Dialogue  April-June 2008 , Volume 9 No. 4

Terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir – the Cultural Dimension             

S.S. Toshkhani*


Even as terrorism in its various manifestations has acquired a global dimension in the recent years, targeting large swathes of population across the continents, Jammu and Kashmir has been one of the major faultlines of terror for quite a long time now.  The water of River Jhelum, the Vitasta of the ancient texts, on whose banks a unique civilization took its birth at the dawn of history, is red with the blood of the innocents and the stench of death from the saffron fields has become unbearable.  On the rampage are Jehadi terrorists.  They have brutally devastated the Valley, once regarded as a clone of paradise, and hounded its original inhabitants, the minority community of Kashmiri Pandits, out of their homes and hearths in a frenzy of genocidal assaults. This paper seeks to explore the nature and extent of the cultural loss suffered by the displaced Kashmiris as a direct consequence of the depredations of the terrorists.                                                                                                                  At the outset let me make it clear that when I talk about culture I am not referring to so-called ‘Kashmiriat’ or the ‘Sufi” traditions, the two buzz words bandied about by some self-appointed Kashmir experts, for I do not believe in perpetuating myths.  I think before I proceed some explanation in this regard would be necessary to make the perspective clear. Kashmiriat is a term of recent origin put into circulation by those who are either interested in not letting the real truth about Kashmir to be known or are woefully ignorant of it. Apparently it refers to the tradition of “tolerance” and “religious harmony” said to have prevailed among the two major religious communities in the Kashmir Valley, the Muslims and Hindus, and the ideals

them through centuries of living together which has helped them to forge a “common identity”. In actual fact, however, it means regional identity as completely subsumed by the religious identity of the dominant community in Kashmir with total marginalization of the identity of the subordinate community.

     The similarities in “food, language, dress, customs, physiognomy etc.” between the two communities often used as an alibi by the secularist apologists of the policy of Muslim precedence in Kashmir in support of the validity of the notion of Kashmiriat are only superficial and misleading for both have their own distinctive ways of life differing even in each of these and other aspects as well. In reality, Kashmiriat is a political attempt at homogenization of culture in Kashmir while bailing out perpetrators of crimes against humanity.  It presents Kashmiri cultural identity in terms of an exclusivism that is not only uneasy with but antithetical to and perpetually at odds with the geo-political continuum that is India. 

       The idea that Islam came to Kashmir in the guise of a gentle message of love from the Sufis of Central Asia is a historical fallacy that needs to be probed a little before I properly embark on the main theme of this paper, even at the risk of diversion. But it is necessary for understanding the actual facts of Kashmir’s transition to Islam which have been distorted to project a more palatable picture of the cataclysmic events that accompanied the advent of the faith in the Valley.  The most prominent of “Sufi” missionaries mentioned in this context is Sayyid Mir Ali Hamadani, popularly known as Shah Hamadan, who arrived from Iran, probably in 1381, with an entourage of seven hundred Sayyids.  He was actually a fugitive from Hamadan, an Iranian city from where he fled to escape the wrath of Timur who was persecuting “Sufi saints in Iran and parts of Central Asia” as they were inimical to his rule. The first thing he did in Kashmir was to admonish Sultan Qutubu’din for dressing like Hindus, making him to immediately divorce one of his two wives, as they were uterine sisters marriage with whom is not allowed in Islam, and abandon his Hindu costume. He then engaged in extensive proselytizing activities with an untiring zeal and got the temple of Kalishri near Fateh Kadal in Srinagar demolished and converted into a Khanqah (hospice), setting up there a podium for himself to deliver his  sermons.  Now called Khanqah-i-Maula or the Shah Hamadan Mosque, the Hindus were made to do with applying vermilion on an engraved stone on one of its outer walls to offer worship to Mahakali. It is this place that some people never forget to tout as a “glorious symbol” of communal harmony in Kashmir, a glowing example of Kashmiriat! According to the Baharistan-i-Shahi, a 17th century Persian chronicle, “Sultan Qutubu’din failed to propagate Islam in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of Amir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, so he decided not to stay in Kashmir any more and left via Baramulla under the pretext of proceeding on a pilgrimage to Mecca.” The fact is that his mission could not make much headway despite his best efforts.  However, before leaving he left for the Sultan a mandate in the shape of his book Zakhirat-ul-Mulk, asking him to treat his non-Muslim subjects according to the covenant of Caliph Omar. Sayyid Mir Ali’s mandate lists twenty-one humiliating and degrading rules for non-Muslims to comply with absolute obedience.  Some of these are:

      (1) Muslim ruler shall not allow fresh construction of temples and shrines for idol worship; (2) No repairs shall be executed on existing temples and shrines of non-Muslims; (3) & (4) No Muslim traveler shall be refused lodgement in these temples and shrines where he shall be treated as a guest for three days by non-Muslims; (5) No difficulty shall be offered to those non-Muslims who for their own  choice show their readiness for Islam; (6) & (7) non-Muslims shall honour Muslims and shall leave their assembly wherever Muslims enter the premises; (8) the dress of non-Muslims shall be different from that of Muslims to distinguish them; (9) they shall not proffer Muslim names; (10) they shall not ride a harnessed horse; (11) they shall not go about with arms; (12)  they shall not exhibit idolatrous usages; (13) they shall not wear rings with diamonds; (14) they shall not build houses in the neighbourhood of Muslims; (15) they shall not dispose of their dead in the neighbourhood of Muslim maqbaras nor wail loudly over their dead. Further on he adds: in case they disobey these conditions then possession of their lives is halal (lawful) for a Muslim. (Sayyid Ali Hamadani, Zakhirat-ul-Mulk, Chapter V; Shibli Alfarouq, I &II. Quoted in translation by R. K. Parmu in A History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir (1320 – 1819), People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1969.)

     The Sayyid perhaps wanted the Sultan to adopt persecution and torture of Kashmiri Hindus as the state policy, which, however, his son Sultan Sikander did and earned the sobriquet of butshikan or ‘the iconoclast” for his iconoclastic and proselytizing zeal and for perpetrating unprecedented atrocities on them. Under the influence of Sayyid Mir Ali Hamadani’s son, Sayyid Mohammad Hamadani, he gave the Pandits only three options – conversion to Islam, banishment or death. Yet another “Sufi”, Mir Shamsu’d-din Araki, with his large band of sufian va derveshan (Sufis and Dervishes) unleashed the worst ever terror on Kashmiri Hindus so as to convert them to Islam. A hair raising account of it is given in a full chapter of his biography Tohfatu’l Ahbab.   Narration in all its details of the story of holocausts, genocidal attacks, pogroms, brutalities, forcible conversions, wanton destruction and desecration of religious places that they have suffered during near about six hundred years of Muslim rule in Kashmir with some brief periods of remission would far exceed the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say here that the names of Sikandar Butshikan and Ali Shah, Shamsu’d-din Araki and Kaji Chak, Mir Muquim Kanth and Musa Raina, Lal Shah Khatak and Mirza Haider Dughlat, Aurangzeb and the entire host of rapacious Afghan governors still send  a chill down the spine of  the Hindus of Kashmir for the bigotry and savagery associated with them.

      If anyone still thinks that it was a surfeit of Sufi love that reduced the overwhelming majority of Kashmiri Hindu population to a miniscule minority, he should be asked to refer to the Persian chronicles Baharistan-i- Shahi and Tohfatu’l Ahbab if not the Rajataranginis of Jonaraja, Shrivara and Shuka, on every page of which he will bump into the apparitions of the barbarians who decimated Kashmir’s Hindu populace by the cruelest methods known in the annals of history.  Dr. K. N. Pandita, a noted scholar of the history of Medieval Kashmir who has translated both these works into English, categorically states: “In Kashmir there has practically never been even an iota of influence of classical Sufism and Sufi stalwarts of Iranian fame.”  He describes as a “glaring fallacy of medieval history of Kashmir” the myth that Sufism and Rishism were the “dominant factors governing social relations” there. 

    One cannot but agree with Dr. Pandita when he says: “In final analysis, we find that the forcible conversion of Kashmiri Hindu society from the first decades of the 14th century down to the times of the Sikh rule in 1817 (a period of 500 years) has been the agenda of the rulers, warlords, religious entrepreneurs and masked Sufis of the day.” There is a saying in Kashmiri that sums up these atrocities by recalling that only eleven families survived them.

       The present exodus forced by the ongoing militancy on the Pandits is also not something that has occurred for the first time; it is a continuation of similar disasters that have befallen them many a time during the past. All these and other assaults on their identity and disruption of their cultural life that they are facing today, therefore, evoke a feeling of déjà vu in them.  Each time the Pandits responded by their unique resilience, their skills of self-preservation honed by adversities.  When, for instance, the atrocities by bigoted rulers became impossible for them to bear they petitioned the great Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur for help whose supreme sacrifice for their sake forms a glorious chapter of Indian history.  Again when the atrocities reached a crescendo during Afghan rule, a Kashmiri Pandit named Birbal Dhar pleaded with Maharaja Ranjit Singh to send the Sikh army to deliver them from the clutches of the barbarous Pathans.  As everybody knows, this formed a turning point in Kashmir’s history.  From the Sikhs Kashmir passed into the hands of the Dogra rulers of Jammu in 1846 and that was how the state of Jammu and Kashmir came into being, with its present boundaries regarded sacrosanct by even the secessionists. It was in this interregnum of 128 years or so that the Hindus of Kashmir had some respite though not uninterrupted peace.  In 1930’s Muslim leaders launched the Muslim political movement in which Pandits were made the target of communal violence, loot and arson by mobs, which took a heavy toll of their life and property and unsettled hundreds of them, particularly in Vicharnag, Maharajgunj and adjoining areas of Srinagar, bringing untold miseries upon them.  

     Today when genocidal attacks by Jehadi terrorists have wrenched away Kashmiri Pandits from the lap of their natural habitat and they are urgently in need of succor and support, they have no one to look to. Dispossessed, dispersed and distressed, they have become dispensable pieces in a political chess game in which nothing matters except vote banks. And how shocking that those who drove them away, and sought their ethnic extermination  are being wooed by the Indian political establishment.

     Uprooting of the entire minority community from Kashmir has perhaps been the greatest tragedy to have occurred in the history of post-independence India, and would have been treated so had it happened in any other country of the world, but the Indian leadership is unmoved and has turned it into a non-event. The Pandits were stunned to find that not only did the Indian State fail to ensure their security as its citizens but virtually abandoned them to their fate, forgetting that they had kept the country’s flag flying even in most trying circumstances, forgetting that their role in what can be called the making of India had been far out of proportion to their small numbers and forgetting even that their protection as an ethnic and cultural minority was the State’s constitutional duty. It was not that the Indian government alone showed callous indifference to the plight and predicament of the Hindus of Kashmir, for the secularists among the country’s political class, particularly the leftists and the bleeding-heart liberals, their very name became taboo.  If a great culture, a unique way of life was about to be obliterated from the face of the world, it mattered little for them.  As for the media, it literally ate from the hands of the terrorists, distorting facts on their behalf and showing an unconcealed sympathy for them while running a vicious campaign of calumny and disinformation against their terrorized and traumatized victims, the Pandits, who did not take time to realize that they had sought shelter in inhospitable terrains among apathetic and callous people.  And that is how things stand today even though Jehadi terrorism has spilled over to most parts of the country and has taken a pan-Islamist character with Pakistan remaining its epicenter.                                                                                                   

      Scattered and forced to live in an unfamiliar linguistic and cultural environment away from the natural surroundings of its original geophysical and eco-habitat, the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community finds the fabric of its cultural and social life torn asunder. Though living in close proximity of their co-religionists in different parts of the country has offered them some security of life after their traumatic experience of terror, the differences in language, life style, behavioural patterns, customs, rituals etc. between them are  many and quite pronounced, presenting challenges which are not so easy to meet.  And even as they are coming to terms with the situation created by their displacement, the threat to their existence and identity is staring them in the eye.  With grim determination they are engaged in a struggle to survive as a distinct ethnic and cultural entity in face of the bid to wipe them out from Kashmir Valley so as to completely Islamize it.

        Language, as we know, is an important marker of identity and culture and its loss can inevitably lead to “cultural deracination”, as Fanon has pointed out. And linguistic loss is one of the greatest dangers that the Kashmiri Pandit community is faced with in its present state of dispersal.  While the older generation Pandits are tenaciously holding on to it as the language of mutual communication, the younger generation, particularly those born after or a little before the exodus are in no obligation to do so.  The main concern of members of this generation is to find a promising career for themselves to survive in a tough, cut-throat competition and Kashmiri language can be of no help to them in the job market. For this English is the only survival kit and they cannot do without it, while for conversing with the non-Kashmiri milieu in which they  have to move about they have Hindi as Kashmiri is not spoken or understood by it.  For children reading in school, the use of either of these two languages is essential as there are no Kashmiri medium schools anywhere in the country, including Jammu and Kashmir where Urdu is the official language. Kashmiri has never been the language of instruction or administration in Kashmir despite all the noise that is being made about Kashmiriat.  None of the terrorist outfits or their leaders operating in Kashmir uses Kashmiri in its spoken or written form as the language of communication. There is not even one newspaper published in the language. Urdu, on the other hand, is regarded as the language of the sub-continental Muslims and is used at various levels by political parties. No less a person than Sheikh Abdullah dumped Kashmiri in favour of Urdu to maintain as he put it unity among Kashmiri Muslims and other Muslims of the sub-continent.

     In a report on a survey conducted by J & K Centre for Minority Studies on “Socio- economic Conditions of Kashmiri Displaced Persons” in Jammu, Mr. Moti Lal Kaul, Chairman of the NGO observes:

“They are faced with conflicting situations as the older members of the family are trying to impose strict measures to reinforce speaking Kashmiri at home in order to strengthen their cultural values.  The phenomenon of speaking Kashmiri at home is extant in the Camps especially in families having rural background. Non-Camp localities have, however, experienced erosion of Kashmiri speaking even at homes.

       “Lesser proportion of children and grandchildren are communicating in Kashmiri language with other community members within their homes.  There seems to be a clear cut demarcation in children and grandchildren communicating with other community members between the families dwelling in Camp locations as compared to families dwelling in Non-Camp locations.  The preservation of Kashmiri language is strong in Camp localities as compared to Non-Camp localities.  But it is difficult to state how long these families will succeed to retain speaking Kashmiri language at homes.”

      Kashmiri, it may be noted, is a language that has descended from the Old Indo-Aryan or Vedic speech and still retains a vocabulary that belongs largely to this stock.  In the recent decades, however, calculated attempts have been made so as to mutate its basic character by over-hybridizing it with words of Persian and Arabic origin to the extent that today it appears more to be a dialect of these Semitic tongues.  Technical terms are taken wholesale from Urdu instead of being formed by adding Kashmiri suffixes to original Kashmiri stems. In spite of attempts at homogenizing the written language in this manner so that it acquires a definite Islamic flavour, Kashmiri Pandits speak a dialect that is quite distinct from that of Kashmiri Muslims in respect of both vocabulary and accent. Their ways of greeting, blessing, cursing, condoling, praying, addressing and even abusing are different.  If the young-generation Kashmiri Pandits continue to be indifferent to the use of their parental tongue as the language of social intimacy and shared identity, there is every danger of total extinction of this specific Kashmiri Pandit dialect.      

   Thus, one of the major problems for the displaced Kashmiris in remaining connected to Kashmiri language and literature is that of script.  The officially recognized Persian- Arabic script, Nastaliq is not only inadequate for correct rendering of Kashmiri sounds; most of the displaced Pandits are not conversant with it.  So a number of Kashmiri Pandit intellectuals and writers decided to adopt the Devanagari script, which is in vogue in a vast region outside Kashmir, in modified form for writing Kashmiri. When they sought the Union H R D ministry’s approval for its use as an additional alternative script for Kashmiri, storms of controversy were unleashed by some writers from Kashmir, like Ghulam Nabi Khayal and Ghulam Nabi Gauhar, describing it as a “sinister move” and “an attack on Kashmiri culture”. The move was scuttled by the Ministry to appease these elements, not considering that it would only enrich Kashmiri language and literature. The displaced Kashmiri community, however, continues to use suitably modified Devanagari for writing Kashmiri with a larger number of books and magazines published in it than in the official Persian script. It may be  pointed out here that the State government recognizes Persian as an alternative script for Punjabi, Dogri and Ladakhi in addition to their respective officially recognized scripts, and there has not been as much as a whimper of protest by anyone.  The volatile reaction to the use of Devanagari exposes a mindset that takes its inspiration from the ideology advocating Muslim precedence in Kashmir.

     The deprivation suffered by the displaced Kashmiri Pandits is not limited to the loss of some lexical items pertaining to socio-cultural and ecological word stock alone; exodus has adversely impacted many other aspects of their cultural and religious life also.  Forced absence from their native land while resulting in great physical, mental and material distress for them, has led them to the agony of loosing contact with their moorings in the geo-physical terrain that has shaped their civilizational ethos and defined their identity over the centuries. Kashmiri Pandits are an ancient people with a rich cultural heritage and glorious past. Their social, cultural and religious life has revolved round the cool climate of Kashmir with its snowy winter and flowery spring, its blossoming trees and grassy slopes and its verdurous valleys and majestic mountain peaks and the numerous rivers and brooks, lakes and springs that dot its landscape.  Living in harmony with their breathtakingly beautiful surroundings has made them aesthetically inclined, creative and peace-loving people given to cultivation of cerebral graces.

      The earliest picture of their religious and social life is given in the Nilamata Purana, a sixth century Sanskrit text, which portrays them as “ever sportive  and joyful people” who loved to celebrate numerous festivals amidst much singing and dancing and gave their women unrestricted freedom of movement and activity.  While some of these festivals evoked devotion for the divine, some celebrated the blooming of flowers in spring, sowing of seeds, ripening of fruit and harvesting of the paddy crop. Almost invariably they involved visits to parks and gardens, with which nature has gifted Kashmir in plenty, and enjoying water sports.  Many of these festivals, like sonth or the festival heralding the spring, navasheen or expressing of joy on the first snowfall and navreh or greeting the New Year continue to be celebrated to the present times.  Celebrating the blossoming of almond trees at Badamvari or the Garden of the Almond Trees on the vast slopes of Hari Parbat near the Devi Angan (The Courtyard of the Goddess) was indeed a beautiful experience coming straight from the pages of Nilamata, the “personal Puranam” of the Kashmiri Hindus. This festival of almond tree blossoms was regarded as a symbol of the love the Kashmiri people are said to have for nature till all the trees were cut down by some nouveau riche people to build their mansions in an ugle display of affluence a few years back. When terrorism broke out, the area was used by militants as a haven for hinding and arms training. Historically, this place is associated with a progrom by the bigot Shamsu'd-Din Araqi. Once when the Hindus had gathered there to celebrate "roz-i-bahar" (spring festival), with music and dance, Araqi and his Sufis swooped on the "revelers" and killed some of them, the Tuhfatu'l Ahbab writes. The others ran away. He then razed the temple there and broke its idol. 

       Today the scenario has entirely changed. Hounded out of Kashmir by the Jehadi terrorists, they are living in exile in alien surroundings where there are no almond trees, no hills like the Hari Parbat, no grassy slopes. Trying to hold on to their traditions, they do celebrate sonth and navreh even in the heat and dust of their new surroundings, but where is the joy!  Same is the case with Shivaratri, known as Herath in Kashmiri, the most important religious festival of Kashmiri Pandits with its celebration spread over a whole fortnight. Pandits celebrate their Shivartri one day ahead of the rest of the Hindus in accordance with Tantric rituals peculiar to them, involving worship of Vatuka Bhairava represented by a pitcher of water in which walnuts are kept for soaking to be later distributed as naivedya or consecrated food. It is a festival invariably associated with snow, which is said to be dear to Lord Shiva. It is said that the last Afghan governor of Kashmir, Jabbar Khan challenged the notion that snow invariably falls on this day, so he ordered the Pandits to celebrate it in the month of Ashadha (June-July) instead of Phalgun (Februry-March). Much to the delight of the Pandits, snow preceded by rain did actually fall on that day and "the Kashmiri bard mocking at him sang":

                                Look at Jabbar, the wretch

                                Even Har he turned into winter.

                                                                [Trs. P.N.K. Bamzai]

   Today they have to celebrate a lack-lustre Shivaratri in torrid subtropical plains where snow never falls. Away from home, it is no longer possible for them to celebrate their other numerous festivals also in the traditional manner because most of them are associated with the geography of their native land.  

       Kashmiri Hindus have their places of pilgrimage and worship located in the most beautiful scenic spots of the Kashmir valley.  This, says R. C. Kak, is because of the “extraordinary reverence in which both the Buddhists and the Hindus have always held Nature”. “To them”, Kak adds, “… the wild grandeur of glaciers and eternal snows, as at Amarnath, or the view of a magnificent sunset over the hills, as at Martand, not only made a general aesthetic appeal, but had a special religious significance: for they viewed Nature as the manifold manifestation of the Almighty.  It was for this reason that they invariably chose the most naturally beautiful spots for their sanctuaries.  Much of the charm which the religious buildings of Kashmir possess is due to this fact.” Not only have these sacred places been suddenly made inaccessible to them, but what rankles in their hearts the most is that they have been desecrated, vandalized or destroyed by the fanatic fundamentalists.  Their lands have been appropriated and grabbed.  This began even earlier than 1986 when more than 52 of their religious places in the Anantnag district were destroyed or damaged and brutal attacks were made on the life and property of hundreds of innocent members of their community in a prelude to the eruption of terrorist violence.      

        In May 2005, Panun Kashmir, a representative political organization of Kashmiri Pandits, mounted a photo exhibition documenting the destruction and devastation wrought on temples, shrines and houses of Hindus in “all the districts and tehsil headquarters in Kashmir along with at least twenty villages in each of the six districts”. Titled “Saakshaatkaar – An Encounter with Truth”, the exhibition depicted “various facets of religious cleaning of Kashmiri Hindus” and sought national response to terrorism in Kashmir.  In April this year (2008), the exhibition was shown in Pune, Jalgaon, Chinchwad (Pimpri) and Dharshiv towns of Maharashtra moving the hearts of thousands of people who came to see it. The exhibition showed that “the mindset that guided the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas guides the separatist movement in Kashmir” also. Some of the temples featuring in Saaksha-alkar were  subsquently repaired because of the impact of the exhibition which documented the state of more than seventy temples. In addition to these, the ancient temple of Tripura Sundari at  Umanagri (Uttarsu) which was the only extant example of exquisite Hindu wood art was burnt down to ashes and the Shivaa Bhagvati temple at Manzgam, the personal deity of the famous Kashmiri devotional poet Krishnajoo Razdan  completely destroyed. Three temples at the ancient pilgrimage place of Loka Bhavan in Anantnag have been desecrated and destroyed. The dharmashala at Sadhuganga shrine near Sopore was raised to the ground; its priest was dragged out and hacked to death. A number of other religious places revered by the Pandits tell the same tragic tale.  

     Faith, however, refuses to be shaken.  The Pandits, have not forgotten their pilgrimage centres and heritage places like the shrines of Sharika Devi at Hari Parbat, Ragnya Devi or Kshir Bhavani at Tulmul and  Jyeshtha Devi  near Srinagar. They are visiting these iconic places which make Kashmir the holy land that it is even at the risk of life.  Hari Parbat was the first place devout Kashmiris would make a point to circumambulate in the wee hours before exodus.                                                 

       The annual fair of Jyeshtha Ashtami at the temple of Ragnya Devi or Khsir Bhavani at Tulmul has been drawing thousands of devotees from all parts of the country, more enthusiastic than ever before.  Some time back the terrorists had made a rocket attack at the temple but it missed and hit a nearby Dharamshala.  Later on the eve of 26 January, 1998, 23 members of three Kashmiri Pandit families, including two infants and nine women, were taken out of their homes at Wondahama village adjacent to Tulmul were brutally killed by the Islamists to clearly drive home the message that non-Muslims have no place in Kashmir. But faith overpowered fear and Pandit pilgrims are now thronging the shrine in larger numbers as before. What is more, the community has built replicas of some of these places outside the Valley. Branches of various Ashrams of some holy personages revered by the community and sacred institutions back in the valley have sprung up in and around Jammu attracting a large following of devotees.

     As Fritz Stall has pointed out, rituals too give people a sense of identity.  In this sense, Kashmiri Hindu ritual traditions distinctly project their social and cultural values and distinguish them from others.  Although there are many features common between their rituals and those performed by other Hindus in other parts of the country, there are some significant variations and modifications prompted by deshachara or regional practices also.  In the circumstances forced upon them by their dispersal, they are, however, able to stick to only the most necessary ones, such as marriage, sacred thread investiture and funerary rites. These too they are finding it difficult to adhere to in all their details according to the procedures in their manuals in their state of dispersal. One of the reasons for this besides the change in environment is the non-availability of the priestly class whose numbers have continued to dwindle since the exodus.  According to the study conducted by the J & K Centre for Minority Studies, “change is taking place for the identified cultural indicators.” In its report about the state prevailing in the camps for the displaced Kashmiris in Jammu and also the non-camp locations, the Study says: “Gradually majority of the families are giving up age-old rituals and customs especially wearing dejhorus.  Wearing dejhoru is considered a symbol of identity of married women and it is held in the same esteem as Mangalsutra……

     The story does not end there.  In Sikandar Butshikan's time thousands of Sanskrit manuscripts were buried under a several kilometer long causeway built across the Dal Lake. The strategy to dispose off such rich treasures appears to have changed now. Today economically wise antique dealers are making quick bucks by selling invaluable Sharada manuscripts and miniature paintings collected from the houses of Kashmiri Pandits who have fled the Valley to foreign and Indian art collectors at very high prices. “When Kashmir is burning everybody is earning”isthe tongue in cheek comment of a wisecrack on the prevailing scenario in Kashmir.                                                                                               For the Kashmiri Pandit, who is essentially a product of the cultural geography of the land, the most vital problem besides coping with the trauma of being uprooted is one of saving the distinctive aspects of his identity from being thrown into the limbo of forgotten things.  To pretend in such a situation that there is a single Kashmiri community of which he is a part is to obscure the basic issue and allow him in effect to be subsumed by the religious identity of his tormentors. The protagonists of Kashmiriyat forget that Hindu part of it has been driven out and is facing extinction. Unlike Muslim, his identity has been shaped by the soil of Kashmir and is not an implant from outside.  He loves every inch of this soil which his myths, legends and folk lore celebrate. To him the river Vitasta, now called Jhelum, is not just a waterway draining the Valley but a loving embodiment of the Mother Goddess, sustaining life.  His uprooting by the perpetrators of terror has created a situation in which saving his great culture from dying, as he is desperately trying to do, is a matter of life and death for him, lest he should end up as an exhibit in the museum of ethnic history.  One cannot understand why this stark fact is ignored and instead the so-called Sufi ethos of “Kashmiriat” is conjured up again and again by those impervious to his suffering. Is not the culture that contributed to the transmission of the holistic and compassionate doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism throughout Asia, that gave to the world the life-affirmative philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism which perceives the ultimate reality in terms of one consciousness vibrating in every atom of the universe, that provided all the building blocks of Indian aesthetical thinking, more indigenously Kashmiri?  Why does no secularist, left, liberal heart bleed over their tragic plight and predicament?  The irony is that those who cry hoarse day in and day out over the real or imagined violations of the rights of the minorities in the country refuse to give minority status to the minority Kashmiri Pandit community in Jammu and Kashmir nor are they prepared to formally regard them as displaced persons although they have been living as refugees for nearly two decades now.  This makes the Pandits virtually a people without any rights in India. For how many generations shall they have to wait for justice from the government. Today the question of the survival of Kashmiri Pandits as a cultural entity seems to have become a question of the survival of Indian culture itself from the onslaughts of the much appeased terrorists of the Jehadi variety.



1.     Bhati Avanti: Kashmiri Pandits: Problems and Perspectives, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2005. 

2.     Brochure: Saakshaatkaar: an Encounter with Truth.

3.     Kaul M. L.: Report on the Impact of Migration on the Socio-Economic Conditions of Kashmiri Displaced People, J & K Centre for Minority Studies, Jammu, 2006.

4.     Kaul R. N.: The Wail of Kashmir – In Quest of Peace, Sterling Publishers Private Ltd., new Delhi, 1999. 

5.     Kaw M. K. (Ed.): Kashmir and its People, A P H Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 2004.

6.     Kaw M. K., S. Bhat, B. B. Dhar (Eds.) : Kashmiri Pandits Looking to the Future,  A P H  Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 2001.

7.     Parmu R. K.: a History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir (1320-1819), Peoples Publishing House, Delhi, 1969.

8.     Singh Tavleen: Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors, Penguin Books, 1995.

9.     Teng M. K. and C. L. Gudoo: White Paper on Kashmir, Joint Human Rights Committee, New Delhi.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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