Kashmiri Pandits: 27 years of Exile

I was in Class Five when the word Kashmir made its way into my little vocabulary. My Drawing teacher Mrs. Kaul was from the valley. Though she was not a Kashmiri herself, she had married a Kashmiri. She used to wear ‘Dejaharoo‘ (Earrings which cling on a long silk or golden string) and come to school. As someone who grew in Jaipur, I had never seen my mother or other women wear it so I was of course curious. My mother used to teach Hindi in the same school and through her I got to know she was a Kashmiri and these are ornaments specific to the people who come from the state. She also told me that her house was attacked by terrorists during the late 80’s and they moved out of the valley post that. I was neither mature enough to understand about the situation nor was I interested to know why her house was attacked. However, that was my first brush with the story of Kashmiri Pandits.

If I ignore this little encounter during my childhood, then it would be fair to say that I had not even heard about the Kashmiri Pandits till 2010. It was only after I joined twitter and interacted with Kashmiris over there, I got to know about their story. A story that moved and shook me to the core and has stayed with me over the years. I was sad and shocked that something like this could happen in our country. I was angry and hurt that how very little is known about them and none of our history books mention their exodus. I have had Kashmiri Pandits in my class while I was growing up but I never bothered to ask them because I did not know their story and even they never shared their side because most of them were born after the exodus or were too tired to revisit their exodus.

For a long time, Kashmir has been all about separatists, their call for Azadi and Indian Army in a daily battle with militants. However, there is another side which is forgotten which is of the Pandits. This has changed to an extent with the advent of social media as a lot of people have started talking about them too. A young breed of Kashmiri Pandit writers (Rahul Pandita, Siddharth Gigoo, Varad Sharma) has risen up and they are now taking the help of pen to tell their story. In spite of this there are a lot of people who still don’t know about the exodus. This is my attempt to reach out to the people who are my friends and relatives on social media. Even if one of my friends or followers reads it on Facebook and gets to know about the story of Kashmiri Pandits then I would be satisfied.

A lot of us cannot even sleep properly if we change the side of the bed. My wife hates travelling as she cannot sleep in the claustrophobic train berths. Most of us miss the comfort of our home when we visit a relative’s house for a wedding & stay in a dharamshala or hotel. Now, imagine sleeping on the wrong side of the bed for your entire life or sleeping in that claustrophobic train compartment for a lifetime or being in a dharamshala forever. We cannot. The thought of it makes us uncomfortable. But here we have a community who is out of their homes for more than two decades now. As I write this, they enter their 27th year in exile and it all happened on that fateful winter night of 19th January 1990. A community was threatened, their women were raped, their men were killed, their children were orphaned and they were forced out of their homes forever. Why? Because they were Hindus.

In the late 80’s, Kashmir was simmering with tension and the seeds of this were sown when the then Congress government at centre rigged the elections in 1987. Muslim United Front (MUF) was expected to win a good number of seats but it ended up winning just four and they did not take it lightly. To make matters worse, Sayeed Salahudeen of MUF was jailed. Today, he heads the dreaded Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The rigged elections created distrust and a lot of Kashmiris lost the faith in democracy. I consider this as the turning point of the insurgency in the valley.

However, was it only this that led to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits? NO! How can people who take great pride in talking about ‘Kashmiriyat’ turn their backs on their Pandit brothers so quickly? If it was the anger against rigged elections, then why did this anger find its release on Kashmiri Pandits and not others? There was of course something sinister in all this. It was an attempt to get rid of the minorities from the valley and a step closer to the Islamization of Kashmir which more or less has been achieved.

The murder of Pandit Tika Lal Taploo who was a noted lawyer & member of BJP by JKLF was the first of the many killings that took place in the valley. The killings that followed were brutal and harrowing. Sarla Bhat, a nurse was abducted from her hostel, gang raped and killed. Girja Tikoo, a teacher was kidnapped, raped & shredded to pieces in a saw mill. Pandit Sarwanand was hanged to death and his eyes were gauged out. As many as 300 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by the terrorists. Every day there was news about a Kashmiri Pandit being attacked, kidnapped and killed. The failure of the administration to take any action against the terrorists only added to the fear among the Pandits.

If this was not enough, local Urdu newspapers Aftab and Al Safa published a press release by Hizb-ul-Mujhaideen asking the Hindus to leave Kashmir. Hundreds of posters were pasted on shops, walls, electric poles asking the Pandits to leave. There were orders asking Kashmiris to follow the Islamic dress code and a ban on cinemas and alcohol came into place. The clocks were set in accordance with the Pakistan Standard Time. Mosques in the valley reverberated with slogans like ‘Kashmir mei agar rehna hai, Allah-O-Akbar kehna hai (If you want to stay in Kashmir, you have to say Allah-O-Akbar); Yahan kya chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (What will work here? Rule of Shariah); Asi gachchi Pakistan, Batao roas te Batanev san‘ (We want Pakistan along with Hindu women but without their men), Islam hamara maqsad hai, Quran hamara dastur hai, jehad hamara Rasta hai” (Islam is our objective, Quran is our constitution and Jehad is our way), Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (Cinvert, Leave or Die)

The Hindu places of worship were looted and destroyed subsequently. Shailputri and Bhairon Nath Temple in Baramulla, Wanpoh temple in Anantnag, temples in Lukh Bhawan were some of the temples that were attacked by the terrorists. The idols in various temples were broken and the temple walls were defaced. The growing Islamization slowly gripped the valley and Anantnag was named Islamabad. The famous Shankaracharya Temple became Takht-e-Suleiman while Hari Parbat where the famous Sharda Peeth lies is now called Kohr-e-Maraan.

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Defaced Temple Walls

The daily threats, killings, humiliation and the failure of government to protect them was enough to force the Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley. Close to 3.0 Lakh Kashmiri Pandits left the valley only to never return. The journey which started from the pristine and beautiful Kashmir ended in the hot and ugly migrant camps of Jammu. The tales from the migrant camps are full of pain. Elderly people were not used to the scorching heat of Jammu and found it extremely difficult to cope. Young married couples found no privacy in the tents which led to decline in the birth rates. Depression, paranoia and other mental diseases became a common occurrence. Here is an excerpt from ‘A Long Dream of Home’ describing the life in exile!

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From ‘A Long Dream of Home’ by Siddhartha Gigoo & Varad Sharma

Today, we have an entire generation of Kashmiri Pandits who have grown outside their home. The rich heritage, culture, traditions and language of the community is in danger. As the young breed of Kashmiri Pandits make great strides in their career in the metro cities, they remain detached from their roots and it’s a big challenge for both the parents and children to preserve it. A lot of young Kashmiri Pandits I know don’t even care about the exodus because it is something that they have not experienced. Kashmir for them is a fairy tale land because no one has been there. They have only listened to the stories by their parents and grandparents and that’s about it. They don’t share the same emotion. I have spoken to a lot of them but not many of them want to talk about it. They are Jammuites now. While it’s a good thing that they don’t want to cling on to the past but to forget is to forgive and they should not be given this luxury.

Likewise, there is an entire generation of Kashmiri Muslims who have grown without the presence of Pandits around them and don’t understand their pain and anger. Even though the facts speak otherwise, for a lot of Kashmiri Muslims, the exodus of Pandits was ‘migration’ which was an act of Governor Jagmohan. When I read and interact with them on social media, I sense little regret or pain. The argument always ends up blaming the ‘Indian government’ or the Pandits.

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Migrant Camp at Muthi, Jammu

Every year there is a lot of debate around the return of Kashmiri Pandits but it’s a FARCE. Politicians across parties make claims to rehabilitate Pandits but it remains an election rhetoric. Even Narendra Modi who is often hailed as the poster boy of Hindu cause has failed to address the issue. The apathy of political class towards the Pandits is also due to the fact that they don’t make a sizable vote bank. It doesn’t matter if they vote or not because they cannot make or break the elections unlike their counterpart. It is ironic that Omar Abdullah talks about the return of Pandits because his father Farooq Abdullah did nothing to control the radical elements when he was the Chief Minister. Likewise, Mehbooba Mufti might speak about how important Pandits are but who can forget that her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was involved in the anti Pandit riots in 1986?

The Kashmiri Pandit exodus also exposes the hypocrisy of liberal class in our country. It’s a grim reminder that none of the people responsible for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits have been punished. No commission or committee has been set up to inquire and identify the perpetrators. No attempt has been made by successive governments to bring closure. It shows us a mirror that how much selective we have become in our outrage that humanity has taken a backseat and agenda seems to be driving us. We outrage so much when minorities in other parts of the country are attacked but we remain silent when the same happens in Kashmir.

Some time back, there was a lot of discussion around separate housing societies for the Pandits in Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims along with the separatists opposed it citing that this will alienate the community further. Though I agree that ghettos might not be a great idea and it offers little for the young blood of both communities to mingle. However, another voice in me asks ‘What other option they have’? Their homes are destroyed so where do they live after coming back? The same neighbors who refused to help during 89-90 can be trusted all over again? The youth of Kashmir has abandoned books and taken up to stone pelting. It won’t take long for Kalshnikovs to replace stones. An all Kashmiri woman band was forced to disband itself few years ago. Recently, Zaira Wasim was threatened by separatists. Do the Pandits want to raise their children in this environment? With ISIS flags being waved during protests, radicalism seems to be the order of the day in the valley.

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Pandits are Cancer (Source: OpIndia)

Kashmir is rotten and I don’t see any hope of it improving. I am an optimist but at the same time I am pragmatic. I don’t see the exile of Kashmiri Pandits ending ever. 27 years have gone. 27 more will go but nothing will change. Sadly, that’s the harsh reality. But we need to revisit the pain, suffering and longing that our fellow Indians went through every year so that we don’t let this happen again! 

 

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HOLY COW!

As residents of the “secular” and democratic country – India, whose constitution “guarantees” everyone the right and freedom to practice their own religion; we all should be proud of the secular fabric that exists in the country. But the recent controversy about Madhya Pradesh government’s decision  to strengthen the existing cow slaughter prohibition Act (Madhya Pradesh Gauvansh Pratishedh Adhiniyam 2004)  made me re-think about the greatness of India when it came to being “secular”.

I searched the internet and read about some of the laws that exist with respect to animal slaughter in the country and was quite baffled to know that the Directive Principle of State Policy in Constitution calls for protection of cow and progeny. Cow holds a “special” status in the country (Ala Brahmins) and slaughter, possession, sale, transport of beef and beef products is prohibited and amounts to “crime” which can even lead a person into the prison (T&C Apply) . But the same generosity is not shown to other animals. May be they are ‘Dalits’ of the animal community. Sounds funny? It isn’t!  In fact it freaks me out that how we want to shove the beliefs and values of a particular community (Hindu) just because it is in the majority. Today, nearly two-third of Indian states have banned cow slaughter.  Main features of legislations enacted by the States/UTs on cow slaughter  How can we curtail the freedom of others at the expense of a particular community?  Cow might be holy to the Hindus but it isn’t for others. What about the Muslims, Christians, Parsis & Sikhs who want to eat beef but can’t eat because it’s not available in their cities. And even if it is available; finding a beef shop is like ‘finding needle in a haystack’. Will Ganga stop washing your sins if people set up a beef shop in Haridwar?  We never bother about the slaughter of pigs and selling of pork which is prohibited in Islam. Why? The answer is simple – because Muslims make only a certain 13.4% of the total population of India. Firstly, state should NOT have any in what people can sell (Exclude drugs, arms, etc) or eat and there should be no second thoughts about it. Secondly, even if it has (which it should NOT), why should it have double standards? Doesn’t it hamper the very idea of secularism?  We are in the 21st century and instead of moving ahead we want to go back into the dark ages. What more could explain Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s claims of cow dung being the solution for every god damn problem and Cow being our only savior! As one MP of the party said “Marne se bachna hai to gai ki sharan mein aana hoga (To escape death, leave yourself at the mercy of the cow),” This just makes me sad!!

What makes me even sadder is the hypocritical ‘holier than thou’ attitude of Hindus towards cow. Technically speaking; Hinduism is based on the concept of omnipresence of the Divine, and the presence of a soul in all creatures, including animals. Thus, by that definition, killing ANY animal would be a sin. No?  But still they eat & I think it’s fine!  Who am I to dictate? But I fail to understand my Hindu brothers & sisters who are OKAY with eating all sorts of non vegetarian delicacies ranging from chicken & meat to fishes & prawns but when it comes to cow the ‘Virat Hindu’ in them rises.  Can anyone be more hypocritical than this? I can’t understand the “compassion” that comes out only for cow and not for other living beings. Their compassion, like them, has double standards. If a cow and a dog is slaughtered in front of my eyes, I would feel equally sad for both and no where will be my sadness more for the cow. To me; both are living beings. Also, why & how cow became so “sacred” for Hindus and other animals didn’t remains a mystery to me because there are MANY Hindus who do eat beef. Also, to my knowledge no where any Hindu scripture professes special status to cow. And the same logic applies to Muslims also who are OKAY with eating all other non vegetarian cuisine but have issues when it comes to Pig because it is “unclean”. Give me a break!

In a book published a few years ago on India’s dietary traditions, Prof DN Jha, spoke about historical evidence of beef-eating practices in ancient India. Historian Romila Thapar also said the same “The eating of beef was reserved for specific occasions, such as rituals or when welcoming a guest of high status,” But as expected, she drew flack from the ‘rightists’ of our country and history text books for Class VI authored by her were changed! It’s high time we realize and speak up against the archaic ideas and notions that exist in our country. India faces zillions of problems today – inflation, depreciating value of rupee, terrorism, rising prices, corruption, poverty, unemployment etc. but we are still trapped in this ‘what-to-eat’ and ‘what-not-to-eat’ debate! We surely have lop sided priorities. And as I end this post; I leave you all with a question to ponder upon –  “Do you want to “talibanise” even the food in India?”

P.S. – I don’t advocate ‘vegetarianism’ anywhere. To each his own!

What’s the FUN?

Mahatma Gandhi once said “Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different road, so long as we reach the same goal. Wherein is the cause for quarrelling?”


Though I am not an admirer of Gandhi but for a change I absolutely agree with him. But of late I have realised that things are not that simple as they appear when we talk about religion. The whole concept “God is One” perhaps seems too artificial to me and I think this looks good on paper only because reality is quite different.

Gone are the days when saints like Kabir used to sing “Tu hi Ram hai. Tu hi Rahim hai” and people of that era even believed in the essence of the same. But as iron gets rusted over a period of time so has this concept! But I don’t complain much because in this “kalyug” when morality is on a downside I do expect people to fight over petty issues like religion. And I ‘fail’ to understand what kind of pleasure or orgasm people get by mocking each other’s religion? I don’t want to encroach upon anybody’s right to freedom of expression. We all have that power in a democracy but as Spiderman says “With great power comes great responsibility”. But sadly we don’t understand the responsibility. Moreover my recent experience on the social networking site “TWITTER” makes me say so with full conviction.

There are Hindus, Muslims and even Atheists in my timeline and it’s always an enriching experience discussing religion with them. They have issues with Polytheism and caste system in Hinduism; I have issues with treatment of women in Islam and so on and so forth. I discuss and forget but many don’t! Why do we want to question somebody’s belief? A person is born with a religion and she/he grows up believing that there is a Ram, Allah, Wahe Guru, Jesus etc. (Okay atheists would *strongly* disagree) . And when we talk about India I think we all are too emotional when it comes to religion that’s why I see a zillion tweets where people are mocking other religions and literally wasting their time. Hindus making fun of Prophet Muhammad and questioning the very essence of Quran. Muslims reiterating by making fun of Kaali Mata, questioning the caste system in Hindu Society and also mocking the Jews by commenting on their cap, nose etc. People writing blogs to prove how good is their religion and how bad other’s is. Similarly the ‘disputed’ “Everybody draws Mohammad Day” page on Facebook saw a large number of people actually drawing Mohammad! In all this, I fail to understand that what exactly is so funny in this? Why this Insanity which knows no bounds? What do they want to prove? Will Ram reward the Hindus if they abuse Prophet or will Allah bless the Muslims if they mock Hindus or Jews? Don’t they have some common sense which says that it is utterly foolish & dumb to get involved in such discussions? Or are they messengers of God on a mission to convert people?

I think it’s time we all start behaving in a civilised manner. I am sure that we all have some really important issues to discuss & debate upon rather than mocking other’s beliefs. Religion is a personal choice & very sensitive issue. Now many would say that what’s the harm in discussing religion? There is of course no harm if somebody voices his concerns against a few anarchic ideas that exist today under the skin of “Religion”. But that is it! We have no right, I repeat No Right to mock other religions, their practices, beliefs in the name of freedom of speech. Life is too short to get into the nuances and critical examination of any religion.It really should not matter to us what other’s follow or believe because at the end we all are Homo sapiens. I know it sounds a cliché but its one thing which we all need to learn. Remember “God has no religion” so stop bothering God at least!