THE GREAT SOCIAL REFORMER AND FREEDOM FIGHTER: KASHYAP BANDHU
By: DR. SHIBEN KRISHEN RAINA
Kashmir has rightly been called ‘Reshvaa’r’ i.e., the abode/orchard of Rishis, saints, and scholars. The beautiful land has been one of the prominent hubs of learning and exponent of great traditions of religion, philosophy, literature, and composite culture since ancient times. From time to time, this land of sages, hermits, Sufis, and spiritual giants has given a lot many luminaries and meaningful celebrities to the world. Among such personalities Kashyap Bandhu, the great Kashmiri reformist and freedom fighter stands out as a veteran Kashmiri social worker whose insight and hard work gave Kashmiri society, more especially Kashmiri Pandit society, a new vision to rise for better prospects. The contribution of this enlightened thinker, selfless social worker, and poet-turned social activist gave a meaningful and purposeful direction to the Kashmiri Pandit/Brahman societyand will be remembered for years to come. The contribution of Kashyap Bandhu for his liberal vision, progressive ideology, and concern for the society, is such a valuable chapter of Kashmiri ethos and identity, that it is not only a source of inspiration for the new generation but also a matter of great pride for the old folks, as well.
The real name of Kashyap Bandhu was Tarachand Bhat. He was born on March 24, 1899, to Thakur Bhat in Geeru (Nurpora) village of Kashmir. This was the time when the last phase of the rule of Maharajah Pratap Singh was going on in Kashmir.
How was Tarachand called Kashyap Bandhu, is as historical as it is important to know? Tarachand’s early life was spent in extreme poverty. In 1919, he passed the matriculation examination and started looking for a job amidst the great economic stringencies prevailing in the state. In the meantime, he started composing and reciting poems under the name ‘Bulbul’. He began to express his feelings of agony, sorrow, and anger, and yearning for social change through his poetry. In the meantime, after tiresome efforts, he got a small job in the revenue department which he did not like. He left Kashmir and went to Lahore and made Lahore his place of work. In those days Lahore was the main center of Arya Samaj, Brahma Samaj, and other political and religious activities. Tarachand was greatly influenced by the ideology of Arya Samaj, and he joined Virjanand Ashram located in Lahore. From day one, he took a vow not to eat meat and remained a vegetarian for the rest of his life. In those days Vishwabandhu ji used to be the chief/principal of Virjanand Ashram. He was very much impressed by Tarachand’s genius: compassion, dedication, hard work, feelings of humanness, piety, and love. He named Tarachand ‘Bulbul’ as ‘Kashyap Bandhu’ and inspired him to serve Kashmiri society in Kashmir, instead. Arjun Dev Majboor, the famous scholar, and poet of Kashmiri was very close to Kashyap Bandhu ji. In one of his articles, Mr. Maj boor has given a vivid account regarding the inordinate personality and work of Kashyap Bandhu. He writes: “Kashyap Bandhu started a tremendous process of social reform against the evil customs prevailing in the Kashmiri society. Kashyap Bandhu raised his voice against various social evils by writing articles in ‘Martand’ and ‘Kesari’ and ‘Desh’ newspapers. He wrote against the ban on widow marriages, wastage of money on social customs and rituals, especially observed on the occasions of marriage and other social or religious festivities.
As already said to educate the people on these social reforms, he used the media to a great extent. He published many of his ideas through articles in the Daily Martand (of which he was the first editor), “Kesari” and “Desh” etc.
Kashmiri folks still remember the Kashmiri song (Vanvun) written in favor of social reform in those days. A few lines: –
“Traavizooz, pooch nerivodnaniye
Chu Mubarak DotiMahreniye…
(Leave the hackneyed dress
And be smarter,
You Dhoti (Sari) bride
Blessed you be!)
This reformist movement of Kashyap Bandhu was well-received by the then public. Widows got married. Kashmiri Pandit girls came out of the four walls of the house to go to schools and colleges, the tendency to waste on social customs and customsgot stopped, etc. The slogan of ‘Social Reform’ started reverberating from house to house and thus the Kashmiri society moved towards a better transformation.
The political career of Kashyap Bandhu is no less laudable. Inborn traits like the quality of leadership, self-esteem, self-confidence, etc. were filled in his personality and strong character and mirrored from his very childhood. It won’t be inappropriate to quote here the incident narrated by Kashyap Bandhu to Shri ArjundevMajboor in which the domineering personality of the teenager Kashyap comes on the surface. The event goes like this: “Punjabi students would also study in Government High School, Srinagar in those days. In the classroom, they would sit on the front seats and those seats would remain vacant until those Punjabi students entered the classroom. Although Kashmiri students would come to the classroom much before time yet they would not be allowed to sit in those seats. This discrimination stirred the tender heart of Tarachand, and he gathered the students against this injustice and started a movement. The matter reached the Maharajah through the headmaster, education officer, etc. So much so that Tarachand made himself lie down in front of the Maharajah’s car. Seeing the seriousness and gravity of the movement, the department finally accepted the demand of the students and the movement ended. This was Tarachand’s first political victory, and he continued to struggle for the oppressed and weaker sections of society.
It has been said earlier that during his stay in Lahore, KashyapBandhu was actively associated with the social and political activities there. It was during his stay in Lahore that he was pained to see the plight of the Kashmiri laborers living there. To give the workers their rights and inspire them to live with dignity, Kashyap Bandhu formed a ‘Labour Board’, of which he became the secretary. To make this board more effective, he kept taking suggestions from the famous thinker and poet Dr. Iqbal. News about this board started appearing in Lahore and other newspapers of the country and a huge session of the board was organized in Ludhiana in which Motilal Nehru gave a very fiery speech about the plight of Kashmiris. The slogan ‘Kashmir for Kashmiris’ was raised for the first time from this platform. During his stay in Lahore, the Kashyap Bandhu joined Bharat Singh’s revolutionary party and was imprisoned, too, in connection with the John Saunder’s murder case. During his stay In Lahore, the Kashyap Bandhu joined the field of journalism and worked in the editorial boards of ‘Akhbare-Aam’, ‘Bahare Kashmir’, ‘Akhbar-Kashmiri’ etc.
With the passage of time, the versatile personality of Kashyap Bandhu took a new turn. ArjundevMajboor writes in his article: “The third decade of the twentieth century holds a special significance in the political history of Kashmir. The foundation of the Muslim Congress was laid in Kashmir on one hand and on the other Kashmiri Pandits took the lead to fight against the discrimination in government jobs and other social setups. Kashyap Bandhu was monitoring the situation in Kashmir from Lahore. Kashmiri Pandit leaders like PremnathBazaz, ShivnarayanFotedar, JialalKilam, etc. requested Kashyap Bandhu to come from Lahore to Srinagar. Before coming to Kashmir, Kashyap Bandhu got married in a very simple function (according to Arya Samaj tradition) in Lahore to Bimla, daughter of Advocate Vishnudutt. On the return to Srinagar, ‘Yuvak Sabha’ was formed and Kashmiri-Pandit youth started taking an active part in the activities of the Sabha. Sheetal Nath, Srinagar became the center of the activities of these activities. This place was earlier called Jogibag because the Jogis, hermits, seers, etc., coming from outside Kashmir used to stay there. The ‘Chhadi Mubarak’, which heads Amarnath-yatra, also used to start from this very place earlier. On February 1st, 1931, a newspaper titled ‘Martad’ was published which was the mouthpiece of Yuvak Sabha and Kashyap Bandhu had the distinction of being its first editor. This newspaper became very popular all-over northern India. From 1931 to 1969, this newspaper continued to be published regularly. Due to the continuous and dedicated efforts of Kashyap Bandhu, this newspaper set a record in the history of journalism of Kashmir. The Kashmiri writers who continued to appear in ‘Martand’ under the editorship of Kashyap Bandhu, were lot many. Prominent among them were: PremnathPardesi, Master Zinda Kaul, Dinanath Nadim, Mahjoor Kashmiri, ArjundevMajboor, Shyamlal Wali, Teeth Kashmiri, Prof. Nandlal Kaul Talib, Dinanath Almast Kashmiri etc.
Kashyap Bandhu raised his voice against the atrocities on his community people and went to jail several times. As already mentioned, he was arrested in Lahore in connection with the Saunders murder case and later released. Similarly, in connection with the Roti agitation, he was sent to jail in 1933-34 and later released. In 1932, the Kashyap Bandhu met Sheikh Saheb, who was then the President of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference. The purpose of this meeting was to create a joint platform of Hindus and Muslims so that a vigorous movement could be launched to find a solution to all the problems and the process for the formation of a responsible government could be started. In August 1938, the ‘National Demand’ (Quami Demand) came into force. When Kashyap Bandhu said on the stage of Yuva Sabha that Maharaja Harisingh would take a day to collect his army, while it would take me an hour only to collect my army, he was arrested the very next day. In the words of ArjundevMajboor: “National Demand” immediately took the form of a vigorous Tehreek/Movement. I saw with my own eyes the procession going from Mujahid Manzil to Amira Kadal. People from all walks of life participated in this march and all raised slogans like: ‘Zimadaraanahukumat zindabad—’,’ Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna ab hamaredilmeihai, dekhnahai ki zorkitnabaazoo-e katilmeihai?’ etc. Sheikh Sahib, Maulana Masoodi, Mirza Afzal Baig, Bakshi Ghulam Mohamad, Kashyap Bandhu, JialalKilam, PremnathBazaz, ShambhunathPeshin and Sardar Buddha Singh were detained.
In 1946, the slogan ‘Quit Kashmir’ was raised and this slogan became the cause for a tremendous Tehreek. Kashyap Bandhu along with others gave fiery speeches and were arrested and placed under house arrest in Kathua jail. In 1947, due to pressure and intervention from Gandhiji and other national leaders, apart from Sheikh Saheb and Bandhuji, other leaders were released. From time-to-time Kashyap Bandhu was imprisoned for eight years from 1931 to 1961. Along with Sheikh Saheb, he remained under house arrest in the jails of Bhaderwah, Reasi, and Udhampur.
In 1947, when Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah became the Chief Minister of the state, Kashyap Bandhu was made the Director General of ‘State Reforms’. On August 9, 1953, Bandhu Ji,too, was arrested along with Sheikh Sahab. Later Bakshi Sahab wanted him to join his group, but he turned down his offer. In 1964, he was made Projector Officer of Sonwari Block in Sadiq Saheb’s government. In 1974, when Sheikh Saheb came back to power and asked Kashyap Bandhu to join hands, Bandhu ji said that he was too old now to accept the offer but promised to support him and his government.
Kashyap Bandhu spent the last days of his life in his home (Geeru) where he would often study books or write something. It is famous about him that whoever wrote him a letter, he would definitely reply back. He would now very rarely go to Srinagar. His friends and common people used to come to his house to meet him. Sheikh Sahib, his Begum, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Mohammad Shah, Mirza Afzal Baig, etc. visited his house several times to meet him. Kashyap Bandhu would meet them with utmost warmth and profundity.
When great men are about to say goodbye to this mortal world, then nature also senses the pain of their would-be absence. On December 18, 1985, while Kashyap Bandhu was busy with his writing and reading work, a person came and informed that the cows are not eating grass today, God knows what had happened to them? Kashyap Bandhu quickly reacted: ‘They will not eat grass today.’ Probably he meant to say that today their master was going to leave for the last journey. And really on that very day around Eight O’clock in the evening, the soul of Kashyap Bandhu merged with the super Divine.
The Kashyap Bandhu was one the forerunners of the composite culture of Kashmir, a supporter of progressive ideas and such a leader of the Kashmiri Pandit community, whose every event of life is a history in itself and a living document of his selfless devotion and hard work.
The author is a Writer, Professor and Translator