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Displaced Kashmiris: A Study in Cultural Change 1990-2002

by Raj Nath Bhat

This paper investigates the liguistico-cultural loss among the younger generation of the displaced Kashmiris who have been living away from the valley for over a decade now. This segment of the population was either of a tender age at the time of displacement or was born in the plains. Although it lives with the middle generation (parents) who are well conversant in Kashmiri language and culture yet a lack of motivation on the part of the parent as also on their own part has made them mere passive users of the language. Hindi has acquired the status of their first language both at home as well as at the school. The parents are deeply pre-occupied with their daily chores to win bread and butter for the family. They have neither the time nor any inclination to enable their children to get acquainted with Kashmir language and culture. The community extends no support whatsoever whereby the Kashmiri language and culture could be taught to them. Hindi is the language of the dominant culture and English that of higher education. Kashmiri finds no place in this kind of linguistic hierarchy. The younger generation is least inclined to learn and comprehend their parental cultural and tongue. Rather, it, in their view, is a burden they can do well without. Obviously, the loss of both the language and culture looks inevitable.

Introduction

Language and culture are the two fundamental ingredients which give a community a distinct character and build bonds of fraternity and oneness amongst its members. The climate, flora and fauna, history and the geographical conditions of the place where a community lives govern many a cultural entity. Kashmir has a cool climate where the spring is flowery and the winter snowy. The towns and villages are full of brooks, rivulets, rivers and springs. One has a geographical understanding of the directions (east/west etc.) due to the hills and mountains surrounding ones place of residence. All such objects are lacking in the plains. Kashmir valley is full of orchids of almonds and apples, Chinar and walnut trees are usually grown in the kitchen gardens/backyards. There are several kinds of flowers-wild and cultivated, foods, places of religious significance etc. which may not be found in the plains. A displaced community finds itself in alien surroundings with a new kind of flora and fauna and language and culture. Several linguistic-cultural entities are inevitably lost in this scenario because the younger generation cannot get acquainted with the climate, flora and fauna, and culture of its parental (ancestral) land. Thus a large number of linguistic-cultural entities are lost even in the passive competence of the younger generation of a displaced community.

Background

During the medieval times when the Muslim kings inflicted terror in the lives of Kashmiris, a large majority embraced Islam and a few who stood their ground, despite repression, sought protection as well as guidance from Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, whom the barbaric Mughal King beheaded in Delhi, and his martyrdom prevented the Kashmiri Hindu culture from going extinct. In the modern times, the religious and cultural heritage and identity of a people does not attract the attention of the powers that be unless they constitute a numerically strong group capable of doing or undoing governments. Pandits of Kashmir constitute a miniscule minority of nearly half a million people, in the vast human jungle of India, which does not send even one member to an assembly. Obviously there is none to take up its cause. On the contrary, there are forces determined to wipe it out from the cultural scene of India. Scholars and politicians have been observing an intriguing silence regarding the displacement of the Kashmiri Hindus. The cultural identity of this community is gradually getting eroded which over the ages has been at the forefront in shaping, nourishing and nurturing the great Indian culture. An authentic history of the making of India would always have to repeatedly refer to Kashmiris contributions to ancient Indian knowledge, be it philosophy or religion, logic or literary theories, astrology or mathematics, history or grammar. The rightful heirs to the legacy of Kalhana, Abhinavagupta, Laleshwari, Bilhana, Kuntaka,Vamana, Shankuka and a host of other stalwarts is on the cross-roads today, bewildered and baffled, unsure of its future.

Migration away from Kashmir of the members of this community has been a continuous process ever since the advent of Islam into the valley. The terror and torture inflicted upon this community by the Muslim rulers sends shivers down ones spine. The names of Sikander (the idol-breaker), Aurangzeb, Jabbar etc. continue to be the terror-creators in the folklore of the community.

A few that possessed the imagination of disaster probably guessed (and rightly so ) the intent of the post-independence rulers because the migration of the members of the community in ones and twos continued during the years after independence (1947). But the winter of 1989-90 turned out to be the turning point in the history of this community which constituted a mere 2.5% of total population ( of the Muslim majority Kashmir valley) - nearly 300,000 souls of various age groups, social strata and professions.

In order to build an Islamic society in Kashmir valley, the leadership of this movement offered three options to the minority Hindus : rlv embrace Islam, tslv run away nat or else glv perish/face annihilation. Killings of prominent Hindus like lawyers, businessmen, judges, professors, government officers etc. followed . Human Rights groups found no case of the violation of human rights! Powers that be seemed indifferent. By November 1989, the Muslim terrorists came forward with yet another insulting slogan which read : as chh banvn pkstn, batav bagr,batnv s we shall join Pakistan, without Hindu men but with Hindu Women. Meanwhile the killings of even less prominent members of the community continued. By December 1989, the Pandits of Kashmir started running away to Jammu, Delhi etc. to save their lives and honour. The valley in her sad history of the last 600 years, once again witnessed the exodus of its original inhabitants with a 5000 year old history. And by driving the minority community out, the process of ethnic cleansing in the valley was complete. Human rights groups observed a sacred silence. Ironically, the posters on Delhi walls during the period read: Hands off Kashmiri Muslims.

Migration of an individual from a rural to an urban environment brings about some kind of a cultural change in him. For instance, he may switch over to a new occupation, change his accent in speech, become more polished in his behaviour and so on but there is always a possibility of going back to ones village. Secondly, one does not find himself in alien surroundings here for primarily the language, foods, clothing, festivals and so on continue to be the same in both the situations. The migration from one linguistic-cultural setting to another places an individual in alien surroundings where he has to relearn almost everything from speech to toiletry. This kind of migration gives a sort of cultural-shock to the person. When such migrations are forced upon a whole community, its very existence, the magnitude of its suffering and anguish at physical, emotional and mental levels cannot easily be assessed or analyzed. This kind of displacement brings enormous shock and suffering into the lives of the displaced. They experience Hiroshima and Nagasaki endlessly in their lives. The displaced Kashmiri Pandits have been living in exile in their own country for the last twelve years now waiting for some miracles to happen to bring joy to their lives.

The Community

On the basis of age the displaced Kashmiri community can be divided into three segment: G1- people of fifty years of age and above; G2-those between twenty-five and fifty years of age; G3-those below twenty-five years of age.

The G1 is fully aware of the linguistic-cultural moorings of the community. It speaks the Kashmiri language and observes religious rituals, rites and customs of the community. It is aware of the socio-cultural traditions, viz., festivals, ceremonies, superstitions, myths, foods and clothing and so on. It has a nostalgic longing for the valley of Kashmir and would go back if the circumstances so permit it. The migrant camps are full of these lonely, frail and skinny people. In the camps, a 12*7 feet chamber cannot house a joint family so the sons and daughters of these old people have either shifted to other chambers or migrated elsewhere in search of some kind of a semi-employment. In places far off where their sons have been able to find work, the parents find it tortuous to stay home alone for the whole day when the son is out at work. So they prefer to stay on in the camps where they have the company of other community members whom they can talk to and share their sorrows with. Thus the joint family system has completely broken down and the young children have no idea of a family with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins around.

The G2 is struggling to root itself somewhere. Although it loves the valley yet it is unsure whether a return there would be desirable if the situation so arises. It struggles hard to feed the family, educate the children, attend to social obligations, negotiate its existence at its new place of work or in the market and the lanes and by-lanes of the alien place(s) he finds himself in. Although he speaks Kashmiri fluently yet he has lost an interest in traditional festivals, customs and rituals etc.

The G3 is the generation of young members with little or no memories of the valley. It was of a tender age at the time of displacement and a small percentage has come to life in the plains after the displacement. (After the displacement, the fertility has come down considerably among the members of the community. Divorce rate is on the rise and one-child norm has become the holy mantra). For this segment of the displaced community Kashmir is merely a geographic entity. Their primary (vehicular) language is Hindi and English is their second language. They also have a certain degree of passive competence in Kashmiri, their gregarious language -the language of social intimacy and shared identity (Calvet,1987).

The urban-rural distinction is no longer applicable for the displaced community is scattered in several urban centers across the country with large concentrations stationed in  Jammu and Delhi. On the economic scale too the community can be divided  into three  categories : a) The economically settled with  their  own houses who are  in the process  of integrating  with the  dominant cultures around  them; b) the small  section  housed in rented  accommodations; and c) the large  section sheltered in the migrant  camps  or slums  in  and around  Jammu. These camps, in my  view, should be considered  as the centers where  linguistic-cultural maintenance or loss could  be authentically studied.

Cultural Loss

Culture is more or less a language game as language is a repository of socio-cultural belief systems and customs of a community. Pheran and kangri have no importance in the plains so is the case with a large number of other linguistic and cultural entities which have had a socio-religious significance in the valley. The G3 is almost completely unacquainted with such terms and many more. Of such items, although large in number, a few have been recorded here for illustration.

A house in Kashmir invariably has a brnd (porch/threshold) and brnd lvn (porch-cleaning) has a religious-cultural significance for a Hindu lady. The phrase brmd kni (lit. porch-stone), land lady/wife has a cultural importance for the whole speech community. The concepts as well as their religious-cultural importance is lost to the G3. A typical Kashmiri house has three storeys: vt (ground floor), kth (first floor) and kn (second floor). vt  is used during winter for sitting as well as for cooking. kth is the bedroom meant for use in all seasons. kn is used for cooking and sitting during summer. Two social customs i) going up to kn in spring, kn khasn, and ii) going down to live at the ground floor, vt vasn, during late autumn are no longer known to the G3. A house there would also have a thkr kth (prayer room), dab (wooden veranda). Panjr  (wooden netted window), brri kn  (cats top-floor), sngal  (wooden roof), tshy (hay roof) etc. All these terms are lost to the G3.

The onset of spring would be marked by snt phlay (blossoming of flower and fruit trees). On navrh  the Kashmiri New Year day people would go to parks and gardens to enjoy the warm sunshine and the colourful spring flowers. Such celebrations have ceased to be a part of the cultural life of the community in the plains and the G3 is simply unaware of such festivities.

Walnut, almond, apricot, peach, cherry and all other fruit trees would flower in spring. The flowers would gradually turn into unripe fruit. The children as well as the adults would enjoy kernels of green walnuts and almonds. The green coat of the unripe walnut fruit would dye ones palms dark-yellow. The vocabulary items like gl (green coat of a walnut), pr gli (green walnut kernel) are not known to the G3.

Summer meant paddy and vegetable plantations and other agricultural activities  associated with it. The linguistic items like thal karn  (plantation) and agricultural implement like albni (plough), blch (shovel), tngr (pick-axe), gnti (pick), makh (axe) drt (sickle) etc. are not known to the G3. Similarly, there are a number of other linguistic terms which are associated with paddy likedn lnn (harvesting), chhmbn (thrashing), gandn (tying), mnn (helling) etc.  which the G3 is unacquainted with.

kngr (fire-pot/brazier) used by every Kashmiri during winter to keep him/herself warm has several components, viz., kndl (earthen pot inside the Kangri, kn (dried willow twigs), tslan (a wooden or metallic spatula tied to the fire pot), which are naturally lost to the G3, for kngr has no place in the hot plains. During autumn when trees shed their leaves, people broom those into piles, pan dvn (broom-leaves), and put those on fire, pan zln (burn-leaves) to prepare tsn (coal) for use in the Kangri. Overuse of  a Kangri would burn the skin on ones thigh which is known as nr tt (skin-burn). One would put a little zet/tngl (live coal) into tsn kngr (fire pot full of wood/leaf coal) to ignite it. All these terms have lost significance, hence are lost to the G3.

phran (a woolen gown without a front cut) has a special place in Kashmiri attire. Associated with it are the terms like ptsh (cotton lining of a phran), phran ld (a fold at the bottom of a phran), which terms are not in the repertoire of  the G3. Similarly the Hindu womens traditional head-gear, tarng, and its components like zj, pts, shshlth etc. are completely lost as far as the G3 is concerned. tarng has an important cultural and social significance for the community especially at the time of marriage when a bride is necessarily required to wear it a day before  the wedding after the  religious  ritual  of dvgn (the entrance of the devas).

Traditionally the community has been celebrating birthdays of the family members according  to the Hindu lunar calendar. People would  remember their  respective  dates  of birth  accordingly. But not now. Preparation of thr (yellow rice) as part of the birth day celebrations is  losing  ground  and instead cutting a cake according to the Gregorian calendar has replaced it . Due to a lack  of knowledge of the traditional calendar, the significance of the religious/auspicious days like tham (8th day of a bright/lunar fortnight), pnm (15th day of the lunar fortnight), mvas (15th day of the dark/moonless fortnight), kh (11th day of a fortnight) is gradually being lost. The  religious  festivals/ rituals like gd bat (fish-rice for the  house-deity), kv pnm (crows purnima), manjhr thr (yellow-rice of the Magar month), hrath salm (2nd day of the Shiv Ratri)  are least understood by the G3. The rituals like snt thl  (spring plate), kv ptl (crows idol) etc. are simply lost. Same is the case with such superstitions like zang yn (to be the  first  to cross some one  on his/her way out of home), bth vchhn (see somebodys face first in the morning), st nrn (to leave a place on an  auspicious day) etc. which are not  known to the G3.

Shivratri has traditionally been the most important religious festival of the Pandits whose  celebrations would continue for over a fortnight. Special earthen pots used to be bought on this occasion to perform pj of vatkh (the bachelor shiva), kplk (tantric), sn ptl (bridegroom shiva) and other  deities for four days in succession. Each member of the family would reach  home for this festival. Prasad is the form of wet walnuts and chappatis made of riceflour used to be distributed among the  neighbours and the relatives. In the  plains where the family members are scattered in various parts of the country, this  festival has lost the traditional  importance. Now a token puja is performed with steel  utensils. Similarly, the  sanctity  of other  religious festivals like Janam Ashtami, shrvn pnm, zth tham etc. is gradually getting  eroded.

The death of a family  member used to be followed by several  deathrites after dh (cremation), namely, chhaln (washing), dhm-khm-bhm dh (10th 11th 12th day), pachhvr, (15th day), msvr (month-day), shadms (6th month), vhrvr (death anniversary) and shrd  (offerings of food and water) would be performed on these days to seek peace for the departed soul. All these  rites are being abridged now to save time and money both of which are scarce with the displaced community.

Similarly, traditional foods like the preparations of lotus-stalk, potato, green vegetables, some of which, for instance, vpal hkh, kratsh, etc. are not even grown in the plains are not  known to the G3.

The valley is a bed of flowers where a large number of them grow in the wild and a larger number is cultivated. G3 would  not know what suchlike names as ymbrzal, tnkbatani, ptmbar etc. refer to. Similarly, there is a large number of terms referring to plants, birds, insects, grasses etc. which the G3  is unacquainted with.

Each language has its  own resources for such social  activities as greetings, condoling, blessing, cursing, abusing  and so on. Kashmiri, being the mother tongue of a Hindu minority and a huge Muslim majority has a rich vocabulary of Sanskrit-Prakrit and Perso-Arabic origins, the  former  employed  by the Hindus and  the latter by the Muslims. Personal names, quite a number of surnames, names of objects which have religious connotations (like b / pni for water), religious terms, modes of greeting, even curses, invectives and abuses would indicate whether one were a  Hindu or a Muslim (Bhat, 1997). A Kashmiri speaker would greet members of different  religious  beliefs (Hindus and Muslims) differently. There is a huge chunk of lexical items employed for greeting,  condoling, blessing, praying etc. used by Hindu Kashmiris and an equivalent corpus used by Muslim Kashmiris. The  younger generation now in the plains does not have any kind of exposure to the Muslim Kashmiri corpus. (Same should be true  of the  younger  generation placed in the valley which  does not have  any idea about the Hindu Kashmiri). Thus a significant  corpus of synonyms is on the  verge  of extinction.

Many more socio-cultural vocabulary items could be  enumerated here which  the G3  is  unacquainted with, for  instance, the terms  related  to such like professions/trades like carpentry, masonry or the  terms employed by iron/gold smith, barber, cobbler,  butcher, and so on. Similarly, such holy places  like tlml, khrv, shdipr, akngm, shnkrchr, parbath, mrtand etc. which have a sacred place in the  hearts of the devout Hindus of the valley, do not  denote anything to the G3.  

Attitude

The G3  considers Kashmiri  language a burden which would  not benefit  it in its development and progress. The  homeless  and  bewildered G2 is concerned more about  bread-earning and education of its wards. Ancestral  language and culture are such issues which do not  find any place  of importance in its conscious mind. The  issues of vital importance with it are: job, food, clothing, education, and the possibility of rooting  itself somewhere finding a permanent home for itself. It is in search of a new identity for itself for it fondly desires that the suffering and torture experienced by it due to the displacement  should not be the fate of its children as well. Consequently, the G3the innocent  generation, which at this  point in time is unable  to appreciate the importance of a communitys linguistic and cultural  identity, gets negligible linguistic and cultural input from the G2 for its social development.

G3 is deeply concerned about its individual  progress. It does not see any benefit accruing  from learning  Kashmiri. It converses with its parents  and peers in Hindi. Kashmiri is a burden it can well do without. Under these circumstances one is required to justify the use of a particular language by probably reflecting upon the inner qualities of the language, its resources, its functions and use, the religious and cultural activities associated with it and, also, the strength of the efforts made to maintain it (Lewis, 1982: 215). Language loss inevitably leads to cultural loss. Commenting on the consequences of not learning ones own tongue, Fanon (1961) observes that such a community internalizes the norms of the other (dominant) culture which leads to cultural deracination. Consequently, its culture, institutions, life-styles and ideas get devaluated, suppressed and stagnated which may eventually lead to its integration  with the larger culture around.

Linguistic  Deprivation

Kashmiri is taught at the school in the Kashmir valley only. G2 does not have the requisite resources to arrange for the teaching of Kashmiri language and culture to the G3 nor is the latter interested or inclined to appreciate its parental tongue and the ancestral culture. Fishman(1990) opines that language survival  depends crucially on the language(s) of primary socialization in the family. Calvet (1987) reflects on the efforts of the Shuar community of Ecuador (Latin America) which has  succeeded in integrating its language and culture with education. Shuar schools are run independently of the State control. They make  extensive use of radio and TV and demonstrate  that the survival of a gregarious language could be ensured  through community effort.

But, unlike Shuar, Kashmiri Pandit is a community scattered in several urban centers across the country with a large number (nearly 2.5 lakh) stationed in Jammu and Delhi. Obviously, the demise of its identity as a distinct linguistic and cultural community seems inevitable within the next two generations when both the G1 & G2, the store-houses of its language and culture, would cease to be around.

Burchfield (1985: 160) has aptly remarked :

Poverty, famine and diseases are instantly recognized as the cruelest and least excusable forms of deprivation. Linguistic (and cultural) deprivation is a less easily noticed condition but one nevertheless of great significance.

Preservation

After the advent of Islam in the Valley, when Persian replaced Sanskrit as the language of administration, senior members of the residue-pandits (a large majority had been forced to embrace Islam) organized a kind of a conference to deliberate on  and find means to preserve their religion and culture so as  to prevent it from going  extinct. In that historic conclave, it was decided  that in order to participate in State administration, it were necessary to learn Persian, so the sons son would learn the  language of administration and the daughters son, if he were educated by his  maternal grandparents, would learn 'bhasha Sanskrit and religious scriptures and eventually perform religious rites and rituals. Thus, two  distinct sects, one of  bhasha Pandits or purohits clergymen and another of the kaarkun the men of administration were created. In course of time the Purohit became dependent upon the Kaarkun for dakhshinaa offerings to make his living and the Kaarkun came to be considered as a superior class to the  men of religion. This historic decision has brought the community to an  impasse now where  the purohits too are scarce and the very identity of the community is at  stake. At  this juncture it not only involves the religious rites and rituals, customs, festivals and ceremonies, beliefs, myths and  superstitions but also their mother  tongue which was not under threat during the Muslim period.

The community elders need to sit  together  again to think about its linguistic and cultural heritage and find out means to preserve it. Otherwise, the  literary and religious writings of Laleshwari, Parmanand, Zinda Koul and host of other leelaas prayer songs would be lost for having no takers and interpreters in not so distant a future.

References

  • Achebe, C. 1975. Morning Yet on Creation Day : Essays. London : Heinemann.

  • Bhat, R.N. Honour System in Kashmiri. Indian Linguistics. Vol.58, No.1-4, 1997.

  • Burchfield ,R. 1985. The English Language. Oxford : Oxford Univ. press.

  • Calvet, L.- J. 1987. La guerre des languages et les politiques linguistiques. Paris:Payot.

  • Fanon, F. 1961. Les dames de la terre. Paris: Maspero.

  • Fishman, J.A. 1990. What is reversing language shift (RLS) and how can it  succeed ? Journal of Multicultural and Multilingual Development. 11/1 & 2:5-36.

  • Lewis, E.G. 1982 Movements and  agencies  of language spread : Wales and the Soviet Union compared in R.L. Cooper (ed.) Language spread : Studies in Diffusion and social Change. Bloomington : Indiana Univ. Press.

  • Ngugi Wa  Thiongo . 1972. Homecoming : Essays on African and Carribean Literature, Culture and Politics. London : Heinemann.

  • Phillipson, R. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford : Oxford Univ. Press.

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