UP police (decision later suspended) to invoke sedition charges against 67 Kashmiri students of Meerut University, because they allegedly cheered the Pakistani cricket team during last Sunday’s Asia Cup one-day match. As a start, India of 2014 should not be a place for this law once used by British in early 1860 to strangulate the resistance movement. It was barbaric reprisal and colonial manner to control the mutineers (as described under this law). India after independence has taken a herculean turn to protect its citizens and others resident in India for their freedom of speech under Article 19(1) and 19 (2).

Sedition law remains on the statute books because governments find it a convenient instrument to silence opposition or even to appeal to extremist constituencies. It’s easy to use when you want to throw the book at someone. In the Kashmiri students case the use of this law is ludicrous, abuse of law and it could not withstand legal scrutiny. There would hardly be a saner soul in any part of India who would not feel perturbed by the mind-set that has reflexed into action to invoke sedition charges against Kashmiri students. The charges may have been revoked but all these students and many others around the country face a ‘marked’ unsafe future. The action of the police and the complement of expulsion have helped the case of extremist constituencies all over India.

UP Police action and the loss of institutional judgement by the Meerut University have evoked a general rejection and disdain of every school of opinion in the Valley in particular. The action in New Delhi may have been encouraging but the case points to a serious fault line in the mind set when it comes to deal with a situation associated with Kashmir (Valley). India and Pakistan have both been exposing these fault lines and their self-serving politics is even more ludicrous.

The response by the Foreign Office of Pakistan stating, “We know that Kashmiris celebrated Pakistan’s victory as they always do. Even in Indian media there were reports that the celebrations continued the whole night. There were reports that some 67 Kashmiri students were expelled. I do not have corroborated information but if these Kashmiri-students wish to come and pursue their studies in Pakistan, our hearts and our academic institutions are open to them,” (Foreign Office Press Briefing on 6.3.2014) may be regarded as inevitable and satisfying to one or many schools of opinion in Kashmir, yet it is unhelpful and unenduring. It is superficial and depleted old politics.

Pakistan has to address the question of over 2.5 million Kashmir refugees (five generations) living in PaK and Pakistan since 1947 and the overall question of Kashmiri students who are presently studying in various institutions in Pakistan and reportedly some have been facing harassment (as Indian agents) in these institutions. Government of Pakistan needs to update its census on the number of Kashmiri youth and look beyond the expulsion of 67 Kashmiri students to the actual figure that may require, not only the “opening of its heart and the heart of its institutions,” but the opening of hearts and institutions of 57 Muslim countries and all the member countries of the United Nations.

Indian Government has a duty to ensure that Kashmiri students and other citizens of the State, resident in various parts of India are not ‘scapegoated’ by the extremist constituencies, whether vocal or lying dormant in the administration. India is a party to the dispute of this habitat and has taken upon a specified role to defend the territory and protect the life, property and honour of its people. India needs to make a choice between mutiny-era laws and its constitutional values. Indian authorities must make young Kashmiris more welcome when they study in other parts of the country.

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