Friday, 15 November 2019

Travails Of Kashmiri Pandits

Updated: January 5, 2013 2:29 pm

Kashmiri Pandits, the aborigines of the Kashmir Valley, could trace their roots to Neelmata era. The arrival of Islam in Kashmir in the fourteenth century and aggressive proselytising that followed, reduced Pandits into a miniscule minority. In order to escape the atrocities perpetuated on them by religious zealots Pandits have migrated from the Valley seven times. It is the first serious academic attempt at narrating the tragic story of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir Valley in 1989, which went unreported in the media.

Outbreak of Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in 1989 and the atmosphere of panic and insecurity, Pandits—a minuscule community in Muslim-dominated society—chose to leave the Valley to ensure survival and protect their faith. Over 400,000 Pandits fled from Kashmir en masse, largest internal displacement of people since Independence. Their travails had just began,insensitive and uncaring attitude of the governments and administration made their post-exodus existence even more miserable.

The book touches upon every issue about Kashmir geography, mythology, genealogy, history, people, folklore, economy, culture, disputes and so on. It was the unresolved Kashmir dispute that eventually became a cause of the forced displacement of Kashmiri Pandits. It was not all of a sudden that Pandits found themselves unwanted in a place where they lived for hundreds of years. Their political and economic marginalisation started right from the time of Accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India in 1947.

Kashmiri Pandits, locally called Bhatta, despite severe persecution from Muslim rulers, continued to maintain their identity and religious rituals and social customs, based on Kashmiri Shaivism. The secluded location of Valley, its climate and natural beauty, allowed great mystics, saints, Sufis and Rishis to delve deep into religion and philosophy and explore the mysteries of ‘reality’ and the ‘purpose’ of life. Over the centuries, this community has produced a galaxy of such enlightened people.

The history has not been kind to Kashmir. Invaders and adventurists tore a part the fabric of its society and Pandits bore the brunt of this religious onslaught. Between the first quarter of fourteenth century and till the end of Afghan rule in Kashmir (1819), there were six major exoduses of Hindus from Kashmir. The Pandits were offered three choices: to flee, die or convert to Islam. By the time the British left India in 1947, Kashmiri Pandit population in the Valley had reached abysmally low figures. In 1989-90, there were less than half a million Pandits left in the Valley.

For nearly 125 years, during which Kashmir was ruled by the Sikhs and Dogras, peace and stability had prevailed.Post-Independence, though a minuscule minority in the Valley, Pandits never imagined that the spectre of exodus could revisit their community. Their faith in democratic and secular India did not waver even when large-scale violence broke out against them in South Kashmir in 1986.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gives a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, draws criticism from the authour as it created a psychological barrier between the people of the state and the rest of India. In the long run, it emboldened the radical elements to strengthen themselves. The demand for preserving Muslim identity of the state, which Article 370 recognised, metamorphosed into the demand for autonomy; then it took the form of demand for independence; and finally into a crusade for turning it into an Islamic State, to be governed by Sharia. By 1989, the situation in the Valley deteriorated to such an extent that Pakistan felt bold enough to embark on a proxy war to grab Kashmir.

The book discusses in detail the effects of migration on the refugees; on their health, education, economy, culture, identity, etc. It also examines in detail whether this distinct ethnic group can even survive without being able to live in their own land and environment.

The book highlights the trials and tribulations of a miniscule community, whose peaceful existence was destroyed some twenty-two years ago and is living in the fervent hope that someday it may return to Kashmir Valley to end its exile.

By Colonel US Rathore

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