Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kashmir Needs Composite Society, Not Secluded Townships

Kashmir needs restoration of its centuries-old, composite society and not clusters of imprisoned citizens acting as perennial sources of friction

Kashmiri Pandits celebrate the festival of lights, Diwali, in the Kashmir Valley.

The idea of “composite townships” for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley has renewed tensions between the communities rather than create an atmosphere conducive for their return. Kashmir boasts a 5,000-year long history and one of the unique attributes of the local people has been their tolerance and peaceful communal living.

Some of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad ideologues recently observed that the Pandits had “owned” Kashmir for the past 5,000 years. It is true that Kashmiri Pandits (Brahmins) did constitute the ruling elite of Kashmir for its 5,000 year old history.
There is a written record, the only of its kind in the sub-continent, in the form of Kalhana’s Rajatarangni which in Sanskrit means the “River of Kings”. It details minutely the history of the Kings of Kashmir till twelfth century AD from the earliest times. The ruling Pandits comprising the upper caste Brahmin class constituted only 2% of the population.
The origin of Kashmiris is an interesting topic. The Neolithic dwelling pits and implements found at Burzohama and many other places in the Valley confirm the beginning of human life in Kashmir like the rest of the world.
According to Kalhana, the early dwellers of Kashmir were Nagas and Picasas. Then Aryans are supposed to have come from Central Asia and subdued the local Nagas and Pisacas. There are also theories about the coming of Israelites to Kashmir. After the destruction of the second temple, the twelve tribes of Israelites were dispersed all over the world. Kashmiris are supposed to be part of the missing twelfth tribe.
According to some legends, Jesus Christ and Moses are buried in Kashmir. There are many stories about early arrival of Jews in Kashmir. Interestingly, Kalhana mentions in Rajatarangni that the Kashmiris in earlier times were very restrictive and would not allow outsiders to come into the Valley.
The only exception was the Jews whom he calls “Maleech” (unclean or unholy) who were off and on allowed in. Some researchers have also observed many cultural and traditional similarities between the Kashmiris and Jews. Incidentally, Israeli tourists are fond of Kashmir Valley and according to some; they feel at home in Kashmir.
Religion wise, after the initial Naga worship, Kashmiris started with the Saivite Hinduism of Trika School of philosophy. This school believes in monotheism which has been one of the important factors in their mass conversion to Islam. The Saivite School of philosophy of Hinduism in Kashmir received much acclaim. It was studied at the famous Sharda University which became known all over the world as an important seat of learning and people from far and wide came here.
After Saivism, Buddhism also flourished here and the fourth Buddhist Council was held here. This unique conclave of Buddhist philosophers was responsible for changing the basic philosophy of Buddhism from the strict Hinayana School to the moderate Mahayana School.   Subsequently, Saivism again gained ascendancy.
Finally, the advent of Islam through the spiritual preachers like Bul Bul Shah and Mir Sayed Ali Hamadani changed the whole scene. The entire population except the ruling Brahmins, the Pandits, converted to Islam peacefully. The Pandits virtually lost the Kingdom after the last non-Muslim (Buddhist) King Rin Cin Shah also embraced Islam.
Till that time the Pandits had been ruling Kashmir with the force of their swords but then on they took the “pen” in their hands and ruled over Kashmiris for almost 800 years. Thus they still continued to be the Kings (rulers) of Kashmir even after losing their physical hold on the government through the power of their pen. They became the ruling elite, the landlords and the money lenders and had the Kashmiri society in their strong grip. Nonetheless, the bonhomie between the Pandits and Muslims remained strong.
In 1947, Sheikh Abdullah through his unique legislation in the entire sub-continent called for giving the “land to the tiller” and the freezing of all debts. It resulted in the Pandits losing their rich estates, landholdings and money power. Yet they remained a harmonious part and important segment of the Kashmiri society. However, their mass migration in the turmoil of 1990 deprived them of all their power and they truly lost the 5,000-year old Kingdom.
No wonder most of the prominent Kashmiri Pandits including the stalwart Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, pined for the lost Kingdom. They refused to accept the ground reality that Kashmir, now a Muslim majority state, could never become a Hindu Kingdom again.
Majority of Muslims in Kashmir never wanted Kashmir to be an Islamic state but as an independent, sovereign republic where all religions are respected equally. The Pandits instead of joining their Muslim brethren most of whom may have the same blood flowing through their veins and with the same basic DNA have been trying to reverse the history. They are now being used by Hindutva chauvinists with their inherent hatred for Muslims to settle the scores with them.
One cannot, however, reverse the march of history. Civilizations come and go and the world moves on. Panun Kashmir, composite townships and the artificially carved settlements cannot bring back the ancient Hindu Kingdom of Kashmir.
If Kashmiri Pandits want to be back in Kashmir as an inseparable part of the society, they have to follow the teachings of Nund Reshi and Lal-Ded and not the commands and directions of Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal. They must remember the famous saying of Pandit Kalhana, “The country of Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers”! Kashmir needs restoration of its centuries-old, composite society and not clusters of imprisoned citizens acting as perennial sources of friction. A composite society of all Kashmiri groups and sections, not Israeli style settlements, is the way forward.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Uneasy Hug!

The hug between Modi and Mufti seems to be turning uneasy like the hug in the Kashmiri proverb, “Kakun Haaputh”!

A picture of Narendra Modi hugging Mufti Sayed was splashed all over the media just before the swearing in of the new PDP-BJP government in J & K. It represented something like a Bear Hug! The very first hug of these two ideologically opposed leaders seemed an uneasy one and not a normally warm human hug! The picture reminded one of the very common Kashmiri proverbs, “KakunHaaputh”! The story is about a father and a son going into woods and then getting separated. Suddenly, the father hears cries of his son calling him to save him. The father asks what has happened. The son agonisingly cries back that a bear has hugged him. The father shouts, leave the bear. The son shouts back, father I am trying to leave it but it is not leaving me! 
There were a lot of expectations both developmental and political. The moot point is whether the hug was really a positive bear hug and a lasting one and is any of the two leaders really acting as the proverbial bear? Both leaders took a pretty long time in preparing to hug each other. If one minutely observes the facial expression of the two leaders, it appears that Mufti Sayed was not very comfortable in hugging Narendra Modi who on the contrary seems happy and contented. While as Modi is holding him tightly in terms of a true bear hug, Mufti Sayed's hands are open! It may appear that the proverbial bear is Modi but on second thoughts after seeing the recent happenings, the reverse seems more plausible! Especially the uproar and subsequent threats to leave coalition followed by a climb down makes one think that it is now Modi who will be unable to un-hug himself from Mufti Sayed!
Having kept the controversial issues of the north and the south pole on a temporary hold, the first and foremost need of the people in the valley was not only rehabilitation and restoration after the most devastating flood of the century but the fool-proof prevention of future floods and the perennial water-logging of most of the city and other areas. There have been many plans including some with the help of Asian Development Bank executed through the Economic Reconstruction Agency for some of these projects. Unfortunately except a few, most of the projects get allotted or sub-let to small contractors for financial and political gains. The result is disastrous implementation and management of these projects whether connected with drainage, road construction and so on. The living example is the drainage in Srinagar city and the four-lanning of the highway from Qazigund to Srinagar. For a change, the basic infrastructure projects need to be allotted to some of the reputed national or even international construction agencies to ensure implementation and completion on turnkey basis within a definite time-frame. Some examples of the work executed on these bases is the surfacing of some Srinagar roads during governor's rule in mid-eighties and the commissioning of the Uri Power Project during the most disturbed years of the militancy of the nineties.
There were many possibilities in the sphere of good governance and development in all the three regions of the state. The million dollar question was whether the present set up clobbered together after putting a temporary lid on some very controversial and disruptive issues could firmly put its feet on the ground and get a strong hold on the situation. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be happening. One after the other controversial issues are being deliberately propped up. The return of Pandits has been hanging fire for last 20 years while as the West Pakistan refugees have been waiting for more than 60 years! The refugee issue is more volatile than the Pandit issue. However, the Pandit issue is more sensitive in regard to the valley. There seems to be deliberate attempt to inflame the sentiments and passions of the valley dwellers.Can it be construed as an attempt to get un-hugged from one of the two sides?
Normally, the two sides should have gone full steam ahead in rehabilitation and restoration. The infrastructure is in shambles. In fact, one of the Bollywood heroes recently remarked that Kashmir has everything except the infrastructure! The three most important and urgent tasks to be taken in hand were the restoration, rehabilitation and construction of standard basic infrastructure. This had to be coupled with lessening of the harassment by security personnel of all shades and hues. While the first tasks are still going on at a slow pace, the reverse is happening on the last one because of the new fuel being added to already simmering fire. In fact, a fellow columnist had recently observed that the present phase of Kashmir's popular movement appears to be fizzling out. He should rest assured that the present central government will not allow this to happen and they are renewing the same with their periodic inputs. May be they are regretting the hug and want to end it sooner than later?