"Roots In Kashmir" is an initiative launched by us, the Kashmiri Pandit Youth, to reclaim our Roots that identify us. Even though we have been hounded out of our homes and hearths in the Kashmir valley, our "Roots" are very much anchored in the Vitasta Valley. This is an initiative to protest and raise the general awareness of public to a level where our "fight for our roots" is felt, heard and acted upon.
Praznath: a discourse on Kashmiri identity and culture , an effort at dispelling the myths prevalent about Kashmir and its history in a form of quarterly cultural magazine was formally launched on March 18th 2010 at Gulmohar hall, IHC. A dire need to challenge and question the hegemonic discourse regarding Kashmir provided the necessary impetus for starting this magazine. The launch was marked by a panel discussion on the topic ‘Identifying Identity in Kashmir’ which broadly looked into the grave issues of identity politics.
The tempo for the event was set by a photo exhibition by Veer Munshi’s latest photographs of Kashmiri Pandit houses in Kashmir. The blown up and sensitively photographed shots were displayed strategically juxtaposing the majestic and grand mansions with vacated, burnt down ruins of what once were imposing houses and institutions. The powerful visuals narrated a sad story of oppression and loss. One could see people reacting to certain images, identifying certain houses and not without a gloomy look in their eyes.
The curtain raiser too was a video shot by Munshi in 2009 in Kashmir. The screen here was divided into two frames. On the left hand side one could see a KP house in flames and on the right hand side the artist walking towards an unknown destination, crushing chinar leaves under his feet and leaving the random foot prints on snow. The endless walk again a metaphor used for the deep longing to go back was harshly interrupted by the shrill bullet shots and screams one could hear from the burning house.
On this melancholy note started the program. Mr.Sushil Pandit, a senior member of Praznath welcomed the audience and gave a brief introduction to Praznath which was followed by a key note address by Radhika Kaul, the youngest member of the team. In her short and effective address Radhika hinted upon extremely important points on identity especially from a point of view of someone who was born after exodus. She ended on an optimistic note that our silence has found appropriate voice in Praznath, a view that all of us at Praznath share. With this she recited the fiery and powerful poem by Dr. Shashi Shekhar Toshkhani ‘Phelega Phelega hamara maun’ which drew huge applause from the audience.
After the panelists were duly felicitated, Dr Toshkhani ,the editor of the magazine gave a broader insight into Praznath and the objectives it aims to achieve. He focussed on the issue of deliberate misrepresentation of historical facts and in particular talked about the efforts being made to see Kashmir as an integral part of Central Asian cultural belt with no ties with India. He stressed on the fact the pre 14th CE Kashmiri society was an open and liberated one and we need to give a proper glimpse of that era to our people. The lopsided ,distorted and many a times purely fabricated view of Kashmir history and culture slowly trying to erase an important part of our indigenous culture and identity was strongly emphasized and so was emphasized a need for thinkers, researchers, artists and sensitive and coherent individuals from the community to come together and fight this intellectual injustice.
The discussion continued with Sir Mark Tully, an eminent journalist, drawing attention on the need to preserve the culture for a community in Diaspora. The necessity to understand and highlight the links that Kashmir had with India was stressed upon. Agreeing with Dr. Toshkhani he also stressed on the need to counter the misrepresentations of Kashmir. However he also stressed on the fact that any debate on Kashmiri identity cannot neglect Kashmiri Muslims(KM) as they are now an integral part of Kashmir. He went on to categorize Islam in Kashmir as purely Sufi as opposed to Wahabi Islam.What one could gather from the brief talk was that he deliberated on the idea of a utopian culture where KP’s and KM’s would live happily and peacefully , the notion that did not go well with the audience, and the resentment could be felt in the next speaker Dr. Kshama Kaul’s emotionally charged speech.
Dr.Kaul’s invocation of ‘Pratibigya Darshan’and a need to realize ones hidden powers had immense depth and actually was more than enough to illustrate her point. The emotional outpourings accompanying the talk though somewhere diluted the strength of her statements drew a great round of applause from audience. Her personal first hand experience, honesty and point blankness came across very vividly in her talk. She out rightly rejected the notion of KM’s and KP’s living together in peace and harmony stressing on a fact that a culture that takes refuge in violence has nothing to do with Kashmir.
The next speaker Dr.Swapan Dasgupta,right in the outset talked about the counter productiveness of an emotional approach and advised KP’s to be purely strategic in their approach. Moreover he stressed on ‘memory’ as an important aspect of retaining a culture. He raised an important point by suggesting that a culture or a community can easily slip away from people’s memory and hence there should a constant effort to keep the memory of the culture alive. He also talked about how issues of KP’s had become an embarrassment to be shoved under the carpet for the Govt.. He boldly used the term’ Ethnic Cleansing’ with respect to the exodus of 1990 and implored the KP’s to fight for their identity with passion and a strategy at hand.
With this came the panel discussion to an end and the session was closed by a mellifluous recital of vakhs of Rupa Bhavani, a 17th century saint poetess from Kashmir by Mr.Dalip Langoo.Dalip left the audiences mesmerized with his recital and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that his voice reverberated in our subconscious much like the eternal meaning of Rupa Bhavani’s vakhs.
The vote of thanks was given by Mr. Pandit.Gradually the over filled hall started to vacate with people forming groups and discussing the events.Once outside you could see a decent queue at subscription counter and people going through their copies of Praznath.
The writer is faculty in the Delhi College of Art. She can be reached at