Don’t divide people
Past week Mela Khir Bhawani once again saw Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus mingling together at Tulmul – the way they have always been for centuries. While thousands of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) converged at Tulmul for yearly religious pilgrimage, there were Muslims welcoming them with open arms. With wet eyes and warm hearts, the two sects, which till 1989 used to live together, hugged each other, praying for a Kashmir where both could live peacefully the way they used to, and certainly not in segregated colonies or townships as some selfish and dangerous political calculations suggest. Even though many Pandits expressed their yearnings for returning to their motherland, but pessimism would dampen their desire given the situation that Kashmir is face to face with.
Kashmir has its own history of secularism. It used to be only place in entire India (post-partition) where no communal clashes were ever recorded and even at the time of partition, when entire subcontinent had turned mad by the communal frenzy. In fact, history bears witness that Muslims marched on streets for the protection of their Pandit neighbours and it was in this backdrop that Gandhi saw the ray of light in Kashmir alone. But this light had faded by 1989 when Kashmiri Pandits left their motherland to take shelter in Jammu and elsewhere. Without going into the debate as to why this all happened or whether the migration was engineered or spontaneous, one thing is certain that Pandits got uprooted and they became homeless in their own land.
Pandits may have lots of complaints against their Muslim brethren as latter did nothing to stop them when they were leaving but so have the Muslims. The Muslim population believes that when a tragedy had befallen Kashmir, Pandits escaped without caring for their Muslim counterparts. Both the communities are genuine in thinking so but one thing to be taken note of is that what happened in 1989 was much bigger than both the communities put together. None of the two communities could have helped do anything at that stage. But now that much blood has flown down the Jehlum, need is to sit together and strive for a Kashmir where both can live together the way they used to.
The religious get-togethers like that of Mela Khir Bhawani are the occasions when ordinary Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits meet each other without the involvement of politics and politicians. The warmth that is seen on such occasions from either side is an indicator that nothing has been lost and the gaps could be bridged easily. Both the Kashmiris are still untouched by the menace of communalism, even though some aberrations are here and there. It is heartening to note that religious occasions are getting people together and thus proving the point that religions don’t divide people but if taken in right spirit could only help unite the masses. That was the message of Tulmul congregation and should be taken as such by all different communities. Religion should never be used as a tool for divisions and state should always avoid becoming party to religious activities. Let it facilitate such congregations but not control these.
One more occasion that could help boost communal harmony is Amarnath pilgrimage but state has to distance from it. In a secular country it is hard to believe Governor and Chief Minister heading boards of particular religions. This practice should be done away with. Religious functions and pilgrimages should be solely left to religious trusts and no one from the state, be it Governor, Chief Minister or any other official, should be part of any religious organization – be it the Shrine Board or the Waqf Board. Similarly, politicians here as well as New Delhi and elsewhere will do themselves a lot of good if they stop meddling with Kashmir politics on the basis of their own narrow religious and racial prejudices. As history suggests, Kashmir will be well-off if only there is minimal interference in its affairs from outside – both from across the LoC and beyond Gurdaspur.