Kashmir: Composite Society Not Composite Townships!
By Mohammad Ashraf
16 April, 2015
(Kashmir needs restoration of its centuries old composite society and not clusters of imprisoned citizens acting as perennial sources of friction)
The idea of composite townships for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley has renewed tensions between the communities rather than create anatmosphereconducive for their return.Kashmir has a 5000 year history but one of the unique attributes of the local people has been tolerance and peaceful communal living.Some of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad ideologues recently observed that the Pandits owned Kashmir for 5,000 years in the past! It is true; 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 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 who were off and on allowed in. Some researchers have also observed many cultural and traditional similarities between 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 monism which has been one of the important basic factors in 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 adopted Islam as his religion. 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 with the use of the pen 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. In spite of this, the Muslims tolerated them and there was absolute bonhomie between the two.
In 1947, Sheikh Abdullah through is unique legislation in the entire sub-continent called the “land to the tiller” and the freezing of the debts, made them lose all their estates and landholdings and lots of money. In spite of this, they continued to be an important segment of the Kashmiri Society. However, their sudden mass migration in the turmoil of 1990 deprived them of all their power and they truly lost the 5000 year old Kingdom!
In fact, most of the prominent Kashmiri Pandits of the yore including the stalwart Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had always been pinning for regaining 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 Republic but as an Independent Sovereign Republic where all religions would be 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 some chauvinist Hindutva elements having inherent hatred for Muslims to settle the scores with them. Unfortunately for them, they are climbing the wrong tree! One cannot reverse the march of history. Civilisations 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”!
Mohammad Ashraf I.A.S. (Retired) is former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir)
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