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Brij Premi — Some Reminiscences

By Dr. M.K. Teng

Dr. M.K. TengBrij Premi was the product of the Indian renaissance and the philosophy of rebellion which characterised the time in which he lived the formative years of his life. The community of Hindus in Kashmir was among the first of the Hindu communities in India, which sought its identity in the Indian renaissance and identified itself with the reemergence of the Indian nation and a new social and intellectual commitment to the Sanskrit roots of the Indian civilisation. The Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir like the Muslims in India, rejected the Indian renaissance, because they did not accept the continuity of the Indian history and the civilisational boundaries of unity of the Indian nation. The conflict of ideology was deeper and sharper in Kashmir than it was in the rest of India. Kashmir was a Muslim majority princely State of the British empire in India ruled by a Hindu Rajput prince of the Duggar people of Jammu. Brij Premi belonged to the intellectual tradition which bore the influence of this conflict.

I came in close contact with Brij Premi in 1963, when I returned to Kashmir after the completion of long years of research at the University of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, the heart of Hindu India in 1963. Those were the years when the Indian academics were inspired by a new vision of freedom which was total and universal, and which transcended the half-way freedom the liberalist reformism of the Indian national movement espoused. In Kashmir, I found, though not to my surprise, that the new vision of total freedom had already become an inseparable part of the intellectual and academic discourse of the community of Hindus and the Hindu intellectual class had already joined the search for models of change, almost on the same lines, on which the search for models of change was under way in the other parts of India. Brij Premi was a part of the search of the Hindu intellectual class of Kashmir for models of social change‑which encompassed economic, social and political change, and which underlined the recognition of total and universal freedom as its main goal. Brij Premi's literary work and research reflect the struggle of the mind of the Hindu community in Kashmir to grow out of its narrow local focus of freedom and identity, its aspirations with the wider aspirations of the nation of India growing out of slavery and foreign dominance.

Brij Premi symbolised the quest the Indian nation was involved in. His commitment to provide an insight into Sadat Hassan Manto was to unravel the temper of the rebellion Manto's work represented. Manto repudiated the identity of a narrowly dated sectarian identity of India. Rightly, perhaps, Brij Premi made the revelation that Sadat Hassan was of Kashmiri origin and a descendent of a Kashmiri Pandit family which had converted to Islam. He brought the rebellion which lay suppressed in the generations of Manto's past, out of its confines to coordinate Manto's outlook with the quest for a national identity which symbolised total and universal freedom. Sadat Hasan’s work was a severe reaction against the communalisation of the Indian society and the destruction it brought in its wake, which eventually unfolded in the tragedy of the partition. Brij Premi's research on Manto was primarily aimed to correlate his own search for a national identity which Sadat Hassan had sought to establish.

Brij Premi's short stories, his interest in the history of Kashmir, his work of a literary critic of Urdu literature, in which he excelled, reflected the same quest. Brij Premi, was throughout his life, a Kashmiri Pandit, whose dream of freedom had been shattered by the enforcement of the religious precedence of the Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir and who sought to give expression to his intolerance to oppression.

Brij Premi was a traditional Marxist who did not metamorphose into a communist and a party cadre. He talked to me, though hesitantly, about the broad contours of the Marxist approach to social change. He did not doubt the validity of the principal concepts of Marxism: the exploitative character of all class-society; the historical necessity of progress of all society from more exploitative forms to less exploitative forms; the role of the exploited and oppressed peoples in the revolutionary moments for change and the functional attributes of the state and its instrumentalities of authority to sustain exploitative forms of class society. Often our discussion, which he always kept at an informal level, centered upon the principal focus of the character of the Indian state. Was the Indian state different from the instrumentality of power that Marx considered the state to be?

The reformist foundations of the Indian state, which during the early decades of freedom were given a more radical content by the leadership of the Indian National Congress, had imparted a new definition to state function in a class society. The emphasis on change in the Indian society aimed at the attraction of class roles Nehru's concept of "socialistic pattern of society" and "full socialism" envisaged and the techniques of social engineering incorporated in the Directives of State Policy—a commitment of the Congress Left, was an attempt to give a new content to state function. Brij Premi, like other Marxists was unsure of Nehru's doctrine of state function in a class-society, yet adhered to it tenaciously like his comrades did. I harboured no illusions about Nehru's claims to convert the Indian state into an instrumentality of reform. Like the other Marxists of the Hindu community of Kashmir, including those who were members of the Communist party and their comrades, Brij Premi did not agree with me, though  he did not give expression to his disagreement.

The cadres of the Communist Party of India and the Marxists, followed their own versions of the role of the state in a class-society. Perhaps, Nehru's outlook provided the cadres of the Communist Party and the Marxists, adequate ground to use the instrumentality of the state to radicalise the process of reform in India and adjust the foreign policy of India to the post-war  world, governed by a hitherto unknown phenomenon of bipolar contest of power of the Cold War.

The movement for decolonisation, which dominated Nehru's outlook and the anti-imperialist role of the socialist world, converged, at the ideological level, to an identity of national interest of the socialist powers and the colonial peoples of the world, which had emerged from colonial rule. India was the largest, the most powerful and prestigious of the colonial peoples that came to face the internationalisation of the class conflict which followed the onset of the bipolar power relations in the post war world. The Marxists and the cadres of the Communist Party in Kashmir were conscious of this conflict. Jammu and Kashmir was caught up in the Cold War. The northern frontiers of the State, with a part of it under the occupation of Pakistan rimmed the "soft belly" of the southern frontier of the Soviet Union. The progressive writers of Kashmir, Dina Nath Nadim, Pushkar Nath, Som Nath Zutshi, Bansi Nirdosh and Brij Premi, were all involved in this conflict. Bansi Nirdosh and Som Nath Zutshi, who represented the two extremes of the revolt against exploitative society and identified themselves with the down trodden, recognised the sociological necessity of supporting Nehru's reformism, perhaps, out of their intellectual commitment to social change and their strategic role in the conflict over Kashmir. During Brij Premi's time the intellectual culture of Kashmir was conditioned by the stake, the Hindus of Kashmir had in the Kashmir conflict.

The context of this conflict changed in 1990, when the bipolar balance of power came to its end and the Muslims pushed the Hindus out of Kashmir. None of the progressive Hindu writers survived to assess the aftermath. Brij Premi died in April 1990, in the midst of the of disaster the Hindu Community of Kashmir faced. I was in Delhi, living the life of a fugitive.

The Hindus of Kashmir, who formed the main strength of the Marxist flanks and the Communist Party cadres, as noted above, were the product of the Indian renaissance. In contrast to the Marxists and the communists in the rest of the country, the Hindus of Kashmir did not break away from their roots. Most of them did not abandon their commitment to the unity of the Indian nation, its civilisational boundaries and the continuity of the India history. Brij Premi was no exception. His interest in the ancient symbols of the Hindu civilisation, his keen interest in research in the history of Hindu Kashmir and his rather inexplicable commitment to the Hindu cultural forms, including Hindu ritual structures, is a testimony to his commitment. He found no conflict between the cultural sub-structures of a society and the Marxist concept for change. In fact, he told his son, Premi Romani, without any inhibitions, that there was no conflict between religion and Marxist concept of revolutionary change. In this respect, he was not different from Dina Nath Nadim or Bansi Nirdosh, the two Kashmiri Pandits, who built the tradition of the Indian renaissance into an edifice of social ideology. Perhaps the commitment of the Hindu Marxists in Kashmir to the Indian renaissance formed the basis of their rebellion against all forms of exploitation, including class-exploitation. That is why, secularism, a basic tenet of the Indian renaissance, became an article of faith with them. They were not apologetic about their beliefs and unlike their Muslim comrades, did not seek to legitimise their commitment to Marxism and communism in the theological precedent of Islam and the history of the Muslim Ummah.

Brij Premi carried this struggle, deeper in his consciousness. He was a victim of severe oppression to which the Hindu community was subjected in Kashmir. He was denied his due, inspite of his work and research in Urdu language, which the powers that ruled Kashmir those days had insisted upon to declare as the official language of the State. In the long last, Brij Premi was appointed a lecturer in the Department of Urdu in the University of Kashmir in 1977. For Brij Premi, his new assignment was a dream come true. In the University he was cast into a new context, intellectually more purposeful and creative, which provided a wider opportunity for his research and writing.

In the University, he widened the scope of his research. But he was worn down by the isolation to which the Hindus were exposed in the Jammu and Kashmir State. He could not earn any reprieve from the oppression the Hindu community in Kashmir laboured under due to the communalisation of the Muslim society in Kashmir. He met me often, in the department of Political Science in the University of Kashmir. He was not unaware of my unconventional views on the social and political conditions prevailing in Kashmir. He complained of the sense of deprivation that had overtaken him and the difficulties he faced in continuing his literary work. The oppression, he faced, goaded him to work more closely on his research projects in history and culture because his presentation of the findings of his investigations in Urdu language, tantamounted to the expression of protest against the oppression, the Hindus faced. Inside him, his feelings about the deep spiritual significance of the Hindu religious belief-system, gradually stirred his conscience. The devotion with which he performed the Pooja at the Shrine of Khir Bhawani at Tula Mula in Kashmir, described by the famed Urdu scholar and novelist Kashmiri Lal Zakir, in his scholarly essay on Brij Premi gives a peep into his mind. Brij Premi confided in me that he was unable to accept that the march of history was determined by logic.That assured him the freedom and perhaps, the perspective of scholarship to recognise the intrinsic quality of the Hindu civilisation of India and the Sanskrit content of the history of Kashmir.

*(The author headed the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir and has authored many books on Kashmir Politics. His seminal work-Article 370 has received international acclaim).

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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