Reviving Martand after half a century

By K.N. Pandita

Kashyapa Bandhu, the tallest among the Kashmiri Pandits of twentieth century, was a multi-dimensional personality. Brought up in adversity, his journey from a Kashmiri village Middle School to the circles of intellectual luminaries of his times in Lahore was a rare example of quest for learning. He evinced keen interest in Arya Samaj movement and met and talked to its stalwarts. He imbibed the spirit of this social reform, applied it to his community and thus was destined to play a role in the social and political history of Kashmiri Pandits. He met and exchanged views with the old outstanding Kashmiris settled in Lahore and other parts of Punjab, included among them was the poet Iqbal of Pandit extraction.

Back home in Kashmir, he volunteered for social reform among his community. It pained him that a beautiful people with a brilliant brain should get bogged down with outdated traditions and conservative ideas. He launched the Samaj Sudhar movement and became an activist of Yuvak Sabha.

Those were hard times. He had realised the need for a formal voice of the community. Despite paucity of funds and lack of resources, he courageously took the initiative and in 1931, founded the Urdu Martand in Srinagar.

People associated Martand with the Pandits and of community level. It was not the correct approach. No doubt the Pandits ran it with Bandhu ji at the top, but its polices were far from communal or sectarian. It never challenged or broke the climate of inter-community relationship. It never attacked other religions or their ways and styles. It strictly restricted itself to the social reformation among the Pandits, which Bandhu ji thought was long over due. No doubt he had grooming in Araya Samaj ideology, yet being resilient in social and ideological matters, he concentrated on rites and rituals, cultural manifestations, dress regime, social relationship and things like that within the Kashmir Pandit fold. He evinced keen interest in the Yuvak Sabha as the engine of social reformation.

Bandhu ji lived and preached social reformation during very hard times. The period between the two World Wars was of great economic recession in the sub-continent with direct impact on Kashmir.

On political plane, the rise of Marxism-Leninism in Russia and the emergence of the Soviet State whose southern borders touched on those of the British Indian Empire was the culmination of the “Great Game”. British tutelage over the J&K State subjected the Dogra monarchy to imperialist pressures. Ultimately, in 1935 the colonialists succeeded in carving out the chunk of Gilgit Agency from the Gilgit Wazarat of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. They took its administration directly into their hands.

In that perilous political situation, newspapers appearing from Srinagar, and particularly in the vernacular, were subjected to strictest scrutiny. Martand was among the vernacular dailies.

That was not the age of self – generating economy for any newspaper in this country. Therefore a paper had to depend on the goodwill and generosity of philanthropic, business and passionately political segments of civil society of the day. How Bandhu ji managed to raise funds when income was abysmally meagre for the Pandit community members, is a story that has never been told in full. Bandhu ji lived in penury and his life long adversity had taught him the lessons of fortitude, austerity and perseverance.

The English rendition of the Martand began in 1957 and continued for some time but had to be shut down owing to lack of a sustained funding source.

We have travelled a long way since those times. Today after a lapse of half a century, the dedicated team of Pandits at the Gita Bhavan, Jammu has mustered courage to revive Martand. We hope and pray for the success of their mission.

But the conditions of our community, of Kashmir, of the sub-continent and the world at large, all have undergone a sea change. The days when Bandhuji ran Martand were different; his environs were different; his field of activity was different and his audience had different priorities. Today the community stands extirpated from its land since 1990. Sporadic repressions apart, mass exodus was not inflicted on the community during the autocratic and theocratic rule of the Sultans or the Pathans or the Sikhs or the Dogras. Ethnic cleansing of the Pandit minuscule minority was engineered at a time of our history when Kashmir had become part of democratic and secular Indian Union after carrying out a “freedom struggle” for four decades under the banner of local nationalists.

Exodus of the Pandits from the valley in 1990 under conditions of religious extremism and terrorist culture has taught us many lessons. Foremost of these is that “secularism” has a different meaning in the lexicon of the post – independence political ideologues of India. The second lesson we have learnt is that the pattern of Indian democracy is capable of making compromise with rank communal proclivities. It can shamefully sacrifice principles for vested interests.

If that stance suits the dispensers of Indian secularist democracy, the Pandits would not want to stay in their way though they would be very unhappy with the myopic vision. Our real regret is that for more than half a century after independence, India continued to vainly project the existence of a minuscule Pandit community in a predominantly Muslim majority state as its secular profile. This profile was adroitly flung into the face of her critics and adversaries. But when ethnic cleansing of the Pandits happened, our stage managers hid behind the curtain and distanced themselves from us. It will be noted that the Sahitya Akademy awarded the biography of Sheikh Abdullah titled Atesh-e-China, in which he labelled Kahmiri Pandits as spies of India. What an irony of fate that a house whose third generation is enjoying the largesse of Indian government should label the Pandits as India’s agents. If his house was not the Indian agent why should there be the need for the Indian troops to mount vigil at his grave? This is the bitter lesson we have learnt from history.

And this current scenario stands diametrically opposite to the nationalism and secularism of Bandhu ji’s days. It is a fact that after having served the National Conference as a very dedicated and sincere nationalist and secularist, ground realities of Kashmir under National conference’s power belied his cherished hopes. He was shocked to know the true and inner feelings of Sheikh Abdullah in whose charismatic leadership Bandhu ji had reposed full trust. He had cogent reasons to doubt the secular credentials of the NC. He resigned from its membership not for personal aggrandisement or vendetta but that as an ardent nationalist he could not compromise with communal tendencies. He made no fuss about his resignation. Now we have in hand the texts of the letters he had written to the Sheikh giving in full detail the conditions created within the National Conference body that ran counter to the slogans of secularism and Hindu-Muslim-Sikh unity so vociferously orchestrated during the freedom movement.

Yet despite Kashmir traditional political party’s betrayal, Bandhu ji never raked up the issue of NCs communal underpinnings in his paper for public debate. He did not believe in widening the gulf between the two communities. He trusted the Indian leadership to play its principled role and not allow things to drift away.

The question before us is what should be the role of the Martand revived after a lapse of half a century from the date when it was first incepted? Today the world has drastically changed. There is a sea change in the entire socio-political and economic scenario? Would Bandhu ji close his lips on a phenomenon in which terrorist outfits sponsored, abetted and supported in a neighbouring country, pour into Kashmir and proceed on a spree of selective killings of the minority community members? Would Bandhu ji with his unflinching nationalism stay aloof and become a silent spectator to the decimation of the indigenous Pandit community in their millennia old homeland? Would not his heart bleed on seeing the destitute community eke out a miserable living or surviving on a pittance of official doles? Would he be disposed to give credence to “Kashmiriyat” when Kashmiri youth in thousands armed with lethal weapons demand secession from India and accession to Pakistan? Would he still hum Mahjoor’s melodious ditties of harmony and brotherhood that have been mercilessly bruised and mauled?

The revived Martand has a very difficult task ahead. It is unfortunate that it must speak in the language of Pandit community on aspects, which Bandhu ji had rightly avoided to speak on, namely political. The revived Martand has to fight a long and tenacious battle against many odds. It has to carry its battle to the political arena that claims to be adhering to secularism and democracy. It has to carry its tale to the vast and the diehard Indian press, segments of which have unfortunately lost the sight of the fundamentals of journalistic ethics while pontificating on the crisis in Kashmir. It has to carry its battle to the international forum and media to explain the ins and outs of ethnic cleansing, genocide and jihadist terror. It has no space for mincing words or resorting to expediency. And mind you, doing that means inviting a thousand odds lurking in the sidelines. I can only think of divine intervention that throws up a man of the crisis to lead the community:

Bedar ho dil jis ki fighane sahari se

Is qaum main muddat se wuh dervish hai napaid

(Ah me!¬the dervish whose plaintive cry at dawn

stirs the soul# is yet to appear in this people)

I do not envisage the revived Martand strictly walking in the footprints of Bandhu ji meaning devoting to social reformation alone. Rather social reform agenda would better take the back seat while political struggle must take the front seat. The Pandits have always let themselves be sidelined in pro-political struggle and movements ever since the dismemberment of the Kashmirian Hindu kingdom in A.D. 1339. The time has come to reverse the history.

It is an uphill task. If the community feels and understands the importance and indispensability of an official organ at this juncture of its history, then it has to own the Martand in a new way. It has to tell the truth and earn displeasure. The community has to contribute frugally to see it survives and kicks off. It has to be manned by a highly dedicated team of writers, commentators, opinion makers, editors, newsmen and readers and very fortunately we have no dearth of them. The Pandits have to understand that it is their paper and voices their sentiments and through this paper they seek friendship, cooperation and good will of like-minded segments of Indian society. When this happens, ruling circles will also give it its due credit.

The revived Martand has to lay down its clear policy in regard to major issues facing the community in the context of local, regional, national and international strategies. The Pandits have to think big and vast beyond their immediate needs and requirements. They have to plan and proceed. Martand’s voice must be shrill and hair raising. It has to break the aura of servitude and pusillanimity with which it remained bogged down for centuries. But at the same time it has to curb emotions and remain glued to logic and sound argumentation. It should be able to analyse and disseminate. It must be able to create an impression that carries weight. It must remember that it has come to play a role at a time when Indian secular democracy is going through a critical phase of it evolution and is standing on the brink. Martand must try to pull it back from the brink of the yawning abyss. The Pandits are adherents of the principles equity, equality and peaceful coexistence among peoples of different identities.

Let us all work together with all the dedication in us. Let the broken and battered Pandit resurge to establish his identity and personality through his own effort and self-confidence. We abhor crutches to walk down the street.

The End

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