and The Dilemma Of Kashmir
at the principal mosque at Safapur was concluding his address when a man walked
in, went up to him and whispered something in his ear.
of grief fell over the imam's face. He turned to the congregation and broke the
news of a death in the village. "You will be sorry to learn", he said, "of the
death of Tarawati, Mokdambai (headwoman) of Kolpur, a little while ago. As there
is no Pandit now here in the village, I call upon you to proceed to Kolpur,
after offering your prayers, and arrange the last rites of the deceased in an
early 1990, the heady days of the freshly-arrived cult of terrorist violence in
Kashmir. The boom of guns, bomb blasts, grenade attacks and shootouts, had
heralded the arrival of the new cult. Gun-wielding "mujahids" had appeared from
nowhere, getting into the headlines straightaway. The attention of the whole
world got focussed on them after they organised an unprecedented operation, the
abduction of the daughter of the then Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohammed
Sayed. This sent the entire population of Srinagar city into frenzied excitement
by creating delusions of "Azadi", which, at that moment, appeared to be just
round the corner.
the run of this torrent of all-pervading euphoria, the minuscule Pandit
community was gripped by fear and panic, for the "mujahids" had practically
launched their "liberation" struggle by selective killings of Pandits, beginning
with a BJP leader, TL Taploo, a retired judge, NK Ganjoo and many others. They
made it appear that the Jehad was not only against India, the very name of which
became a malediction, but also against Pandits, who were inevitably identified
it was then that Pandits started fleeing the Valley. The wave of panic swept
across the villages and hit Safapur with a powerful blast that damaged the house
of Kauls, a well-known Pandit family of the paragana. In a couple of days the
entire Pandit population of Safapur, not exceeding fifty souls, was on its way
to Jammu, via Srinagar. Tarawati, the widowed headwoman of Kolpur, which formed
part of the larger Safapur village, her son and daughter-in-law, were among
these fleeing Pandits.
reaching Srinagar, Tarawati's son left her and his wife behind, and proceeded to
Delhi to explore whether he and his family could find shelter there, instead of
any other place outside Kashmir.
had been in Srinagar
hardly for three days when homesickness started tormenting her. Then one morning
she took a bus for Safapur, telling her daughter-in-law, that she would be back
when her son returned from Delhi.
time Tarawati could not have imagined that those were the final hours of her
life and that fate was drawing her to Safapur, perhaps only because of her
life-long bonds with the soil and the people of her village, on the banks of
picturesque Manasabal Lake.
her home, Tarawati found a new life vibrating inside her, but she also found
something ominous in the village ambience. It was taut with fear and tension,
and spontaneity in people's behaviour was missing. This however did not prevent
the old lady from mixing and mingling with her Muslim fellow villagers as she
had always done before. But the joy of reunion was short-lived and only after
three days she had a stroke and died peacefully in her home, with her neighbours
by her side.
prayers over, a large section of the congregation at the mosque, hurriedly made
its way to Kolpur. By then, a large crowd, including women, had assembled at the
headwoman's house. The village women took care of the last rites of the
deceased, before menfolk carried the body to the cremation ghat at the banks of
the lake. Some elderly villagers, who were fairly conversant with Pandit customs
and rituals, helped cremate the octogenarian headwoman properly, as a large
gathering stood by reverentially, praying for peace to the soul of the departed.
had come to Safapur as a 13-year old bride, married into the nambardar family of
Kolpur, and had spent all the 72 years of the rest of her life in the village,
going out only occasionally. She would sometimes go to Srinagar, to attend some
function of her relatives, or to her ancestral village, 20 kilometres away. She
had once been to Jaipur where her son had served with the army.
at the young age of 40, Tarawati had not only brought up and educated her
children, but had also discharged her functions with utmost responsibility as
headwoman. Over the years, she had acquired a protective, motherly image, loved
and respected by all.
evenings, during summers, flocks of children would come to play in the sprawling
compound of Tarawati' house, under the shade of the big chinar tree that stood
at the gate of the compound. She would call the chinar her mother-in-law,
because, as she put it, "when I came here as a young bride, it was this chinar
which greeted me before I stepped into my new home. Since then it has been an
inseparable friend and a part of my life. I have rested under its balmy shade
and watched and enjoyed children playing under it as mellifluous birds sang in
its thick branches".
more ruminative moments Tarawati would recall, with traces of old grief in her
eyes, how she had spent her lonely evenings, after the death of her husband,
sitting against the supportive trunk of the chinar, and shedding silent tears.
frolicsome and noisy children, Tarawati had always something to offer by way of
small eatables like a walnut, a pear, smoked corn, or whatever she found in the
house. She also had always something to give to the small children of poor
fishermen, who lived a little distance away on the fringes of the lake. They
would often come in the mornings, asking for something to eat and she would
never disappoint them. In fact every night she saw to it that some food was left
over for the fishermen kids next morning. Some of these children would be so
small that they could not even call out 'Tara' the fond name given to her by the
villagers. They would call Tala or Taya.
neighbours and other villagers were her frequent visitors too. They came to seek
her advice, guidance and help in resolving disputes pertaining to lands,
marriages and inheritances. She went all the way out to share their joys and
was an illiterate woman, but her close affinity with her fellow villagers and
her deep understanding of their day to day problems, had made her into an
institution, to which they always looked in their moments of distress and
difficulty. Every villager mourned her death. Her departure created a feeling of
emptiness that no one in her neighbourhood could easily reconcile with.
were the days of rapid changes in Kashmir.
Militancy had gained phenomenal immensity and taken control of everything,
including the lives of common people in cities and villages, who could not even
talk and act as they would normally do. In fact when a woman neighbour of
Tarawati wailed loudly over her friend's death, a gun-toting youth from a
neighbouring village, walked into her home next morning and scolded her for
shedding tears for a "Kafir".
nineties in Kashmir,
perhaps, marked the saddest era in the post-independence history of this ancient
land of sages and rishis, known for its traditions of peace, amity, non-violence
and tolerance. It witnessed not only the displacement and exodus of tens of
thousands of people like Tarawati, but also the annihilation of the noble
civilisational heritage they represented.
Tarawati's departure, it was not long before her "mother-in-law" chinar fell to
the axes of money-hungry militants. One morning a group of them came, followed
by a team of axemen who immediately got down to their job. It took them several
days to bring down the whole tree, limb by limb and branch by branch. It was
sold right there, partly as timber and partly as firewood, fetching a fat price
for its destroyers. It was not the only chinar that met this fate as gun culture
thrived in Kashmir.
Hundreds of chinars all over Kashmir,
as also other trees in government plantations and forests, were felled in
similar fashion for satisfying the greed of "liberators" of Kashmir,
drunken with the power of newly-acquired guns.
also not long before the three-storey house of Tarawati was set ablaze and
reduced to a mass of rubble. None of her neighbours came out to make an effort
to put out the blaze. Perhaps not because they would not want to do so, but
because times had changed. The writ of the gun-wielding insurgents ran supreme,
and arson formed a part of their agenda which no one could defy. Those who had
dared, though rarely, had paid a heavy price. Hundreds of Pandit houses,
government buildings and schools went up in flames that way.
years later, in 1997, a grand nephew of Tarawati, who had also lived in Safapur
and owned property there, visited his village. His house had once stood next to
his grand aunt's. He found village dogs snoozing on the wreckage of Pandit
houses, including Tarawati's imposing house of Maharaji bricks and deodar. The
boundary walls of the large compound had disappeared. No children played there.
Instead it had become a grazing ground for village cattle.
gentleman who, as a boy and later as a youngman, had been a witness to the busy
comings and goings in the headwoman's house, wondered whether the place where
dogs lolled now, was the same where she had once spoken words of advice, counsel
and comfort to her Muslim fellow villagers.
not exactly locate the spot where Tara's
great chinar had once stood, in all its glory and grace, rising high into the
sky. The place had been levelled into a barren patch.
came back from Safapur, all he got with him, as evidence of what once was a
thriving Pandit locality, presided over by a grand old lady, were pictures of
some obscure ruins that once had a name. He told his friends in Jammu that
standing there, all by himself, and trying to paper into his past that lay at
his feet in the shape of burnt bricks and charred wood, he felt like crying. But
there were not tears in his eyes, for the tragedy was beyond all tears. Or
perhaps the ever-blazing fire, from guns that never fell silent, that had
engulfed his homeland, had also burnt up all his tears. Just as the ruins of
Tara's properties had reduced to ashes also her identity and her presence in
Kashmir's historical, cultural and social mosaic.
is no more. Her children and grandchildren live in exile. Their identity in
Kashmir is erased for all practical purposes. But in the new description of
Kashmir, that has emerged after the rise of terrorist violence, who now is the
real Kashmiri ' The one who raced from a mosque to a cremation ghat to ensure
that a Panditani got a decent and dignified funeral' Or the one who later set
her house on fire and felled her chinar, only to destroy her roots and wipe out
her identity as a true Kashmiri' That precisely is the dilemma of Kashmir.
diaspora of the children of Tara,
and those of thousands of other Kashmiris like her, notwithstanding, the dilemma
remains. And as long as it is there, Kashmir will
continue to bleed.
Pandit has been the worst victim of this dilemma. The zealots of "azadi" refuse
to see and accept him as a Kashmiri, before anything else. For them he is a
symbol of India, an eyesore of Indian presence in Kashmir
and therefore something to be got rid of. That has been the way of all zealots
all over the world.
destruction of symbols never destroys what they represent and stand for. If it
were so, then this world would be bereft of many civilisations and cultures, and
many religious beliefs and political ideologies.
the course of its history, Kashmir
has suffered too due to the baneful medieval peculiarity of destruction of
symbols. Even now this outdated curse is being revived here and there, as
happened in Kashmir, where the militants went after many symbols in a bid to
destroy the entire past of the Valley. From the witch-hunt of Pandits and
nationalist Muslims, to the siege of Hazratbal and the burning down of Chrar
Sharif, there is a chain of instances of calculated attacks on the symbols of
and Kashmiriyat. The design behind these pre-meditated attacks, obviously, was
to obliterate Kashmir's heritage of noble values based on human brotherhood,
peace and non-violence, and foist on it an alien culture of violence,
narrow-mindedness and religious fanaticism.
that is the true concept of "azadi" which the zealots in Jammu and Kashmir have
envisaged. The dilemma persists. Today the Kashmiri is a case of split
personality, torn between religion, politics, regional aspirations, parochial
complexes, sectarian loyalties, accession, de-accession, azadi, autonomy, India,
Pakistan, et al. The muddle has been made worse by exploitative external
Kashmiri has lost his way in the maze of India's mishandling of situations,
Pakistan's instigations and phoney promises, dangling carrot of UN resolutions,
machinations of self-serving politicians, and interference of foreign powers and
other busybodies. All this has made him into a political schizophrenic. Time has
now come for him to cure himself, rediscover himself and then judiciously choose
and mark out his future course of action.
He has to
decide whether he will remain a Kashmiri, true to his responsibility, his land
of birth and his cultural heritage, or whether he will surrender to the zealot
who has intruded into his personality and his individual and collective psyche.
Kashmiri has to look back, as well as, ahead of him, to ensure that he is not
wrenched away from his moorings, and also, that he is prepared to go along with
forward-looking, universal and progressive visions of the twenty first century.
the Kashmiri does that, he will continue to be bedevilled by dilemmas.