By Ram Puniyani
22 June, 2010
This 18th June, Friday (2010), nearly thousands of Kashmiri pandits, including women and children, visited the temple of Mata Kheer Bhavani in Tullamula, 20 Kilometers from Shrinagar. It was the sacred day of Zyeshtha Ashthami. Most of the Pandits were visiting the valley after nearly 20 years, since the time they left Kashmir due to various reasons like the separatist militancy and the way whole thing was handled by authorities. The spiritual zest to worship the Goddess Ragnya Devi, to whom this temple is dedicated, was in the air. There was a big congregation of local Muslims who greeted the visiting pandits with cold drinks and Kheer (a dessert made of milk and rice). The Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah and many other Kashmir Ministers also turned up for this emotional occasion marked by reunion with many a pandits.
The local Muslims and the ministers said that all concerned should work for return of Pandits to the valley, as Kashmiiryat is incomplete without the pandits, who are integral part of the Kashmir’s culture and life. Many a pandits also promised to work towards such a goal, to over come the divides created by the militant and political forces. The return of pandits to the valley has already begun, though it is a trickle at the moment.
Kashmir issue has been seen by the two neighbors, Pakistan and India, more as an issue of ‘real estate’ only. Kashmir has been treated as the territory which has to be won over by any means. The Government of Pakistan has regularly used ‘Kashmir’ issue to retain their hold on the political power in Kashmir, while in India, for far too long the central Government ignored the aspirations of the local population. In this whole scenario the real essence of Kashmir, Kashmiriyat got undermined and the issue started being presented as a communal one and as the site of dispute between two neighboring countries.
The soul of Kashmir’s culture has been a thick interaction between different religious traditions, teachings of Buddha, Vedanta, and Sufi tradition of Islam. Kashmir was the place where Buddhism spread far and wide and most of the population, except the upper caste embraced Buddhism. With attacks on Buddhism in 8th Century the tide turned. Later many Sufis came to Kashmir and preached their version of Islam. The most famous of them has been Nooruddin Noorani, popularly known as Nund Rishi. He was influenced by Lal Dedh, who herself was influenced by the earlier Sufis. Her mystical verses have a Shaivite form. Today both Hindus and Muslims regard her as their own. Like the great Bhakti saint, Kabir, there is a story that when she died her body turned into a heap of flowers, half of which were consigned to flames by Hindus, while the remaining half was buried by Muslims.
Nund Rishi wrote in appreciation of Lal Dedh, about her syncretic spiritual values which taught that one should not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim, one should realize one’s own self and that’s what God is. On Similar lines Nund Rishi focused on purification of soul. He bitterly criticized Mullahs and Brahmins whose focus is more on rituals than on spirituality and morality of the religions. Nund Rishi’s was a sort of mass movement in Kashmir, which affected many Kashmiris and they embraced Islam as taught by him.
Such a rich heritage has come under the threat from last three decades in particular. The vexed Kashmir issue got the communal slant due to the intrusion of Al Qaeda type elements, once their work of driving away Russian forces from Afghanistan was over. The Kashmiri militancy assumed different form during the decades of 1990s, it was communalized during this period. Amongst many factors contributing to worsening of Kashmir situation, one was the worsening communal scenario in India in the decade of 80’s which added fuel to the fire of terrorism in Kashmir. Meanwhile, a communal angle was being given to the harmony prevalent between Kashmiri pandits and the local Muslim population. Terrorists took advantage of that distortion.
Due to the local dissatisfaction of people, their feeling of alienation, the evil designs of the Pakistan Mullah-Military complex; totally backed by US imperialist goals, the militancy changed its tune and Kashmiri pandits started being targeted. The matters became worse off due to the policies of Jagmohan, who was Governor of the state. While the delegation of Kashmir people was preparing to call upon pandits to request them not to leave the valley, the state Governor provided them the transport to leave the valley. Most local leaders of Muslim community opposed the move of sending pandits away from Kashmir, but encouraged by Jagmohan, the Pandits left the valley. Essentially a problem between two neighboring countries assumed a communal color.
The condition of pandits, living in refugee camps has been quiet pitiable and barring few of them, most of them had to face immense suffering. Surely apart from pandits many a Kashmiri Muslims also had to leave the valley due to the twin attack from the terrorist groups and high handedness of the Indian military, which behaved more like and occupation army. Its heavy presence coupled with long years of stay in the valley totally distorted the civic life in Kashmir. The communal forces in India selectively harped on the plight of Kashmiri pandits while the other victims of Kashmir violence were totally left out of their scheme of propaganda. The tragedy is that while communal forces kept talking of the plight of pandits, during six years of BJP led NDA rule hardly anything different was done for the victims of militancy, and the lop sided policies of the leadership, dominated by the policies of central Government continued.
The present developments are very healthy one. While still some left over of militant’s actions and more of the imprint of army highhandedness are still visible, it seems with democratization process increasing, with local political leadership coming out to express the Kashmiri people’s aspirations, and partly also due to the change in the policies of US, peace seems to be slowly retuning to Kashmir.
This Kheer Temple congregation is a signal of revival of the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the heart and souls of Kashmir. One hopes and wishes this spirit will strengthen in times to come, aspirations of people of Kashmir will be expressed and implemented through the democratically elected Governments of Kashmir and India-Pakistan are able to cultivate the friendly relations, which is the best guarantee for peace in the region.