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NOVEMBER 2001 Contents
Overlooked and Ignored- Kashmiri Hindus
by Roopa Bakshi
Kashmir was once an idyllic state. Hindus, the original inhabitants of this lost paradise, have a 5000 year history in the area, documented by local and visiting historians. The Muslim presence became significant only in the fourteenth century , largely due to forced conversions by the invading Muslim armies, who eventually stayed on to rule, and also because a mass exodus of Hindus, fleeing this persecution, left few (Hindus) in the area. There was another face of Islam that entered Kashmir – the Sufis who were also fleeing persecution in Iran, Iraq and other areas of central Asia. The Sufis brought with them a gentle message of ‘live and let live’ in stark contrast to the persecution of Hindus by the earlier waves of Muslim invasions – waves that destroyed their places of worship, killed them or forced them into converting to Islam. However, it was the gentler side of Islam that survived and prevailed over the years in Kashmir – until recently.
The last six hundred years saw the evolution of a tradition of peaceful co-existence and religious tolerance and friendship that transcended faith. The Sufis invited the remaining Hindus, now in a minority, to use their place of worship known as ‘Ziarat’, for many temples had been destroyed. This practice of a common place of worship – a concept that may sound Utopian to many – became the norm. Over the years Kashmir became an example for the rest of the world – an example for all the right ideals of secularism. However, the partition of India in 1947 changed it all.
Robert Marquand, writing on the Kashmir conflict says, "… like some epic custody battle between two selfish and unyielding parents, little concern has been paid by Pakistan and India to the stability and integrity of the Kashmiri "child" …Today, rooftops are being rebuilt on a row of burned-out houses in the swanky Hindu part of old town Srinagar. This neighborhood was torched in 1992 during a Muslim insurgency that drove 250,000 Hindus out of Kashmir, about 98 percent of them. But the new sound of pounding hammers does not tell a sweet story of return and renewal. The Hindus, a crucial part of this paradisiacal Himalayan valley, are not coming back. At least not now. Moderate Kashmiris say what has been destroyed is something called "kashmiriat" - an invisible but palpable understanding that Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and others would live together peaceably."
Today, almost 55 years after the partition, the culture of secularism has been eroded and replaced by culture of fundamentalism. The Sufi places of worship lie disused and new mosques, built with money from Muslim countries, have taken over. The sermons delivered in these mosques, delivered by clerics not from Kashmir, speak not the language of love and compassion, but of hate.There has been yet another wave of Hindu exodus – more violent than the earlier ones – one that has uprooted them from their homes and homeland. More than 350,000 Kashmiri Hindus were compelled to leave Kashmir. The Kashmir Overseas Association (KOA) has described the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits as "ethnic cleansing of an indigenous minority. The Kashmiri Pandits are a peace-loving minority population that for decades played by the rules set by the Muslim majority of the state. For no fault of their own, other than their religion, the population was targeted for barbarous acts and driven out of the valley. This is ethnic cleansing whether or not one chooses to use that term." Their property was destroyed or taken over by the militant Islamic groups, and thousands were brutally killed. Most of these 350,000 have remained a part of this ever-increasing statistic. They live in torn, ragged tents or one-room tenements constructed for them in Delhi and Jammu. They survive on meagre rations and hope that one day they may be able to return home. The Kashmiri Sikhs and moderate Kashmiri Muslims have also fled the wrath of fundamentalism and terrorism. About 1500 Muslim families and 1800 Sikh families have been the targets of Islamic militancy as well. It is estimated that there are still around 10,000 Hindus who have chosen to stay behind in Kashmir.
Kashmiri Hindus, or Kashmiri Pandits as they are generally known, have had the highest literacy rate among all groups in India. Their liberal, broad-minded and secular views made them good teachers. And their small numbers and polite and passive temperament also makes them easy to ignore and to be overlooked. It is not that they are not missed by their Muslim friends and colleagues back in Kashmir. As Qudsia Shah, former president of the women's college in Srinagar stated to Marquand, "The exodus of Hindus is not good for Kashmir. We Muslims are the losers...Academic standards have dropped, to say the least." The new ethos is that of Islamic fundamentalist education, veiled little schoolgirls, and women in purdah – in a land that was once happy and at peace. A new gun-culture has replaced the culture of harmony that once epitomised ‘the rich, artistic, syncretic culture’ of the valley. "The real tragedy is that the music, dance, literary tradition, the rich syncretic culture of Kashmir, have been destroyed or forgotten."- Amitabh Mattoo, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Dr. Mattoo is hopeful though of the future, "You can't forever silence a centuries-old tradition in 10 years," he says. "Kashmiriat will come back, though it might take some time."
Wanchoo, a businessman who chose to stay back in Kashmir, told Sonia Jabbar in an interview, that "'We will never leave Kashmir, and we don't believe in a separate homeland. This is our homeland and we wish to live in peace here. As for the killings, well it's a problem faced by all Kashmiris, not just the Hindus. Everyday you read that 8-10 people have been killed and they're usually Muslims. But the militants must realize that they only get discredited when they kill the minorities.'' His wife, also in an interview with Sonia Jabbar of Asia Times, related an experience which made her smile with delight and hope. ''At a wedding recently a whole lot of us had gathered after a long, long time - Muslim women as well as Sikh and Pandit women - and we really had fun, singing and dancing late into the night just as we used to before the militancy started. As I was turning in to sleep I heard the Muslim women whispering among themselves in the kitchen. 'After so long,' they said, 'after so many years all of us have come together. It's true, isn't it, that a garden is most beautiful when there is a profusion of many kinds of flowers.''
Yet, the hands that tend this garden have overlooked and ignored ‘ the original flora’ of the garden – the Kashmiri Pandits. They are seldom included in any debate or discussion on problems or solutions to Kashmir. Their passivity and gentleness makes it so easy to do so.
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