Saturday, December 21, 2013

Huma Asli Maheshwar Bood by Ali Mardan Khan

The collage painting by  Claudia Dose represents the 36 tatvaas of Kashmir Saivism. One can clearly see the influence of the great Kashmiri Master of Neo-tantric art Ghulam Rasool Santosh.
Not many people in Kashmir would have known the name, Ali Mardan Khan, had it not been for the small area in downtown Srinagar that is named after this Afghan Governor. Despite this he would have remained a name in the books of history like many others rulers but for the verses that immortalized him in Kashmiri Folklore, despite him not being a Kashmiri. The verses were written at a time which was clearly our dark ages. It was forbidden for non Muslims (read Hindus) to read their scriptures or practice their religion openly. I am not sure if it is entirely true but it is widely believed that the Hindus were ordered not to recite Sanskrit verses thus forcing them to make Persian as their language of connect to their deities. Whatever may be the historical accuracy of this “order”, to this day we recite Bhakti verses in Persian and there is one in particular which I remember and goes something like this:
Chakreshwari Hajat rawa,Sajath gada ra padshah
Vaah Vaah chi Lakshmi Thapna,shree sharika devi nama
That Goddess Chakreshwari, who can turn a beggar into a kingShe who listens to our prayers and answers themI salute, thee, Seat of Lakshmi, who incarnates in the form of Sharika (in Kashmir)
To cut a long story short, one evening Ali Mardan had a vision which took the shape of a beautiful Persian Devotional Poem .Most of us keep rendering them at religious and social festivals with fervor & devotion. Thanks to the oral tradition that has helped carry this poem in its totality to us. It also is a commonplace in most of our Leela* renditions. I am using the version published in Sahaj Kosam (compiled by Moti Lal Saqi) for Mast Bab Ashram. It is slightly different from the version (the last verse differs) that comes down to us via the oral route .I make an attempt to transliterate the verses.
Huma Asli Maheshwar Bhood,Shab Shahi ki Man Deedam
Ghazanfar Charma-e-barbood,Shab Shahi Ki Man Deedam.
It was Shiva, the real God, the King I saw that nightAdorned was his body with Lion Skin, the King I saw that night
Ze  Basmash Jam-e-bar-tan,Zunar-ish mar-e-bar garden
Ravanish Gang-e-bar sarbood,Shab Shahi…….
Besmeared with ash, Instead of the scared thread a snake coiled around his neckUn ebbed flow the Ganga from his locks, the King I saw that night
Sah Chashmash bar-jabee-daarad,Zi mahro maaha roshan tar
Se Karan Daste-Bastah Bood,Shab Shahi…….**
Brighter than sun and moon, shone his three eyeIn Salutations to him stood Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva (the 3 causes of the universe), the King……….

**This verse needs a little explanation, the three reasons though commonly understood as Shiva, Vishnu and Mahesh are seen in a different way by the Saivities of Kashmir. The Will (Iccha Shakti of Citi-Supreme Consciousness) in itself has the triple process of manifesting, maintaining and dissolving the universe. So the three reasons could also be understood as attainment of Swantraya (Freedom from Bondage of Ignorance)

Be Dastash AAb-e-Kaunsar,Ve bekh Nakoosay Nilofar
Hilalash Taj Bar Sar Bood,Shab Shahi…….
With a conch of Lotus Shoot in one hand and the pitcher of nectar in anotherThe Crescent Moon embellished his forehead, the King……….……

Uma az soi-chip-binger, Zi Sad Khursheed Taban-tar
Savare Kulb-e-nar bood,Shab Shahi…….
Uma on his left, effulgent, like a thousand sunsBeseated on Nandi, I saw the king that night……

Ajab Sanyasa deedam,Namo Narayanay Guftam
Be Khakhay Paye Bosidam,Shab Shahi….

Wonderstruck I said Namo Narayan, incredible sage he was In reverence, I bowed to touch the specks of dust at his feet, the King……….
Nighahay bar mane Miskeen,Namud-e-az- chasme taaban-tarMakanash La maaken tar bood,Shab Shahi……
With his divine grace (Anugraha) ,he showered his radiance Immersed me in the universe of consciousness, the King……….
Manam Mardan Ali Khanam,Ghulam-e-Shahe-Shahanam
Ajab Israr Main Beenam,Shab Shahi…….
I Ali Mardan Khan who is the servant of the king of the kingsIs witness to a mystic experience, the King……….

Another version of the last verse is Manam Mardan Musalmanam,Ali Khanam Namee Dhanam,which means I Ali Mardan a devout Muslim , who owes every breath to Ali (the Caliph).

This poem is also a reiteration of the Kashmiri Saivate standpoint of the world being real as against the Vedantic concept of it being Maya (unreal).That the poet’s vision is not of a formless deity but one that he describes in great detail with its physical attributes and iconography reinforces the Kashmiri Saiva thought of the creation being real when Unmesh (broadly translated as opening of eye/thought )happens.
Note:  I would welcome improvements in translation. Persian is not a language I am well versed with. I thank my friend Geetika, without her help this translation would not have been possible.
*Leela is a Kashmiri Devotional Poem.

Author of the post - Rashneek Kher

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I didn't know what to say to her

I went to my grandma's room to wish her goodnight. As soon as i wished her, she said, "meh chha ni yivaan az nindriyi. Meyi pyav az garr yaad. Mei pyav az soruy yaad. Goldy aesis kauchh kyath tulaan toopyi dith ti aesis gooris khaaraan". (I am unable to sleep. I was thinking about our home (Kashmir). I was thinking about how I used to cover Goldy's head and go to milkman and fetch milk.)

I didn't know what to say to her.

And, then she said, "vall vanyi, yath gaam ni gasun, tamyuk naav kya hyon".
(Anyway, why talk about a place where we know we can never go)
- Sumathi Thusso on Facebook

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Dhimmis of Kashmir

Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. (Qur’an chapter 9 verse 29)


While I am a Kashmiri Pandit by birth, my initial education due to my dad’s nature of job happened outside Kashmir. When we finally went back to Kashmir (to be thrown out again few years later), the place was full of surprises and shocks. Kashmir was odd; it was a place where I was treated differently because of my religion. I as a kid always used to wonder why, and how did they figure out that I am a Kashmiri Pandit and not a Muslim boy. The mystery was soon solved, when I figured out that there was a clear-cut differentiation in the dress worn by Pandits and Muslims. Even the dresses which were common, there were distinctive features to identify the Kashmiri Pandit. The Islamic rulers had made changes in the designs of turbans and pherans (Long, commodious apron worn by Kashmiri men and women) and the same even continues till date. While caps replaced the turbans, the pherans are still very much used in Kashmir and Pandit Pherans have a distinct fold at the knees, identifying them as Pandits or should I say, Dhimmis.
During the course of time, I discovered something called Dhimmis, and while it shocked me, I could clearly see that we the Kashmiri Pandits were being treated as Dhimmis. What does Dhimmi mean? Dhimmis are non Islamic minorities in a Muslim majority state, living in a recognized subordinate legal status. If I put it simply, Dhimmis are second grade citizens.

The Islam prohibits the Dhimmis and minorities from:
1.      Wearing clothes that do not make them recognizable
2.    Constructing big houses or owning estates
3.      Marrying Muslim women
4.      Holding important public positions
5.      Practising their religion in public & constructing religious structures

Yes, with modernisation these restrictions have somewhat eased in rest of the world, but not in an important state of the Socialist, Secular Republic of India, the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The Kashmiri Pandits have been facing persecution for many centuries and have been treated as Dhimmis by both barbaric Islamic rulers and the elected representatives of Kashmir in free India.

Immediately after coming to power in 1947, Mohammed Sheikh Abdullah, the then Prime Minister and grandfather of the current CM immediately implemented the first principle of Dhimmi code. He confiscated the lands of Kashmiri Pandits and redistributed them for free to the Muslims of the state. This was done under the garb of ‘Land for Tiller act’ and surprisingly implemented with full vigour in the Kashmir Valley only, where the Hindus are in minority.

The Kashmiri Pandits persecution qualifies Dhimmi treatment in every sense. The Pandits are not allowed to hold any important political post and for last few decades not even a single Kashmiri Pandit has been given election ticket by the Muslim dominated parties of Kashmir. The Kashmiri Pandits are not even nominated to the upper house of the legislature and making them a minister is not even a dream that can be seen.

I remember last year the CM of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah tried scoring political point by criticising Narendra Modi for not giving election ticket to any Muslim in his state. On being confronted, on how many Kashmiri Pandits were given tickets by Omar Abdullah’s party, the CM had no answer.

While I was in the valley, honestly I do not remember any Kashmiri Pandit boy marrying a Kashmiri Muslim girl. Yes, I knew many falling for each other but never marrying. The Kashmiri Pandit boy knew that if he dared to marry a Muslim girl, not only him but his entire family would be butchered. While on the contrary it was quite common to kidnap a Pandit girl and forcefully marry and convert her. In the famous Parmeshwari case, such was the open discrimination that even the state machinery ensured the parents do not meet the girl; alas the truth may come out.

The persecution of minorities reached to such an extent that the Muslim fanatics openly started killing the minorities and raping their women. By Jan 1990 almost every Pandit home in Kashmir was on the hit list of Islamic fanatics, and its prominent personalities were assassinated almost every day. The Dhimmis of Kashmir were warned to move out the valley or get killed. The common slogan of the Muslim fanatics was “we want Kashmir without Hindus but with their women”.

The Muslim majority govt of the valley turned a blind eye to these atrocities or pleaded helplessness. And by the first few weeks of 1990, the entire Kashmir valley was bereft of its only prominent minority, the Kashmiri Pandits.  The exodus of the Pandits saw the execution of the last principle of Dhimmi law, prohibition of minority religious practice and destruction of minority religious institutions. Slowly the temples are being desecrated and lands belonging to these temples are being forcefully taken over. Many prominent temples are in ruins and efforts to rebuild them are seeing resistance from the fanatic population of the valley. As usual, the Muslim controlled government of the valley is also ensuring that the lands are usurped by the Muslims land mafia and all the symbols of Hinduism are wiped out.

The Kashmiri Pandits now almost for a decade have been trying to push “Temple & Shrine Bill” to save their religious institutions. The bill just asks for an institution similar to Muslim Aukaf Trust, which allows Muslims to run their religious institutions in a better and safe way.

The mentality of not providing religious freedom has made the state government form innovate ways to block the bill. Constant request, appeals and protest have fallen to deaf ear. The mindset of denying the minority of their religious right can be gauged from the actions of Mustafa Kamal, the senior member of the ruling party and uncle of the current CM, Omar Abdullah. Mustafa Kamal wants an amendment to the bill, where he wants the amendment to include Muslims to be part of running and managing Hindu Temples. Now the bill has been send to a standing committee for further study, almost after 8 years of it being introduced in the legislature.

With such delaying tactics, the government of Kashmir has reconfirmed that few mind-sets just don’t change. And yes, even in a Hindu majority, secular nation like India, Dhimmis do exist.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why the Return of Kashmiri Pandits Is Still a Distant Dream - Rahul Pandita in International New York Times

On April 24, Kamal, a 35-year-old unemployed Kashmiri Hindu, died in the Jagti refugee settlement on the outskirts of the city of Jammu, the winter capital of the north Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. His body was found a few days after his death. More than three weeks later, the Jammu Tribune reported that the young man, who was living alone after his parents died some time ago, was mentally disturbed and had died of starvation after the state government’s relief department stopped his monthly stipend for unknown reasons.
Kamal’s death is the latest event to add to the Jagti residents’ sense of abandonment by the state and central governments. The Jagti settlement is home to about 4,000 Kashmiri Hindu families, who have been living there since 2011 after the state government dismantled their old camps scattered around Jammu, which had served as their homes since 1990. The Kashmiri Hindus, more popularly known as Pandits, were forced out of their land in 1990 when an Islamist insurgency broke out in Kashmir Valley. It’s the only Indian state where the Muslims are in a majority.
About 350,000 Pandits, including my family, were forced into exile after being brutalized on the streets of Kashmir and inside their homes. Hundreds were killed and many raped and maimed. Since the Pandits are an educated lot, most of them moved on, securing jobs and careers in India and abroad. But a small percentage continues to live in miserable conditions in refugee settlements like Jagti.
I was there in September last year when a few residents were on a hunger strike, protesting against the state government’s apathy. Those families who didn’t have a government job survived on a monthly dole of 1,250 rupees, or $22. The government provides a maximum monthly stipend of 5,000 rupees for each family, and the Pandits at the Jagti settlement were demanding more aid and new facilities.
Many such families had taken small loans from banks, both private and government to start small businesses before they were shifted to Jagti. The loan installment was deducted from their meager monthly stipend.
All year round, the camp faced a power outage of 16 to 18 hours each day. Residents alleged that a substantial amount from the 3.69 billion rupees allotted for the construction of the camp had been siphoned off by government officials and their political bosses. “We belong to nobody,” a resident, Bhushan Lal Bhat, told me. “No government is interested in us because we are not a vote bank.”
When a team of three delegates appointed by the Indian government looked into the grievances of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the report it issued in October 2011 was dismissed by everyone, including the separatist groups in Kashmir. The Pandits, in any case, expected nothing from it. The report made some vague references to the Pandits, asking the government for “sympathetic consideration” toward their plight. In an even vaguer reference, it said that the “women can provide a bridge for Kashmiri Pandits to reconcile with their co-citizens in the Valley.”

Kashmiri Pandit women praying at a temple in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.
Courtesy of Ashish Sharma. Kashmiri Pandit women praying at a temple in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.
Recently, the same government-appointed team submitted a feedback report to the Home Ministry in New Delhi, recommending the construction of a new city in the heart of Kashmir Valley for the rehabilitation of the Pandits. Howver, it doesn’t acknowledge the circumstances that led to the exodus of the Pandits in the first place, a trauma that is still fresh in many Pandits’ minds. Without official recognition of the events of 1990, true reconciliation is not possible.
In April, I was in Bangalore for the release of my book, “Our Moon Has Blood Clots,” which deals with the exodus of the Pandits. Among the audience was a lady who sat upright all time, paying attention to every word I spoke. As I read a passage, she bowed her head and I could see she was trying hard to control her emotions. Later, I learned her name, Rudrakshi Warikoo. She spoke about her experiences of 1990 – she was 19 at that time, she said. “I still have nightmares about those days,” she said, shuddering.
Most Pandits have gone through similar experiences and have no hope of returning to their homeland. “We visit Kashmir Valley in summer to escape the heat,” another Jagti resident, who did not wish to be identified, told me. “The former militants who killed Pandits in 1990 have turned politicians and keep on saying: ‘Kashmir is incomplete without the Pandits.’ But they don’t mean it.”
That is what a few hundred young men and women who returned to their erstwhile home under a central government job program, which has been operating since 2008, have experienced. In the valley, they stay in a few ghetto-like camps. But security is the least of their concerns. They have faced such harsh treatment and harassment from their Muslim colleagues that many of them have left their jobs and Kashmir Valley.
“I suffer from a permanent depression because of what I go through daily,” one man told me when he visited me secretly at my hotel room in September. He worked as a teacher and said he was thinking of leaving his job.
In all the Pandit killings, there has been but one conviction so far. Meanwhile, people like the militant Farooq Ahmad Dar, alias Bitta Karate, freely run around Kashmir – a man who in 1990 confessed on national television that he was responsible for the killings of about two dozen Pandits, including his neighbor, on whose scooter he used to pillion ride at times. He spent 16 years in jail awaiting a trial, then was granted bail after a judge, N.D. Wani, said the prosecution had shown no interest in arguing the case. For some in Kashmir, Mr. Dar is a hero.
In September, I was at one of the camps in Kashmir Valley where some Pandits live under police protection. I met an old lady who sat on her haunches outside her quarters, winnowing rice grains. She would not let my photographer colleague take her picture and declined to give her name. But she said in the last seven years she had been out of the camp only thrice. “My heart is about to burst,” she said.
The return of the Pandits to Kashmir Valley seems like a distant dream unless the wounds of the 1990s exodus are healed. Under such circumstances, the idea of the new city, as proposed by the government-appointed delegates, is far fetched.
Rahul Pandita is an author, more recently of “Our Moon Has Blood Clots.” He works with the newsweekly Open. Follow him on Twitter @rahulpandita.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 3, 2013
An earlier version of the post misstated that Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state where Hindus are in a minority. However, it is the only Indian state where Muslims are in a majority.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Country lacks political will to deal sternly with Kashmir issue' - The Hindu

Former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, international corporate lawyer Pamarty Venkataramana, and Panun Kashmir coordinator Rahul Razdan at a seminar in Hyderabad on Sunday. – Photo: G. Krishnaswamy
Former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah has expressed fears that there could be many Ghulam Nabi Fais in the country lobbying for Pakistan against India on the issue of Kashmir.
Speaking at a seminar ‘The Fai Case: Shadow Lobbying in America Unveiled!' organised by the Social Cause, a NGO, here on Sunday, he said: “When America could intercept suspicious e-mails, why didn't we do as there is no dearth of technology and experts in the country.”
Mr. Padmanabhaiah said the country lacked political will to deal sternly with issues like Kashmir.
The policies being followed by the country on Kashmir had been a dismal failure. Such lobbying was threatening both internal and external security of the country. Dr. Fai had three tasks cut out in his annual action plan for persuading the US administration to press for self-determination of Kashmir, influencing the US and convincing it to exert pressure on India on Kashmir issue and capturing media attention to influence debate on Kashmir at the behest of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, he said. Pamarty Venkataramana, an international corporate lawyer, stressed the need to keep a tab on the entry and activity of foreign nationals in India. Rahul Razdan of Panun Kashmir, K. Ramesh Babu of the Advance Centre for American Studies and U. Atreya Sarma of Social Cause also spoke.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Shields Against Terror

Shields Against Terror

Village Defence Committees have played an important role in containing militancy in the Jammu region


RING FENCE  Muslim women training for a Village Defence Committee in Kulali village, 260 km from Jammu city, in December 2004
RING FENCE Muslim women training for a Village Defence Committee in Kulali village, 260 km from Jammu city, in December 2004

The message was clear: a group of terrorists would strike Lihota anytime. The Muslim watchman had travelled miles to convey this to his friends in a tiny hamlet in the foothills of the Himalayas in Jammu & Kashmir’s Doda district. It was July 1999, and not very far from there, a war was on in Kargil between India and Pakistan.
Lihota had only a few families, 39 people in all. Some of them had earlier been given guns by the Government. They were part of what had come to be known as Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in the Jammu region of the state. It had not taken much time for militancy to spread to these parts from the Kashmir Valley. By 1993, militants had struck at several places in Doda and other areas, attacking members of the Hindu minority. The terrain was rugged and densely forested, and hamlets like Lihota were at least a day’s journey away from the nearest Army or police camp. That is why the few VDC members in Lihota always kept their .303 Lee Enfield rifles by their side.
That day in 1999, it is not clear whether the residents of Lihota tried to get some help during daylight. But as night fell, nine VDC members took position in a picket overlooking the narrow path leading to Lihota. At about 9 pm, they saw heavily-armed men climbing up. They opened fire. But their weapons were no match for the automatic weaponry the terrorists had. In no time, the picket was overrun and some VDC members were killed. But still, the others persisted and put up a brave fight against the terrorists, who were forced to retreat. In all, almost half of Lihota’s population was wiped out that night. But had it not been for the VDCs and their guns, perhaps Lihota wouldn’t exist on the map today.
In the wake of the recent Kishtwar violence, with the Valley’s separatist groups and some mainstream political parties making a fevered pitch to disband VDCs, it is imperative to understand the dynamics of militancy in the Jammu region.
In the 1990s, militancy first reached Doda because of its proximity to the Valley. About 40 per cent of Doda’s population is of Kashmiri origin. While militancy burst out in 1990 in the Valley, it took about three years to pose a threat to the people of Doda, especially its Hindu population. As early as October 1991, militants had kidnapped a French engineer Silva Antonia from the Dul Hasti hydroelectric project site in Kishtwar (which was then a part of Doda district). In August 1993, terrorists stuck at Sarthal in Kishtwar, killing 17 Hindus. In January 1996, in another massacre, 16 Hindus were gunned down in the region. By the mid-90s, militancy had spread to other regions of Jammu as well, including Poonch and Rajouri. Between April 1998 and February 1999, more than 150 people of the Hindu minority were killed by terrorists in these two districts.
Fighting terrorism in these areas was a challenge for the Government. Deploying troops in a difficult area like Doda was a daunting task. Spread over 11,961 sq km, the district had 651 villages, and troop deployment here in the mid-90s was less than that in Baramulla district in Kashmir Valley. Terror attacks had triggered off an exodus similar to that from Kashmir Valley, where 350,000 Pandits had to leave their homes in the wake of an Islamist insurgency. Thousands of people began to arrive in Doda and Kishtwar town from villages in the region’s upper reaches to live in temples and other such community-owned buildings.
Initially, the administration sent them back along with a police party that would then camp with them in the village. “But this method had two [problems],” says the former Director General of the J&K Police, Kuldeep Khoda, who was then DIG of Udhampur-Doda range. “One: the force was getting sucked in permanently and we didn’t have an unlimited supply; two: such a measure was only taken once a massacre had already taken place.”
That is when the decision to involve civilians in this fight was taken. Initially, many were reluctant to take up the Government’s offer of arms and training, fearing reprisals from terrorists. But soon, many elders in villages, especially Army ex-servicemen, opted for it.
Right from the beginning, VDCs have had an effective role in deterring terrorists. Says Khoda, “Terrorists realised that if they have to create a fear psychosis, they would rather do it in a non-VDC village. They started avoiding villages with VDCs.”
The formation of VDCs also put an end to the exodus of Hindus. They felt secure and continued with their lives in their villages. But the VDCs had to pay a price for their resistance. In November 2000, VDC member Satish Kumar did not let terrorists enter his village Khala in Kishtwar. In his effort to fend off a massacre, he was himself killed.
Terrorists would target family members of VDCs—largely Hindu—as well. In December 2000, four children of a VDC member Gyan Singh were killed by terrorists in the Mahore area of Jammu. Between 1996 and 2007, at least 128 VDC members were killed by terrorists. The gravity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that despite counter- terrorism measures such as VDCs, many massacres of Hindus still took place. In June 1998, 25 Hindus who were a part of a marriage party were killed in Doda. In July, 16 others were killed in two villages. In July 1999, they stuck at Lihota, killing 15, but the bravery of VDCs prevented a bigger massacre. In August 2000, 11 Hindus were killed in Doda. In 2001 as well, the spate of killings continued, prompting the Centre to bring this entire region under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
In Poonch and Rajouri, the local Gujjar population was initially wary of taking up arms against militants. Though some of them acted as guides for militants trying to cross the Line of Control, they hardly harboured any anti-India sentiments. Through the mid 90s, terrorists perpetrated several massacres of the Hindu minority, including one during Vajpayee’s Lahore Bus Yatra in February 1998 in which 20 Hindus were killed in three incidents. But by 2001, there were several cases where terrorists of Pakistani origin, owing allegiance to groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, began to harass and intimidate Gujjars, especially their womenfolk. That is when several of them took up the Government offer and joined VDCs.
Here, a few all-Muslim, all-women VDCs were formed as well. During a major operation launched by the Army in Poonch in 2003, codenamed Operation Sarp Vinash, to weed out terrorists who had infiltrated Indian territory, information supplied by a VDC led to the busting of a major terrorist hideout. Here too, VDCs had to pay a heavy price. In Poonch in February 2001, 15 members of a VDC, all Muslim, were burnt to death by terrorists. In June 2004, another ten (again all Muslims) were gunned down by terrorists.
In recent years, some cases of VDC highhandedness have been reported. But security experts say they are few and far between. Often, VDCs have been compared to the Salwa Judum, Chhattigarh’s anti-Maoist militia of civilians. But that comparison is silly. One, in Chhattisgarh, Maoists do not indulge in massacres of a particular tribe or community. Two, VDCs do not go out hunting for terrorists. That is why there is no possibility of civilian casualties that has almost been a norm in Salwa Judum operations. Three, the Salwa Judum mostly comprises of young men, some of them in their teens, which is again not the case with VDCs. “Comparison with the Salwa Judum is ridiculous,” says MM Khajuria, former DGP of J&K. “Those who do it are either uninformed or playing to the separatist gallery.”
In the coming days, the pitch for the disbanding of VDCs will only grow louder in a state where mainstream politicians are in competitive secessionism with separatist groups. Khoda feels that the VDCs ought to stay, especially along the LoC and in areas close to Kashmir Valley. But he says in other areas, where there has been no incident of militancy in the past five years, there needs to be a review of VDCs. “It had already been happening silently,” he says. “In several cases, the VDC members opted out themselves since they got a job elsewhere or turned old.” But now, with a real threat of the migration of the region’s Hindu minority looming large, these VDCs, it seems, will only have a larger role to play.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hindu Shrines under threat - Sandhya Jain

Hindu shrines under threat in J&K
The J&K Hindu Shrines and Religious Places (Management and Regulation) Bill, a long-standing demand of the besieged Hindu community of Jammu & Kashmir, which was deferred to the House Select Committee in the Assembly session on April 5, has become an urgent imperative in view of the wanton destruction of an ancient Shiva shrine in Banihal, during the Navratras.
Miscreants sprawled graffiti on the walls of the recently discovered cave temple and damaged and removed an icon of Shiva on the very first day of the Navratras, after members of the All Parties Migrants Coordination Committee (APMCC) visited the shrine and performed the first puja. This shocking iconoclasm has cast a pall of gloom upon the entire State.

Far from catching the culprits, the Jammu & Kashmir Government forcefully detained APMCC leaders King C Bharti and Vinod Pandit when they tried to visit the cave again on April 17, and registered cases against them under different sections.

The cave of Mahadeo was recently rediscovered in the Pir Panjal range at a height of 11,500 feet above sea level in the Banihal area of district Ramban; it contained several icons of great antiquity. It became a focal point of devotion on the first Navratra on April 11 as scores of devotees braved the steep mountain to offer prayers at the shrine. The procession led by APMCC chairman Vinod Pandit was visiting the forgotten shrine after over a century; they found a huge cave, the end of which could not be seen with the naked eye.

The cave and its icons are clearly an intrinsic part of the distinctive religious heritage of Kashmiri Hindus, which find mention in texts like Neelmat Purana and Rajatarangini. The protection and preservation of this heritage is a national imperative, and is the reason why the Hindu community is demanding an early passage of the Shrines Bill, which Chief Minister Omar Abdullah promised to do in the budget session.

The Bill has been pending for five years, and in the absence of an institutional mechanism to protect and preserve the temples and shrines of Kashmir, the land mafia has been annexing properties with impunity. The staff of the departments of revenue and administration colludes with the mafia, which the result that several temple lands have been sold or seized illegally, and unauthorised constructions allowed by municipal and town area authorities.

Many temples are completely in ruins. In March 2013, a devastating fire destroyed a portion of the famous Chakreshwar temple complex on Hari Parbat, Srinagar, but nothing was done about it. Indeed, the temples and shrines are the worst victims of the genocide and exile of the Hindu community, as they lost their trustees, caretakers, and devotees in one brutal stroke. The State Minister for Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation Raman Bhalla admitted in a written reply in the Assembly that at least 170 temples had been damaged in two decades of militancy in the valley.
Some of these are truly historic and ancient temples, such as the sun temples at Parihaspura, Mattan, Naran Nag and Awantipura; there is the revered Kshir Bhavani in Tulamula; the Jwala temple in Khrew; and innumerable temples in the springs of Anantnag, Mattan, Pahalgam. Every hill and every valley is the repository of some portion of a once vibrant culture.

A rough inventory of the temples as they existed at the time of the exodus in 1989-90 shows 499 temples spread almost uniformly over the nine districts of the Valley. These include Anantnag (116); Baramulla (79); Bandipora (17); Budgam (44); Gandarbal (16); Kulgam (48); Kupwara (66); Pulwama (47); Shopian (22) and Srinagar (44).

All Parties Migrant Coordination Committee chairman Vinod Pandit went on a hunger strike for 15 days in February this year, to protest against the encroachment of the valuable properties of Hindu shrines and to press for passage of the long pending bill. In March, members of several Hindu organisations organised a mass dharna in Jammu to urge all parties to pass the bill in the current budget session. They lamented that despite publicly expressed support from Revenue Minister Raman Bhalla, Agriculture Minister GH Mir, PDP patron Mufti Mohd Sayeed, CPI (MLA) MY Tarigami, and some BJP and NC MLAs, no progress had been made in the matter.

Sadly, on April 5, despite a unanimous demand from opposition members to pass the Hindu Shrines Bill, the National Conference-Congress coalition referred the bill to a House Select Committee on grounds of alleged loopholes in the proposed legislation. MY Tarigami, and Engineer Abdul Rashid suggested that the Bill be passed and necessary changes be made later.

But National Conference members insisted that Kashmiri Muslims must be involved in the management committees of Hindu temples and shrines in the valley as they are locals and also the majority. The regime claimed this would help in better management and protection of Hindu religious places as there are now no Kashmiri Hindus in the valley. Tarigami opposed the inclusion of Muslims in temple management, pointing out that Kashmiri Pandits are not included in Waqf Board; he said a very wrong message was being sent. He was supported by Engineer Abdul Rashid.
Harsh Dev Singh of the Panther’s Party pressed the Government to provide financial assistance to maintain and protect Hindu religious places in the Valley and clarify how it planned to remove encroachments. But for Hindus and their temples, it was back to square one

Thursday, June 13, 2013

An Audio Documentary, titled "Landscape of Loss", produced by three students of Mass Communication at the Jamia Millia University, Delhi

Monday, May 20, 2013

Return to the valley

Recently I read a news report which said that only One Kashmiri Pandit family has returned to the valley under the Prime Minister Package for Kashmiri Migrants.  And I am sure that many would have presumed that Kashmiri Pandits do not want to go back for various reasons including much assumed that the community is now economically much better outside valley.
The problem is that the vision and thought process of main stream media, politician and bureaucrats is myopic. The all so called strategic thinkers forget to look at the root cause of exodus and link everything to economics and even these economic measures are half hearted & half baked. Soon Congress and other political parties including BJP will start claiming that we have done everything (everything means giving monetary incentive) and still Kashmiri Pandits are not taking it and hence we can’t do more.
I don’t find anything surprising with such thought process of our politicians. A system that instead of creating employment opportunities, promises food for free can’t think beyond aids and grants.
Now let’s look at the root cause of Kashmiri Hindus exoduses till date including the last exodus of 1990.  The last exodus is the 7th exodus of a community which has been living in the valley for the past 5000 years. A community which has 100% literacy rate, almost negligible crime rate and one of the most progressive communities in the country. A community which gave up caste system long time back. And these exoduses are different from migration, a word which GOI uses to describe the ethnic cleaning of Hindus in the valley
The Kashmiri Pandit population in Kashmir was never rich and would have had a very small percentage of people who could even qualify to be called upper middle class. But then rarely did anyone qualify into BPL category. The Kashmiri Pandits earned decent enough to provide well for their family and take care of their day to day needs and occasional luxuries. All families were content and economic status played no role in social system of the Pandit community. What mattered more was the educational qualification and a decent job, preferably   government job
All the exoduses till date have happened primarily because of religious persecution. Whether it was Sikander Butshikan, Aurangzeb or Afghans, all exoduses were because of fanatical zeal to convert the Hindu population to Islam. They leashed atrocities unheard of, including but not limited to killing, burning alive, demolishing temple and learning institutions and kidnapping and raping of women.  The famous Hari Parbat Hill in Srinagar is also known as Koh-e-maran, which means mound of dead bodies. Even today there is an area in Srinagar known as Batt Mazar, the grave yards of Kashmiri Hindus.
Even when Kashmiri Pandits approached Guru Teg Bahadur or Maharaja Ranjit Singh, it was to save them from the religious persecution and not ask for support to migrate out of valley. There has been word ‘Kashmiryat’ used quite often to describe to the secular atmosphere of the valley. This word has been used more often by the persecutor than the persecuted. Often it is mentioned that Kashmir has been largely riot free even during worse communal tension in the rest of India. But even simple application of common sense will tell that all this is a lie. In 700 years, Kashmiri Hindus have been killed in lakhs, persecuted and discriminated. Someone needs to understand that it takes two to riot. And with Kashmiri Pandits never resorting to a violence, it was always at the receiving end from the majority community. How can there be ‘Kashmiryat’ when 2% most docile and peaceful minority was hounded out of its 5000 year old inhabitation in one single night? How can there be Kashmiriyat when the same minority was threatened, persecuted and killed?
The Government of India along with State Government appears to be lost and seems have to have no solid plan for the return of the displaced community. The Shrine and Temple Bill has been pending for 10 years, and now there are efforts from the ruling party to include Kashmiri Muslims in the management of Hindu Temples. Such acts surely not inspire any confidence in the minority community.
Recently the team of interlocutors suggested a twin-city concept. The concept proposes to build and develop a second city in the proximity of old Srinagar. The new city will become the habitat of all internally displaced as well as any number of local families in need of rehabilitation. So under the garb of twin city, the Pandits are expected to live in the same regime and with the same neighbour directly or indirectly were responsible for his current situation the first place. GOI wants Kashmiri Pandits to go back without even a fake effort of confidence building measure. There has been not a single conviction of the crimes committed against the minority community in the last 23 years. As per Panun Kashmir records around 3000 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed in the various terrorist activities. Even state governments own record show more than thousand killings. The prominent killers like Yasin Malik and Bitta Karate, who have publicly admitted to killing of the minority community and defence personnel are today treated as VIPs and PM of India openly meets and greets them. Bitta Karate got a rousing welcome from the locals in Srinagar on his acquittal by court. This despite of fact that the judge highlighting that Bitta Karate was being acquitted for poor and shoddy investigation by CBI and not that there was conclusive roof of his innocence.
Yes, Kashmiri Pandits are determined to return to their homeland but this return will  happen only they are sure that they will live as citizens with equal rights and honour and will not be hounded out again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Butt Butshikan

Butt Butshikan

Islam came to valley in 1320 with Rinchans conversion to Islam.  And with advent of Sayyid Hamdani, the Islam gained more prominence in the politics of the valley. The Islamic zeal gained fanatical proportions with Suktan Sikandar, the infamous Sikander Butshikan (Sikander Destroyer of idols)
Butshikan launched relentless campaign to convert the local population of Kashmir into Islam and destroy the religious symbols of Hindus. Tons of Januas (Sacred thread worn by Hindu Bhramins) were burnt. The cities were burnt and many temples destroyed or attempted to be destroyed. The famous sun Temple at Martand, built by the Great King Lalitdatiya was destroyed too. It is said the temple was so big and grand that even after employing all tactics, Sikander and his men could not completely destroy the temple and thankfully the remains of the temple still stand at Mattan and even the ruins clearly highlight the grandeur of the temple.

The fanatical zeal of Islam continued for centuries with occasional respites during the rule of Zani-ul-Abidin, more lovingly called as Budshah, Akbar and Sikhs. Lakhs of Hindus were forcibly converted and all the identity of Kashmiri Pandits would have been wiped out had it not been the courage and determination of our ancestors who managed to stay Hindu, preserve their 5000 year old culture and rebuild their places of worship. Our ancestors preferred to give up their lives than to give up their faith.
Let’s not forget that this is not the first exodus of Kashmiri Hindus. 1990 exodus was the seventh exodus in last 700 years.  But each time our ancestors did not let their desire to be back in their motherland die down. It is said during Afghan rule only 11 Hindu families were left in the valley, while all other Hindus had fled. But the families which fled did not forget their motherland and ensured that their religious shrines, their customs, their language remained intact.  

Inspite of being just 3% of the population, the Hindus of the valley safeguarded their temples with zeal. Almost all towns and villages had temples which were well maintained inspite of the meagre income of Hindus.
Post 1990 exodus, what we the Kashmiri Hindus have achieved in 20 years, was not even achieved by the Islamic fanatics, Shah Hamdan, Afghans and Sikander Butshikan in 700 years.  We are on verge of destroying our proofs of existence in Kashmir by sheer neglect and selfishness.  We sold our land, houses and other properties in Kashmir. Yes, it was more to help over the tide financial crisis most of the families were going through.  But what made many of us to sell the temples that belonged to community, our ancestors, our identity and our pride. 

I many times wonder that Panun Kashmir call of “ sethyum te pethyum’ (seventh and last exodus), does not end up in its literal meaning. I hope and pray that Kashmiri Hindus have not decided against going back because if the valley will be bereft of any Hindus, there can’t be any questions of any exodus.
Today our Kashmiri identity is reduced to roganjosh, Haakh, occasional Kehwa and a formality trip to Kashmir with our new borns, who can’t even speak Kashmiri. We visit as tourists, behave like tourists and come back as tourists from our real home to current postal address.

Our elders just 23 years back sacrificed everything of theirs to keep us safe and save our identity. They chose life of hardship even when an easier option of conversion was available to them. And when it is the time for us to express our gratitude, we seem to be hell bent on destroying the same identity which our elders preserved for 5000 years.
I have seen many prominent Kashmiri Pandits updating their blogs, facebook pages with stories and anecdotes of their childhood visits to their neighbourhood temple or prominent Kashmiri Hindu temples. They pretend to get emotional too, but I can guarantee that most of them will have no clue of the current condition of the temple they so fondly pretend to remember

Circumstances and choice forced me to visit Kashmir quite frequently in last few years. And lately I started visiting the temples of Kashmir, while I started with the famous ones; I also started visiting not so famous ones.
The trips to these temples have been eye openers for me.  These temples which one proudly stood as our symbols of our existence, faith, determination and proof of our courage, are today in conditions which only can bring tears to one’s eyes and make the entire community ashamed of itself.  I could feel my ancestors cursing themselves to have produced such progenies. I could feel the sarcastic smile of Shiva, which said I don’t need you to take care of me, but then don’t pretend that you love me. Don’t tell world that you are a proud Kashmir Pandit and a Shaivite

Yes, community has seen enough hardship post exodus, and we have worked very hard to rebuild our lives. And by the grace of the God, most of you who are reading this blog, are doing quite well on both professional and personal front.  Most of us earn 6 figure salaries, hefty bonuses and have multiple properties across India. But what have given back to our roots, our motherland, our temples, where our religion grew and created our identity.
Recently one of my friends told me that what is the use of the temples when the devotees don’t live there. I hope many of you who don’t stay with your parents don’t apply same analogy to them. What is the use of the parents when I don’t live with them?  What was the need for Guru Teg Bahadur to give up his life for us, when we were not even his followers, nor lived with him? Sikhs even today maintain their Gurudwars in Paksitan, even when there are no devotees. Mount Kailash is still revered even though it is in China and inaccessible to most of the Indians, except for a short period, where select few hundred visit by taking a hazardous trip through an inhospitable terrain and country. The crusade was led by Europeans, for a holy place they never lived or indented to live in. Even today Pandits of Varanasi complete their Janau (sacred thread) rituals by taking seven steps towards North, a symbolic gesture of having returned from Kashmir with knowledge, even when there are no institutions of Vedic learning left in Kashmir.

Kashmir is still part of India and easily accessible to all. And we have already given up our claims to our religious places.  

What have we Kashmiris done to claim our temples, our religious identities? We do occasional havans, where we behave more like greedy humans, collecting as much food we can for home. We have created grand replicas of the famous shrines of Kashmir and visit them as picnic spots. Yes, we need replicas, but those replicas should be pale in comparison to originals. To me these grand replicas portray a community that has given up hope and desire to go back.

It is time that we wake up and start claiming what is rightly ours. It is time we start building our temples back, re-establish to the world that the first claim to Kashmir lies with us, the original inhabitants.
Wake up before history forgets Sikander Butshikan and labels us as Butt Butshikan