This Blog provides an insight on the Kashmir-issue, India and Pakistan. The articles on this Blog can be best described as thought-provoking. The articles thrive to trigger debate about the miseries enslaved Kashmiris are facing and discuss also possible solutions to this long standing conflict. It also aims to convince readers why Independent Kashmir is the best solution for all parties involved.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Tragedy of Kashmiri Pandits

Kashmir history is five thousand years old. In course of time, many invaders from outside led incursions into Kashmir. Recurrent turmoils within, too, have been part of her destiny. However, inter-community clashes did not show their ugly face as engrained culture. There is hardly any substantial historical evidence to prove that in a complex society people belonging to majority religious group compassed extirpation or decimation of a minority group.

Islam in Kashmir


Islam came to Kashmir in about A.D.1330 - 1339. Again there is no evidence to show that Islam was forcibly thrust on the people of Kashmir. Of course from the accounts given by Kalhana, and later on by Jonaraja, in Rajatarangini, one can find that Hindu society of those days was groaning under the burden of superficialities while the ruling class was engrossed in court conspiracies in order to keep itself saddled in the seat of power. The upper strata of society, intoxicated with power and identifying itself with the ruling class, had been isolated from the wider Kashmirian milieu. Tyrannical caste system had almost rent the social fabric into shreds. Continuous in-fighting and dissensions had sapped economic resources of the state.

In the background of this socio-political landscape of early mediaeval period, Islam was brought to Kashmir by the sufis like Bulbul Shah and Shah Hamadan. This opened the floodgates of revolt against oppressive caste system, revolution against social taboos and acceptance of a new faith based on social equality and fraternity. In his Rajatarangini, Jonaraja writes about Sultan Shahabu'd-Din Shahmiri as this:" the ancestors of Shahabu'd-Din came to Kashmir from the regions of Swat. They were the descendents of Pandavas and had converted to Islam."


A careful study of history reveals that one of the major reasons of not forcing conversion on people in Kashmir was that the ancestors of her rulers were themselves closely connected either with Hinduism or Buddhism. During his visit to Kashmir, the Mughal Emperor Jehangir was surprised to observe the coexistence and common life style of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) and Muslims. He writes in his memoirs, viz. Tuzak - Jehangiri," I do not understand what type of Musalmans are found in Kashmir because there appears no difference between them and Kashmiri Hindus. They share each others' customs and traditions to the extent that they celebrate feasts together."

At Nagabal spring in Anantnag, there is a temple of the Hindus, a gurudwara of the Sikhs and a mosque of the Muslims ( built by Dara Shikoh). What a glaring proof of religious toleranace. In far off villages in Ladakh region, we find members of one family adhering to different faiths at one and the same time. All of them live in peace and amity. If a couple is not of common faith, the son adopts his father's religion and the daughter that of her mother. This means that in Kashmir conversion from one religion to another never meant nursing hatred and ill will against any religion. Conversion took place, but surnames (zaat) remained the same. Among Muslim in the valley today we have Bhat, Koul, Raina, Teng, Munshi, Mahajan, Pandith and many more common zaat among Muslims and Hindus. In some cases slight variations have been affected such as Dhar becomes Dar, Rathore become Rather, Lavanya becomes Lone, etc. This shows that Kashmiri Pandits are our own flesh and blood. Centuries ago, our and their ancestors were brothers from the same blood. In terms of race, the same blood runs in our veins.

When Islam came to Kashmir and received support of the state, the Pandits learnt Persian- now the official language- while many Muslims continued with Sanskrit. For a long time during early Muslim period , both Sanskrit and Persian languages continued to be in use. We still find bilingual tomb-stones in the graveyard near Bahau'd-Din Sahib locality in Nowhatta, Srinagar. In Sharda, there was a famous university where learning was imparted in both Sanskrit and Persian languages. The sufis of Muslims were the rishis of the Hindus. Shiekh Nooru'd-Din, the patron saint of Chrar-e-Sharif was the Nund Rishi of Pandits. A stone wall of Khanqah-e-Mu'alla in Srinagar was reserved for the Pandits to which they applied vermillion after their ancient tradition. The hospice (khanqah) and tomb of Makhdum Sahib at the foot of the Hari Parbat hillock stand adjacent to the Chakreshwar temple of Hindus.

Sages and savants like Lal Ded and Nund Rishi, gifted with spiritual light as they were, taught Kashmiris of all hues and faiths the eternal lesson of virtue, brotherhood humanism and tolerance. In the course of her history, Kashmir was visited by many tragedies, natural and man - made; famines and floods, earthquakes and blizzards, invasions and insurgencies, but none of these could shake peoples' faith in coexistence and religious tolerance. From historical record, it is evidenced that the Pandits never made the issue of conversion of their brothers, neighbours, relatives and coreligionists a source of enemity and irritation. We are reminded that during the initial days of Islam, Omar ibn Khattab tyrannised his sister and her husband for embracing Islam. It is a different story that later on the same Omar ibn Khattab became famous and known by the name Omar Farooq.( God's grace be with him) We have seen that usually on faring good- bye to the faith of ancestors, a storm is stirred in societies polluting the entire environment. Nothing of this sort is presented by Kashmir history. The reason for this unique phenomenon is that Islam came to Kashmir through sufis, saints and humanist missionaries and not by those who wanted to please the ruling circles and invaders. No Kashmiri Pandit ever went to any emperor or ruler outside Kashmir with the complaint of rapid conversion of peple in Kashmir to Islamic faith exhorting him to set out on a expedition of the land.

Subjugation

Perhaps it will not be distortion of history to state that if at all the chains of slavery were cast on the people of Kashmir—slavery of external adventurists—those responsible for it were the people of majority group. During the reign of Yusuf Shah Chak, a Kashmiri delegation headed by Shiekh Ya'qub Sarfi arrived in the court of Akbar and prompted him to invade Kashmir. This was the first serious and effective attempt of opening Kashmirian society to malignant external interference. This invitation was extended by none other than Kashmiris themselves because at that time state power rested in the hands of the Shias. We should not forget that our four hundred year old slavery, shifting from Mughals to Pathans, to Sikhs and to the British, finally culminated in our sale to an autocratic ruler for a paltry sum of seventy-five lakh rupees.


Today this slavery exists in the aftermath of the division of Kashmir. This current spell began as a sequel to communal trends among the Muslims of Kashmir which drove them to invite external forces to launch an attack on their land. Their intransigence bodes catestrophe for their future generations with subjugation to tyranny, oppression, exoduses and exiles. Today the sword of a destructive war hangs on the heads of more than twelve hundred million people of the sub-continent. History never spares nations for their irretrieveable mistakes unless the nations themselves resolve again and again not to repeat them.

Side by side with the Muslims of the state, Kashmiri Pandit youth receiving education in Lahore also joined the struggle against the autocratic rule of the Dogras. Since the Pandits were an educated class from early times, they had occupied good administrative positions in the Dogra rule. This should induce us to make a psychological dissection of the Pandit mind as to why it always opposed settlement of outsiders in the valley. It were the Pandit official circles in Dogra administration and the Pandit community at large, who had advised the ruler to introduce the State Subject law in the State. We know that at that point of time, people from Punjab and Bengal had begun to enter the organs of the state, and with that, purchasing land and property in the valley had become a temptation. The same State Subject law later on assumed the shape of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution.

Communal harmony under test

Though both Hindus and Muslim became victims of atrocities perpetrated by the tribals during their attack on Kashmir in 1947 , yet the Hindus and the Sikhs suffered the worst. The tribals branded them as "kafir" (infidels) and made them the target of their rapacity. The Hindus and Sikhs were totally decimated and extirpated from Gilgit, Balltistan and the towns of POK like Muzaffarabad, Poonchh, Kotli and Mirpur. Of course the Pandits and Sikhs who escaped with their lives in the rural areas of the valley, Baramulla, Uri, Sopor etc. could do so only through the support extended to them by their Muslim neighbours and frriends.. And when the Muslims of the valley rallied to put up stiff resistance to the tribal invaders, the Pandit leadership joined hands with the resistance force. Among those leaders the names of Pandit Kashyapa Bandhu, Sham Lal Saraf, Prem Nath Bazaz, D.P.Dhar and many others stand out prominantly. Their main concern was protection of Kashmir, their motherland, and her culture of humanism.

For the 1947 tribal attaack on Kashmir, we have an excellent source in Margaret Brook White, the American journalist who had accompanied the attacking tribals. In her work Half Way to Freedom she wrote, " Buses and trucks of the tribals fully loaded with looted property came in a day or two to carry back more Pathans for a loot of Kashmir. Repeating their exercise of "liberating Kashmiri Muslim brethren" they looted Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and peasants, one and all without distinction of religion and community."

Positive contribution

It should be reminded that at a time when (in 1947 - 48) human beings had turned beastly in the sub-continent, it was only Kashmir where the flame of humanism flickered. In Muzaffarabad, Hindu and Sikh women and children had sought refuge in the house of Master Abdul Aziz. When the barbaric tribals barged into his house to massacre the hapless refugees, Master Abdul Aziz stood up to them saying that they could as well kill him but not the innocent people seeking refuge in his house. He asked what justification was there in a bid to take these lives. He asked that they called themselves the standard bearers of an Islamic state but did Islam permit killing of innocent children and aged women? The barbarians dragged the hapless refugees as well as Master Abdul Aziz to the river bank and gunned them down one and all. This carnage has been recorded by Shiekh Muhammad Abdullah in his biography Atash-e-Chinar.

Youthful volunteers of Kashmir Militia laid down their lives while resisting communal madness in district Doda. Som Nath Beera and Pushker Nath Zadoo, two illustrious Kashmiri Pandits and sons of the soil , stand out very prominently. They fell martyrs while protecting the defenceless majority community there. It should not go unnoticed that in 1948, Mehar Chand Mahajan and his lieutenant R.K. Batra had , prior to the tribal attack, tried to seduce Kashmiri Pandits into accepting arms to rise against the majority community in the valley. But Kashmiri Pandit leadership refused to accept arms and ammunition saying that more than arms, they needed the good - will of majority community. This episode also finds space in Shiekh Muhammad Abdullah's biography. Thus the Pandit leadership of the time, giving a proof of great wisdom and foresight, not only steered their community away from danger but also demonstrated their commitment to the land of their birth as true patriots.

In the sphere of education, Pandits have rendered very valuable service. Their contribution in bringing literacy and education to the majority community in the valley is commendable. Gifted with futuristic vision, the Pandit community, from the very beginning, responded to the social need of restricting birth rate and enforcing family planning. The Pandits always attached importance to providing good education and training to their children and thus developed as educated community. This is the reason why we found them swarming into educational institutions at all levels, from primary to university classes. No wonder, therefore, that even in Islamia schools and colleges in Kashmir, the strength of Pandit teachers, lecturers and professors was no fewer than 40 per cent. I have no hesitation in stating that while Shiekh Abdullah's educational policy brought the light of literacy to every home in Kashmir, the contribution of the Pandit teachers in opening upon their Muslim compatriots the doors to the realms of knowledge will be written in letters of gold. In their capacity as teachers, we owe a debt of gratitude to the elders of this community. The section of Pandit medicos never lagged behind in rendering most commendable service to fellow Kashmiris. Many Pandit doctors did not leave the valley during the on-going turmoil despite looming threats. How shameful that a Pandit dental surgeon and his wife who were serving the needy in Srinagar were murdered in cold blood ?

Shortcomings

No minority in any given society can live with honour and dignity and prosper in an atmosphere of security unless its leaders and elders share the joy and pain of the majority group. This was felt by the Pandit leadership as far back as 1947 when they found that it was the valley of Kashmir alone where the majority community took upon itself the task of guarding the houses of the minority community. But the tragedy with the Pandits and their short-sighted leaders is that after the events of 1947, they shifted their loyalties from the masses of Kashmir to the rulers in New Delhi Barring a few Pandit leaders who bore long incarceration with Shiekh Abdullah, most of the rest pretending to protect the interests of Kashmiri community actually served their own interests. They colluded with some intransigent political leaders in New Delhi and worked against the interests of Kashmir not out of ingrained malice but only to seek personal aggrandisement. These elements became the catalyst in poisoning the minds of the majority community against their own community. Let me reproduce the relevant excerpt from Shiekh Abdullah's biography Atash-e-Chinar. He writes," No other community can even imagine in what great demand the Pandits are in the entire country. In all central government departments in the State, the strength of Kashmiri Pandit employees is 60 to 100 per cent although they do not comprise more than 2.5 per cent of the total population. Therefore if Kashmiri Pandits can create a storm in the country especially in journalistic circles through their undoubted resources, then the rest of their compatriots (Muslim majority) have a justifiable complaint. Is it not possible that along with the logic of the times they keep in mind the demographic complexion of the state, geographical imperatives and structural considerations of the State. They should not make the New Delhi- entrenched bureaucracy as their destination. Kashmiri Pandits can immensely enrich the State with their potentialities. Instead of weakening its emotional relations with other states, the Pandits can become a strong and dependable bridge between them. Kashmiris rejected the two-nation theory and took the hand of their Pandit brothers into their own. The history has put this responsibility on them that they should not spurn the hand of friendship extended towards them. As they themselves dislike oppression and injustice, their other compatriots also dislike these evils."

A close analysis shows that a few self-styled Kashmiri Pandit leaders, instead of looking for the good-will of the majority community in Kashmir, considered New Delhi as the place of deliverance.. At the same time, sections of New Delhi bureaucracy and some political leaders, without making an objective analysis of the prevailing situation, contributed to the deepening of current problems and difficulties of the Pandits. By not trusting the majority group and by appointing Pandits in sensitive places, the community was made suspect in the eyes of the majority community in Kashmir. Ultimately this majority community began to construe of the Pandit fraternity as the watchdogs of Indian interests in Kashmir. This, however, was not the reality. There was lack of proper leadership in Pandit community nor did they have any united policy. Apart from this, the community did not fully participate in political organisations of the state. The result was that they gradually got distanced from the political stage in Kashmir. A sundry Pandit political activist whether in National Conference or in Congress wielded only insignificant influence among community members whom he could not carry along with himself.

It is also alleged that some rabid Hindu communalist organisations outside the State influenced some Kashmiri Pandits and roped them into their organisation. In 1967, the episode of a Pandit girl named Parmeshwari (later on Parveen) marrying a Muslim boy took place in Srinagar. The Pandits gave religious colour to the event which vitiated inter-community relations to some extent. There had been inter-community marriages in Kashmir. Dr.Girija Dhar, a Pandit woman of a very respectable family had married Dr. Naseer, a Muslim also from a notable family of Srinagar. A Kashmiri Muslim lady was married to a Sikh gentleman. In India, innumerable inter-community marriages had been taking place. It should also be mentioned that some of the Pandit families who had shifted to Delhi in 1947 and settled down permanently did not play a healthy role for their community members back home. They had widened their sphere of influence in New Delhi's bureaucracy and in its political circles. In regard to Kashmir, all that they propagated in these circles was what suited their interests. Kashmir popular leadership always had a complaint against these persons and families which gradually resulted in majority community nursing a grudge against the Pandits. The fundamental reason for this phenomenon was that according to the majority community, the Pandits, placed in an advantageous situation as they were, could have given New Delhi a genuine feel of their difficulties and expectations. The composition of Kashmirian socio-political structure was presented in a distorted manner. The result was that an opportunity was provided to some recalcitrant political leaders in Kashmir to spread hatred against the Pandit community. But at the same time 80 per cent of Pandits living in rural Kashmir held on tenaciously to fraternal relationship with their Muslim neighbours and shared their joys and sorrows.

During the period of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, a few Kashmiri Pandits reached top positions in Indian bureaucracy. To some extent they, too, shall have to bear the blame for the deterioration of political conditions in Kashmir. In short just as the members of majority community in Kashmir are suffering for the sins of selfish aggrandisement, lust for power and political blackmail by their leaders, so are the innocent Pandits made sacrificial goats at the altar of selfish interests of a few of their intransigent leaders. All this has now culminated in the on-going movement taking to violence and the gun and gunpowder being used for self-destruction.

On-going movement and its tragedy


All religions consider human beings as embodiment of high morals and elevated spirit. But when the same human being abandons the thin veneer of humanly qualities, he emerges as the worst beast imaginable. His victim is one beloging to his own species. Such a beastly being has no religion. He is a symbol of his hatred and bestiality carrying death and destruction wherever he can. Such a destruction stalked Kashmiri society in recent years. Bridges, schools, colleges and residential houses burnt and destroyed can be rebuilt but in order to restore mutual trust and confidence, tremendous sacrifices on both sides shall have to be made, The pride of Kashmir meaning the long and glorious history of communal harmony and peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths has suffered serious damage. Therefore the real task ahead is to restore that history and rebuild the true image of a secular society. This tradition has suffered immense damage owing to Kashmiri Pandits faced with the compulsion of abandoning the land of their ancestors, their towns and villages in Kashmir. A vicious propaganda has been launched that Governor Jagmohan had induced them to leave their homes and hearths and go out of the valley. It is possible that Jagmohan might have meant this casual briefing for a handful of upper class families of Pandits or a few persons at sensitive administrative positions. But no person in proper frame of senses will accept that the entire community of Kashmiri Pandits left their home and hearth at the behest of Governor Jagmohan. What chased Pandits out of their homeland was the fear of the gun, killing of many of their members, kidnapping and rape of their women. In November 1989, Sheela Tikoo was gunned down near Habba Kadal. On March 4, 1990, Mrs. M.N Paul, the wife of an Inspector of BSF was kidnapped, raped and then murdered. Her crime was that she happened to be the wife of an inspector in BSF. In March 1990, B.K. Ganjoo, an engineer in Telecommunication Department was brutally gunned down while he tried to hide himself in an empty drum used for storing rice. The assailants climbed the third floor of his house to catch hold of him. His wife begged the murderers to kill her too but only to receive the sadist remark, "there should be someone left to cry over his dead body." In the same month in 1990, another Pandit woman was gunned down in her home in Alucha Bagh. In April 1990, a nurse named Sarla Bhat was kidnapped and continuously raped for several days before her dead body was thrown on the roadside. In May 1990, Mrs. Prana Ganjoo and her husband Prof. K.L. Ganjoo were kidnapped in Sopor. The woman was raped and then both of them were murdered. In June 1990, a laboratory assistant in Trehgam named Girja was kidnapped, raped and then cut into pieces on a power band-saw. In June 1990, Mrs. J.L. Ganjoo, her husband and her sister-in-law (husband's sister) were killed in their home in Ban Mohalla, Srinagar. In July 1990, a working woman namely Teja Dhar was shot dead on the roadside in Ali Kadal, Srinagar. In July 1990, a Pandit lady named Nanaji was gunned down on the roadside in Batmaloo. In July 1990, Dr.Shani was locked up in her house in Karan Nagar and then the house was set on fire. Flames consumed her alive. In August 1990, Babli Raina was raped in front of her family members in her house and then shot dead. I must necessarily mention one particular case which literally butchered the tradition of tolerance and communal harmony as well as the tradition of humanism in Kashmir. On April 30, 1990 four armed persons forced entry into the house of Sarwanand Koul Premi in Anantnag district. They dragged him out of his house along with Virender Koul, his 27-year old son for 'enquiry'. In the nearby jungle, the father and son both were gunned down. Sarwanand Koul, a poet and scholar, was 64 years of age and had translated Bhagwat Gita into Kashmiri. A copy of Quran was preserved in his house which he used to read occasionally.

A ray of hope

No doubt these incidents have tarnished the image of the majority community in Kashmir but at the same time we come across innumerable instances in which Muslims gave shelter to their Pandit neighbours and saved their lives or took them out safely. When the Pandit girl named Rosy of Nai- Sarak and her mother were raped and then together with her father, all the three were gunned down, Kashmiri Muslim women of that locality brought out a protest demonstration on the roads condemning this barbaric act.


These are the events pertaining to the initial stage of the movement in Kashmir when Liberation Front was the only so-called nationalist organization active in Kashmir. At that time there was the talk of independent Kashmir meaning the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir.. An activist of this organisation named Bitta Karate confessed having taken the life of 41 persons.

In these circumstances it was but natural that the entire Pandit community stood fear-stricken and then followed the impulse of running away from this cauldron. The entire community had lost the confidence in the majority community. Even the lives of the members of majority community as well were no more safe. Let it be reminded that when people came out in protest against the killing of Rosy family of Nai Sarak locality, the armed men fired shots in the air and called the demonstrators as Indian agents.

In fact apart from these criminal elements, religious extremist groups and such leadership of the movement within Kashmir as did not severely punish these elements at the very outset are also liable to be held responsible for frightening Kashmiri Pandits and forcing them to abandon their homes in Kashmir. Some despicable rabids even went to the length of raising the shameful slogans like " Asih kya getsih Pakistan, Batav begair batneu saan" (What do we want - Pakistan, without Pandits but with their women). This then was the atmosphere of fear and lawlessness in which the Pandits became homeless. After they had left Kashmir, criminal elements began looting their houses and setting them on fire.

However, even in this state of anarchy, there were many Muslims who managed to send them to Jammu or Delhi ( their separated Pandit neighbours) the returns of their orchards, crops and rent of houses and shops. There are also some elements who have illegally taken possession of Pandit properties not on the basis of communal enemity but as a manifestation of lust for booty. Making religion and the movement a pretext, they want to befool ordinary Kashmiris. It is also true that in some cases security forces felled trees belonging to Pandits and stole timber and other valuable household goods from the abandoned houses of Panndits apportioning the theft to the militants. This means that the entire majority community of Kashmir cannot be held responsible for the loot and arson of the houses of Kashmiri Pandits.The criminal elements who committed all these dastardly acts have neither religion nor a mission nor conscience.

Malevolent elements


Today a group has emerged in Kashmir with the specific mission of arranging the sale of Pandit properties. The group includes some Muslim and Pandit middlemen from Srinagar andJammu and also some government employees. They propose somebody in Jammu as the owner of abandoned property in Kashmir and forge sale documents. No doubt there are some among the exiled Pandit community who, having lost every hope of their return to Kashmir, found it unavoidable to sell their property. It has also been reported that there are some among the Pandits who gave cash rewards to the criminal elements for setting their houses on fire in the valley and then managing to get its insurance amount. Pandits from the rural Kashmir being essentially small peasants could neither carry their landed property nor the cattle with them when they proceeded on their tragic exile. Most of them are now languishing in several refugee camps where life for them is dismal and dark. Many of them died of snake and scorpion bites in desolate environs of refugee camps in Jammu because in the conditions in which they are living, proper medicare is not available to them. Many more oppressed by intolerable heat to which they were never used, died of sun strokes or were drowned in Ranbir canal or Tawi river while seeking relief from the scorching sun. It is also true that as in the case of majority community, various groups and organisations within and outside the country collected enormous funds in the name of suffering masses, both Hindus and Muslims, only to fill their coffers and become millionaires on the dead bodies of Kashmiris. Hindu religious extremist organisations in India also exploited the plight of Kashmiri Pandits obliging them with the free gift of a blanket or a bucket. In this way entire social structure of Kashmir began falling apart. There were elements which would not like the Pandits to pass their days of exile in a little comfort in Jammu. Their honour was subjected to molestation. Anybody wishing to see the misery with which these displaced Pandits are afflicted should pay a visit to one of their 52 camps. A few Pandit families who chose to remain in the valley are no less fear stricken. For the Muslims of Kashmir, H.N. Wanchoo was a significant symbol in the context of their human rights. He too was not spared by the communalists.

Recently male members of seven Panndit families in Sangrampora were drawn out of their homes and killed in cold blood. This horrendous carnage made very humanism hide its face and Kashmiris, wherever they were, had to hang their heads in shame. But even in this hour of darkness, the ray of hope was not totally extinguished. The members of majority community openly condemned this barbaric act and shared the pain and grief of the bereaved families. They came in large groups to express their condolence. A shining example of keeping intact the tradition of communal harmony in Kashmir is that our social welfare branch MANWA extended monetary assistance to the sufferers of this tragedy. The bereaved families were greatly consoled when they found Shabbir Ahmad Shah come to assuage their ruffled feelings.

What brings a nation to the brink of destruction is communal strife within. If we turn the pages of the past history of Kashmir, we will find that it was communal strife which dragged her into slavery. Strife among various sects in contemporary Afghanistan is threatening that nation with total annihilation. Shia-Sunni clashes in Pakistan have brought the security forces to stand guard on mosques. The embattled sects do not hesitate to kill people even in God's house.

It is the same communal virus which is out to destroy Kashmiri culture and what we call Kashmiriyat. Included in these elements are (i) the people who want to illegally possess the property of the minority community (ii) those who want to grab the posts of Pandit government employees (iii) those fanatically communal parties who, in order to please their mentors, do not want the Pandits to return (iv) external agencies and such policy planners of ISI as are dreaming of annexing Kashmir (v) those Hindu communal groups who want to use Kashmiri Pandits for their selfish motives and would not in, ultimate analysis, hesitate to fragment India into several parts.

What should be done

Now the question is not what happened till this day. The real question is that in the light of mistakes committed in the past, what should be done to eliminate communlism in Kashmir and re-establish age old relations of brotherhood for living a peaceful and harmonious life. The heaviest responsibility falls on the shoulders of the majority community. Before we approach our Pandit brothes and sisters, it is necessary that we divert our efforts towards creating a sense among the members of the majority community that the Pandits, whose number does not exceed three hundred thousand, have to be brought back in all circumstances. Notable personalities from the localities, towns and areas wherefrom the Pandits have come out should form delegations and visit the camps of Pandits and discuss with them the ways and means of return to their native places. When the Pandits are convinced and return, the people of the respective localities should undertake to provide them security. When the members of majority group demonstrate their determination of protecting life and honour of the members of minority community of their respective localities, then even the strongest of the terrorists and the most formidable of the rabid communalist cannot touch them. The members of majority community should discourage the practice of purchasing the property of the Pandits and should give full guarantee of protecting them. This is the right thing to do if it is desired that the majority community. should be absolved of an unbecoming blemish. And if the Pandit community does not return to Kashmir, it will gradually get dispersed all over India and abroad and their future generations will spread the poison of hatred against the majority community of Kashmir.

The minority community, too, should bear in mind that whatever oppressions and atrocities were inflicted on them, these did not have the sanction of the common people of Kashmir. The truth is that the members of the majority community also had to endure the same tyranny and oppression at the hands of the same elements as did the Pandits. These are the elements who want to fragment Kashmir through the use of violence and brute force. Besides this, the majority community had to bear the brunt of innumerable atrocities unleashed on them by the security forces. Most of their victims had nothig to do with the gun. It, therefore, follows that members of both the communities should join to raise voice against communalism and terrorism on the one hand and tyranny and oppression of the security forces on the other. This would help create mutual trust. The Pandits may have learnt the bitter lesson that neither security forces nor army nor political leaders can provide them dependable security. Only the members of the majority community in their respective localities and villages and towns can be the best guarantors of their security. Political and religious leadership of the majority community in Kashmir should announce their commitment to providing security to the minority community and take concrete steps for their rehabilitation. History of mediaeval times tells us that during the reign of Sultan Sikandar and his son Sultan Ali Shah, Pandits were subjected to severe persecution owing to pressures brought to bear by the Sadaat and the vendetta of Sultan Sikandar's newly converted minister Suha Bhat. Sayyid Muhammad Hamadani is venerated by the people of Kashmir because he was the son of Sayyid Ali Hamadani. But when, contrary to the style of his father, he began spreading Islam through force, he met with stiff resistance from the reputed sufi Sayyid Hisari. The saint was obliged to leave Kashmir. Owing to their persecution in the reign of Sultan Sikandar as mentioned above, a large number of Pandits was forced to leave their native land. After Sultan Sikandar's death, his son and successor Sultan Ali Shah continued Suha Bhat as his minister. This newly converted Pandit had given his daughter in marriage to Sayed Muhammad Hamadani and himself had adopted the title and name of Malik Saifu'd-Din. He compassed large scale massacre of his former co-religionists, destroyed their temples and forced them to flee their native land. But then history unfolded a strange quirk of destiny for Kashmir. In the shape of the younger brother of this Sultan Ali Shah, Kashmir found a great statesman, soldier and ruler namely Shahi Khan, titled Sultan Zainu'l-Abidin who endeared himself to Kashmiris as Bud Shah, the Great King. He ascended the throne in A.D. 1420. Soon after this , he made these decisions (i) newly converts had the option to return to their ancestral faith without any fear of political or social compulsion or coercion. (ii) poll tax and the tax imposed on cremation of the dead by the Hindus were declared null and void. (iii) a ban was imposed on cow slaughter (iv) pilgrimage to Hindu shrines was revived (vi) Pandits who had been forced to leave their homes previously were recalled and rehabilitated in colonies set up for them. Zainu'l-Abidin liberated or separated justice from communal prejudice and the Pandits resumed their normal life in an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood. ( See Taraikh-i- Kashmir Islami ahad mein by Dr. Sabir Afaq).

Epilogue

Today there is no Zainu'l-Aabidin to adorn Kashmir with secularism and fraternal love. Kashmiris have, however, always held him in great esteem. He was the custodian of the teachings of Maulana Kabir and Shiekh Nuru'd-Din Rishi. In this era of popular rule, the masses of thepeople of Kashmir are the Bud Shah of their land. We shall have to recall history. Each Kahmiri shall have to become second Bud Shah and put in his effort in rehabilitating Pandit brothers and sisters back in their native land. We Kashmiris always take pride in our luminaries like Abhinav Gupt, Soma Deva, Damodar Gupt, Bilhana, Kshemendra, Kalhan Pandit, Jonaraja, Shrivara, Shri Bhatta, Lal Ded and scores and scores of men and women of erudition and excellence. Kashmiris as a nation never forgave those who tried to subjugate them through sheer force and oppression. The majority community of Muslims of Kashmir gave equal status to the Pandits in their polity when they were brought back by Sultan Zainu'l-Abidin from their forced exile. It was this magnanimity of heart which elevated the Pandits to the respectable status of a teacher. History tells us that though the Sadaat descended from the line of the Prophet (PBUH), and Kashmiris respected them from that standpoint, yet they considered them foreigners. Kashmiris were never comfortable with foreigners. They rose against the Sadaat and brought about a revolution of sorts. Those who formed the vanguard of a struggle for revolution in those distant days, were none other than the recently converted clans of the Pandits, namely Raina. Dar (Damras/Dhars), Magrey (Margesha), Thukar (Thakurs), Lone (Lavanyas) Rather (Rathors), Keng (Ekangas) etc They neither tolerated nor compromised with oppression, nor did they bring in religion to rationalise political action. Kalhan Pandit has made very apt analysis. He writes "Kashmir can be conquered through spiritual qualities but not through the power of the sword."

It has, therefore, to be remembered that in the past, whenever the minority community was put to distress and suffering, it was only because of her rulers or external elements. Without bringing in considerations of religion and sect, Kashmiris have, as a nation, always resisted such rulers and external forces. For example, when Pandit Birbal Dhar sought the support of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore to save Kashmiris from the tyranny of Pathan rule, he left behind his wife and his young daughter-in-law in the safe custody of a Muslim milkman named Quddoos Gujri of Gojwara, Srinagar. When Birbal Dhar's brother-in-law (on wife's side) Munshi Trilok Chand gave the Pathan Govenor Azam Khan the clue where his sister and her daughter-in-law were hiding, the governor put Quddos Gujri and his whole family to sword. This shows that religion and sect never became the source of enemity. During the Mughal rule, Mohtavi Khan or Mulla Abdun-Nabi was made the Shaykhu'l-Islam of Kashmir. He was a fanatical and obstinate person using his official position for his personal ends. When he imposed some restrictions on Pandis, the latter revolted against him. But then Kashmiris of Shia and Sunni faith also joined hands with the Pandits. He was detained and was put to death along with his two sons. When his third son, Mulla Ashraf sought the revenge of his father and brothers, he contrived the cooperation of the Sunnis. On the other side, Pandits aligned themselves with the Shias. However later on, the new governor of Kashmir, Abdus-Samad Khan arrested Mulla Ashraf and his companions and put them to the gallows. Withdrawing all restrictions that had been imposed on Pandits, he gave a proof of great generosity towards them. Therefore we reiterate our assertion that as a nation, Kashmiris never succumbed to communalism and prejudice. Criminals and external elements did create chaos but that was only a temporary phase and the nation soon returned to equilibrium.

In conclusion, let me say that if we begin to think of future brotherhood, peace harmony and the structure of relationship on the basis of past bitternesses, it will lead only to the exacerbation of our mutual enemity. But if we, keeping before us our past experiences, hark back to traditional brotherhood, relations of teacher and taught, patriotism and all that pious relationship called love, struggling hard to build a base for future fraternal solidarity, then like the times of Sultan Zainul- Abidin, the day of peace and amity may dawn upon us. Why then shall Kashmiri Pandits live a miserable life far away from the valley?. How then, can the Muslims find peace, honour and pride while separated from their Pandit brothers and sisters? I know what living in exile means; to me twenty-seven years of separation from my native land have been as long as twenty-seven centurrries. Therefore, for the majority and minority communities in Kashmir, living together and fighting together against the evil of communalism is in reality what is to be called Kashmiriyat. Gandhiji had said that Hinduism and Islam are put to test in Kashmir. Kashmir has become a beacon of light. I hope and pray that in this sub-continent lost in darkness, Kashmir proves to be a pillar of light. Let us prove that the people of Kashmir prove for the entire sub-continent not a source of darkness but a lighthouse of peace and harmony.

Hashim Qureshi
Chairman JK Democratic Liberation Party

(This article was written in 1997)