Making A Difference

Mindless Censors

A book critical of Pakistan's role in J&K is held up by the customs

Mindless Censors
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What is the rationale for banning books or blocking their distribution? It is a question the bureaucracy prefers not to answer. Recently, Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh had to be taken off the bookshelves after the Home Ministry ordered that its distribution be put on hold until they had read the book and taken a decision. The final verdict is still awaited.

 Now, a book on Kashmir, Reclaiming the Past? The Search for Political and Cultural Unity in Contemporary Jammu and Kashmir by Vernon Hewitt, has been blocked by the customs authorities. The book examines the Jammu and Kashmir problem historically and as it has developed since 1947, right up to the present mess.

 But what is unusual about the book is the way it looks at Pakistan's policy on Kashmir since Partition, its role in the Valley today and, most importantly, the way it has administered Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). It comes down hard on Pakistan for its claims on Kashmir. For instance, in the introduction, the author says: "The counter-factual claim that Kashmiri interests would have been better served within Pakistan flies in the face of considerable difficulties Pakistan has faced with her own minorities." It points out how Pakistani provinces had faced difficulties since 1947 from an "over-bearing and nondemocratically constituted centre".

Hewitt flays Islamabad's motives in keeping the Kashmir issue on the boil: "The fact is that Pakistan's power groups have little incentive to bring about a solution in Kashmir, because the moment a solution arrives the very reason for the existence of Pakistan becomes questionable."

This is not to say that Hewitt spares India. Published in 1995, the book critically looks at the Indian handling of the Kashmir issue, pointing out the mistakes made over the years, not forgetting the post-1983 state elections, when Farooq Abdullah was sacked by Indira Gandhi's government and an unpopular G.M. Shah appointed in his place as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. The elections which followed four years later, were widely believed to have been rigged to favour the National Conference-Congress combine, alienating the Valley, whose long-standing grievance was that New Delhi controlled things in the strategic border state over which India and Pakistan had fought two wars. He goes into detail about the contentious issue of Article 370, arguing that following the 1956 constitution of the state, which declared it to be an integral part of India, New Delhi missed "a golden opportunity to abolish Article 370 and in a period of relative calm integrate the state outright, whatever embarrassment this would have caused internationally". The global ramifications of the Kashmir dispute and the American and western stands are also discussed at length by the author.

The odd thing about the book not being available is that no one knows why it has been blocked by the customs authorities. It obviously has to do with Indian sensitivity on Kashmir. Several leading booksellers in Delhi, who did not want to be named, said that about two years ago the Home Ministry had issued orders that any book on Kashmir should be routinely sent to them before it was released. "But once it is sent to them, it never comes back because no one reads it there," said a bookseller. He added that there was no particular order against this book, but they had not heard from the Home Ministry.

Officials in the Ministry of External Affairs and the Home Ministry were not even aware of the existence of the book. A senior Home Ministry official denied that any order was issued to booksellers and distributors to get all books on Kashmir whetted. But he said he was not aware if the Department of Jammu and Kashmir had issued such an order. He, however, mentioned a book on Pakistan by Paula Newberg, which had been held up by the customs authorities, but was finally released after the department read it.

Speaking of POK, Hewitt says the Kashmiris there "feel threatened by Punjabi, Pathani and Mohajir interests. The case is the same for the Northern Territories (in Pakistan), an area which has never enjoyed any significant autonomy from Islamabad; since 1947 the people of these territories have been deprived of adult franchise and any kind of democratic right at a national level". Referring to the "autonomy" enjoyed by the ISI in Pakistan, Hewitt questions the claims of Pakistan that it is giving only moral support to various Islamic factions operating in Kashmir, without "directly assisting them". Says he: "This sounds implausible, especially in the light of a clearly established Pakistani habit of infiltrating agents across the LOC into India, and it remains a distinct possibility that the ISI continues to operate as before."

 With the Pakistani role in Kashmir being "highlighted" so well, the Indian bureaucracy should not be so sensitive to some criticism of India. After all, it has to be admitted that it was the machinations of Indian leaders and policymakers that brought the Kashmir situation to a boil in the late 1980s, setting off the full-scale insurgency. Pakistan simply took advantage of that.

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