Will the Kashmiri Pandit Survive?
Dr. Shiban K. Kachru
n the long turbulent history of the Pandits, there have been occasions when they had an opportunity to change the course of the history in Kashmir.
It is well known that Buddhist Rinchin, the King of Kashmir in 1320, approached the head of the Hindus, Devaswami, for conversion to Hinduism. He was refused.
What is not so well known is that during the reign of the Dogra King Maharaja Ranbir Singh, thousands of Muslims wanted to reconvert to the Hindu faith? The Pandits advised the Maharaja against it.
The myopic Pandits did not see the writing on the wall and let these opportunities slip through their fingers.
“This was a great blunder as a result of which today Hindus [Pandits] have been forced to leave Kashmir, their homeland, despite the presence of Indian Army and the rule of Indian Government,” wrote Christophe Jaffrelot in Hindu Nationalism: a Reader.
When Sikandar (1389-1413) let loose his reign of terror on Kashmiri Pandits, they could have faced the situation bravely and fought for their rights and religion, particularly when they were in the majority. Instead of that, they behaved like cowards and committed suicides or fasted until death. Many of them converted to Islam to save their lives, and the others took the easy way out by running away leaving everything behind.
“We cannot exonerate the Hindu community from their cowardice and pusillanimity. Most of them cowardly embraced Islam simply to be allowed to exist in the land of their birth, while a larger number committed suicide. When their religion, culture, life and liberty were in danger, they should have made a common cause and offered united resistance, especially when they predominated numerically….,” wrote Dr. R. K. Parmu in his book A History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir.
Pandit Anand Koul, however, did not consider this as an act of cowardice on behalf of the Pandits. He wrote: “The Pandit’s tenacity, adaptability and elasticity as regards his political environment have cruelly been construed to mean cowardice…”
There are several disturbing factors, which make one doubt about the survival of the community.
Kashmiris in general and the Pandits in particular, considered everything from outside the valley superior. This also included the language. On their return after a few months of stay in Jammu, the Pandit mothers would feel proud if their children could speak a few words of Hindi.
Today, the Pandits are scattered all over India and live in alien cultures. The Pandit boys and girls are totally alienated from their cultural heritage. It is a great tragedy that Pandits have neglected their language. The young generation is desperate to achieve fluency in other languages while the
mother tongue is being ignored at all levels
“A socio linguistic survey conducted for the language maintenance and language loss of Kashmiri migrant children in Jammu and Delhi in the age group of 10-20 revealed: The use of Kashmiri is mainly confined in the oral communication at home between the elders…The children do not use Kashmiri even with other Kashmiri children… Educated parents prefer to use English and Hindi in communicating with their children…” (Prof. Omkar Nath Koul, 2004)
The language forms an essential part of the culture of a community. The only way the Kashmiri language can be kept alive is by speaking it in every Pandit home and encourage the children to do so. All the other communities in India make their children learn their mother tongue first before any other language.
To speak of preserving Kashmiri Pandit culture sans the language is a sham.
The pernicious dowry system in the community has taken its own toll. A number of Pandit girls opt for marriages outside the community because their parents cannot meet the exorbitant demands of dowry. The small community
is getting even smaller. The dowry system in the community has to be totally eliminated in the same way in which the child marriages were given up in the past.
Pandits have to make their rituals and customs simple and practical. They have to understand their significance themselves before they explain it to their children.
In the past, the Pandits in the valley kept their culture alive by interaction with other members of the community. The tiny numbers of the Pandits that live in
every major city of India have to keep this interaction going and shed petty prejudices against each other. The members of the community have to free themselves of their complexes and take pride in what they are. True, Pandits have lost their hearths and homes in Kashmir but living in the past is not going to help them. They have to be realistic, live in the present and think of the future. Agonising over what has been lost is not going to change anything. They have to maintain their identity at all costs. They should strive to excel in all fields, the way their ancestors did, and live with honour and dignity where ever they are. Swami Vivekananda once said, in some other context; “We have wept long enough, no more weeping, but stand on your feet and be men.”
The puzaz and rituals performed by the Pandits are usually time consuming procedures. They have hardly changed over centuries. Before the exodus of the Pandits from the valley, the family priest would perform the puza in a
language which very few could understand. The instructions given by the priest were obeyed like a robot, and the words were repeated, when required, like a parrot without having a clue about their significance. This, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons why the younger generation of the Pandits has shirked from its religious obligations. To expect an intelligent, educated person to recite a mantra of which he does not understand a single word is rather far fetched. How does one expect a young man to respect his sacred thread when he does not understand its significance? How is a married Pandit woman to know that dejihor ceases to be a yantra, blessed by Shiva and Shakti, when she hides it in her bunched hair? She has never been told about its importance.
We have to make our rituals and puzaz simple, short, practical and above all
understandable. Those rituals, which have become obsolete with the passage of time, should be discarded. In case we do not reform ourselves in religious matters, time is not far off when everything will be forgotten and become a part of our history.
The Pandits have some inherent qualities that have made them face adverse conditions time and again. They have managed to survive for so long because of their intelligence, learning ability, tremendous adaptability and above all the will to survive.
Kashmiri Pandits “have not broken their tryst with learning and education.”
It has been an essential part of their lives. They are prepared to sacrifice anything to get their children educated. After their recent exodus from the valley, they ensured that their children should continue with their learning even when they were languishing in the Jammu refugee camps.
The older generation of the Pandits value their customs and traditions. They celebrate Herath in a decrepit room in a refugee camp at Jammu with the same devotion and enthusiasm as their ancestors did in the valley for centuries.
Back to the question: Will the Kashmiri Pandit community survive? The answer is a confident yes. The Kashmiri Pandit will survive because he is a born survivor.
In 1924, Pandit Anand Koul prayed to God: “May the Almighty preserve this small community [Kashmiri Pandits] under the shelter of His powerful wing,
secure against all the changes and chances of the passing years, and may their golden years return!”
Today, the Pandit community needs this prayer as never before.
The above article is an excerpt from the author’s forthcoming book: Kashmiri Pandits (Brief Culture and Political History).
Dr. Shiban K. Kachru
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