Friday, November 23, 2007

Freedom Song - by Rhythma Kaul (in Mail Today)

Rapper Hash sings of a lost land and the sorrow of the homeless, giving a new edge to the demands of Kashmiri refugeesThe first thing you want to know about rapper Emcee Hash is what his name stands for. It’s ‘Heavily Affected by Smoking Herb’, typicalstreet lingo that you would expect a rapper to use. But then take a look at his lyrics and it sounds as if it is 80’s broken hearted reggae or pop that talks of the romance of revolution and struggle.“Live long, pray, our story recited /for y'all to hear /refugee from the place called home/our family tree began there homes/ now we set free, with an A-k/ready to deliberate”, he sings.The California- based, Emcee Hash is not talking of a forgotten revolution. With his rap number released on the net on November 17, he has become the voice of the Kashmiri Pandits whose struggles and tears his lyrics reflect. Hash, whose formal name is Ashish Kaul, was born to immigrant Kashmiri parents who reached the US via Australia. “Such songs may help in rekindling lost hope and bringing a new zeal to realize the ultimate goal of our homeland,” says Aditya Raj Kaul, 18-years-old social activist. The fact that a US based rapper, --the song has seen about 200 downloads in the one week since it was posted on his site -- has taken up the cause of Panun Kahsmir has given even the elders of the community hope that their cause will attract international attention. “It feels nice to see that the youth has taken charge of things. It will keep our hope alive that some day we may be able to return to our homeland,” says Somnath Wali, an octogenarian activist based in Ahmedabad,Though his lyrics reflect the pain of a community driven from their land and living as refugees, Ashish Kaul hasn’t had any a feel of his place yet. Though the history of his people and the experiences that ‘scarred his brethren,’ have come to him through stories told to him and what he has read, Kaul feels that he is one among the suffers. “The song ‘Panun Kashmir’ is a work that I have wanted to do for a long time, particularly ever since I embarked on my career as a musician. Although, I haven’t personally experienced the ache and misery that KPs underwent, I feel that my inner self can express similar feelings of pain and frustration through songs like this one,” Hash told Mail Today in an e-mail interview. Hash describes himself as a Kashmiri first and then a hybrid of Indian, Australian and American cultures. “I have had the opportunity to assimilate into multiple cultures in my young life and that has only helped me in my understanding of these entirely different worlds and situations,” he says. A major reason behind the anguish and frustration so visible in his lyrics is the condition of his grandfather, who stays with him in the US and has been suffering from dementia caused by a stroke he had when circumstances forced him to sell his ancestral home in the valley. “I wanted to write a song that would highlight our story, our struggles and bring them to the forefront of the minds of people,” Ashish Kaul says. Hash, 29, who has been a profesional musician doing gigs in and around California, intends to inspire people all over the world— Hindus, Muslims and all, to realize that, “It’s not about religion, it’s about terrorism, and it is high time we take a stand and unite to destroy this horror that has molested people all over the world and particularly for over a decade the people of my community,” he says. Then why the talk of hitting back with guns in his lyrics? “My reference to using guns and fighting back do not have to be taken as literals, they are expressions of my frustration, and the important message is unity and taking a stand. I hope that is how people take it.”The rap number was in the making for quite some time. He could not begin the song until I had found the perfect instrumental for it; as soon as he heard the beat created by Rapid Fly Beats), he got to writing, and when he did, he could not stop till the song was complete. Having completed the lyrics for the song, which was in early August of 2007, Hash forwarded them to his harshest critics— his family and friends, who came up with an encouraging feedback. “I knew this would be a song that people would appreciate and would associate with, and I am glad that my assumption is becoming a reality,” he says. His Kashmiri fans are hoping that such songs will start a journey of reconciliation for them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

An Eyewitness Account of the 1947 raid by Tribals from Pakistan-by T.N.Bhan

My name is Triloki Nath Bhan and I was 18 years old young boy living in Sehyar, test Srinagar when Pakistani Army along with Kabailies from North West Frontier Province, launched a series of surprise attacks across Jammu and Kashmir on October 24, 1947. As is well known the Pakistani invaders quickly overwhelmed the the forces of Maharaja Hari Singh. Most of the Muslim units of J& K Army comprising of Mirpuri deserted and joined the invaders after killing their Hindu and Sikh Officers. Muzzafarabd fell within a few hours of the attack and the invaders proceeded towards Baramula, Sopore and Srinagar. At the Uri bridge Brigadier Rajinder Singh lost his life putting up a valiant fight .He held the invaders for two days which gave time to the Maharajah to flee the valley. and the Indian Army to intervene.

The Pakistani invaders entered Baramula on October 26, 1947 and proceeded to indulge in Rape, murder, loot and arson, especially targeting Sikhs and Kashmiri Pandit community. By the morning of October 27th some raiders had reached the outskirts of Srinagar. Hari Singh's exit had totally broken the morale of the government and security establishment. Police stations were empty. anything could happen at any time. Sheikh Abdullah and his National Conference organized a voluntary force of young men known as Salamati Fauj in the city with specific direction to maintain communal harmony at all costs. This worked, Halka Committees became the police station. I remember I also joined this force to patrol the streets to ensure nobody disturbed the communal harmony. Most of the Hindu leadership had left the valley for Jammu. As the Kashmiri Pandits trickled in from the countryside we began to hear the tales of atrocities, plunder, rape and murder of innocent Hindus and Sikhs by the Pakistani invaders.

Although Kashmir's Pandits were leaderless as even our RSS leaders such as Bal Raj Madhok had left the city we the grassroot RSS Swyamsewaks began to organise ourselves to defend and protect Pandit honor. I belonged to Putli Dharamshalla Shakha. We decided to go out of Srinagar to visit other cities and villages and see for ourselves the condition of our Kashmiri Pandits brothers and sisters so that help could be arranged for the needy. I was accompanied by other Swyamsewaks such as Maharaj Krishan Mirza, Amar Nath Ganju, Manohar Nath Bhagati, Lakshmi Narain Kaul, Bhaska nath ganjoo, Durga Nath Dhar, Trilokinath Dhar, Prithvinath Dhar, Naranjan Kaul, Brijnath Moza and others. These volunteers hailed from Sehyar, Rehbaba Sahib and Rishipeer. We began our journey on 30th October 1947. Starting on foot in the early morning we first touched Shalteing about four miles down the road from Chhatabal Custom Post. Here we went inside the enclosed Chinar Grove and found two dead bodies of the Kabali-invaders who had been strafed by the Indian Air Force aircraft. Onward we reached Pooshbugg a village near Pattan where kabalies had executed 14 Kashmiri Pandits as they were performing fire veneration "Hawan". The fire was still smoldering. Luckily all fourteen had already been cremated by the Pandits of the neighboring villages who had escaped the onslaught of these savages. All Pandit houses were looted. We tried to enter the town of Pattan but we were not allowed to enter. We could only guess the gruesome condition of Pandits in the town.

After Pattan we continued our journey to Sangarhama-detour to Sopore.There is a thick willow grove on the right side of the main road. A Muslim boy told us that we should go and see what had happened there. Visiting the Grove was most horrendous and traumatizing experience as we saw pieces of Indian currency notes and human skeletons scattered in the area. The boy told us that Sikh adults had killed their women and children here to ensure they did not fall in the hands of these heartless and treacherous Paksitani's. Dazed we turned and left toward Sopore. We had walked about 200 yards we found a Kacha road to the left leading us to a Seer (Hindu Shrine). There we found a Mullah was teaching Quran to two Pandit women who were dressed in a Burka. As the Mullah saw us he took to his heels as we began chanting "Har Har Mahadev", the women retracted and threw their Burkas. The shrine in Seer was reduced to heap of rubble and two Muslim men were pulling out the nails from the burnt wooden planks. The worse was still to come. We saw couple of KP's men and women coming towards us all in tears, and crying. They told us that the local Muslims had invited two Pakistani Kabailies from Baramula and all our brethren had been asked to assemble in the ground near a mosque where a calf was slaughtered in their presence. Pieces of raw beef were forced down their throat and abuses were heaped. Their houses were looted-clean sweep, even the doors and window frames were pulled out. We spent the night with them, the bedding was the hay of rice. Of course we recited the bhajans the whole night. On the dawn of next day we began our journey towards Sopore. In this town not much damage was done. The leader of Kashmir pandits was Jat Kak Zutshi father of Jeevan Zutshi of California. Mr. Zutshi had worked with Muslim elders in the city to protect the KP's. Unfortunately Jat Kak had become a target of the Kabaleys and he hid under the hay in the house of a Muslim friend on the condition that he convert to Islam. Jat Kak Zutshi's family was my neighbor in Jamalatoo in Srinagar.

The next day we proceeded to Bomai Village which is a couple of miles from Sopore on way to Handwara. Here the first assassination of a Batta had taken place a few days before the Pakistani invasion. The Martyre was Pandit Sarwanand Kaul an honest and diligent Intelligence Officer in the State Government. He was kidnapped and butchered a couple of kilometers from his house. We comforted the family. Buomay Battas were safe. No damage , except they were terribly shaken and fearful. We had lunch with them and assured them that the whole of Indian nation was with them.

On Reaching Handwara we witnessed six kucha earthen mounds burying six Kashmir Pandits belonging to one family. It was a mass suicide committed the family. Then we witnessed the same thing as we had seen earlier in Seer. Houses had been looted, KP residents were helter skelter seeking shelter to save their lives. We stayed in Handwara for the night sleeping on the bran (kuchh). In the morning we started to dig the bodies but the Commander of the area prevented us and said that Army would do it. It was a very tense night for us as firing from both sides was still going on. Taking the kuchha route to Baramula via Langet we continued our journey.

At Langet we found two dead bodies who were cremated by us. Langet had special significance for me as it is close to Trihagram where my maternal uncle Mr. Zindalal Raina of Rainawari residing near Hari Singh High School was assassinated in 1931 when Sheikh Abdullah as a Muslim Communalist had aroused the Hindu-Muslim strife in the valley.

We reached Baramula in the evening and came across a young Kashmiri Pandit who was a lecturer of English in the Govt. College there. He offered us to stay overnight which we did. His house was also looted as mentioned earlier. He told us how his beautiful wife and other young KP ladies had been locked in a house and gang raped by the Muslim invaders. Next day he showed us the house from which these women had jumped to death from the fourth story. During the talk he told us that one respectable couple in the town was dragged through the streets. We saw every KP house was looted-clean sweep even the doors and windows were removed. Streets were deserted Batta houses were like skeletons and the inhabitants had either gone into hiding or were killed. Many had committed suicide by jumping into the Jhelum river. Crossing the bridge to the other side where market and Govt. offices were housed, we were shown a spot in the middle of the bridge from where young Hindu-Pandit, Sikh and Khatri ladies plunged to their death by drowning into the river. Those who did not have a chance to kill themselves were herded into Tehsil compound and gang raped. All Hindu shops were looted in totality. We finally went to the Christian School and found that even the Nuns were not spared. Many had been raped before being murdered.

Out of respect we went to the spot where Maqbool Sherwani was hanged for misdirecting the invaders. At that point the Army Commander advised us to retrun to Srinagar as Baramula was still not safe for Hindus and Sikhs. It was clear that 30,000 Hindus men and women ( Pandit, Sikh and Kahtri) had either lost their lives or were taken as sex slaves by the Pakistani invaders.

Returning to Srinagar was a traumatic experience as if living hell was waiting for us. All of us were arrested and imprisoned in the Halqa Committee, denied food and beaten mercilessly for several days. By the skin of our teeth we managed our freedom with the condition that we would be under surveillance and roll called twice a day. It was clear to us that one way or the other these National Conference Halqa Committee Goons were going to get rid of us. We tried our best to find a way to get out of Srinagar. My quest to find someone who could get us out led me to Mr. Kashi Nath Fotedar who was an important Officer in the Indian Army in Badami Bagh. He was of immense help to many older Kashmir's Pandits and children who he sent out in Army trucks. Another great Batta was Flt. Luit J. N. Dhar from Vicharnagh who was the only Kashmiri speaking Pilot at that time whom Nehru had deputed him to Srinagar. He too rendered great service to the community by flying out beleaguered KP's in Airforce planes. I need to introduce Pandit Kashi Nath Fotedar first as he is the industrious father of Hira Fotedar and is the father of my wife Dulari Bhan as well. Mr. J. N. Dhar is the maternal uncle of Hira and paternal uncle of Vijay Dhar of Union City California.

My escape from Srinagar was possible only on April 6, 1948. I along with Manohar Bagati, Lakshmi Narain Kaul and Amar Nath Ganjoo walked all the way to Ptahankot on foot for 22 days. I finally settled at Saharanpur UP where I lived for 54 years.

Now I would like to pay my homage to all the KP Martyrs in 1931, 1947 and 1990. My compliments to those who by didn't of their courage, resilience and focus rebuilt their lives from scratch without Government aid under very difficult circumstances. I wish to thank many old Kashmiri Pandits who offered all four of us help in Kanpur and helped us settle down. My companions Bagati, Kaul and Ganjoo sahib eventually returned to Srinagar where Mr. Amar Nath Ganjoo became an important RSS functionary. My thanks to Mr. B. K. Kaul ICS Iron and Steel Controller, Mr. H. N. Sapru Dy Director of Industries UP and S.n. Shivpuri , GM Cement Corporation. I am sure these great men have left us but I did want to recognise their help to many KP refugees in 1947.

Dear friends I am a proud Swayamsewak, and will be a Swyamsewak till my death.


Triloki Nath Bhan

Memphis Tennesee USA

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


(An old cartoon from the India Today)

Recently our lost homeland has been a buzz with news of different nature. The national media has been replete with the stories about Kashmiri Pandits reopening their temples and other places of worship after nearly eighteen years. These news stories also empathetically highlight the cooperation extended by the local Muslims in organizing the prayers and hawans at the previously abandoned temples. This is also fact that now more and more displaced Kashmiri Pandits find themselves mustering enough courage for taking a brief sojourn to their roots. Also, despite what the local media in Kashmir may project, Kashmiri Muslims at their individual levels are renewing their contacts with the displaced community. On their return from a brief visit to the valley many displaced Kashmiri Pandits speak about the discernable change of heart in the local Muslims. Some even suggest the preparedness of the local Muslims for apologizing to the displaced Pandits for the injustice committed against them.

A few months back some sort of brouhaha was created when the erstwhile spokesperson of All Party Hurriat Conference, Saleem Geelani, offered apologies to displaced Kashmiri Pandits on behalf of Kashmiri Muslims during a seminar organized by Roots in Kashmir in Jammu. Many agencies, with vested interests, and including some Kashmiri Pandits lose no time in branding these incidents as the indications of changing times in Kashmir. It may also be true that the times have indeed changed in Kashmir. But, does it necessarily mean the conditions have become so much conducive for the return of displaced Pandits that these demand a complete about turn of the very fundamentals that have driven and sustained the community’s struggle in exile.

One question that needs to be debated and understood is if these individual expressions of remorse carry any meaning? Alternatively, one also needs to ask a question if any institutionalized apology by the Kashmiri Muslims would tantamount to atonement of their sins. Displaced Kashmiri Pandits will have to be carefully guarded in responding to these hollow apologies, which will increase in numbers in the times to come. They need ask themselves a question which Marina Warner a renowned novelist and critic raised some time back, “Is apology today’s new political enthusiasm?”

This is also a fact that there is nothing new in the recent apologies made by certain Kashmiri Muslims. Various influential Kashmiri Muslim individuals and leaders have in past publicly apologized to the displaced Pandits in public. Only difference being that earlier the recipients didn’t see any significant in these otiose pronouncements. The process of offering apologies to displaced Pandits, perhaps, started in the year 1999, when during course of a huge international conference at The Hague, the Hurriat delegation offered to publicly apologize for the crimes committed against the Pandit. Panun Kashmir delegation attending the conference didn’t attach any significance to that and thought the gesture was only dictated by political expediency.

Some years later, the late Ashok Kak assembled a galaxy of Kashmiri Separatist leaders including Shabbir Shah and Omar Farooq in a first ever post 1990, across the table interaction with displaced Pandits. The proceedings of that meeting went on the expected lines with the Pandits vociferously expressing their anger and the Muslims trying to strike reconciliatory notes. The general sentiments of the Kashmiri Muslim leadership at that time also were overwhelmingly apologetic.

Nothing significant emerged from the said meeting as, perhaps, the reconciliatory tones were more a produce of head than the genuine outpouring of the heart. The deceit, cunningness and the rabid fundamentalist mindset behind their extirpation also might have heavily weighed in the minds of the Pandit participants, who dismissed the developments as part of a politics.
Some time later, in the year 2005, an interaction was held, in Motel Ashok Jammu, between groups of Kashmiri Muslim leaders with displaced Kashmiri Pandit representatives which included Dr. K.L. Chowdhury, a senior Panun Kashmir leader. It was during this meeting that a former militant and then mainstream politician Babbar Badr expressed his guilt, neglect and repentance for the sorry state of displaced community. It was around same time when during a seminar on Kashmir held in Jammu University, Babbar Badr, on his own and Kashmiri Muslims’ behalf sought hand folded forgiveness from Panun Kashmir Convener, Dr. Agnishekhar.

Apology as an instrument of reconciliation has become an important tool internationally. There seems to be an unprecedented rush to offer apologies in the belief of creating benchmarks for acknowledging the wrongs took place. Whether, such apologies can become harbingers of progress towards restoring the mutual trust between the warring societies is, however, debatable. In the aftermath of Virginia (USA) legislators voting unanimously, early this year, to express profound regrets over Old Dominion’s role in promoting slavery, Senator Henry L. Marsh 111 expressed that he foresaw “no true progress in this country until we get a reconciliation and honest dialogue about race and slavery.” The same applies to politics of Kashmiri Muslim apologies as well, as no bridges can ever be built without an honest and dispassionate admission of conspiracy that forced an exodus of three hundred and fifty thousand ethnic aborigines from Kashmir.

There are also inherent dangers associated with the act of apologies as these can be effectively used to block the chances of a conflict free future. John Torpey in “The Entrepreneurs of Memory” strongly asks if the world wide concern with public apology represents a turning of society’s face towards the past and on that closes the possibility of imagining a better future. He further asks, “Isn’t there a danger that struggling to redress history will become a substitute for working a better future?” Marina Warner even goes to the length of suggesting, “Too many crimes have been committed in the name of future for us to rise to the call of apology.”

In response to the powerful presentation made by the Dr. Agnishekhar at the Prime Minister’s 1st Round Table Conference on Kashmir, Mufti Mohd. Sayed made a telling statement of the times by saying, “I am ashamed at what was done to Pandits. It is a national shame and ‘Hum iske liye sharminda hai.’ Mufti Sayed may have tried to score points then but one can’t be but be amused at his worthless statement. Those who get impressed by these apologies must understand the politics behind the same and should not forget that there was no succor for displaced Pandits in Mufti’s healing touch policy. Having been a union home minister and also a chief minister, Mufti can’t have been ignorant about no justice being possible without reparation. Nahla Valji commenting upon the proceedings of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa rightly argues that, “reconciliation is ultimately linked to reparation and implies that without the later one can find neither justice nor closure.” In case of Kashmiri Pandits reparation can only be the recognition of their claim over a separate homeland in Kashmir.

Speaking at a seminar held last year during Summit of the Powerless, Omar Adullah strongly advocated setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Kashmir on the similar lines as was done in post apartheid South Africa. True, the South African endeavor apparently seemed to have succeeded in its mission; however, recent reports have exposed some glaring omissions, which raise serious questions on the sincerity of purpose behind the whole process. Considering the inherent prejudice that Kashmiri Muslims have historically nurtured against the Pandits, will any commission be able to truthfully serve its terms of reference? Moreover, will the prevailing political and social dispensation in Kashmir ever allow setting up of honest and just terms of reference for any commission, which seeks dispense justice to the displaced community?

As mentioned earlier, Kashmiri Muslims will continue apologizing to the Pandits. The central question here is what that apology will actually indicate or achieve? Last year, during a two day seminar, Kashmir Imbroglio: Perspective, held in India Peace Center, Nagpur, Hurriat delegation led by their then spokesperson Saleem Geelani profusely expressed their regrets and sorry for whatever was inflicted upon the Pandits. Saleem Geelani even went to the extent of seeking forgiveness from the Panun Kashmir delegation comprising of Dr. Agnishekhar and Ramesh Manvati. The idea of an apology will definitely have an emotional appeal to many Pandits. But, what needs to be understood is that politics of symbolism must be isolated from the politics of substance, and then only the justice can be delivered.

The apologies from the very people who are the perpetrators of worst crimes against the humanity will only be symbolic and dictated by sheer political expediency. The apologies carry no weight or conviction as these are backed by a constructed mind set which welcomes the displaced persons as tourists and conspires against their permanent return. A testimony at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated, “We won’t say these perpetrators give us their money but they must give us some thing to show they are sorry.” Kashmiri Muslims can’t return lost seventeen years to the displaced Pandits but they need to give them some thing to show they are sorry. Kashmiri Pandits would be satisfied with a small portion of land on which they can give shape to their dreams and aspirations.


Kamal Hak is a political analyst and a columnist. He as well is a senior leader of Panun Kashmir. Hak resides in Noida and can be contacted at kamalhak[@]