Kashmiri Pandits

The Return of the Kashmiri Pandit

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi 
“The Return of the Kashmiri Pandit” – this phrase has come to sound like that famous 1985 horror movie-cum-black comedy The Return of the Living Dead. Given that we Kashmiris are so hypersensitive that a slight tinge of satire may stoke unwanted emotions, I hope being candid does not lead to my being misconstrued. The analogy is admittedly a bit absurd, but the popular response generated by any government offer to rehabilitate the displaced Kashmiri Pandits gives an impression as if the KP community would have a comeback as the horde of hungry zombies out to devour the unsuspecting Muslim population.

Today, many separatist leaders and commonplace Kashmiri Muslims are nervous that the proposed “townships” offer for the Pandits might be very “dangerous” for the majority (Although it seems that the government had to clarify that the offer did not really imply “isolated” colonies but an attempt to “reintegrate” the displaced KP community). Some people even went to claim that the proposal might lead to an “Israel-like situation” in which the majority will eventually be replaced by the minority. Honestly, I do not know what to call this kind of attitude if not extreme paranoia.

First of all, Kashmiri Pandits are not some foreigners trying to grab the “rightfully inherited” land of Kashmiri Muslims. Secondly, we do not see any imminent population explosion in the KP community, which might result into a situation where they could outnumber the Muslim community any soon (But, wait a minute! Doesn’t this remind us of the mindset warning the Hindu India of the “increasing” Muslim population?). Thirdly, out of the 62,000 displaced KP families, how many are actually likely to return? The affluent and lucky ones, who have dispersed and settled in many foreign lands with better employment and educational prospects, would be least interested in a comeback, just like the many Kashmiri Muslims settled elsewhere. Finally, how many of them do we strongly believe will return willingly and stay there for good? More than one state government has made promises to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. We have even seen attractive job packages being offered in the past. Unfortunately there have been few takers so far. In fact, we have heard reports of people leaving soon after they had joined these jobs. Why? Let’s think about it!

In the summer of 2013, I visited the remote area of Shopian in Kashmir with some people as part of a project documenting Kashmir oral history. We were greeted by several ghost houses, ruins of the foundations of razed buildings once inhabited by the Pandits who had fled in terror many years ago in the 90’s. Despite witnessing arsons and attacks on their neighbors, a single Pandit family had decided to stay back. We met them. They prepared lunch for us – chicken, mutton kofte, and yogurt drinks. An elderly woman looked at me with great affection as we listened to the story her husband narrated. I returned her gesture with the same warmth. The woman gave me a tight hug and showed me around. After the lunch we stepped outside and took a closer look of the neighborhood. The house stood amidst an array of giant trees and ruins of the burnt down houses of which only the worn down foundations remained. It was a quiet, isolated place; not a single neighbor was within sight. “It is scary,” I turned to my companions. The elderly man, in his 90’s, said in a reassuring voice:

We have become used to it now. We are not scared any more. The policemen guard our house and property at night. They come around 10:00pm everyday and leave in the morning. We wish we had some neighbors, some relatives around here that we could share our joys and our sorrows with.

We may brag about our “composite culture” and our “shared past”, or take pride in the much-hallowed notion of “Kashmiriyat”, but the reality on ground says a slightly different story. We have turned into an exclusivist society in which people belonging to other religions or ideologies do not quite fit. Except for a few isolated elite colonies (I would call them “sophisticated ghettos”), there are few neighborhoods in the valley, which can boast of being truly “composite” in nature.

Setting aside the endless debates and conspiracy theories on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, let’s be honest in admitting the fact that both the state government and the majority community have so far failed to facilitate the return of our “Pandit brothers”. The miniscule population of Kashmiri Pandits, just like other minorities, cannot be a threat to the majority. Conversely, it is this population that has been continuously vulnerable; the many migrations of KPs are a testimony to this fact.

If the representatives of various schools of thought are really sincere in wanting the displaced community back, it’s high time they put a full stop to knee-jerk responses and insensitive statements that cause further alienation of the KP community. A well thought out plan for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the interested members by the government in consultation with various people, which will not expose the community to any vulnerable situation, is the need of the hour.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. For feedback, she can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com.
———–
Originally published in the daily Rising Kashmir (April 9, 2015): http://www.risingkashmir.com/the-return-of-the-kashmiri-pandit/

Revisiting the question of the Kashmiri Pandits: The battle of the narratives

Every year the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate the month of January 1990 for the beginning of an era of two structurally different but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the “exodus” of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror and the beginning of the brutal atrocities of the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a time period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief.

There has been an abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and a continued resentment; this often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives developed independently over the course of time on each side leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be filled over twenty-three years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this enterprise is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the other’s pain against their own.

 

The Problem

Numerous conflicts motivated, influenced, promoted or characterized by communal or ethnic tension are a testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conflict and KP/KM debate fail to recognize the importance of the degree of influence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reflected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, under-emphasize, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side without assessing the repercussions of such behavior. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity.

The members of the KP and the KM community or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit “exodus”. One voice consistently maintains that the KP’s left as part of the governor Jagmohan’s “conspiracy to clear ground” for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate “militancy” (and, involving “massacring” of the Muslims) and the other suggests that the KPs were “driven” or “hounded” out by the majority community as part of a well-organized, systematic, sort of scripted agenda “to get rid of them”, with an aim of “ethnic cleansing”. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the state’s “nefarious designs” against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and two, is the claim by some people that the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for the atrocities incurred on them at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (Some extremist Pandit groups even use the term “holocaust” to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community kept accusing them for leaving their homeland “for greener pastures”. Both of the two positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate and contribute to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities.

There is no doubt that the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (or ‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the last two decades or so post 1990. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief had already been existing, and simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990.

Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir, a significant number of Kashmiri Pandits were targeted — killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to “set an example” for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the “movement”. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reflected political or ideological differences, also existed within the Kashmiri Muslim community itself, viz., on the sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shi’a Muslim community, with the warning of “joining the movement or facing the consequences”; it is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shi’a Muslim minority to join hands with the “movement”. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a “threat” to the “freedom” struggle. These included politicians, government officials as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially National Conference. Given these facts, it is naïve to suggest that majority of the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection.

While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances as refugees in their own country, back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come — the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side but neither seemed to take that first step — a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain.

 

Major Challenge in the Process of Reconciliation

In the process of truth telling, peace making and reconciliation, there is no room for “but what about…” or the pehle aap (‘first you’) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to fulfill its promises to “rehabilitate Pandits in their homes”, most attempts of return were foiled by unidentified elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses, their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled up by vested interests.

It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the government of India and the security forces of the atrocities incurred on them over all these years. The reason for that being that although the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the “movement for freedom”, but they also did not participate in it.

There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels and this must happen simultaneously — one is the KP-KM reconciliation and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue –whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.

© Sadaf Munshi. August 31, 2013.

___________

Originally published in Economic and Political Weekly (Aug 31, 2013).
URL: http://www.epw.in/discussion/revisiting-question-kashmiri-pandits.html

 

Revisiting the Question of the Kashmiri Pandits: The Battle of the Narratives

By: Dr. Sadaf Munshi

Every year the people of the Kashmiri Pandit (KP) and Kashmiri Muslim (KM) communities commemorate the month of January 1990 for the beginning of an era of two structurally different but extremely bitter and painful experiences: the “exodus” of the former facilitated by an atmosphere of immense fear and terror and the beginning of the brutal atrocities of the latter at the hands of the Indian state. It was a time period that marked the beginning of an era of dissatisfaction on both sides, a sense of deceit, distrust and disbelief.

There has been an abysmal silence on part of each of the two communities failing to acknowledge the painful experiences of the other and a continued resentment; this often leads to poisonous confrontations and virulent debates on public forums as well as in private gatherings. Two parallel narratives developed independently over the course of time on each side leaving a dismal gap between the two communities, which has yet to be filled over twenty-three years later. What is truly unfortunate and utterly disappointing about all this enterprise is the unfathomable urge among the members of the two communities, time and time again, to indulge in comparing and weighing their own pain and sufferings against the other and thus, directly or indirectly denying, falsifying and even ridiculing the other’s pain against their own.

The Problem

Numerous conflicts motivated, influenced, promoted or characterized by communal or ethnic tension are a testimony to the fact that during such politically charged times when governing bodies have literally collapsed, the last thing the common people tend to do is to think and act rationally. A majority of the leading voices on the Kashmir conflict and KP/KM debate fail to recognize the importance of the degree of influence that various key events and situations had on the emotional psychology of the people from each of these communities. This eventually reflected itself as a contention based on competing narratives, which seem to omit, under-emphasize, deny, or cherry-pick incidents that are potentially sensitive for one or the other side without assessing the repercussions of such behavior. In any tragic account like this, the account of the victims should be given the greatest sanctity.

The members of the KP and the KM community or their supporters advocating their respective causes or aspirations have consistently maintained two extreme positions on the question of the Pandit “exodus”. One voice consistently maintains that the KP’s left as part of the governor Jagmohan’s “conspiracy to clear ground” for a large-scale operation in an attempt to eradicate “militancy” (and, involving “massacring” of the Muslims) and the other suggests that the KPs were “driven” or “hounded” out by the majority community as part of a well-organized, systematic, sort of scripted agenda “to get rid of them”, with an aim of “ethnic cleansing”. Similar to these are the following arguments: one is the constant blaming by the majority of the minority that they were complicit with the state’s “nefarious designs” against the Muslims and, therefore, deserved to be ousted, and two, is the claim by some people that the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for the atrocities incurred on them at the hands of the Indian security forces, making statements such as: they invited it, and, therefore, they deserved it (Some extremist Pandit groups even use the term “holocaust” to refer to the mass migration). While the minority community largely holds the majority responsible for their plight, the majority community kept accusing them for leaving their homeland “for greener pastures”. Both of the two positions are dangerously biased and inaccurate and contribute to strengthen and intensify the bitterness, animosity and mistrust between the two communities.

There is no doubt that the migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (or ‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the last two decades or so post 1990. However, a fair degree of mistrust and disbelief had already been existing, and simmering underneath an apparently harmonious society before 1990.

Recall that at the outset of the armed struggle for “freedom” in Kashmir, a significant number of Kashmiri Pandits were targeted — killed, abducted or simply threatened by armed militants or mobs based on suspicion, communal animosity, sometimes for purely personal reasons, or merely to “set an example” for those who might have connived with the Indian state against the militants or the “movement”. It is also important to note that a certain degree of tension, which often reflected political or ideological differences, also existed within the Kashmiri Muslim community itself, viz., on the sectarian lines. Thus, attacks and threats, though on a fairly smaller scale, were also made against people belonging to other minorities, such as the Shi’a Muslim community, with the warning of “joining the movement or facing the consequences”; it is such threats that motivated many of the members of the Shi’a Muslim minority to join hands with the “movement”. Note that attacks were made on everybody who was seen as a “threat” to the “freedom” struggle. These included politicians, government officials as well as people representing or supporting mainstream political parties, especially National Conference. Given these facts, it is naïve to suggest that majority of the Kashmiri Muslims were responsible for or involved in efforts to enforce religious homogeneity, or that ethnic cleansing was the primary goal in this connection.

While the majority of the KP community was living in extreme circumstances as refugees in their own country, back home in Kashmir the majority community was busy wailing over their losses over the many years to come — the atrocities by the security forces, rapes and assault of many of their women, enforced disappearances, scores of fake encounters, deaths/killings of civilians during protests and demonstrations, and numerous other human rights violations. A strong void developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side but neither seemed to take that first step — a furiousness and frustration set forth at the silence of the other at their pain. 

Major Challenge in the Process of Reconciliation

In the process of truth telling, peace making and reconciliation, there is no room for “but what about…” or the pehle aap (‘first you’) attitude. It is high time that, without any prejudice or hesitations and without getting entangled in the pointless debates on theories and conspiracies on who or what was responsible for the KP exodus, we admit that both the government and the majority community failed to prevent them from leaving Kashmir or facilitate their return. While the state government consistently failed to fulfill its promises to “rehabilitate Pandits in their homes”, most attempts of return were foiled by unidentified elements, often involving violence. The least the state or the central government could have done in this regard was to save or secure their houses, their places of worship, and their other immovable property, which lay abandoned, dilapidated, unprotected, abused, and in several cases, burnt down or gobbled up by vested interests.

It seems to me that there perhaps will be no formal or large-scale acknowledgement of the shameful truth regarding the exodus of the Pandit minority by the majority Muslim community without a simultaneous acknowledgement on part of the government of India and the security forces of the atrocities incurred on them over all these years. The reason for that being that although the Pandits are not responsible for the atrocities on Kashmiri Muslims, they are, albeit only symbolically, perceived as associated with the national machinery that caused these atrocities. They did not really contest the “movement for freedom”, but they also did not participate in it.

There is a need for the process of reconciliation to begin at two levels and this must happen simultaneously — one is the KP-KM reconciliation and the other is the Kashmir-India reconciliation. The major challenge in this process, however, is that until there is a formal political settlement to the Kashmir issue –whatever that is, there will be no Kashmir-India reconciliation. Although it is possible that the KP-KM reconciliation could proceed on its own, it may not be effective enough to ensure the return of the Pandits to Kashmir unless some kind of a formal political solution or settlement is sought and achieved. It is a double-edged sword and a bitter reality for all of us to understand without losing our tempers.

About the author: Dr. Sadaf Munshi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at smunshi2002@yahoo.com
———————

Originally published in Economic and Political Weekly (Aug 31, 2013): http://www.epw.in/discussion/revisiting-question-kashmiri-pandits.html

The Burnt Shrine: A Personal Journey in Kashmir

Burnt Shrine_Munshi_2012

     Valley of Saints (by Sadaf Munshi)

As a child I grew up in a fairly peaceful period of Kashmir, listening to the stories of Heemaal-Nagray, Zehra Let, Lal Ded and Haba Khatoon. Weekends were spent waiting for Doordarshan to broadcast the one and only Hindi movie a week on a well-to-do neighbor’s black-n-white television set. Life was quite laid back and everything was seemingly normal. My ancestral home was situated in one of the narrow lanes of a small neighborhood by the banks of river Jehlum. The locality is named Khankahi Sokhta, or in Kashmiri Dodmut Khankah, which literally means ‘the burnt shrine’. The name always intrigued me though I still do not know about the shrine after which the area was named. There were mosques – both Shi’a and Sunni mosques, and there was a Hindu temple in the area. It was a fairly cosmopolitan neighborhood.

After school, we would play saza-long (hop-scotch) and tule-langun (another game popular among Kashmiri girls in those days). In the evenings I would take private tuition lessons from my Hindu (Pandit) teacher who lived a few blocks away. After the tuition lessons, I would often stand by the kitchen door observing the lady of the house as she cooked for dinner — dam-olav ‘steamed potatoes made with seasoned curry’, neni-haakh ‘mutton and collard greens’, and so forth. However, that was the boundary-line. Being a Muslim, I was not allowed in the inner parts of the kitchen by the Pandit household. Further, my mother – a conservative and devout Muslim – had strictly advised me not to eat their food lest I should be committing a gonah (‘sin’) for which I “will receive a punishment in the hereafter”. It would be okay, however, to eat dry snacks or cookies as these were bought from the market in sealed packages. It did not matter who made those cookies; as long as you didn’t know, it was Halāl.

Sometimes I would break the rules of communal discipline and disturb the purification rituals of my mother by deliberately mixing the cups and saucers she had kept aside for use by the non-Muslim guests with the rest that were for use by the family and other guests. My father, who was more secular and open-minded than my mother, would often make fun of her by reminding her of an incident many years ago when Toth, my grandfather, had singled out my father’s only Pandit friend at their wedding reception. Grandfather had made a fuss about the fact that he had had to arrange a separate meal for the groom’s Pandit friend who would not have shared nor been able to share a plate with a Muslim (In a traditional Kashmiri Muslim wedding, four people eat together from the same plate called Traem; for a Hindu and a Muslim to eat from the same plate would be no less than a blasphemy). On Heirat, or Shivaratri, however, everybody at home would impatiently wait for and merrily relish the water-soaked walnuts (heirat-dooyn) offered by the Pandits. I also had the fortune to enjoy some Pandit weddings in the neighborhood – listening to Henzee, the Hindu version of the traditional Kashmiri folk song Vanvun, admiring the rangoli, dancing and singing along with other girls.

Coming from a fairly conservative family, I had learned to follow a strict Islamic dress code from when I was 9 years old. This, however, was not a common trend in the Kashmir of the eighties. In fact, I was the only girl in my classroom to observe hijaab. Women were quite up-to-date when it came to fashion. Figure-hugging Kameez and skin-tight Shalwaars were in vogue; purdah was only popular in certain families. Burqa was already viewed as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, traditional Kameez-Shalwar was the most acceptable dress code for women. Many women would put the thin georgette or chiffon dupatta over their head as a mark of respect in front of elders and remove it elsewhere. Occasionally I would see a young woman or two in western clothing walking in a neighborhood street and, like many other girls, secretly admire them. Cinema halls were a common recreation for the young and the old. A number of movie theaters were running in the city – Palladium, Shiraz, Khayyam, Neelam, Firdaus and Regal; many parts of the city are still named after these cinema halls though none of them exists today. As a child I participated in sports and other activities at school– race competitions, singing, dancing performances, and so on. And on Independence Day we sang Allamah Iqbal’s composition sare jahan se accha Hindostan hamara.

During those days of my childhood, the majority of the Kashmiri people were divided along the Sher-Bakra political lines (and in a way still are, though the terms are outdated nowadays). Sher (‘lion’) and Bakra (‘goat’) were the terms originally used for the two political rivals and later their followers – Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah (the latter for sporting a beard; Shah was the uncle of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, the father of the current Mirwaiz, Maulana Umar Farooq). Sheikh Abdullah had, in 1938, parted ways from the Muslim Conference to form National Conference, which became the largest political party in Jammu & Kashmir claiming a secular ideology. Pertinently, it was Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah, later his political opponent, who had initially introduced Sheikh as the president of the Muslim Conference at its inception in 1930. Sher-Bakra became a very strict political dichotomy in Kashmir after 1938 and continued over generations. Ironically it was Sheikh Abdullah who launched the Quit Kashmir movement in 1946 when Yusuf Shah had supported the government led by the Maharaja. Two groups that were more or less outside the purview of this blanket distinction of Sher-Bakra were the minority Shi’a and the Pundit community, whose loyalties to the either side were generally suspect. Often one would have to face questions like: “Are you Sher or Bakra?” Imagine the disappointment and surprise if you were to say, “Neither” and/or the sense of fear at being encountered with a supporter of the opposite side. This was besides: “Are you Shi’a or Sunni?” — a question I often had to face at school. It was very common in the Kashmiri society to identify people through these denominations. My father used to tell us stories about how my aunt would sit by the windowsill, watching people come and go on the street, and wondering, “Is he Shi’a or Sunni?”

There was one more subtle division — amongst the Kashmiri Muslim sections – that of supporting either India or Pakistan during a cricket match. This, however, was not a very clear-cut division. Within my own family we had supporters of both the countries. So, there always used to be a possibility of “conflict” during a cricket match. Pictures and paintings of Quaid-e-Azam (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and Allamah Iqbal decorated the walls of almost every Muslim household. These figures were highly revered and even deified by many elders, so much so that any “disrespectful” comment was highly admonished and disapproved of. I often used to wonder why somebody in my family would support Pakistan and not “Hindustan”, their own country, during a cricket match, or why a fellow Muslim girl in my school would sometimes put butter on the bald head of Mahatma Gandhi on a picture hanging in our classroom. But then I realized later that for many of these people “Pakistan” was simply an ideology, an emotional matter, something they had been associating themselves with since its very inception. Many friends and close family members, which included my father’s and my mother’s immediate cousins, aunts and uncles, lived across the border; brothers and sisters, even husbands and wives were separated. It had been a very cruel partition back then in 1947.

I remember it was September 1982 when the “Lion” of Kashmir — Sher-e-Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah passed away. We were told that his body was kept in a refrigerator for a few days before it was put to rest in a grave next to the famous Dargah (Hazratbal) on the banks of the Nageen Lake in Srinagar. Hordes and hordes of people had gathered in the Polo Ground to pay homage to the deceased Lion. My grandfather carried me on his shoulders so I did not get trampled upon or lost in the maddening crowd. It was a great frenzy. There were people everywhere — on the ground, on treetops, on every thing they could possibly hold on to — to get the last glimpse of Sheikh Sahab. Some said that his giant body could not fit in the coffin. Such was the strength he had exhibited and the charisma associated with him during his lifetime that people did not believe that Sher-e-Kashmir could actually die. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, had arrived to pay her tributes as well. Many days followed in quiet mourning and disbelief. Sheikh’s son Dr. Farooq Abdullah became the next chief minister.

Over the course of its electoral history, the central government, for a record, never allowed a single dominant political party to successfully emerge or flourish in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Dr. Farooq’s nascent government collapsed in 1984 when the Governor Jagmohan dismissed him; apparently the Congress-led government at the Center was not happy with the rise of the National Conference. A Congress-led government was put in place with Abdullah’s brother-in-law, Ghulam Muhammad Shah, as the new chief minister. Shah too was replaced after a short span of time in 1986 by a new Congress-National Conference government, again led by Abdullah. Shah’s reign was a particularly unstable period in Kashmir. A new party, Muslim Mutahida Mahaaz, or Muslim United Front, came into existence in 1987 and apparently managed to garner a strong support base. The party, however, could not win the (notoriously “rigged”) 1987 elections (which gave rise to armed insurgency in Kashmir) against the Congress-National Conference alliance, and Abdullah became the CM once again.

While all these political changes were taking place, Kashmir politics entered an era of increasing communal influence. A lot of madrasas (Islamic schools) had mushroomed in many parts of the Valley. For us, girls, a women’s organization to impose a strict Islamic dress code had been established in 1987. The ‘daughters of the nation’ Dukhtarān-e-Millat (led by Asiya Andrabi) became the women’s aide to the freedom fighting organizations in the years to come. Post-1989, the ‘daughters’ would pay regular visits to schools and colleges providing lectures on azādi and shariyah. A strict dress code was imposed, which included, for a short period, wearing burqa – the complete veil covering your body and face. A number of hand grenades were hurled at women crowds near educational institutions on the pretext of not observing purdah. There were incidents of smearing girls with color if they did not follow the rules. This was one of the worst forms of public humiliation for women of “respected families”, and hence, the immense pressure of following the norm. Non-Muslim women were instructed to disclose their identity by wearing a bindi on their foreheads lest they were not made a target in mistake.

1989-90 was the landmark year when life came to a standstill in Kashmir; all fun activities came to an end for us. I was taking my tenth class examinations when I found myself amidst the first crossfire. During that period I lived at my maternal grandparents’ house in Kamangar Pora, a small neighborhood very close to Jamia Masjid — the grand mosque in Srinagar; Jamia Masjid and its surrounding areas became the epicenter of political activity in the coming years. For the first time we heard about mujahids (Islamic militants pursuing a holy war, Jehad, in Kashmir) having arrived from across the border in order to “liberate Kashmir from the Indian occupation”. We also heard about the “UN Resolutions”, “the promise of Plebiscite by Jawaharlal Nehru”, and the “(forced) cultural domination of Hindustan”. What followed was an atmosphere of extreme tension on the one hand and an immense enthusiasm amongst the (Muslim) youth to “fight for freedom” on the other. Songs of azaadi were broadcast on Radio Azad Kashmir and aired from the loudspeakers of the local mosques: watan hamara azad Kashmir ‘our homeland is Azaad Kashmir’, jāgo jāgo subah hui ‘Wake up, wake up the morning is here’. Slogans of azādi resounded on the streets, from the rooftops of the houses, at night and in the broad daylight. More and more young people – teenagers, little boys aged 12, 13 and onwards — were recruited for the “freedom struggle”.

Anybody who was seen as a threat to the “movement” or as being a mukhbir ‘(government) informant’ became a target. The minority communities — the Shi’a Muslims and the Pandits — were warned to either “join the movement or face the consequences”. I still remember when the head of Tehseen Billa, an alleged mukhbir belonging to the minority Shi’a community, was seen flying in our neighborhood near Kamangar Pora reportedly in a grenade attack; the entire locality was dumbfounded. In a similar incident, a retired sessions judge from the Pandit community, Neel Kanth Ganjoo was killed at Hari Singh High Street; Ganjoo had held Maqbool Bhatt, the co-founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, guilty of a said crime back in 1984 after which Bhat had been hanged to death (Note that the death sentence was in fact upheld by Justice Murtaza Fazal Ali; supporters of Bhatt alleged that the verdict was given in a hasty manner. Further the court had denied handing over the remains and the belongings of Maqbool Bhat to his family). Having foreseen the consequences of not joining the “freedom struggle”, which was initially largely a Sunni-dominated movement, the Shi’a community finally succumbed to the pressure; the Pandits, however, did not see a future within what was very likely projected to become an Islamic state, and, therefore, opted to stay aloof. Many killings, kidnappings and death threats took place in the times to come.

By the winter of 1990, the situation had so drastically changed that it seemed as if azādi were round the corner. People started talking about Pakistan as if it were our imminent destination. Many even changed their clocks half-an-hour behind. Slogans of Pakistan se rishta kya: laa-ilaha-illallah (‘what is our relationship with Pakistan? La-ilaha-illallah (Arabic. There is one and only one God)’), azādi ka matlab kya: laa-ilaha-illallah (‘what is the meaning of azādi (freedom)? La-ilaha-illallah’), became more and more vocal on the streets and on the loudspeakers of the local mosques. It became more and more evident that it was a “movement” towards the formation of a conservative Islamic state where mullahs and maulanas stood at the forefront of giving directions for what was claimed to be a “political struggle for independence”. Most of the political speeches were offered from the pulpit of the Jamia Masjid. Often the armed militants sought refuge in mosques or shrines; what followed would be the “desecration” of the shrine/mosque by the security forces and bloodbath.

In January 1990, Jagmohan was reappointed as governor to control the situation and crush the rebellion. Within a day or so, people gathered in overwhelming numbers protesting at Gowkadal (Maisuma, Srinagar) and chanting slogans of hum kya chahate: azaadi (‘what do we want: freedom’), yahan kya chalega: nizame-mustafa (‘what will prevail here: the order/government of (the Prophet) Muhammad’). About fifty people were killed on the spot when the Central Reserve Police Force opened fire on the protesters. One of my neighbors had been caught under a pile of dead and injured; for a minute he thought he “was dead”. Blood-smeared bodies of people were horrific to look at. We closed our eyes and howled: it was a gory episode. Amidst this entire frenzy, the small population of the Kashmiri Pandits was petrified by an all-abiding fear, terrified and cringed. Truckloads of Pandits left the valley in the dark of the night on January 21, 1990 and many more followed suit in the next three months or so. An extraordinary silence followed. Many people from the majority community saw the exodus as a “conspiracy by the governor” who was planning “a large-scale operation to kill Muslims indiscriminately” in order to clean the valley of the mujahids and “crush the movement”. Nevertheless, the migration of Pandits was largely seen as temporary, and it was believed that “within a few months the situation will be stable and the Pandits will return”. That, unfortunately, was never meant to happen.

For us, the leaving of the Pandits meant no more Hindi teachers in schools. Some of the very dear friends were never to be seen again. No heirat walnuts, no more bhajans to be heard from the nearby temples, no more visiting Pandit neighbors and friends. The deserted homes of the Pandits slowly turned into ghost houses. The militants occupied some while others became the abode for the security forces; some lucky ones, however, were able to sell theirs off (Note that some of these sales were “distress sales” and properties were sold for peanuts). My first encounter with a Kashmiri Pandit as an adult was after a period of about eight years in the winter of 1996-97. I had left Kashmir to pursue a Masters program in the University of Delhi. On my first day in the women’s hostel, while tightening the laces on my sports shoes in front of the hostel canteen, I was greeted by who turned out to be a Kashmiri Pandit girl, “Hi! Are you Kashmiri?” I could not hide my Kashmiri look; my nose was a testimony to my identity. I said, “Yes!” Soon after we exchanged a brief greeting and our names, the question that followed put me in a state of great unease: The entire Kashmiri Pandit community was uprooted from their homeland. Who do you think was responsible for it? I felt like the whole world had come to an end, the earth had shattered and the ground was slipping from beneath my feet. I did not have an answer. I do not have an answer.

The migration of the Kashmiri Pandits was the strongest blow to the Kashmiri ethos of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and the much-harped notion of Kashmiriyat (‘Kashmiriness’). A stringent bitterness and suspicion had developed between the two communities, which continued and crystallized over the two decades or so post 1990. After leaving the Valley, many Pandits had lived in extreme circumstances, in makeshift tents in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi for years to come. Only the affluent ones had been able to find better opportunities and better places. The hot weather of the plains did not suit the people used to the lush green valleys and the snow-covered mountains. The pain of separation from the beautiful homeland, reshwair (‘valley of saints’) and the anger and dissatisfaction at the silence of the majority community as well as the government’s incapability in rehabilitating them was immeasurable. Back home in Kashmir, the majority community was busy wailing over the loss over the years and the atrocities and human rights violations by the security forces. Tens of thousands of people had lost their lives – some fighting for freedom, some innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire and some soldiers on the roadside. A strong void had developed between the two separated communities, which seemed to be widening over the course of time. There was an increasing need of a sense of acknowledgement of the pain and suffering from each side.

Today, when I look back at these many years of great yearning and loss, I inspire myself by these powerful lines attributed to Lal Ded, the mystic poet of the 14th century Kashmir:

Shiv chuy thali thali rav zān
Mau zān Hyund ta Musalmān
‘Lord Shiva abides in everything that is,
Do not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim’

Perhaps that day is bound to come when the expectations are met, the acknowledgements are exchanged.
© Sadaf Munshi. July 1, 2012

———
(Originally published at: http://www.cerebration.org/sadafmunshi.html )

Swim Along the Stream

“History has seen such times when the crime was committed by a moment, but the punishment was suffered by centuries”.                 (Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah)

In retrospect, for more than half a century now India and Pakistan have been engaged in attempts to resolving the question as to whether the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India was a legitimate enterprise or a matter of “fraud and force”. Another question in vogue is the question of the creation of the state of Pakistan itself. While many questions remain unanswered, the valley of Kashmir has served a bone of contention between the two countries during the post-independence era of the British Indian empire. India and Pakistan fought four wars, three of which were fought over Kashmir which include the intense battle between the two countries in 1947-48, another war in 1965, and the recent 1999 Kargil war. (The 1971 civil war led to the partition of the 1947 Pakistan leading to the formation of Bangladesh in the east). The problem of Kashmir has ever since remained as a seemingly unending conflict having expended considerable blood, peace and sensibility. While that is a fact, over the past more-than-thirteen years, Kashmir has seen immense and indispensable loss on almost every platform. On the one hand are Pakistan’s continued attempts to internationalize the Kashmir issue and its persistent insistence that there will be no permanent peace in South Asia until the problem of Kashmir is solved. And on the other hand is India’s claim that Pakistan has no right to advocate the case for plebiscite in Kashmir given the fact that the latter (Pakistan) never vacated her “forcible occupation of the one-third of the territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir” which was one of the preconditions for the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir.

While struggling with these unanswered questions, another question that ought to have come to one’s mind and is perhaps not unanswerable is: who are the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir? How far is it legitimate for the so-called self-elected leaders of a specific ethno-religious group which constitutes only a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to be claiming representatives who will determine the fate of the State which is an amalgam of at least three different ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious populations? In addition, is the not-much-spoken-of Kashmiri Pandits’ separatist demand for “Panun Kashmir”. While the issue of Kashmir problem has been constantly associated with the valley, one cannot turn a blind eye to the involvement of the provinces Jammu and Ladakh in the present struggle which, if not directly participating, have been under considerable influence and are a direct party in any conflict resolving program who need to be effectively consulted in this enterprise.

In the year 2003, the question arises whether the history of conflict over Jammu and Kashmir can be re-written. Has re-opening of the debate over the Instrument of Accession in 1990s made an iota of a difference in the present scenario of the facts that neither India nor Pakistan have ever agreed upon any concessions regarding any possible solution of the long lasting dispute? On the one hand is India’s ever adamant stand and resistance to “third party involvement” that has prevented the UN Security Council from any contribution it could (possibly) have made to diffuse or decrease the continuous underlying tension, hostility and suspicion between the two rivals, and on the other, is Pakistan’s resumption of the traditional rhetoric about the Kashmiris’ “right of self determination” without being able to move the argument any further by “defining how it could be achieved” in view of India’s persistent claims about Jammu and Kashmir as an “integral part of India” and Pakistan’s own refusal to consider the “third option of Independence” in which case Pakistan is in a vulnerable situation of losing “Azad Kashmir”, which Pakistan will never be obliged to give up.

The fact that remains on ground is that the State of Jammu and Kashmir has already been broken up into Pakistan and Indian occupied parts; the challenge that the proponents of “Independence for the entire State” are faced with is the reunification of the two parts which appears more like a romantic fantasy than a possible practical situation in near future unless under some “extraordinary” circumstances, in which case both India and Pakistan need to exhibit immense generosity and patience. Another point of debate that has to be raised is that once ethno-religious factors are considered to be a basis for deciding “statehood or new territorial arrangements”, further communal compartmentalization on such grounds is inevitable given the ethno- religious and geographical distribution of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (on the Indian side of L.O.C, let alone P.o.K). The movement for “plebiscite and self-determination” carried on non-stop from generation to generation is not only telling upon the mental and psychological states of the people of Kashmir valley but has also contributed towards friction among the different provinces of J & K leading to their isolation from each other and a lack of understanding, especially creating a distance of Jammu and Ladakh from the valley.

In addition to this, the more important issues of economy, cultural and educational development which ought to be a primary concern given the persistent condition of the State, have been taken for granted. It is extremely difficult to imagine what incentive would be strong enough to bring all the concerned parties to a consensus towards the betterment of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

(c) Sadaf Munshi
(Published in Kashmir Observer, 2003)