Vol 5, Issue 23, Dated June 14, 2008 A new research centre initiated by the South Asia Foundation promises to give a fresh lease of life to the rich but endangered Sufi culture of Kashmir The thought had been lurking for as many as sixty years. Then, traumatised by the Partition, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh, who had witnessed bloodshed on both sides had been influenced by an illiterate Muslim labourer. It was in Kashmir that he first became aware of the influence and power of oral folk culture. Aasi, a ‘coolie poet’, made ends meet through menial jobs, and walked the streets narrating poems. Then, way back in 1948, Aasi’s secular poetry had inspired the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs to form a cultural front to resist the brutal attack by tribesmen who had invaded the Kashmir valley. Sixty years later, Madanjeet Singh is trying to apply the same balm. A student of Government College, Lahore, who hails from Uri — a border district in Kashmir — Singh believes that culture will provide the antidote to the violence and intolerance that has ravaged the Valley over the last two decades. As founder of the South Asia Foundation (SAF), 85-year old Singh was back in Kashmir to open the Kashmir Institute of Studies, where he hopes students from Pakistan will also come and learn about Sufi culture. Former military dictator Zia ul Haq changed that in Pakistan and the myriad militant groups punctured holes into Kashmiriyat in India. “Only culture will stop violence, not the army,’’ asserts Singh whose Foundation has also been recognised as an apex body of the South Asian Association of Regional Coperation.
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