Between strife and the pandemic: How has Kashmir been writing and publishing books?
“During the ’90s, we used to hide all the literature on Kashmir – particularly the books on politics and religion – in a small trunk that was later buried and dug out every now and then,” said Tahir Iqbal (name changed to protect identity), a medical student from Handwara, a town in North Kashmir. “We were afraid that if such literature was found, it would always bring trouble to its owners.”
Personal libraries have long been important part of Kashmiri households, with the number of books indicating the class and social status of the owner. Often passed down from the careful collections of fathers and grandfathers, these libraries symbolise the struggle for education that remains closely connected to the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir.
The history of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir has been punctuated by the presence of other regimes across the centuries, ranging from Mughal and Afghan rulers to Sikh and Dogra ones. The large population of natives were exploited and Kashmiri Muslims, in particular, who formed the majority of peasants and working class, were deprived of access to education, socio-economic growth, and political rights.
Through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a mere handful of schools and colleges were set up across the region by the Dogra rulers. Kashmiri Pandits gained wide access to these institutions, gradually establishing a dominance over literacy, learning, wealth and social status.
This growth came at a time when Muslims had just begun to gain entry into educational institutions. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, the literacy rate among Kashmiri Muslims barely amounted to one percent, explaining their glaring absence from higher institutions of teaching and administration.
In the 1930s, a struggle began where the demand for education was knotted together in the resistance against the feudalism of the Dogra regime. The All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, formed in 1932, which became the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference in 1939, promised social and economic justice to the people of the region. Led by Sheikh Abdullah, it prepared a draft of the future constitution of the state that promised education to the masses and land to the landless peasants, among other rights.