Kashmiri Brahmins are a distinct, ethno-cultural entity — a tiny minority from a Muslim-majority valley now living in “exile” across India. From a simplistic viewpoint, their history is one of “persecution” by Muslim invaders culminating in violent ejection from their homeland in the 1990s.
Journalist Rahul Pandita, who has made a mark for himself by writing extensively on issues of tribals and Maoists, was a young, impressionable boy when this “ethnic cleansing” took place. In his book Our Moon Has Blood Clots, he recounts in compelling detail how the majority community conspired to get rid of an erudite, enlightened minority, so that an independent Islamic state could be established. In the backdrop of the mass (Muslim) uprising against the Indian state, the Pundits were subjected to all sorts of mental and physical torture, which resulted in their fleeing their homes in the stealth of the night, and seeking protection under the Indian flag.
Mr. Pandita’s vivid account can breach many a stone-coated heart, but is flawed on many counts. The Kashmir I know, grew up in and am still in touch with, is not the place that Mr. Pandita recreates from his memory, which obviously has been shaped by his own childhood nightmare and coloured by stories of a real and imagined past.
We need to move away from the tunnel-vision perspective in which Kashmiri Brahmins are the only rightful inhabitants of the State and all the rest are marauding usurpers who have, over the span of 10 centuries, through forced conversions, reduced Brahmins to a helpless minority and finally kicked them out of the State.
This is the thread running through Mr. Pandita’s book; it is a narrative I too grew up listening to, and is now being reinforced with greater conviction. In this discourse there is no place for anyone other than a “pure, enlightened Brahmin self”.
Right from the 1960s, when my memory of that place started taking root, the social chasm between the two communities was deep: we were not allowed to eat in their homes and they were not allowed to enter our kitchens, for that would have “polluted” us. Yet both communities lived in peace, respecting each other’s space. In my adult memory, the man who indulged me, placated my unjust, obdurate, fanciful demands was a Muslim servant, who still holds a warm, fond place in my heart.
My father, like the majority of Pundits over the years, had to leave his home and work in “India” because there were no jobs for the “educated” in the valley, regardless of their religion. Unlike Mr. Pandita’s story of the 1947 Kabali raid (tribal attack from across the boarder), where he limits his narrative to the persecution of Hindus, my father, a great admirer of Sheikh Abdullah, would never tire of telling us how he was witness to the mass gathering at Lal Chowk where Abdullah gave his speech, while the crowd raised slogans “Shere-Kashmir ka kya irshad, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh ithaad” (What does the Lion of Kashmir want? The unity of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh).
In those three days of anarchy, it was Sheikh Abdullah’s secular vision, which the majority of Muslims believed in and acted upon, that saved the Hindus.
1931, for Mr. Pandita, is not the year in which at least 36 Muslims were killed during the mass uprising against the tyrannical Dogra rule, but only of the looting of shops that belonged to his own community.
The fact that under Dogra rule, Hindus connived with the king to subjugate the Muslims — which many historians see as the genesis of the present problem — is neither part of Mr. Pandita’s memory nor his history.
How and why did Buddhism get wiped out of Kashmir? What was the role played by the Shaivite Brahmins, whose progeny we are, in that cleansing? Wasn’t the egalitarian message of the Sufis one of the reasons for the mass conversion of all backward classes and Dalits, suffering from the oppressive Brahminical caste order? Why do Hindus in the valley comprise of only Brahmins? These are questions which need addressing, if there has to be a serious examination and better understanding of the Kashmir problem.
In Mr. Pandita’s memory of January 19, 1990, when the entire Pundit community felt terrorised as thousands poured into the street and raised pro-azadi and anti-India slogans, there is no place for the Gow Kadal massacre. He forgets that on that day around 40 unarmed Muslims, part of a rally of thousands demanding azadi, were killed at point blank range by the CRPF.
This firing on an unarmed mob was not a rare event in those days, while the Hindus fled the valley.
While it is a fact that a number of Pundits were killed by the terrorists — described in the book in chilling detail — the terrorists killed a large number of Muslims as well.
While Mr. Pandita holds the entire Muslim community complicit in the exodus and even implicates his neighbourhood, I know of many Pundits who say their Muslim friends and neighbours had no role to play in it and even pleaded with them not to leave. Former J&K Chief Secretary Vijay Bakaya says, “Our community should not forget that those thousands who came out on the street did not attack or vandalise a single Pundit house.”
One has to remember the 1984 Sikh carnage or the 2002 Gujarat genocide to keep things in perspective.
This book comes at a time when many Hindus are returning to the valley, jobs have been reserved for them and many more are contemplating a return. Many Muslim bodies have publicly expressed their apologies.
The Kashmiri youth who has suffered two decades of strife and violence and state repression needs to be reached out to, as much as they need to reach out to our suffering.
The Pundits need to be wary of the kind of rhetoric that was in flow at the book’s launch in Delhi — that they will not, and should not go back as they are not welcome. This does not serve anyone’s cause, except that of extreme right wing organisations on both sides.
(Pradeep Magazine is a Delhi-based journalist and works for Hindustan Times.)
Rahul Pandita responds:
Mr. Magazine was not in Kashmir in January 1990. If he had been present, he would have been awake on the night of January 19, holding a knife in his hands, to protect his family. He does not know the pain of watching his house being burnt down — which his brother went through in Srinagar’s Karan Nagar.
Had he experienced any of this first hand, he would not have left my book launch in a petulant huff; he would have cried there, like his nephew did. He would have also known then that the Gaw Kadal massacre happened on January 21, not January 19 and that 51 and not 41 people lost their lives.
Nowhere in my memoir have I suggested that only Brahmins have the right to exist in Kashmir.
My stand on Kashmir is unwavering. I believe both Muslims and Pandits have suffered and these pains can coexist. What is dangerous is Mr. Magazine’s tendency to act as if by acknowledging the pain of the Pandits, you are undermining the pain of Muslims.
We all need to move on. But I am not willing to compromise on my truth that many in the Valley find inconvenient.
Mr. Magazine may want to retain his rosy image of the Kashmir of the 1960s, but the Pandits faced brutality in 1990, in which a very large number of Muslims took active part.
Denying this reality that many of us faced will not help anyone move on.
Please do not insult our memory. Please do not lie by writing not a single Pandit house was attacked.
If you want to know the story of those 1,446 Pandits who returned recently, step out of those cosy bukhari-heated drawing rooms of separatist leaders the next time you visit the Valley. Go to Vessu. It’s in south Kashmir. May be then you’ll also realise that you are a Kashmiri Pandit, not ‘Pundit’.