century Afghan governor of Kashmir, Jabbar Khan, it is said, decided to test
the faith of the Kashmiri Pandits by declaring that Shivratri, their most
important festival, would be held in the summer, rather than towards the end of
winter when snow flakes would symbolically herald the union of Shiva and
MM Jacob, the then minister of state for home and parliamentary affairs, listen to the grievances of Kashmiri migrants at a camp in New Delhi on August 23,1991.(Sanjay sharma/ht Archive )
appointed day, in a sweltering July, it started snowing heavily as “mother
nature” itself seemed to express solidarity with the plight of the persecuted
minority. This incident, apocryphal as it may well be, is recounted in most
Kashmiri Pandit homes as reflecting their remarkable ability to survive and
succeed against apparently insurmountable odds.
Even as we
commemorate three decades of the tragic displacement of the Kashmiri Pandits
(KPs), from within the Valley, there are, indeed, few communities that have
displayed a similar resilience or the ability to adapt in the face of extreme
adversity. Even rarer are those who, across centuries, have placed such a
premium on education.
So much so
that every KP’s major ritual begins with the chant: “Salutations to you Sharda
Devi, who lives in Kashmir, we pray to you every day to bestow on us education,
knowledge, and wisdom!”
last three decades, KPs have demonstrated this spirit of accommodation as well
as the emphasis on acquiring knowledge. Not surprisingly, some of the most
successful names in the powerful global Indian diaspora are Kashmiri Pandits,
who remain intensely engaged with their history and culture as well as the
welfare of the community.
remain a virtually casteless community of a few lakh non-puritanical Brahmins
(with only a subtle hierarchy between the priests and those who adopted secular
occupations) who are passionately non-vegetarian and have, through the 19th and
20th centuries, succeeded in most professions, including those as intriguing
and dangerous as espionage.
the well known, Mohan Lal Zutshi “Kashmiri” – master spy, diplomat and linguist
– helped the British execute their “great game” in Afghanistan. Their strength
has always been their liberal flexibility shorn, until recently, of any
course, is not that the first time that KPs have witnessed an exodus; by some
accounts, this is the fourth time that the Valley was deprived of this
extraordinary community, which has remained a microscopic minority for most of
the last millennium.
to some sources, in the late 14th century reign of Sultan Sikandar, only 11
families remained, until his son Zain-ul-Abidin, the Badshah, sought their wise
counsel and they returned. The Banmasis were those who returned while the few
who had stayed on were the Malmasis; those who left and stayed on the plains,
became the “downstairs” KPs or “butt Punjabis” like the Nehrus, Haksars and
about adversity and the spiritual and practical strength of the KPs have been
part of the informal education of every child. And the one mantra to conquer
all is universally regarded, within the KPs, as education – a source of
liberation and empowerment.
Kashmiri Muslims, spare the period of persecution, there was remarkable harmony
and interdependence: the KPs were the teachers, in schools, colleges and
universities that Muslims respected and held dear. The KPs were great teachers
not just of the sciences, but taught languages like Arabic and Persian with the
same mastery. Not surprisingly, even the Afghan court had Bhawani Das Kachru, a
KP, as a poet laureate.
For much of
the daily business of everyday living, the KPs depended on the Muslims,
including such personal rituals as a haircut, or a wet nurse, and even the
upkeep of the cremation grounds.
common shrines of Sufis that both communities revered, and the syncretic
culture that provided a united bond. Inter-marriage was very rare and
inter-dining not commonplace till even the 1950s, but a camaraderie existed
that went beyond traditional stereotypes.
But what of
the future? Apart from the few thousand who continue to live in the Valley, and
those in the still-wretched camps and townships like Jagti near Jammu, will the
KPs return to the Valley? Especially now that the gulf between the KMs and KPs
has widened and deepened so much that even the most formidable bridge may not
offer a safe page to togetherness.
over a decade ago, inspired by the “pilgrimage” made by the poet philosopher
Ayaz Rasool Nazki to Shardapeeth, the ancient seat of learning now in ruins across
the Line of Control in the Neelam valley, I had floated the idea of a
intellectual homeland for the KPs in the Valley; a new Shardapeeth University.
obviously it would help in the physical return of the KPs, and through a
profession in which they had traditionally excelled, it would also revive the
traditional bonds of interdependence between the Pandits and Muslims and create
the basis of reconciliation as they lived and learnt together in a common
idea may now seem like a utopian dream, I do feel that a true reconciliation
(through such a institution) between KPs and KMs can provide the only basis for
sustainable peace in the Kashmiri Valley.
they reach the pinnacle of material success, for the Kashmiri Pandits, from
Botswana to Brisbane, the call of the Valley remains supreme. Not surprisingly,
every KP gathering, the world over, often echoes the words of Lal Ded, the 14th
century mystical poetess:
“We’re the ones who were always there, we are
the ones who live on;
There was never a time when we were not present
Like Shiva’s creations that dissolve and rise;
Like the sun that rises and sets and rises
We shall return to where we belong”
Amitabh Mattoo, DPhil. (Oxon), Padma Shri,is a
professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Headline: 3 decades
of remarkable resilience against odds
Source: The Hindustan Times