Kashmir: From Orient to the State of Exception



Historically the global imagination has often reflected on Kashmir, the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom, through scenes of colonial idyll, wilderness, and romance. This imagery was fine tuned through works like “Lalla Rookh: An Oriental Romance” a poem written in 1817 by the English poet Thomas Moore. Photographs from the bygone era are replete with soft verdant valleys, majestic peaks capped with snow, white water rivers forcefully rushing down the mountains, wild flowers, gazelles and gentle lambs. An odd native or two may be seen lurking, but they are shown in service of the Sahibs, an honorific title for Englishmen. Kashmir has always been a tragic beauty. When the star of Western colonial power was in full ascendancy, Kashmir was being handed over from one tyrannical rule to the next. In 1846 the British colonists sold the valley along with its sprawling provinces to the Hindu Dogra kings. The Dogras remained in the British protectorate and were annually required to present the crown with one horse, twelve shawl goats, and three pairs of the finest Kashmiri shawls. This historic treaty included the sale of not only the land but also its people. The hundred years of Dogra rule were ruthless. While the colonial travellers eulogized Kashmir’s rejuvenating natural beauty, leisure-inspiring environs, and deep solitude, the natives who were mostly poor and broken under tyrannical rule were amply admonished for their primitiveness and general aura of servitude. But the Kashmiris, even when burdened by centuries of de-facto slavery, also had the hallmark resilience of people fighting for identity. By the early 19th century, while India was fighting to oust the British, Kashmiri’s were fighting to overthrow the Dogra monarch, which by 1944 congealed into the famed Quit Kashmir movement. And that was then.