Sociological Impact of Exodus on Kashmiri Pandits

Sociological Impact of Exodus on Kashmiri Pandits

Raheel Ahmad Trag
During 1990, when the armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir, the majority of Kashmiri Pandits got displaced. The rise of militancy in the region left the Pandits with no option but to flee. They thought their migration temporary hoping that the situation will improve soon. But it has been the 29th year of their displacement and the situation is still the same as they are still in exile. The hostile and insecure conditions persisted in the state which couldn’t materialize their return. The involuntary displacement of Kashmiri Pandits resulted in loss of assets, jobs and affected them socio-politically and culturally. They were evicted from their homes, uprooted from their homelands with fear, helplessness and desperation as their companions. The displaced persons found themselves in a variety of situations; some could found place in refugee camps, some others in permanent settlements and others on their own. As a result of displacement, some of the displaced Pandits have become undistinguishable from the host community while some of them are easily recognized.

The outbreak of armed insurgency in 1990’s shook the foundations of intercommunity relations. The Hindu minorities better known as Kashmiri Pandits were forced to leave their homes and live horribly in migration camps accompanied by depression and trauma. The community has been socially and culturally deprived of its glorious past. This article attempts to focus on the identity crisis faced by Kashmiri Pandits and cultural changes that are brought about by their forced migration. The immigrants suffer from the pain of being parted away from their homes and begin to experience dislocation and loneliness due to the unacceptance of host society soon after settling in alien lands. The crisis of this displaced community is whether they can position themselves in that ‘alien’ place and share the pride of being an enthusiastic citizen. The members of the community become ‘hybrid’ individuals due to various transformations they undergo while their identity remains confuted and questioned by the ambivalent nature of their continuation. There it becomes necessary for them to search for their identity and existence in that alien land.They try to adapt and mix with the host society but not without their concern to preserve their original identity. The same situation was encountered by Kashmiri Pandits who have been displaced from their homeland and forced into a life of exile. The armed insurgency of 1990’s and non settlement of Kashmir issue, the unending violence resulted in migration of more and more people. The humanitarian crisis that has evolved as a result of conflict has been neglected or received less attention. Though the sociological implications of this issue demand more attention than the political aspect but they have been kept in background. They feel the people around them seeking their identity and become victims of loneliness and despair

The Kashmiri Pandits occupy an important place in the composite culture of Kashmir. Their forced migration was a serious blow to Kashmir’s composite culture. It has rendered the term Kashmiriyat as an empty signifier. As a result of exodus, they suffered in every aspect of life. They are facing the problem of lost identity. They suffered from despair and loneliness as they feel the people around asking them, who are you? Where from you? Why are you here? The community faces the dilemma that has been away from their homeland for a long time. They no longer can associate themselves with their homeland. The migration they have experienced was not merely a geographical one but they have left behind their culture and its distinctiveness, identity when they disconnected themselves with their native place. The Pandit community has become refugees in their own country. They can go anywhere in the world but can’t go to their homes and settle there once again. They have been victimized by militants, government and circumstances. The Kashmiri Pandits faced so many problems and almost overnight they found themselves in new environment, homeless, sharing space with others. The Pandits after leaving their homeland have moved into a new environment and culture. As a result of their migration to different states it is obvious that certain cultural changes would have followed. In the first instance they have made conscious efforts in maintaining and preserving their culture. Secondly their culture may have undergone a great change and lastly the possibility of acculturation along with the preservation of core cultural elements may have taken place. Kashmiri culture is unique and composite as it embodies the synthesis of various religious cultures. The Kashmiri Pandits have been the victims of political and religious discriminations.

In the history of mankind, migration has played an important role. It is accompanied by adjustment of immigrants to the new environment and culture. The second generation Kashmiri Pandit immigrants lived between two ways of life. Back at home, they are brought up according to the culture and values of their native country. In the outside milieu, they are educated and influenced by the value system of alien country. They came in contact with new people, culture and a new language. The Kashmiri Pandit immigrants and their progeny undergo cultural adjustment in order to adopt themselves with the host society. They may adopt parts or all the alien state’s culture and language. This gives rise to acculturation. Acculturation is used to explore immigrants’ level of adjustment to alien culture. It is simply a process of acquiring of cultural characteristics of other group through interaction and connection. With the migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, they could not pursue their earlier occupations. They suffer by losing their means of employment. Being upper caste Brahmins, they were supposed to teach and read. In refugee camps, out of desperation they were coerced to take up those professions that they otherwise don’t have. Their occupational patterns have undergone many changes. Their marriage patterns have also changed now. Earlier in Kashmir they don’t marry outside the community, it is now difficult to identify sub-caste of the person as the professions have changed a lot. The song ceremony called ‘Wanavanun’is quite different from that of Kashmir and has a tinge of Punjabi now. They celebrate their festivals differently. Though they worship all gods but Lord Shiva is of supreme importance and therefore Shivratri as the important festival. They celebrate many things together in Kashmir, owing to the lack of space and financial constraints, it is gone now. The valley was a symbol of brotherhood between the two communities. They work together, help each other and invite each other. The Kashmiri Pandits extend their greetings on Eid-ul-Azha to their Muslim neighbors and Muslims in return wish them on Shivratri and offer them walnuts soaked in sweet milk and water. The culture of Kashmir has been the culture of exchange, reciprocation and assimilation. It is a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. With the mass migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley, their culture suffered a great loss and they are in search of identity in cultural, religious and linguistic fields. The changes could have occurred at the various levels like cuisine, dress, rituals, marriage, religious rites and rituals etc. It is because of the older generations that they have been able to preserve their culture in any condition in any part of the country. Outside Kashmir, they listen to Kashmiri music, cook Kashmiri recipes, crack Kashmiri jokes to remain attached to their culture and preserve their identity. The first generation immigrants are more nostalgic and obsessed with the idea of home which is the land of their birth and they always have a hangover of up rootedness. This makes them difficult to get adapted in the new settlements. There is always a clash between modernity and tradition and the family becomes a battlefield. Kashmiri Pandit culture clashes with Indian culture though having many similarities between them. The Kashmiri Pandits have undergone an internal migration i.e. within the borders of country but they are refugees in their own country, living at periphery. Their reputation of being highly intellectual and wise community is at stake. As every member of the family remain busy for the maximum time, the old generation feel lonely. They found themselves confused and embarrassed because of their inability to accept the new culture adopted by their own children and grandchildren. Their expectations are not fulfilled as they lost their hold on the family units. They prefer to pass their time in company of their own generation. The new generation is only interested in economic aspects, forgetting their cultural roots. The second generation is totally divested and deprived of Kashmiri culture. They have been brought up outside Kashmir and they hardly knew about Kashmiri culture. They have neither the experience of the past reality nor experience of the current reality of homeland. They have no experiential understanding of the word Kashmiriyat and its associated meanings. Many of them were small kids when the exodus took place. Moreover the younger generations are marrying across India which results in cultural changes. With these cross-cultural marriages, their identity has become more fragile. People from all over the world are getting into the Kashmiri Pandit families resulting in total confusion and chaos in the family set up. They want to earn money to rebuild their lives. They no longer celebrate their weddings according to their tradition and have lost their rituals, culture and language. Though they are working diligently and many of them have successfully achieved their feats in various disciplines like engineering, medical, computer and management yet they are losing the traditions of their forefathers. They are getting uprooted morally, culturally and there is no learning now. Those who lost their parents come with the curiosity to know their true being, history, heritage for which there is no one to provide answers. The valley for them remains the idea of home even though they don’t live there. Although the second and future generations of diasporic community reckon themselves as born in home country, yet the society sees them as outsiders and therefore they are caught in hyphenated identity.

Language is the medium to express thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It is the representative part of any culture. Language is not merely meant for conversing but it is an identity, an idea that relates how we see others and how others see us. A language is said to be at risk when it is not taught to the younger generation, no matter how large its speakers are. India is a multicultural country where a diversity of cultures flourished under the single culture. It is the home of variety of languages as every state has its own vernacular or regional language. Kashmir is famous for its cultural heritage which has its own unique features. Kashmiri language is an important part and cultural identity of Kashmir. It constitutes the largest linguistic group in the state. Despite the different religious identities, ‘Kashmiri’ was common between two communities. The Kashmiri Muslims define themselves as “Kashmiri Muslims” and Kashmiri Pandits also define themselves as “Kashmiri Pandits.” But soon after the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits this composite identity of being “Kashmiri” came under threat. The first cultural clash that took place soon after migration was the clash of language. Many Pandits were not literate at the time of migration. Owing to this, there was a big communication gap between Pandits and Jammuites. The Kashmiri Pandits failed to speak Dogri in Jammu as a result of which they were easily discriminated. Many Pandit families changed their names to avoid being identified. The reconstructed identity of Kashmiri Pandits in exile is filled with loss of status and recognition, feelings of anger and frustration. The patriotic, culturally enriched and peace loving community of Kashmiri Pandits which provided the nation its first Prime Minister is facing an alarming situation to save itself from extinction. The Kashmiri Pandits who belong to upper cost Brahmins were always protective and sensitive of their special identity. They found themselves at cross roads coming to terms with alien influences. The challenging task before them is to keep their unique identity intact. They have lost something more than their houses and assets. The future holds many uncertainties for Kashmiri Pandits. They have been the victims of militants and government’s apathy otherwise how can such a sensitive issue remain unresolved for so many years? There is so much that still needs to be protected –clear symbols not just nostalgia. Moreover the location of refugee settlements on the outskirts prevents the Pandit inhabitants to re-integrate with mainstream society and thus results in social and cultural alienation.

The Kashmiri Pandit youth still living in Kashmir couldn’t find desirable matches due to their small number in valley. The Islamic culture in both private and public schools had affected them severely. The absence of community, social isolation paved way for the “dilution of Identity.” They fail to celebrate their festivals and other rituals with freedom as they enjoyed before. Owing to the scarcity of priests, the cremation rites are performed with difficulty. The loss of home and the inability of dispersed community to preserve its culture eventually resulted in loss of their identity. The immediate loss that they suffered after their departure was the breakdown of their traditional family structure into nuclear families. They are struggling to preserve their culture from dominant cultures of India.

During the first few years of cultural clash and resistance between Kashmiri Pandits and Dogras, the Pandits began to adjust themselves in the alien land and alien culture. It is inevitable that when two different cultures are face to face with each other for the first time, a conflict is bound to take place. Though it took some years to accept and appreciate one another until they gradually began to assimilate. This appreciation and assimilation became a cornerstone for the future interdependence of Pandits and Dogras. The present situation is entirely different from the past as they have embraced the newness with open arms. Globalization, privatization, liberalization have transformed their lives. Their outlook has enlarged due to cultural exchange and its allied characteristics. The cultures of both the communities are different as other cultures are. The Pandits and Dogras are adapting cultural traits from each other. This has resulted in acculturation where cultural modifications of a community take place by borrowing traits from another. Acculturation is one of the important issues that is analysed in diasporic literature. The armed insurgency that broke in 1990 not only affected them economically but it took a heavy toll on artists, literature and scholarship like the loss of renowned poet and scholar Sarvanand Kaul ‘Premi’ who was shot dead by terrorists. A vast collection of scholarship and literature was lost during the exile.

The first generation immigrants are deeply saddened by the loss of culture. They had lost everything they had built there. They have spent their prime youth in their ancestral home that is why it is a big loss for them compared to second generation immigrants who haven’t seen Kashmir before migration. Keeping in consideration all these facts, the identity of Kashmiri Pandits is no doubt under serious threat as being a dispersed community now. It can be preserved once their link with the valley is re-established.
*Raheel Ahmad Trag was born in 1989 in Tral Pulwama, an abode of many Kashmiri Pandits. He graduated from Kashmir University and later pursued his Masters in English from Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad in 2013. He recently pursued his M.Phil English from University of Lucknow. The author is deeply impressed by the love and affection of Kashmiri Pandits imparted to him during his childhood particularly from Roop Krishan Pandita living in his neighborhood.

Currently the author is working as Contractual Lecturer English in GMHSS Gulzarpora. He has been writing poetry and prose about Kashmir Conflict and other social issues. His writings have been published in various international journals across the world.