Kashmiri Pandits: An endangered community
Bansi Parimu, an eminent painter, asked S. B. Chavan - the then Union Minister
for Human Resources - who had visited Srinagar in 1986 in connection with
a project for the wildlife conservation in the Valley, "I believe you are
interested in the preservation of the endangered species of stags." Answering
in the affirmative, Chavan said, "It is a project much after the heart
of Governor Jagmohan and I too am interested." Parimu asked, "But why cannot
you do something about the other endangered species here?" "Which endangered
species?" asked Chavan. Pat came the reply from Parimu, "Kashmiri Pandits."
Parimu who was hounded out by terrorists from the Valley and died in wilderness
in New Delhi in 1991, did not know that he was making a prophesy about
the fate of the minuscule minority in the Valley.
en masse exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the wake of the
current phase of terrorism was unprecedented. Never before had the minority
community felt such despair, except once about 400 years ago, when only
eleven families of this community survived following the onslaught of Sultan
Sikandar. Leafing through the pages of Kashmir's history, it is evident
that peaceful times have been very few here. The Valley has been subjected
to many invasions from outside, and has suffered intrigues and conspiracy
from within. One party would arrive, loot and plunder, followed by another.
Under these circumstances, the people of the Valley developed a chameleon-like
character. They developed survivalistic characteristics, almost willing
to do anything to keep their superior, boss or ruler, pleased - sycophancy,
servility, and backbiting Kashmiris, including Hindus (Pandits), have always
remained xenophobic. As a single ethnic group they evolved an exquisite
cultural pattern with the strands of the principal religions. They have
shared the ups and downs of life in Kashmir. Even the notion of an independent
Kashmir nation was given birth to by Ram Chandra Kak, Prime Minister of
Maharaja Hari Singh, before the accession of the State to India in 1947.
their exodus, Kashmiri Pandits themselves used to admit with pride that
they were always in the forefront of the struggle to retain a separate
Kashmiri identity. At least 47 members of this community were externed
from the State by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah during a crackdown on the 'Mahaz-i-Raishumari'
community by and large always remained in the vanguard of the tirade against
the residents from other States who were posted in Kashmir. It is the turn
of Kashmiri Pandits now to be despised by the majority community which
accused them of having dominated the political and economic scene of Kashmir
for hundreds of years.
these allegations, Khem Lata Wakhlu, a former Kashmir Minister, wrote in
her book: "The relations between Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus have always
been complex. It would not be wrong to say that these are based on a peculiar
love-hate syndrome. The dress, language, living style, culture and genetic
origin of both groups are identical. The family names are identical too,
going back as they do to a common ancestor. Both groups love each other,
depend on each other and have got used to living in close proximity with
each other for centuries. They are used to sharing each other's woes and
happiness, participating in marriages, deaths, and other social and religious
occasions from time to time. One cannot distinguish easily who is a Muslim
and who is a Hindu. There are many places of worship where all Kashmiris
worship and pay their obeisance without any distinction. The cultural heritage
is common to all, giving rise to many common customs and rituals at the
time of birth, marriage and death. Many Hindu children had Muslim foster-
mothers and vice versa. Quite often most 'munshis' or teachers in the well-to-do
Muslim household would be Kashmiri Hindus. And there are umpteen anecdotes,
about sharing of love and mutual trust.
spite of this rich heritage there is a chasm somewhere which raises the
question in every mind about the possible reasons for the present condition.
And in the present context, innumerable problems are faced by the people
which have given rise to tension amongst them. The most obvious reason
for this tension is unemployment.
communities have been bereft of riches and capital for centuries, a few
exceptions on either side notwithstanding. The Hindus have managed, however,
to keep their traditional occupation with the written word alive, in spite
of utmost difficulties faced by them in doing so. They maintained this
wealth of learning within their fold at all costs. They learnt the language
of the Pathans, of the Sikhs, and of the Dogras, and then of the English,
thereby managing to be of use to their rulers. For centuries they depended
on petty service with the ruling classes in order to maintain themselves.
Their Muslim brethren depended exclusively on agriculture, trade and the
traditional arts for their sustenance. With the learning of English the
Kashmiri Hindus became visible as a job-seeking community in the Government
Muslim community was in the forefront as long as there was the sway of
Persian and Arabic languages. In the wake of the advent of Urdu and English,
particularly the latter, the Muslims came under the influence of maulvis.
They sought to keep the masses away from the new education system on the
plea that it was Christian education. At the same time, however, they did
not deprive their children from the benefits of the new education. Thereby,
they were able to join the Government services along with others. The mass
of Muslim people were thereby not only deprived of the share of governance
but also found it difficult to obtain schooling and education. The pressures
of the caste system also played their traditional role in spite of the
fact that the distinction of caste had apparently been wiped out by change
of faith to Islam. As a consequence of these social, political, and religious
factors, the Kashmiri Hindu became visible as a munshi, clerk, patwari
or girdawar (petty revenue official) in the Government hierarchy. His Muslim
neighbour gradually became envious of his new power and better living standards.
When the autocratic rulers came out with a heavy hand on the poor masses
on one pretext or the other, the Kashmiri Hindus became the instrument
of Government and earned hate at the hands of the population - largely
Muslims - as a factotum of the ruler."
that on account of higher ambitions, there was growing resentment caused
by lack of meaningful employment, Wakhlu is of the opinion that there is
another reason for the growing disaffection. The gulf between the poor
and the prosperous was visibly growing wide. A new class of wealthy people
had emerged. Their wealth was conspicuous, more so because it was acquired
in a short span of time. In these fast-changing situations everyone felt
the desire to get rich quick and become a prosperous Nawab or Sultan like
others. In this rat race, many people did achieve results rather fast and
were not easily recognizable after the change. They were so engrossed in
their new found wealth and status that they lost touch with reality. Consequently,
their behaviour and attitudes towards their own poorer kith and kin became
callous, even harsh. As against this, those who could not keep pace with
this competition and revolutionary transformation became envious and developed
hatred born out of inferiority complex.
youth in this group of population took to terrorism under the garb of new
revolutionaries. To gain their objective, the young men took support of
religion and unfurled the flag of extremism in the Valley. To garner the
support of the disgruntled, it was necessary that the first brunt of the
new revolution had to be borne by Kashmiri Pandits and the wealthy Kashmiri
Muslims. Both were sought to be depicted as agents of India and eliminating
them became their immediate aim.
Pandits are often accused of usurping job opportunities in Government offices.
Rebutting the allegation, the Panun Kashmir - an organisation of Kashmiri
Pandits at Jammu - stated in a booklet Kashmir - Facts Speak: "With about
80 per cent literacy among Kashmiri Pandits as against 26.6 per cent literacy
in the State as per the 1981 census, Kashmiri Pandits should have been
ruling the roost in the absence of any competition worth the name but the
community does not fill up more than 4 per cent posts in the State services.
It added that out of about 2,10,000 employees of the State Government and
its Corporations, Kashmiri Pandits hardly count for 8,500 in number."
Mohammad Sagar, J&K Minister of State for Information in the Farooq
Government, admitted on July 11, 1989 at New Delhi that 59 per cent personnel
in the State police were Muslims against 65 per cent of Muslims in the
population. He added that in the selection for public enterprises during
the year 1988, the percentage of Muslims was 55.4.
the fact is that power was always in the hand of Muslims after Independence.
Though Kashmiri Pandits fought against Maharaja's rule under the leadership
of Sheikh Abdullah, there was no Kashmiri Pandit in the executive committee
of the National Conference (NC) in 1990 - P. L. Handoo, who represented
the Anantnag constituency as the National Conference nominee in the ninth
Lok Sabha (November 1989-June 1991), was merely a special invitee to the
meetings of the executive committee.
section of politicians and newspaper columnists often allege that Kashmiri
Muslims have been denied their due share in the State services. But the
fact is that though Kashmiri Muslims lag behind in their educational qualifications,
their representation in the services is more or less proportionate to their
population. A brief summary of the figures of the employees working in
Government departments as on 1.7.87 is given in the following tables:
percentage of each community in the employment of the
Department of the State(Category-wise) as on 1.7.1987
of employment and the Percentage of
of each community
of employees in Govt. Services
age in employment
age in population
position in respect of Scheduled Castes/
& Bakerwal and Ex-serviceman employees as on 1.7.87
of employees in Govt. Services
age in employment
age in population
working in the State-owned Corporations/
bodies and Banks along with their
and category-wise percentage as on 1.7.87
of employment and the Percentage of population
age of employees
age in population
and the Number of Employees of
Category Working in these State-Owned
fact these are the Scheduled Castes, Gujjar and Bakerwal - the backward
communities among the Muslims - who have been denied their dues by Kashmiri-speaking
Muslims being at the helm of political and administrative affairs since
response to a question from Mohammad Shafi Khan - a National Conference
legislator - the J&K Assembly was informed in August 1989 that as per
the available information the community-wise number of employees working
in various Central Government offices as on January 1, 1989 is as follows:
these figures, the detractors of Kashmiri Pandits often raise a hue and
cry over 'denial of job opportunities' to Kashmiri Muslims forgetting that
education is the most dear aspect of life for the minority in the State.
Moreover, these are the Central services which any citizen of the Indian
Union, including J & K, may join without any discrimination. The figures
are related to Hindus, not to Kashmiri Pandits alone. Similarly, there
is no bar on Kashmiri Muslims joining Central services elsewhere in the
entire country and in fact they are serving in many States in India.
In fact, Kashmiri
Pandits suffer in silence since 1948. They are continuously on the run.
In a report from Kashmir in the Indian Express in its issue of March 3,1986,
H. K. Dua said: " The minority community of Kashmiri Pandits has suffered
discrimination under successive regimes in the Valley but the Anantnag
communal riots have left them in a state of shock . . . While the Centre's
Kashmir policy is apparently in the melting pot, the travails of Kashmiri
Pandits have emerged as the immediate issue. Kashmiri Pandits were nearly
three lakhs in 1947, they are only 70,000 now, half of them in Srinagar.
Their population has dwindled because of the continuing migration to other
parts of the country. They leave the Valley because of discrimination in
recruitments for jobs, admissions in educational institutions and economic
deprivation . . . The recent violence has shattered their confidence. They
are feeling bitter, frustrated and bewildered. The attacks on houses and
places of worship on February 20, particularly in places like Wanpoh, Dhanav
Bogund and Lukbawan in Anantnag district and incidents in Srinagar, Sopore
and Baramulla involving the beating and harassment of members of the minority
community have further intensified their anxiety and generated a feeling
correspondent of the Hindu reported: "At least 23 villages in Anantnag
district were affected in the communal violence that broke out on February
20. Wanpoh villagers said that their village was only two km away from
the residence of the Superintendent of Police, Mohammad Abdullah Mir, the
police did nothing to save them from the onslaught of about 2,000 pro-Pakistani
youth armed with sticks and iron rods who had come from the neighbouring
Khudwani village. They had to plead with some jawans to come to their rescue.
But they had a good word for the 'local Muslims but for whose intervention,we
would have been killed.' The villagers estimated their loss at Rs.60 lakh
. . . In Dhanav Bogund village, eight houses, three cattle sheds and two
places of worship were burnt . . The entire Lukbawan village was looted
and razed by over 5,000 persons, some carrying guns, who came from the
Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag, Syed Abdul Wahid, Yusuf Jameel reported
in the Telegraph (Calcutta): "In all 129 houses were looted, burnt or damaged,
nine shops looted or ransacked, 16 temples or 'Shivalas' ransacked or damaged,
two 'Kothars' (paddy stores) and two cowsheds burnt in Anantnag district
on February 20."
Biscoe, the father of public education in Kashmir, who came to-Kashmir
in 1881 and spent five decades recorded: "The Brahmins are a proud people,
for besides being twice born, they hold they are part of God. The boys
told me that they could not commit sin and when they were caught in their
various acts of transgression, which I considered against the moral laws,
they always said that they were only following the custom of their fathers
and forefathers and, therefore, felt no shame".
on to add: "I must say that ordinary Kashmiri such as I have known for
30 years is a coward, a man with no self-respect and deceitful to a degree
and I perhaps may write with a clear conscience, for I have told this to
all classes of them on their faces, times without number, and to give them
all credit, they never resent it, because they know it is true".
Hussain in his book Reflections on Kashmir Politics states: "Individually
they (Kashmiri Pandits) are the finest people one can come across in the
Valley. They are delicate, intelligent, decent and very friendly. For obtaining
their objectives the Kashmiri Brahmins would stick at nothing. Its sole
aim becomes self-preservation and not achievement . . . While in India
it was the lowest strata of society which willingly escaped to Islam to
avoid caste disabilities, in Kashmir it was the high caste Brahmin group
that converted to Islam unwillingly to escape Afghan tyranny."
He added: "Despite
conversion to Islam, the neo-converts remained the ethnic part of the same
community. Hence, Hindu communalism and Muslim communalism did not at all
arise in the Valley. The same community despite two different faiths could
not fight itself. Rather in the social milieu that prevailed at that time
Kashmiri Brahmins had the closest affinity with Kashmiri Muslims. There
was no over all differences between the cultures of two groups. The totality
of the differences pertained to faith factor. Minus faith factor, race
and custom remained the same. Politically, socially and psychologically
the attitudes of the two communities did not materially differ. In fact,
the bond of common language provided the strongest association of attitudes."
He said: "Islam
spread in the Valley by Muslim sufis and saints who had come from Persia
and Kabul to proselytise the infidels in the Valley. They succeeded not
by sword. However, their persuasion had the State power behind it. Otherwise,
Persian and Pathan saints and sufis who spoke a different language and
belonged to a different culture would not have made such a deep impact
on the Valley of Kashmir . . . The morbid fear of Punjabi domination would
drive the people of Kashmir despite being predominantly Muslims into the
lap of predominantly Hindu India. Kashmiri Muslims are also a lot to blame.
Instead of joining the mainstream they became more insular than ever."
always found it more prudent to abandon their homeland, particularly after
Independence, for better and more job opportunities. That is why the population
of this minority community registered an increase by only 4,000 between
1941 and 1961 in Kashmir. But in 1990, this community was forced to leave
the Valley as they were an obstacle in the way of armed terrorists aiming
to establish Nizam-e- Mustafa (Islamic rule) in Kashmir. The very presence
of the Pandit is a challenge to attempt a total Islamisation of the Valley
and reversal of its cultural traditions that are fundamentally Hindu in
essence and a distinct, yet essential, component of the larger Hindu ethos.
With the recent
advent of full scale Islamic fundamentalism, the social interaction which
was sustaining a healthy civil society, became a thorn in the side of terrorists.
It had to be plucked out and cast away as per the plan of Pakistan's Intelligence
agency, the ISI.
1989 onwards when terrorism raised its ugly head in the Valley, the scene
in the beginning was dominated-by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) - which pretended to be secular. The assassination of Tak Lal
vice-president of the State unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was attributed
by the JKLF to his being an 'Indian zealot' and was largely seen by Pandits
as a selective killing and possibly not as a signal of an all-out attack
The next killing
was that of Judge Neel Kanth Ganjoo (retired) who, several years ago, had
sentenced Maqbool Butt, a secessionist leader, to death for his involvement
in a case of a gruesome murder. The Kashmiri Pandit community leaders,
in a rejoinder to the JKLF, expressed their shock and anger at the fact
that if Judge Ganjoo had sentenced Maqbool Butt to death in his capacity
as a judge, was the JKLF prepared to punish, in a similar manner, all prosecution
witnesses in the trial, all of whom were Muslims? No straight response
came from the JKLF. One thought that terrorists had closed the issue. But
they sent their unequivocal answer to this pertinent question by gunning
down P.N. Bhatt, a Kashmiri Pandit - and an advocate in Anantnag - who
was also a social worker of some repute in the area. No doubt, even the
saner elements in the majority community were silenced to death by the
young men imbibing fundamentalism and obscurantism. The status of Kashmiri
Pandits were like frightened pigeons.
persons, including women, came out on the streets of Srinagar city following
searches in January 1990. The religious slogan - Nara-i-Taqbir, Allah-o-Akbar
ranted the air sending a chill down the spine of the minority community.
scene of that night, Khem Lata Wakhlu wrote: "Hardly anyone in Kashmir
slept on the night of January 21. The sound of commotion and hysterical
screaming spewed out of hundreds of mosques. Anti-India slogans rant the
air coupled with Allah-o-Akbar and Nizam-e-Mustafa. The noise hammered
incessantly on the eardrums. People from all corners of the city poured
out on the streets, milling around agitatedly in spontaneous processions.
Whoever dared to stay indoors was threatened with dire consequences. People
owing allegiance to secular political parties were terrified to see the
massive spectacle and were afraid that they might be the first victims
of the onslaught of people in anger. It looked as if everybody was hell-bent
on killing those who swore by Indian secularism, who trembled at the prospect
of being victimised in this spate of terrible anger. They knew that by
the time the Government machinery woke up, the streets would be streaming
with innocent blood. Government officers, who may have controlled the situation,
were scared to their bones. What else could they do in such a situation?
When a tiny stream suddenly erupts forth - with the flooding fury of an
ocean, who saves whom? People surged forward blindly trudging along paths,
dragging their feet towards unknown destination, pulled forward like helpless
pawns in the hands of destiny."
unfolded at an astonishingly rapid pace. From December 1989 onwards, Kashmiri
Pandits started receiving threatening letters asking them to quit the Valley.
Members of their families were threatened to be killed irrespective of
or sex. All this obviously was aimed at terrorising them into fleeing the
community was rudely shocked to learn that killings were no longer selective,
but of a general nature aimed at driving out its members, to turn Kashmir
into a Muslim ghetto.
In a memorandum
to the then Governor of the State, General K.V. Krishna Rao (Retired),
the Kashmiri Pandit Sabha, Jammu, on January 15, 1990 submitted: "On December
15 in 1989, men, children and old women from the minority community were
mercilessly attacked and womenfolk molested in Shopian in Pulwama district
in South Kashmir." At that time, Dr. Farooq was the Chief Minister of the
killing in Habba Kadal in Srinagar, where Pandits used to live in a sizeable
number quickened the process of migration. Panic coupled with fear gripped
the minority community so much so that families left literally in their
sleeping suits and walked, in bitter cold, a distance of a few kilometres
to reach the only bus stand for Jammu, seeking to catch any available motor
vehicle, even goods-ladden trucks, to escape from the fury of the Kalashnikov-toting
had no time to take their valuables with them. They could not even carry
essential articles of daily use. Those who managed to carry their essentials
along were forced back by terrorists warning them to leave the Valley without
their belongings. This sudden and disorganised exodus from the Valley left
the migrants destitute, bereft of even the minimum resources to eke out
a reasonable living outside the Valley in the inhospitable tropical climate
of the plains. Their meagre savings continue to remain blocked in banks
because terrorists would not allow these establishments to transact business.
Barring a handful
of Kashmiri Pandits who are either running their business establishments
by buying peace with terrorists or some Government servants who are discharging
their duties under security cover, the entire Kashmiri Pandit community
has been forced to flee the Valley.
table speaks for itself.
details of displaced families registered - ending November 1990
|(i) IN TENTS
|(ii) IN BUILDINGS
|NO. OF CAMPS
PAID BY THE GOVT. FROM MAY TO NOV.l990
|NO.OF TOT GOVT.
EMPLOYEES; (CENTRAL & STATE)
BELONGING TO BANKS, CORPORATIONS ETC.
|NO. OF FAMILIES
WITH AT LEAST ONE GOVT. EMPLOYEE
PENSIONER'S FMLY NOT RECEIVING CASH ASSISTANCE
MORE STATs. for JAMMU Distt.
|NO. OF F.P. SHOPS
some have gone to other cities such as New Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow and even
to far-flung cities in the South. However, some politicians and human rights
activists have imputed motives to the decision of Kashmiri Pandits to migrate
from the land of violence and anarchy to safer sanctuaries. One of them
even croaked, "The migrants left at the bidding of the highest-up in
He obviously meant Jagmohan. The Save Kashmiri Pandit Campaign Committee,
New Delhi, retorted back: " Must we tell this gentleman hailing from Kashmir
that nothing is more distasteful to a Kashmiri Pandit as, indeed, to all
Kashmiris, Hindus and Muslims alike, than the remotest thought of leaving
his land which he loves as only a son would love his mother. Gentleman,
why are you deliberately falsifying Kashmir's ethos and history? Why are
you pulling wool over your eyes? Why are you seeking to minimise the gravity
of the situation which has brought ruination on us all? Apparently, you
claim to uphold the flag of Sheikh Abdullah. Can you deny that his house
at Soura in Srinagar was gutted down by the very same terrorists who are
after our lives, that his grave is today guarded by a big contingent of
the paramilitary forces for fear of secessionists desecrating it by tearing
it open like a pack of wolves throwing away his remains into the river
as openly threatened by them. If this is the fate meted out by terrorists
to him, who brought Kashmir into the Union of India, pray, gentleman, what
will the fate be like for Kashmiri Pandits who, as a community, are openly
dubbed by secessionists as agents of India. Gentleman, why are you suppressing
the fact that the situation has taken such a catastrophic turn that not
only Hindus and Sikhs but also Muslims are now fleeing from the land of
their birth for fear of being the next targets of secessionist Kalashnikovs."
The same gentleman, Hirdya Nath Wanchoo, who openly supported terrorists,
was ultimately gunned down in December 1992 by some unidentified terrorists
at his home in the wake of internecine conflicts between various factions
registered at Jammu by November 1990 included 8,270 Sikh families with
40,916 members; 215 Muslim families with 1,068 members; and 1,331 others
with 6,666 members - besides 35,459 Kashmir Pandit families with 1,56,042
members; who have run away in fear on their own, leaving homes and hearths
No wonder the
crisis in Kashmir, at the instigation of Pakistan, has been cataclysmic
for the small community of Kashmiri Pandits who have been hounded enmasse
in a pre-determined manner from their homeland whose soil they had nurtured
with their sweat and blood. Kashmir's distinctive ethos, its culture and
traditions bear an unmistakable mark of the peculiar genius of Kashmiri
Pandits but today they have been made fugitives, fighting a grim battle
for their very survival.
In an appeal,
the Save Kashmiri Pandit Campaign Committee has stated: "To have been known
as a Kashmiri Pandit has been a matter of pride for everyone of us and
envy to others. Carving his own distinctive way of life, the Kashmiri Pandit
has been able to hold fast to it despite tremendous pressure and trials
and tribulations he suffered from time to time at the hands of tyrannical
rulers and inquisitors. He has tried to imbibe something of the loftiness
of the mountains that surrounded him, and drank uninhibitedly at the fountain
Pandit has its own pantheon of gods, his own circuit of temples and shrines
- Tulamala (Kheer Bhawani), Chakreshwari (Hari Parbat), Loli Bhawan, Nagbal
and Umanagri (Anantnag), Bhadrakali Teerath (Kupwara) and the shrines of
Alakh Devi and Rishi Peer (Srinagar) and, of course, the famous Amar Nathji
cave tucked deep in the high Himalayas. The same Kashmiri Pandit, alas,
appears to have been stripped of his right to live in the land of his ancestors.
All his gods at the moment are unable to help him for they are locked in
their sanctums with no one to look after them.
fundamentalism has struck Kashmir in its most pernicious form aiming to
wipe out all vestiges of 'kafir' existence and making Kashmiri Pandits
the prime targets of its fury. Harassed and haunted by the Pak-trained
terrorists for being visible manifestations of Indian nationalism, the
Pandits have been forced to abandon their homes and hearths, leaving all
movable and immovable property and educational careers behind and taking
refuge at Jammu, Delhi and other places. An ominous blow was struck on
April 14, 1990 when terrorists issued a warning that the Pandits should
leave the valley within 48 hours. If they dared to return, the punishment
would be death. And death it has been ever since. A whole community is
on the hit list."
the developments, Bansi Parimu had remarked, "I find my Lal Ded searching
for a shroud to conceal her festering wounds; Nunda Rishi lamenting upon
his mutilated ethos; Habba Khatoon shedding blood instead of tears at the
smouldering saffron fields; Arni Maal becoming dumbfounded on her bruised
ego; Mahjoor and Nadim trying to trace their abode and Rasool Mir moaning
upon the disappearance of his Poshimaal." The Kashmiri Pandit, steeped
in secular traditions, could not imagine the havoc waiting for him on account
of the onslaught of Islamic fundamentalism. The concerted onslaught on
secular traditions has an alibi in the form of repeated allegations about
the negligence of the Valley, which is contrary to facts.