The Project of Erasing the Indigenous History of Kashmir

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah with Happy and Nelson Rockefeller, Srinagar, 1978. Photo courtesy of Nyla Ali Khan.

Furthering its project of erasing the indigenous history of Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Modi’s BJP government has dropped Martyr’s Day, July 13, and my maternal grandfather’s birth anniversary, December 5, from the list of public holidays.

I have always been amazed to see how much the BJP and the Sangh continue to invest in trying to erase the name, ideology, and work of one Kashmiri nationalist—-Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah.

The project of the BJP and its appendages to ride roughshod over the history of Kashmiri nationalism and the evolution of a political consciousness in Kashmir, which began much before 1989, continues unabated.

The irony of my grandfather [Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah], the first Muslim Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, an “Indian Muslim,” being put behind bars for voicing and advocating the right of self-determination “by the very Indians who won admiration and sympathy in the world in attaining their own” (Extracts from Commentary by Edward R. Murrow, 1 May 1958), wasn’t lost on the world community.

An acclaimed American commentator profoundly noted, “It is ironic that the Lion of Kashmir who fought so long for freedom has been jailed again by a freedom-loving state. The Lion exemplifies the spirit of Thoreau, who said, ‘I was not born to be forced.’ And Norman Corwin once wrote, ‘Freedom isn’t something to be won and then forgotten. It must be renewed like soil after yielding good crops’” (Murrow, in broadcast over CBS Radio Network, May 1, 1958).

I am not upset that the BJP-led government of India has removed my grandfather’s birth anniversary from the list of public holidays.

On the contrary, I’m relieved and feel a sense of renewal, because they cannot co-opt and distort his politics any longer.

Even while Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was physically imprisoned, his captors could not control his mind. And now his ideology cannot be incarcerated, nor can his politics be contorted.

Studying Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s politics enabled me to understand how he prevented polarizing elements from disrupting nation-building. He stood with his colleagues through thick and thin, not just at conference tables but in the trenches as well.

For a long time, he and his colleagues were considered persona non grata by the Government of India, preventing them from gaining access to reputable publishing houses. So the documents produced by them remained hidden and were kept away from the public gaze.

The erasure of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s birth anniversary from the list of public holidays cannot erase the historical memory that includes humanitarian and pluralistic endeavors of leaders of the movement at a critical juncture post-1948.


Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at