Friday, May 29, 2015

A museum and a mystic revive Sopore

Once described as the “chhota” (little) London for its prosperity, Sopore — encased by apple orchards — was virtually destroyed during the last two decades. Today, this town is regaining its spirit and one of the most remarkable features is the Meraas Mahal Museum, which captures Kashmir’s heritage and tradition.
The museum is the story of the indomitable audacity of one person. The first woman Director of Libraries in Kashmir, Atiqa Bano, established it over a decade ago, but it is only in the last of couple of years that it has become well-known. The museum describes itself as the “Centre for Preservation of Our Glorious Heritage”, and has an impressive collection of ornaments, papier mache, dresses, coins, manuscripts and paintings and traditional utensils.
As we sit with Atiqa ji in the nearby College of Education that she runs, her steely spirit is evident as she recounts the challenges she faced during the years of violent conflict, even as she serves us ‘sheekh kebabs’ and ‘noon chai’ (salted Kashmiri tea).
The traditional dresses are breathtaking. Both Pandit and Muslim Pherans, along with the accessories, are well preserved. What is evident is, however, that one woman’s extraordinary effort requires support and help, including perhaps the services of a professional curator.
She credits her “success” to the blessings of Ahad Sahib, the mystical saint of Sopore who passed away in 2010. While alive, there was no contemporary Sufi saint in Kashmir who invited such a large following across religions, and whose powerful gaze was often compared by his Hindu followers to the luminosity of Ramana Maharishi’s eyes. Today, Ahad Sahib’s former home includes a shrine where hundreds of devotees are seen every day.

Sopore is believed to have been named after Suyya, Kashmir’s cleverest engineer, who devised a novel way of dredging to prevent floods in the valley. Today, with the blessings of Ahad Sahib and the courage of persons like Atiqa Bano, Sopore may once again show the way.

(Source: The Hindu, 29 May 2015)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Blue is the colour of hope in Kashmir

If the colour of the holy spring at Kheer Bhawani at Tul Mul village in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district is good evidence, Kashmir may be on the cusp of a new beginning.
As thousands of devotees gathered at the annual mela of Kheer Bhawani, Kashmir’s largest Hindu festival (a gazetted holiday in the valley), the gentle interdependence and mutual respect that Pandits and Muslims have enjoyed for centuries was also on display.
The Pandits’ principal deities have mostly natural forms. Sharika is the holy hill at Hari Parbat adjoining the great fort that Akbar built, while Ragya is the spring at Tul Mul. And on Tuesday — under the bed of rose petals showered by the pilgrims — the water was a gentle aquamarine blue: the colour of hope and with the promise of a better future. My mother remembers the spring as dark purplish and then almost black in the troubled Nineties.
Yearning for reconciliation intense in Kashmir
As thousands of Pandits and other devotees prayed at the holy spring at Kheer Bhawani at Tul Mul village in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, there were Muslims too.
All the shops that sell the puja samagri — including the kands (sugar lumps), diyas, and agarbati — are run by Muslims. There were a range of stalls and service centres to help the devotees and provide free kehwa, luchi (a flat Kashmiri deep fried roti) and even lunch.
But perhaps the most striking was one run by Sameer Kaul and Suhail Ahmed. A Pandit and a Muslim, one teaching Computer Science and the other Management, both teachers of the Islamia College of Commerce, have been serving the “community” for more than the last decade. Their bond was one of a shared past that could lead to a new future.
I asked an elderly Muslim gentleman from downtown Srinagar why he was there. He said that he had been coming to Tul Mul for 40 years and added, with the proverbial Kashmiri sarcasm: Azkal cha Gaunah?” (Why, have they made it crime?).
Strictly vegetarian deity
Ragya is one of the few Pandit deities who is strictly vegetarian and who will not forgive those who enter her portals after a non-vegetarian meal.
In contrast, the prasad at Sharika is yellow rice with hot mutton liver curry and the priest even offers a sheep’s lungs to kites on the hill. But in deference to Ragya, every Muslim I met said that he would never enter the shrine’s compound after eating mutton, fish or fowl nor would anyone from the neighbourhood.

It was evident from the gathering at Kheer Bhawani that the yearning for reconciliation is intense on both sides and this year could be a game changer. Perhaps that is what the colour at the holy spring was telling us.
(Source: The Hindu, 27 May 2015)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interview: No magic mantra for Kashmiri Pandits to return — but their return reflects peace

In an interview with The Times of India, Professor Mattoo discussed the proposed return of Kashmiri Pandits, realistic steps forward, several levels of reconciliation required — and why it is in PM Modi’s interest to end draconian laws in the region:


How would you assess the proposed Pandit rehabilitation?
Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has gone through turmoil in the last 25 years and a certain state of instability since Independence. You now have perhaps — once the militancy’s ebbed — an attempt to create a climate for reconciliation which, in the case of J&K, means not just one but multiple processes.
You need reconciliation between Kashmiri Muslims and Delhi. For decades, Kashmiris have felt deeply alienated from the Centre’s policies. In the Valley, you need reconciliation between Pandits and Muslims. Everyone recognises they were faithful to a syncretic culture for centuries — but the gulf between them has widened.
Then, within the state, you need multiple reconciliations between the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh and within these regions, there are sub-regions.
Finally, there has to be reconciliation between two parts of Kashmir across the LoC. And, in a grand kind of reconciliation, we need to build foundations of India-Pakistan peace.

How can this be achieved realistically?
There is no magic mantra, no quick fix. No one has a solution that can be mechanically adopted. I think to believe, or create a mechanical construct of the perfect way for Pandits to return, is unreal — you require a dialogue between Pandits and Muslims at civil society level, so that you can arrive at an understanding. Then, state government and Delhi can facilitate whatever is arrived at.
I think no one has spoken to Pandits directly or to civil society in the Valley. Rather than impose solutions, you need consensus in an organic way — that would be a way of ensuring durable, sustainable return of Pandits with dignity.
The return would be one important marker of peace.

The PDP-BJP government appears confused over the issue — your view?
The government has been in office for just two months. The very attempt to form the government was an attempt at reconciliation.
PDP and BJP represent, in some ways, two extremes — to form a government with these extremes and arrive at a common agenda is also the basis of trying to address divergent aspirations.
You have to take a strategic long-term view.
Unfortunately, given that you have the glare of the media on every single move, whether tactical or incremental change, it is all put under a microscope.

Meanwhile, critics still point to draconian laws in the region.
Well, you need to address a genuine sense of insecurity in the Valley.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated he no longer wants to be just leader of a section of people but be seen as an international statesman — he wants to rise above partisan politics.
The greatest hallmark of his success would be durable peace in Kashmir.
One of the markers of it would also be withdrawal of all other extra legislations.

(Source: The Times of India , 25 May 2015)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Prof Mattoo at Oxford

Prof Mattoo delivered an address titled 'The Intellectual Legacy of Martin Ceadel' at Oxford University recently. Below is an abridged version of the speech.

It is the greatest honour to be invited to return to Oxford to celebrate the intellectual achievements of Martin Ceadel: as a scholar, as a teacher and, in my case, as a doctoral supervisor.

I completed my DPhil. in July 1992 and in all the 23 years since then I have neither met Martin nor been in contact with him. I cannot claim to be a friend of Martin’s and our social relationship – during my almost four years at Oxford – was limited to a wonderful dinner at Debby and Martin’s lovely home with, if I remember right, Avi Shlaim (the great scholar of the Middle East), where I was first introduced to the culinary joys of a delectable savoury ice cream as a starter.  Martin also invited my wife Ajita and me to lunch at New College after I successfully defended my D.Phil. thesis where, for the first time, both for him and for me, we polished off a bottle of sauvignon blanc in the afternoon.  But that was it! 
Before it began, I had thought my Oxford journey would be merely a respite from what I imagined would be an arduous career in the Indian civil service. But Oxford and Martin Ceadel changed all that.  The civil service seemed too stifling a career, the seductive world of ideas that I had been introduced to at Oxford seemed much more fulfilling and attractive.

I moved back to India, resigned from the civil service, became a leader writer for two dailies, and then tried to straddle what then seemed the Manichean worlds of academia and public policy.

 I am a Kashmiri. My family lived in the Himalayan valley, which had imploded while I was at Oxford. Unlike many others, they had stayed on! War and peace were not distant conceptual issues; they were part of a daily struggle to survive, to recover what we had lost and part of a gigantic mission to build peace, aman, shanti – call it what you will.  There was no choice between the theory of peace building and the praxis of peace building.  My world continues to be one in which I use my ideas to intervene in policy. In contrast, Martin Ceadel never left what seemed to be the ivory tower world of academia. In fact I remember when a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament activist, after hearing Martin Ceadel’s clinical narrative of the history of the British peace movement, here at Oxford at the Friends Meeting House at 43 St Giles, exclaimed in horror, at the end of the talk: “How can you be so dispassionate?”

And yet, ironically – some may say – through all these years, I have always considered Martin Ceadel my intellectual guru, in every sense of the term. A guru in the Vedic Sanskrit tradition is more than just a teacher, more than a role model.  A guru is an embodiment of the highest virtues of scholarship, one who gives without asking, one who shares without demanding reciprocity, one whose intellectual generosity knows no selfish emotion. Martin Ceadel was and will remain, I repeat, my guru. I say this not in in any rhetorical way, or because the occasion demands that we be positive about Martin, but because through all these years that I have navigated the minefield of South Asian politics and particularly the issues of war and peace that we are confronted with every day in the region, the writings of Martin Ceadel have given me great clarity.  While Martin’s writings have been firmly located in British and, to an extent, European history, there are universal truths – and I use the term “truths” knowing very well how loaded it is – to his understanding and analysis which apply as much to South Asia as to the larger international system.

So when Jonathan sent an email to me at Melbourne on the “outside chance”, inviting me to be part of this colloquium, I said yes in the blink of an eye. There would be other engagements, other calls, but this was an occasion that I could not miss. I made it clear that I would not have the time to make an academic presentation, but that I did want to reflect, a little self-indulgently perhaps, on aspects of Martin’s work as a teacher and a supervisor, as a student of the British peace movements and as a scholar of war and peace.

Let me begin by focusing on what I would argue was Martin Ceadel’s seminal contribution to scholarly thinking about the issues of war and peace, Thinking about peace and war,which was published in 1987 by OUP, and then as an OPUS paperback in 1989.  OPUS books then (with the triumvirate of Keith Thomas, Alan Ryan and Walter Bodmer as general editors) were intended to provide concise and original introductions to a diverse range of subjects. Experts wrote them for students and for the general reader. For me, Thinking about peace and war was a path-breaking study. It influenced and continues to influence generations of those academics and practitioners who are engaged with the fundamental question that Martin asked in the book: “Why do people disagree about war prevention?” Although Martin saw and sees himself more as a historian and less a theoretician, the book preempted much of the theoretical work in International Relations of the 1990s and of the first decade of this century, including the latest variants of realism, liberalism and even constructivism.  Of course, as you will recall, in the appendix of the book, Martin had critiqued Martin Wright’s typologies (for being “unnecessarily complicated as well as for being neither readily understood nor easily memorable”) as well as Kenneth Waltz more gently, arguing that the latter’s Man, the State and War belonged to the “category of philosophical works rather than those able to elucidate everyday debates about war and peace”.

Although derived primarily from Martin’s solid archival research into the history of the British peace movement and European wars, Thinking about peace and war for me was a critical aid to understanding the debates about war and peace in South Asia (beyond the crude realism that seemed to define the discourse of our times).  No less importantly, it helped me to advise several Indian leaders as theysought to engage Pakistan in a sustained, but ill-fated, process of reconciliation and war-prevention.

In Thinking about peace and war, Martin Ceadel pointed out incisively that in order to understand the “underlying dynamics of the war and peace debate it is essential to probe deeper, as in domestic politics, to the ideological level”. Without this deeper understanding of ideological motivations, Martin pointed out, the war and peace debate is conceptually stunted. In the book, as we all know, Martin examined the competition between five war and peace theories: militarism, crusading, defencism, pacific–ism, and pacifism (in its optimistic and mainstream version).  This typology was analyzed along two dimensions: attitude towards force, and doctrinal content – that is, means and ends. Having dealt thoroughly with the content of each theory, in his concluding chapters Martin analyzed the determinants of the debate, focusing both on political culture and strategic situation.

While Martin’s book was written when there were few signs that the Cold War was ending, it is a tribute to his scholarship that this typology, suitably customized, was most useful in understanding issues of war and peace in nuclear South Asia. I have used Martin’s study to arrive at an understanding of India's and Pakistan's  strategic culture for  my academic s well as my policy papers. Indeed, to move the debate beyond the poverty of the realist/liberal debate.  If only some of these papers were declassified, the tremendous influence of Martin’s work beyond this island would become clear.

As a student of the British peace movement, Martin Ceadel has no equal.  Each of his four books is essential reading for students of contemporary British history.
·      Pacifism in Britain, 1914–1945: The defining of a faith (1980)
·      The origins of war prevention: The British peace movement and international relations, 1730–1854(1996)
·      Semi-detached idealists: The British peace movement and international relations, 1854-1945(2000)
·      Living the great illusion: Sir Norman Angell, 1872–1967 (2009)
They are not just models of rigorous archival research, but exceptional in being able to weave common threads though two centuries of British peace activism. But as with the finest scholarship, they have wider implications, lessons – but in no didactic fashion – for the world that confronts us today. As we face a rising China – and that rise is starkly obvious in the two countries where I live most of the time, India and Australia – it is increasingly clear that sustainable peace built on the fact of economic integration and interdependence, may turn out to be another great illusion, as much a chimera today as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century.

As a supervisor, Martin was the reason I finished my D.Phil. in just under four years.  I started out wanting to study the contemporary British peace movement, greatly influenced by the writings of the charismatic Marxist historian E. P. Thompson, and inspired by Frank Parkin’s Middle class radicalism: projects, in hindsight, that could have lasted decades! It was Martin who suggested I write a history of the re-emergence, growth and decline of the CND in the 1990s. He thought – wisely – that I, as a total outsider, could, for want of a better word, “infiltrate” the CND, not in a Michael Heseltine way but as a participant observer, and gain access to the archives of the organizations at the national and local level.  Which I did.  My central thesis, which explored the tensions between the organization’s absolutism (psychologically essential to generate activism) and the prudence or pragmatism that would widen its popular base, remains as true of the CND then as it does now of numerous other causes across the world.

As a supervisor, Martin was demanding but always patient. Every month I would see him in his New College study with a draft chapter sent to him a day in advance. Every half-baked argument was challenged, every split infinitive corrected. He could be fierce in his criticism (“This reads like a CND pamphlet”) but always encouraging and optimistic (“I think we are almost there”). It is his supervisory style that I have used as a model. Begin writing from day one, no matter how unsure you are. The more you write, the better you will get at it. Every argument, flawed as it may be initially, will get more rigorous and more sophisticated with each iteration. I wrote about 10 drafts of each chapter. But my first draft was written in my first month at Oxford, when I could barely expand on the acronym CND.

For 23 years, I said, I have had no contact with Martin Ceadel. And yet I am wrong!  Each time I have grappled with an intellectual or policy problem (ranging from violence in Kashmir, to nuclear deterrence, to the India-Pakistan conflict, to the rise of China), or indeed each time I have tackled a difficult student, I have gone back to what Martin Ceadel taught me, to how he taught me and to his own writings which are a source of continuing inspiration to me. That is the reason I am here. For I could think of no other way I could pay tribute to a great teacher.
Thank you Martin Ceadel!

Thank you very much for inviting me!