Kashmiri Pandits: A moment of introspection

By K.N. Pandita

I have been in the thick of our community’s struggle with destiny for a long time but more so since our exile in 1990. I have traveled the globe more than once conveying the poignant saga of our suffering to international community.

Much has happened and much is happening now. I often recall to my mind what we have gone through and where destiny is driving us as a community, as a family and as individuals. On the basis of my knowledge, experience and intuition I can visualize what possibly should be the future shape of our community. I want to share it with my community members.

After great introspection and cool thinking I have decided to speak to you what is in my mind. It will disappoint many of my friends and colleagues with whom I have closely worked during past three decades. It pains me also. But if I do not say it now, I shall prove untrue to my conscience. History will not spare me.

The return of the community to Kashmir is out of question. For the first time in a thousand years, we have breathed the air of freedom outside the mountain-curtained valley of Kashmir: we have wriggled out of the prison house of discrimination, suppression and degradation: we have opened our wings for soaring into the skies and scaling the heights. This is a rare and unique opportunity for our future generations and for us. Let us seize it by our teeth.

We have come to the Indian plains with our centuries old ethos, good or bad whatever. We are essentially and historically the people given to intellectual exercise. Professionally we are circumspect. We are dismally inexperienced in economic, commercial, entrepreneurial and political spheres of life. Enterprise, initiative and innovation, the essential pre-requisites for a community’s march onwards to prosperity have remained trampled under eight hundred years of brutal suppression by our adversaries.

It will take us some time to come out of that syndrome and look around for these and other new avenues, especially business, managerial and military services.

Therefore in the first phase of our life in exile, our youth will have to carry forward the customary profession in order to recover from and survive the onslaught we had to face so suddenly if not unexpectedly. The next generation will move away professionally and hence also intellectually. It will look for space horizontal as well as vertical. That will be the harbinger of a new life and new era in our history. In this period, most of our chosen intellectual youth should and will be drawn to professions of excellence with innovative urges. . A small section from our top intellectual segment should be able to gatecrash the Indian administrative juggernaut and barge into the corridors of bureaucratic power – structures of the country. Some of our youth bestowed by nature with leadership quality and linguistic skills should be able to make room for themselves in active politics of contemporary India. Many of them will find entry into financial organizations and mass media structures of the country and our emerging entrepreneurs will become components of its commercial and economic machine.

Thus by next two or three decades, the community will have put under wrap its saga of exile and exodus: it will have overcome the nightmare of discrimination and suppression. This community cannot escape the ordained role of becoming frontline planners and builders of new India.

But this is not the end of our struggle. Once the inherent potential of dynamism is unleashed, the community will look beyond the shores and climes. Our advance columns have already set their feet on foreign lands. We need to create an urge and a burning desire in our youth to transcend geographical boundaries or the constraints on freedom of movement. No land is foreign to us, no territory is forbidden to us, especially the developed world. On the Indian soil, we may have hurdles in maintaining our identity, which is something away and beyond the kitchen – religion we have got stuck up with. But on a foreign soil, all necessary conditions are available to create, perpetuate and propagate our inherent potential. This is because we have all the requisite qualifications to make us the true citizen of the world. We are the globalized community in an era of globalization. These traits in our character need to be exploited adequately.
It is futile to waste our time and energy in running after the Indian political class for the amelioration of our condition as it is today. We are nobody’s vote bank because we are numerically insignificant — a non-entity — and economically bankrupt. Therefore, for them we are a liability, a stinking lot. Being a pariah no political group in this country would own us; adopt whatever modus of servitude we may.

The Indian media considers it a sin to talk a word about us except in negative terms. The saffronites exploit us, the khadiites despise us, and the reds club us with the bourgeoisie.

We ask for Homeland –– a proposition more in the broader interests of the Indian nation state than in ours as an ethnic group: we ask for representation in conflict resolution dialogue as ravaged and repined people: we ask for representation as a minority: we ask for role in power sharing, law making and nation building mechanisms. Does it mean anything with those holding the reins of power? Does the presence of a miniscule non-Muslim entity in a predominantly Muslim and radically Islamized society mean anything? Don’t we see and understand that a “secular democratic” Indian Union has not only literally but practically accepted a non-secular, Islamized Kashmir as its now much fragile “inseparable part”, provides frugal funding for the perpetuation of a mini – Pakistan at home, and, in the process, pockets tons of humiliation hurled into its face by the beneficiaries of its largesse? Which of India’s political parties is secular or democratic in the context of the situation of our community?

Therefore, our reasonable demands like ‘homeland’, ‘representation’ etc. ironically make us jokers not only in the eyes of the champions of Kashmir fundamentalism-terrorism but also in the eyes of the Sultans of Delhi. I no more want to mislead my community members. I no more want them to be the daydreamers. It is not at all ‘ maej Kasheer ‘ (Mother Kashmir) for us. Kashmir, according to Srinagar-New Delhi nexus, is the other name of ignominy and servility for us. Let us come out of a great deceptive notion.

A thousand year – old servility has rant our spirit. Even in exile, where our tormentors may not reach us, we remain servile to powerless and faceless gods. If our gods and goddesses had any power, they would have defended themselves. They could not. They have never had power except that of mesmerizing us and intoxicating us with utter servility, slavish mentality and Buddhist escapism. Let me be frank and forthright. A new pattern of the hangover of that servitude (better call it dhimmi+tude) is visible in the behaviour of the community in exile. In Jammu in particular where we have a concentration, enormous money is wasted in the building of ashrams, shrines and institutions after this or that person giving them the new epithet of “bubs”. One wonders why we are going along a regressive and not a progressive path. Why don’t we build technical schools, polyclinics, craft centres, nursing schools and homes, computer learning centres, institutions for preparing students for professional and competitive exams, gyms, play grounds, indoor games studios and the like? What are these ashrams going to do for the destitute community? Remember not gods and goddess, not mendicants, recluses and ‘bubs’ make the destiny of a people. It is the wise, the visionary, and the courageous leadership that shapes the destiny of a people. Worship not their name or their fame; worship the ideals they have set for us. The ideals mean dynamism, objectivity, and pragmatism. Shaivism is fine; a subject for understanding and research but not for submerging our self in its placid waters.

We cannot move forward if we keep our womenfolk deprived of their share in new thinking. They are the foremost who need to be educated into a new process of thought and action. We need to engage them mentally in search for new vision and movement. They have to come out of the customary mindset and men folk need to play their honest part in that exercise.
Secondly, our womenfolk have to break the shackles that make them the slaves of the kitchen. It means they have to implement a changed agenda of food habits of the community members and the dress regime of their own class. Vegetable sandwiches must replace plateful of rice and the kitchens should close at 8 PM in the evening to allow time for our womenfolk to walk, read, discuss, meditate, do yoga and introspect. More time has to be allotted to outdoor activity, physical exercise community life and social engagements. Our womenfolk will meet the first ray of liberation the day they say good-bye to the damned sari and the despicable kameez and shalwar (the legacy of the Pathan rule) as the common dress. As long as they remain bandaged in a seven-meter long obnoxious bundle of textile, they are tied down in fetters of slavery. Our womenfolk’s dress should be the same as is used by the Jewish women, viz. trousers and the top. Keep your hands free to work, to move, to brandish and to hit a miscreant. You need not a dupattta. It enchains you. Throw it away into the garbage and then when you walk remember what Tagore told the Bengali women. “Look straight into the eyes of the people when you walk”. That gives you power, confidence, boldness and individuality.

A word about the changing contours of culture is also needed. We hear loud murmur of erosion of our traditional culture. Many among us demonstrate despair on that count. The phenomenon has to be addressed in a realistic manner and not just as a matter of nostalgia. As our community has willingly or unwillingly come into interaction with wider Indian society, it is neither practicable nor sensible to create walls and quarantines to segregate our youth. That does not happen.
But, of course, what ought to be done is that each Pandit family should steal half an hour every week and impart broad outlines of our culture, mythological lore and history to the younger generation in the home in a manner to create in them a sense of belonging to a specific and ancient cultural stream. Three works must remain under the pillow of every well-meaning Pandit, namely The Bhagvat Gita, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (related by Stein) and Jagmohan’s My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir. Sustained lecturing could prove very useful. But then if notwithstanding that effort the youth are sucked into the vortex of larger Indian milieu, it has to be accepted as inevitable and not something to be despised or abhorred. That will cause serious harm to the creative faculty of our youth.

And about our mother tongue – Kashmiri, I must say it is not a developed language, and at the best it is a dialect. It has no literary potential unless you heavily draw upon Sanskrit or Persian lexicon both obsolete for our youth). It has no scientific script (the Sharada is irretrievable). Kashmiri is fast getting eroded among our youth and let that happen without remorse. We are not loosing anything by loosing it. Instead, our younger generation should be exhorted to perfect English and without fail learn one or two European languages preferably French and German. I would even strongly recommend that our youth learn excellent Arabic to make a dent in the petro-dollar Eldorado of the littoral states. No field should remain out of bounds for them. If they do that, new horizons will open for them.

Dear friends, we are not the only group to have suffered the loss of a home and the homeland. Human history is replete with this saga. Ours is not an exceptional case. Remember displacement is also a great boon, a virtue if we are able to make one out of it. It gives a new life; it brings new blood into veins; it rejuvenates and refreshes. Ask not for a path that is not strewn with thorns. Remember that refugees and migrants have created great civilizations in human history, civilizations along the course of the Nile, the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Oxus, the Danube, the Seine, the Indus, and the Ganges and lately on the Potomac. Diasporas have created new parameters of human culture. You have to unleash that hidden and dormant potential in you. Create a new world, a new civilization a new vision and you are at the top of the world. Only weak and battered people cry for the lost lands and climes.

To us the land where we set our foot is our homeland whether it is the orient or the occident, within the shores of the seas or beyond. K.N.Pandita, (website: AEHRF-homepage, my Geopolitics, weblink of this article).
(The author is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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