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How to meet the threat of Extinction

V. N. Drabu

A community is recognized as a distinct cultural group by the life style it maintains through the ages. Whatever the level of its progress, it is known by the language or dialect it speeeks, the common traditions it shares and the way it reacts to social environment around it. There are instances of numerous communities which, with fluctuations in their political and economic fortunes, have preserved the basic structure of a distinctive social personality, the ideas and beliefs which differentiate them from other particular groups. The Sakas, the Parthians, the Yuechis, the Kushanas, the Mings, the Shans, the Magyars etc., in their transition from a tribal stage, maintained their distinctive characteristics as a community and made rich contribution to art and literature, absorbing and assimilating what ever came their way. In such a process the Indo-Greeks and the Indo-Bactrians passed on a rich legacy to their posterity in the form of Greek art and mythology, the impact of which is also quite discernible in the art and architecture of Kashmir.

Perhaps the most illustrative example would be that of the jews who in the course of thousands of years of persecution, have succeeded in keeping the basic structure of their community in peace. Their diaspora has steeled their will and determination to maintain an untarnished image of their community. They have preserved their straight forwardness and honest approach to work, confident of their service record to their community and the will to maintain their individuality. They have revived their lost heritage and reinstated Hebrew as the language of their ancestors in the land they could reclaim only after a protracted and agonying struggle of centuries of sacrifice and suffering. They have a history, a tradition, a heritage worth emulation by others who have suffered a similar fate under varying historical circumstances. The few adapted themselves to changing social environment and have admirably succeeded in being the same specific persons or things. His individuality is recognized all over be he an American patron or his erstwhile German persecutor. His achievement has come in moments of adversity and gloom. The history of a Kashmiri Pandit is no less romantic. A sage of perpetual persecution and discrimination that he has suffered through the centuries like the jews who suffered the atrocitis, being subjected to "genocide" of an unparalled magnitude in human history. He has maintained the cultural heritage of his ancestors under most trying circumstances. For how otherwise are we to account for the rich legacy he has left for us in the form of fine arts literature, music, art, architecture, religion and philosophy; an assessment of which is beyond the perview of this paper. Our immediate concern being how best to preserve what we have lost through the forced exodus and the threat of ethnic cleansing under the brute might of theo-fascist forces aligned with the ugly fundamentalist monsters, out to demolish and destroy our very existence and the very fabric of a civilised society. The threat is real and not imaginary; the consequences are alarming. A whole community is held to ransom by the terrorists. The very individuality of a Kashmiri Pandit is at stake. Were this trauma to continue for a decade or two more, we may be totally lost in a sea of oblivion. We have to rise and face the scourge of terrorism with fortitude and courage. There can be no place for complacency or negligence. No soft options can pay. We have to devise a careful strategy of resistance and survival like the jews.

Imagine a situation where you are asked to develop a region as your homeland for the displaced persons of your community. What will you do? With your given infastructure and availability of people, you would naturally work closely with doctors, teachers, engineers and make their expertise more handy. You are not in an isolation camp. Unless you connect people and places to important cultural centres around, you will lose. When you are entering into joint ventures, you need a common channel of communication, so that all of you feel at home. This is true of all communities sedentary or moving. A Bengali, a Punjabi, a Tamil, would of course, converse in their mother tongue even while engaged in their manufacturing or information technology or travelling abroad. Whatever their area of specialisation, a background of their mother-tongue surely helps in their background of physics, chemistry or engineering. All the university education, when applied to practical training, would definitely look to the comunication problem to make its application effective and result-oriented. Be it the science of transmitting data, hi-tech entreprenial ventures, you are vertually using your own mother tongue which links you to all areas of work. The importance of ones' mother tongue thus cannot be underestimated. Mentally and emotionally too, the use of a honoured dialect or language affects the quality of life and that of the work too. No one can dispute the utility or confidence that your own mother tongue can thus generate.

But being the "glamour junkees" that some of our women pretend to be, the message that they receive from the cultured elite is that it is not attractive, to have your own dialect as a medium of communication with your own children or members of the family that constitutes a small social group. In fact, thousands of our women are spending a serious amount of time and money to cultivate the use of a non-Kashmiri dialect at home and in other social circles, considering it as the badge of high-breds. They little realize that they have not been able to coin a sufficiently rich vocabulary to replace the names and labels associated with their cultural milieu of , for instance "thal barun" (to have a plate of rice filled with flowers and other auspicious symbols for the coming spring), "Zangtrai" (get together of women on this date), "hora ashtami" (the eighth day of cleaning for Sivaratri), "Vanavun" (chanting of mantras for the marriage), "Kaw punims" a day dedicated to crows on full moon-day), "mas muchrun" (preparing the birds for marriage), "rinda" (the darling), "madan" (the beloved), etc.

These are still retained as emergency tokens for certain rituals which, with the passage of time may either get lost or be totally forgotten as the components of our rich culture. How unrealistic it looks to continue a borrowed idiom with words and roots bearing an altogether different connotation. However, when "looking good" we really look ridiculous in a dialect we are gradually immitating without knowing its essence and the background. Over exercising and fretting about an idiom not our own, can take quite a battering. Just imagine the super-ways look, beloved to the catwalk, is possible if a woman totally abandons her life-style. By disowning our dialect we take to a dialect we scarsely understand with all its metaphorc similies and slang. We fail to express the indepth feelings of our heart.

A small community of Sikhs, at home and abroad, continues to maintain its identity and holds on to its language dialect. This reflects its urge for its identity despite the poor arithmetic of its numbers scattered in isolated pockets. Unfortunately, the diaspora of the Kashmiri Pandits has created a perplexing situation for its sympathizers and critics who find it difficult to pass an educated and sound judgement. Hounded out from their hearth and homes, huddled in most unhygienic camps, deprived of a dignified living, the Kashmiri Pandit has tenaciously held on to its cultural moorings. Not surprisingly, the critical inhospitable terrain and hostile environment has thrown a challenge the magnitude of which baffles everyone. And still at the centre of this rugged landscape, the Kashmiri Pandit has demonstated his will to survive; looks for beauty and symmetry, for qualities of vision and redemption. The blacker the situation, the deeper the background of despair. Despite so many odds, the Kashmiri Pandit constitutes an adhesive ethnic group. His continuing love with the Himalayan skies and landscapes has aroused in him the deep and intense urge to rehabilitate his places of pilgrimage and the legends associated with them. But what is most essential to impart meaning to his traditions and the past has been taken from them through his rich past, is to restore their memories and recover what has been taken from there through his rich Kashmiri mother-tongue. Though there are just too many gaps caused by a life of poverty and displacement, concrete measures could be taken to maintain the community character of the Pandits in exile.

Banished from his land of birth and indignantly critical of the dubious laws of the state to 'restore him to his place of birth with honour and dignity', the first and the foremost need of the hour is to plan the construction of colonies on a large scale through our own resources and the largesse received from abroad. This would undeniably fill in the "placeless void" of a community deprived of its history and identity. It could be just a sincere effort to write themselves back into history, to preserve traditions when the past cannot be remembered. What would make them feel very close, or to whom I would like to feel myself close, but also too close is the proximity like to such centres and periodic contacts. Discounted by its own history, a K P would seek to imfatuate himself through a heightened sense of geography. And the foothills of the panoramic Himalayas in various sectors could be an ideal choice for their settlement and rehebilitation.

But the question that remains is how to stave off or prevent the chaos arising from the dispersal of a microscopic community that commands no vote bank or political mileage. Caught dispersed in an alien soil (with no geographical similarity between the Alpine land and the plains below) he finds himself a stranger between two seemingly dissimilar cultures, though rooted in a common Vedic and Agamic base. The Expressive Dilemma that may be seen in the context of the post-exodus movement, is so poignantly illustrated from "what next":

Nothing to be done

Undoubtedly the urgent reminder is how best to preserve our culture and tradition. Or what is it, that recovers what has been taken from us. We have to dismantle our long-standing taboos of puerile class-formation and revive our heritage through our own Kashmiri idioms. Then and then alone can we obtain an insight into our rich culture and enter the realm of a Krishan Joo Razdan, a Paramanand, a Lalleswari, the legendary world of Nagirai and Heemal, an Arnimal and converse with them in a meanigful way. The same holds equally good about our music, dance and poetry. The more we distance ourselves from them and our well-established mores, the more alienated we are and lose the claim to a distinct identity. This, however does not imply compartmentalization or an exclusive approach to the modernistic trends. Assimilation and absorption of new thought currents and advances in science and technology have always been our rational approach to life. And that is what has kept the vibrant community alive. What is needed is both adaptation and adoption for the growth of a healthy social organisation. Clearly if we look for universality and liberal humanism, our idiom has to reflect a rapidly changing world of scientific adventure and international understanding. Bridges of understanding and shared common suffering could be built up by a plethora of scholars who have so far produced thought provoking articles on the Dilemma of Our Exodus but done little to arouse the human conscience against the attempted genocide of a whole community. Very few dramas or theatrical concerts have been organised to draw the attention of the world community to a man-made tragedy and the menace of a theo-fascist order no less disastrous and awesome than the Nazi and Fascist ideology against which mankind had to organize itself to save humanity.

In the all-pervading gloom that envelops us, what better way of statement can there be than the following "Vakh" of Lalleshwari.

"How can a person understand the agony of others with their bodies and minds afflicted by deep sorrow! Everywhere I was welcomed with stones and scarcely could I find any soul to solace me."

Using the metaphor of a cotton flower, Lalla conveys her spiritual experience in a very subtle way :

Expressing her different stages (bhumikas) in her ascent of the self, Lalla says :

'Like a cotton-flower, the seeds wherof are separated by the constant friction of a rotating wheel (and then assume the shape of cotton at the hands of a cannatantri (dhuniya), Lalla, likewise bore the beatings courageously before she was transformed into a slender thread to be mounted on the spining (Khari), wheel of a weaver to take the form of a finely woven fabric.

Rich in wit and humour, metaphor and imagery, Kashmiri has a very old etymological base in Vedic lore and bears a deep impact of Paisachi. The enchanting land of Saptarisis (Seven Sages) and their language has to be promoted as the vehicle of our day-to-day existence to mirror our feelings of joy and sorrow, to reverberate the mournful tunes of a community in exile under sunless skies and kindle hopes for a bright future where all may live under the common bonds of love and amity. Kashmiri is the symbol of that Divine Mother whose worship in the form of Math was at one time so pervasive into the heartland of the Himalayas and in whose lap a Kashmiri found his abode of peace and beauty.

Mailing address : Jawahar Navodaya Vidalya, Panpoh, Mandi­175124, Himachal Pradesh
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