Kashmiri Pundits : Are they facing a Dodo future?

via M P Ajithkumar published on October 17, 2006

                                            






The study into the violations of human rights of minorities has often lacked luster. It is also difficult to identify the real minorities as the criteria of identification proved fallacious in many cases. Queerly in most cases the actual minorities are not rightly enlisted with the result that the rights, which should have gone to the minorities often go to the undeserving with the result that the real minorities and their problems are not addressed with the required seriousness. True, at international level there are pugnacious national minorities like the Jews and the Irish people who have been fighting down the centuries to be safely established in their own lands. But those without pugnacity perished like dodos to be mere historical characters.


 


The story of the Kashmiri Pundits proves almost like that of the dodos, which fell pray to the carnivorous Europeans who encamped at Mauritius. Kashmiri Pundits have a long drawn tradition, which makes them so inextricably intertwined into the intricate patterns of Kashmir’s cultural fabric that any reference about its once beautiful valley without their lofty tradition would prove incomplete. Having been the inhabitants of the valley of Kashmir which they called Saradapeeth or the abode of the Goddess of learning and fine arts, they made priceless contributions to Indian civilization, enriching its religion, philosophy, Sanskrit literature, medicine, history, aesthetics, etc. Models of non-violence never resorting to harsh words or lethal weapons, they were an educated and educating community devoted to the study of Vedas and their allied subjects. They had a sublime spiritual tradition which they continued to preserve both in times of peace as well as turbulence under the enlightened guidance of a long chain of sages and saints who appeared at critical times of their history. Committed to preserve the cultural values down the generations, they were a group, which formed one of the spiritual repositories of India, which withstood so many cultural and political inroads into the Kashmir valley from time to time. Preferring death to change for the worse that aimed at cultural and religious demoralization, the Pundits withstood stoically their foreign masters who represented a culture totally alien and wholly contrary to theirs. Pushed back to the walls, they were often butchered like beasts and those remaining alive migrated to safer places in the different parts of India. With nobody to address their problems, they had the only alternative of meeting brutal death or migrating to elsewhere, a heavy price they paid in their earnest effort to preserve the culture of Kashmir and of India at large.


 






The settlement of Kashmiri Pundits in the Kashmir Valley forms an interesting episode in the early history of Volkervanderung. The early theory of the Aryan migration into India and the Pundits’ settlement in Kashmir as a main incident connected with the Aryan invasion is no more accepted by the world of scholarship and modern researches. Dr. Grierson’s argument that the Kashmiri Pundits broke away from the main stream of the Aryans migrating to India at Hindukush and entered the Valley through Dardistan has become untenable in the light of findings of modern archaeology and space research.


 


Their own tradition and beliefs hold that they were the Sarasvath Brahmins related to the ancient India’s river, Sarasvathi from whose banks they migrated to other parts of India when some natural catastrophes caused the river to vanish. These Saraswaths who had already heard of the beauty and salubrious climate of Kashmir Valley from their forefathers who used to go there during the summers decided to settle permanently in the Valley and sought for the consent of Nila, the Naga Lord who okayed on the condition that they should abide by the social usages and customs of the Nagas. Tradition says, from that time onwards the Pundits lived in Kashmir, abiding by the laws of the land and adhering to the Valley’s cultural values with sincerity and zeal. Living in the serenity and sublimity of their new Arcadian homeland, they loved its bee-loved glades and lush-green valleys to be in course of time an integral part Kashmir’s cultural life.


 


However the advent of new peoples and alien cultures in later times did away with the happy days of these peace loving people. Their days of sorrow began with the Thurushka inroads into Kashmir, which is vividly pictured by its Brahmana historian, Kalhana. But the committed Kashmiris that they were, the Pundits stood all coercions of the foreign elements to decline their religion, Gods and cultural values The community underwent its most tragic time during the rule of Sultan Sikander (1389-1413) and his fanatic Chief Minister Suha Bhatta, who, ironically was himself a Kashmiri Brahmin before his conversion. Persecution and forcible conversion ruled the roost. Ferista, the Muslim chronicler thus records the plight of the Kashmiri Brahmins: “Many Brahmins, rather than abandoning their religion or their country, committed suicide taking poison. Some emigrated from their native homes, while a few escaped the evil of banishment by becoming Mohammedans”. The periods of the Delhi Sultans and the Mughals proved very torturous. The days of Afghan rule (1753-1819) turned fatal when the Afghan Governor, Abdullah Khan Ishq Aqasi behaved to the Kashmiris like a brigand. Another delinquent, Karin Dad Khan, who was the Governor during 1778-83, assembled all the Kashmiri Pundits and huddled them into a cowshed, choked them almost to death with the smoke of cow-dung and extorted Rs. 50,000 as tax from them. Yet they have withstood almost five hundred years of the torturous alien rule, preferring death to change of religion.


 


However the terrorist spree of 1990s was so ruthless that it proved beyond their all bearing. With Pakistan having embarked on the massive plan of annexing Kashmir with the support of Kashmiri terrorist outfits, how to eliminate Kashmir’s Hindus, especially the Pundits, was now on Pakistan’s agenda. There started a virtual war, an offensive mounted on India by the Kashmiri terrorists and Pakistani agents in full collusion.


 


Within no time Kashmir turned out to be the hot bed of Islamic terrorism and by the second half of January 1990 the fanatics had unleashed the forces of Jihad against the Hindus. Mosques emerged as jihadist camps. Laud-speakers, invariably from all the mosques of the valley blared with, Allah-o-Akbar, Musalmano Jago, Kafiro Bago, Jehad aa Raha hai (Allah-o-Akbar, arise and awake Muslims, buzz off infidels, Jehad is approaching). The jihadists roared: Ganga Jamuna mein aag lagayenge (we shall destroy the civilization of Ganga Yamuna). In the ensuing clash between Hindu and Muslim civilizations the whole wrath was naturally turned against Kashmir’s indigenous people, the Pundits whose families lived in isolated remotes of Kashmiri villages and some areas of Srinagar and other towns. So long as Hindu life and civilization continue to exist in Kashmir, the ISI backed militants believed, that state would remain with India. Besides, the presence of this Hindu group, the terrorists suspected, would expose their clandestine activities. The annihilation and expulsion of this Brahmin group therefore toped the list of terrorist programmes. With bloodthirsty vengeance they pounced on this tiny minority and their strategy of guerilla warfare, their programme of ‘death by thousand cuts’ made this most peace loving community of India flee from their settlements. Murders have become a routine affair.


 


Sri. Premnath Bhat, an Advocate, Notary Public, Freelance Journalist, and leading Kashmiri Pundit, was shot dead by scooter-riding terrorists about a hundred yards from his house in Anantnag on 27 December 1989 while he was returning from the court. Organiser’s Srinagar Correspondent, Bhat was noted for his scathing criticism on the growing terrorism in Kashmir. In a personal letter to the Editor of Organiser a few days before his murder, he had conveyed his apprehensions about the security of pro-India elements in Kashmir. Earlier after the February 1986 riots in Anantnag, he had planned to shift to Jammu but given up the idea for its adverse reaction on other Hindu families staying on in the valley. He wrote not only for Organiser but Muslim papers too. The sharp shafts of criticism he sent against establishment and terrorist bodies brought his name into the hit list of militants. Two of the latest stories he wrote in the Organiser were ‘No one dare speak for India in Kashmir’ dated 12 November’ and ‘Kashmir ripe for Army rule’ dated 17 December 1989. Premnath’s last news dispatch for Organiser before being shot dead was ‘Kashmir Liberation Front’s Spectacular success against India – Untold Story of Rubaiya Sayeed abduction’ carried by the weekly on 7 January 1990. (Organiser, 7 January 1990)


 


Government reports on the dastardly murder of the Hindus are innumerable. They are as follows:


 


The terrorists had abducted one Brij Nath Kaul and his wife Ratna and his sister Sunitha from their house on 26 May 1990. After having stripped the women naked and molested in front of a large number of people, the terrorists took them to an isolated place and gang raped. Brij Nath was clubbed to death while the women, tied to a jeep, were dragged with high speed and killed.


 


On 19 March 1990 the militants barged into the house of N. K. Gangoo, a Junior Engineer in the Post and Telegraph department. It was at Chotta bazaar, Srinagar. “Ganjoo hid himself in a tin rice drum but was found out. The terrorists did not wait a second; they pumped several rounds of bullets into the drum, as his horrified wife and family watched. Then in a psychic twist, they forced his wife and his daughter to taste the blood soaked rice”.


 


On 6 June 1990 at Trehgam, Kupwara one Girija Tickoo wife of Girdhari Lal Tickoo of Bandipura working as Laboratory Assistant in Government Girls High School, Trehgam, was abducted and gang raped for many days. She was shred into pieces on a bar and saw mill.


 


Terrorists abducted one Asha Kaul from her native village of Achabal, gang raped and tortured her in an abandoned Hindu house. Her dead body was later recovered decomposed.


 


On 11 August 1990 militants kidnapped O N Chowdhry, the manager of the Government Cement Factory at Khrew, Pulwama from the factory premises. His dead body was traced three days later with marks of torture including crushed bones of lower limbs, burn injuries on chest and back and fingers pulled out. (Profile of Terrorist Violence – in Jammu and Kashmir, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, January 1996)


 


These are but only a few among the long chain of massacre and mass rape the vandals unleashed against the helpless Hindu population of the Valley. The rest would suffice compiling volumes on the history of man’s inhumanity to man. A look into how Jagmohan the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir recalls the plight of Kashmiri Pundits during this time would bring out the gravity of these crimes:


 


When viewed in all its dimensions, the current phase of Kashmiri Pundits’ misfortune is the most calamitous. The grim tragedy is compounded by the equally grim irony that one of the most, intelligent, subtle, versatile and proud community of the country is being virtually reduced to extinction in free India. It is suffering not under the fanatic zeal of medieval Sultans like Sikander or under the tyrannical regime of the Afghan Governors, but under the supposedly secular rule of Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh and the like whose unabashed search for personal and political power is symbolized by the callous and calculated disregard of the Kashmiri migrants’ current miserable plight and the terrible future that stares them in the face. And to fill up their cup of sorrow, there are bodies like the ‘Committee for initiative on Kashmir’, which are overanxious and overactive to rub salt into their wounds.


 


Surrounded by an overwhelming Muslim majority brandishing Kalashnikovs around, the horror stricken minority had no other alternative than mass exodus. Many of them had escaped beyond the Jammu and crossed over to various places of India. The number of the migrant Pundit families registered in different places of India by December 1988 amounted to 29,074 in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi and 2,743 in other parts of the country, and the number of migrant camps to 15 in Jammu with 4,676 families and 14 in Delhi, accommodating 240 families. There were many who lived in private houses.


 


No sooner had the Brahmin households been left by their inmates than they became the target of loot and arson. ‘More than 30000 houses belonging to Kashmiri Pundits, hundreds of their business establishments, educational institutions, cultural and religious institutions have been destroyed or burnt with the objective of decimating all traces of 5000 years old history and culture of this non-Muslim minority in Kashmir”. (Warikoo, K, ‘Islamist Mercenaries and Terrorism in Kashmir’, Himalayan andCentral Studies, New Delhi, April-June, 1998, p. 57). The Muslim militants went on with ravaging the temples in the remote areas of Kashmir with ferocity amounting almost to the kind Sewel describes in context of the orgy of violent outburst after the battle of Thalikkotta.


 






But more pathetic and pitiable than the plight of the Kashmiri Pundits were the attitudes of the State and Central Governments and the hypocrisies of certain organizations, which styled as protectors of Human Rights in Kashmir. Indeed the National Front Government, which was in power for a long time turned only a blind eye to the sad state of affairs. Before the power politics collusion between the State and Center, both of which wanted to see themselves in the safe saddles of power, the cry of the Kashmir’s Brahmin minority continued to be in the wilderness. There was none to attend to the question of protecting them. The findings of the committees set up to enquire into the Pundits’ were equally amusing. They went up to the audacious extent of pointing to the “inducements of trucks that have impelled the Kashmiris to abandon their homes and hearths in the cool and crisp valley and to move to the hot and inhospitable camps of Jammu” rather that pointing to the grave realities that forced them off the Valley. Interestingly as Jagmohan rightly points out there were judicial attributes of ex-High Court Judges who allow their names to be stamped on such propositions! Unfortunately, as he laments, it has been the curse of our nation that these types of ‘judicial luminaries’ could throng the state’s highest courts at some point of time or other! The reports of the committee called ‘Initiative on Kashmir’ and the People’s Union of Civil Liberties’ Group presented only the travesty of truth. They butchered the basic human rights of a fragile and helpless people. Thus having been brushed aside from all corners like masterless cattle, the Pundits’ chances of survival as a distinct community, as Jagmohan points out, are next to nothing.


 


Yet it is with great enthusiasm that the Pundits still remember their long lost moorings and participate in the cultural fete associated with their tradition. The recent reports abound in regard to the Kashmiri Pundits attending the celebrations in connection with the occasion of Mela Kir Bhavani. Thousands of Pundit pilgrims visited the holy shrine of Maharagya Devi at Tulmulla in Ganderbal pocket of Srinagar. These pilgrims, hailing from Jammu, Udhampur, Kuthua, Delhi, Mumbai and other places came around 25000 in number. (The Pioneer, 16 June 2005) It is true that this festival, as reports say, has opened a window for the displaced Pundits. But these types of minor developments cannot wipe the tears of a community who has been put to indescribable sufferings and whose cause has been long neglected by the authorities who should have addressed to their problems in their hour of need. Their recent appeal to the Pakistani administration to declare the Saradapeeth as their pilgrim center is of much contextual significance. They applied to the Pakistan President that they be allowed to visit Saradapeeth once every year. But it may not easily be construed that an administration, which continued to whip up the Kashmir issue and used all the terrorist machineries to massacre the Pundits, would concede this request. After all, the Pundits are not a pugnacious group to fight for their rights. The recent call of the Hurriyat to hold talks with Pundits was of course welcome. Asserting that it was keen on the return of Pundits to the valley, the Hurriyat Conference on 24 April 2005 said it would invite representatives of the displaced community shortly to discuss the issue. “Kashmir is incomplete without Kashmiri Pundits and the present Kashmiri leadership is trying to fill this gap”, Mr. Syed Salim Geelani, President of J and K Freedom Party told the press. “As Kashmiri Muslims miss their Pundit brethren in the valley on every occasion, so do Pundits feel nostalgic about their motherland”, he said. But responding to the demand for separate homeland by the few Pundit organizations, he said, “homeland should be in the hearts and minds of Muslims in Valley for their Pundit brethren”. Did this mean that if the Pundits would not be able to find a place in the good books of the Muslims in the Valley they would continue to remain ill-fated or that their safe future in Kashmir is dependent on how much place they find in the minds and hearts of the Muslims there? And if such a finding of place in the Muslim minds would cost them too much including their cultural identity, values of life, their Gods and religion it would be the expression of Muslim intolerance and fanaticism rather than brotherhood. Did the Hurriyat expect the return of Pundits-turned-Muslims to the Valley? Indeed the question continues to remain unanswered. For almost 15 years since they were forced out of the Valley hundreds of them died in exile in the scorching heat and humid climes of Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua and New Delhi and their wish to return to their homes was consigned to flames along with their mortal remains. Despite the “serious” efforts from different quarters including the government not even a single displaced Pundit family has returned to the Valley, say the official sources.


 


It might be a positive development that on 19 July 2005 the moderate faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq organized an interactive session with the Pundit intellectuals and leaders. And if it was to iron out all the Pundit-Muslim differences and to find out means for their early and safe return, it was laudable. But it was boycotted by the prominent Pundit organizations like ‘Panun Kashmir’, which demanded a separate homeland for the Pundits within the Valley, and the ‘Kashmir Samiti’. But according to some its significance might not be underestimated, it having had been attended by 47 Pundit scholars who exchanged their views. However this is to be seriously viewed in the light of the statements of some commentators that the Hurriyat took this decision when only it got the tacit support of the Pakistan Government during its maiden visit to POK and Pakistan in June 2005. And one would naturally doubt whether the Hurriyat would have objected to the Pundits’ return to the Valley had the Pak decision on the matter been negative. In such a precarious situation wherein the Kashmiri affaires are being decided by the whims and fancies of the enemy country it is not unnatural that no Pundit would turn up to Hurriyat’s invitation for return whatever attractive scheme might be in the Government pipeline for their resettlement.


 


It is true that the Kashmir State Government have initiated projects incurring Crores of Rupees, which is consistent with the Hurriyat’s efforts to rehabilitate the Pundits. The Rs. 2003 project to construct a township for the Pundits at Sheikpora took off during the chief ministership of Mr. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed to rehabilitate at least 200 willing Pundit families. This project, which is nearing completion, is followed by minor projects at Mattan in South Kashmir and at Tulmulla expecting to house another 118 families. And if the Sheikpora sort of “laboratory” would turn out into a successful “experiment” the Kashmir Government is expected to construct other clusters at Harnag (Anantnag), Sheeri (Baramulla), Handwara (Kupwara) and Shivpora (Srinagar) to bring back all the Pundit families living outside the Valley. Bt that mere construction of separate townships and housing complexes would not be sufficient for their return has been born out by the concerns regarding the lapse of security. The joint statement issued after the meeting between Hurriyat leaders and Pundit intellectuals at Srinagar pointed out that a “favourable environment” is required for the Pundits to “return to the Valley with a deeper sense of security and dignity”. And as the meeting ended with no strings of security guarantee attached, needless to say no Pundit fami

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