Neighbourly ties persist in the Valley

Raja Muzaffar Bhat reports as Kashmiri Muslims throng to peform the last rites of a Pandir neighbour

Neighbourly ties persist in the Valley
Zainpora Shopian in South Kashmir is considered to be hotbed of militancy. Every day there are encounters between militants and security forces in this area. Recently, local residents once again exhibited a great example of communal harmony and brotherhood.

On Thursday, the 23rd of July, Muslim neighbours came forward voluntarily to help cremate the dead body of Kant Ram, a centenarian Kashmiri Pandit who lived in Zainpora village of Shopian district.

Locals say that Pandit Kant Ram was above 100 years of age, and preferred not to leave his birthplace in spite of the fact that 90 % of Kashmiri Brahmins – locally called Pandits or Battas – left the Kashmir valley during early 1990s, when armed the struggle was at its peak.

Last rites of Pandit Kant Ram

When people came to know about the death of Kant Ram, a large number of Muslim neighbours from Zainpora village – and other areas as well – thronged Pandit Kant Ram’s residence and consoled the family.

“People were not sure whether Pandit ji died a normal death or from COVID-19, as people in such an advanced age are more susceptible to the infection. But in spite of all this speculation Muslim neighbours came forward, taking due precautions, and helped the family to undertake the last rites of the deceased as per Kashmiri Brahmin traditions. Muslims were seen collecting and arranging dry wood needed for cremating the body. Many carried the dead body on a charpoy to the cremation site,” said Fayaz Ahmad, a local resident.

This is not a unique case wherein Muslim neighbours played a proactive role during the last rites of a Hindu neighbour. These incidents are, indeed, reported in the local media but they don’t get better coverage in the primetime TV debates on Indian news channels. Instead these channels are busy spreading hatred and venom between communities.

Kashmiri Pandits in 1895

In June this year, Muslim neighbours in Kaloosa village of Bandipora district in North Kashmir helped their Kashmiri Pandit neighbour to perform the last rites of a 75-year lady namely Rani Bhat. The Kashmiri Muslim neighbours, after coming to know about the sudden demise of Rani, came forward and helped the family members despite global fears due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Muslim neighbours, especially women, thronged the residence of Moti Lal, husband of Rani Bhat, and offered their condolences. Rani Bhat lived with her husband Moti Lal, 77, in Kaloosa village and this family, too, had not migrated from the village during the onset of armed struggle in 1990. At that time, most of the Pandits fled the Kashmir valley – as some of their community leaders had been killed, mostly on suspicion of working against Kashmir’s freedom movement or based on accusations of of spying (mukhbiri).

It seems clear that violence against the Kashmiri Pandits is being blown out of proportion by vested interests in India and abroad – and an impression has been created that thousands of Pandits were killed in Kashmir by militants. Even false allegations are made on Muslims of having violated Pandit women.

A few years back when I asked a Hindu friend in Delhi as to what information he had about the killing of Kashmiri Pandits and how many would have been killed from 1990 onwards, his response shocked me. He replied “Maybe 10,000 or more?”

When I responded to him with facts and figures from the Government and Kashmiri Pandit organizations which are available on the Internet, he was shocked.

Srinagar-based Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), after carrying out a survey in 2008 and 2009, said that 399 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants from 1990 to 2011, with 75% of them being killed during 1990 alone. The Government, on the other hand, claims that 287 Kashmiri Pandits were killed. These details were also revealed in the J&K Legislative Assembly several years back.

A majority of Hindus in India have been made to believe that thousands of Pandits were massacred in Kashmir and hundreds of women raped during the 1990s – which is an absolutely incorrect estimation of the violence that actually occured.

Even if there is one innocent killing, it must be denounced. It was very unfortunate to see innocent Kashmiri Pandits killed on the basis of ideology and mainstream Kashmiri Muslims have always condemned it. Unfortunately, a reciprocal condemnation of the killings of innocent Kashmiri Muslims during the last 30 years has not been forthcoming. This has further widened the gap between Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits.

It is in this context that we note how the tiny Kashmiri Hindu minority that still lives in the valley have never been hurt by their Muslim neighbours and, in fact, they have always provided them a helping hand.

Moreover, the Kashmiri Muslims want their Pandit brethren to come back to the valley. Figures from among the Hurriyat leaders, pro-Indian politicians and even the militant leadership on many occasions have asked Kashmiri Pandits to return to Kashmir, but the circumstances haven’t allowed this. Newer generations of the Pandit community are well settled in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and in many other Indian cities and abroad. They have good jobs as well, so they feel less of an incentive to go back to Kashmir. On the other hand, elderly Kashmiri Pandits want to go back to their motherland, but they face lots of challenges, especially due to their difference of perspective with the younger generation.

It is my personal opinion that even last year’s revocation of article 370 of the Constitution – a major change in the legal status of Jammu and Kashmir, will not result in a return of the Pandit community.

Raja Muzaffar Bhat is a Srinagar based activist and columnist