RETURN OF KASHMIRI PUNDITS IS KEY TO KASHMIR’S SURVIVAL
The recent return of Shri Roshan Lal Mawa to Kashmir valley, after 29 long years, has been a heart-harming sight for most Kashmiri Muslims, especially those from older generation, who have lived Muslim – Pundit bonding of the old times. Amazingly, Shri Mawa re-opened his shop in the same place in down town Srinagar, which he had left three decades ago. Yet amidst all this jubilation, the bitter fact remains that talking about what happened to Kashmiri Pundits in 1989 remains a taboo topic in Kashmir valley. However, the more serious outcome of the unfortunate Kashmiri Pundit exodus was its devastating impact on Kashmiri Muslim society, which remains on the brink of social, ethical and moral collapse.
The ethnic Koshur speaking Kashmiri person is a term, which is used only for two distinct Koshur communities – Koshur Pundits and Koshur Muslims. While the term “Kashmiri” is these days even used for people of entire J&K, the term “Koshur” is only used for Koshur speaking Pundits and Muslims. Intriguingly, a rough calculation would tell us that nearly 70% of Koshur
Muslims of both Shia and Sunni sects are of Koshur Pundit origin, which makes Kashmir valley the most “Brahmin” enclave in entire India, having more percentage of people of “Brahmin” caste than even Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Koshur people often use the term “Brahmin quom” (the race of Brahmins) collectively for Koshur Pundits and Koshur Muslims of Kashmir valley. No wonder, Kashmiri Pundits and Kashmiri Muslims have genetically, culturally, ethnically and linguistically remained virtually indistinguishable, sharing common surnames like “Pandit / Pandita / Pandith”; Dar / Dhar; “Bhat / Bhatt”; “Raina” etc. Further, there was a near similar cuisine culture, attire, literature, poetry, music, song and dance tradition that bound Kashmiri Pundits and Muslims strongly together till everything fell apart in 1989.
During 1989-90, within a short period of less than 6 months, Kashmir valley lost nearly 97% of its Hindu Pundit community and only less than 900 families out of a total of nearly 70,000 Pundit families were left in Kashmir valley. Kashmiri Muslims like me, who were born in 1990s had no role whatsoever in contributing to circumstances that forced our Pundit brothers to leave Kashmir valley all of a sudden and yet, it is our generation that is most answerable to the question – “what about Kashmiri Pundits?” Our parent’s generation, during which the unfortunate exodus of our Pundit biradari occurred, gives a narrative
of Pundit exodus, that is vehemently rejected by an overwhelming majority of Pundits, who have their own stories of what compelled them to leave comfort of their ancestral homes in Kashmir valley and live miserable and poverty ridden lives in tents in hot and dusty plains of Jammu and other parts of India, as internally displaced people. Unfortunately, these two contradictory “versions” of Pundit exodus have now become a permanent festering wound between Koshur Pundits and Muslims, effectively blocking any move for reconciliation.
But is the return of Kashmiri Pundits really important for Kashmir?
Kashmiri Pundits were an important pivot of Koshur society and integral to its smooth running and functioning.
Contrary to their image of being the “best educators”, they were actually more than that. The presence of Kashmiri Pundits provided religious diversity to Koshur society and through the integrated Pundit – Muslim cultural and social bonds, it also made Koshur
Muslims were secular, moderate and tolerant of contrary religious views and way of life. Kashmiri Pundits, especially elderly Koshur Pundit men were moral consciousness keeper of entire Koshur society. Most among Koshur Muslims would be afraid of the reprimand of an elderly Koshur Pundit man before committing any act of immorality or crime. Thus, Kashmiri Pundit community provided the “social balance”, which held together Koshur society and kept it morally and ethically sound and religiously secular.
In addition to the violence of the conflict, the loss of Kashmiri Pundits has proven to be completely devastating for Kashmiri Muslims. The void created by the exodus of Pundit community was filled by decline in ethics and morals as well as exponential rise in social conservatism and religious radicalism among Koshur Muslims, which has happened largely due to absence of religious minority from Kashmiri society. The secular character of Kashmiri Sufi Islam that derived its core strength both from Islam and Shaivism (“Rishi - Peer tradition”) is today being ravaged and eroded by more religiously conservative puritan version of faith. There is growing intolerance even for different sects and sub sects of Islam within Kashmir valley.
While talking to many elders from our parent’s generation, one often hears this common narrative that had Kashmiri Pundit community not left Kashmir, such a rapid social collapse of ethics and morals would not have happened among Koshur Muslims, as Pundit community would have imparted their moderate, calming, sober and at the same time disciplinarian impact on entire Kashmiri community to maintain that “social balance”, which held Koshur society together.
Today many among exiled Kashmiri Pundits are doing very well in different parts of India and world
and if they were to return back, Kashmir valley would gain immensely from their expertise and experience. Just as Kashmir’s benevolent ruler, Sultan Zain-ul- Abadin (“Budshah”) facilitated honorable and dignified return of exiled Kashmiri Pundit community
nearly 600 years ago, the present day Pundit community must also be assisted in their return back to Kashmir valley, with their honor and dignity fully intact for which common Kashmiri Muslim civil society must come forward rather than leaving it up to the
government to do so. Any misgivings and bad blood that exists between Kashmiri Pundits and Muslims must be sorted out mutually and younger generation of Pundits and Muslims must be encouraged to interact with each other. Return of Kashmiri Pundits is essential
for the survival of Kashmiri Muslims as a cultural entity and more importantly, it is essential for saving the very soul of “Kashmiriyat”.
The writer is a Political Activist and an aspiring Politician who has worked as PRO to Ex CM of J&K. firstname.lastname@example.org