The tragedy of being a Kashmiri Pandit

By Amit Bamzai

January 2011

Even now I remember the day vividly it was an hot and sultry April afternoon, the ringing school bell indicated that it was time to pack your bags and leave towards the amniotic safety of a heaven called Home. As I stepped out of the mammoth black gate of my school ‘Army school Damana’ I saw an old lady sitting on a log of wood on the other side of the road. Her face was all smeared with wrinkles, her dainty hands placed firmly under her chin and a pair of deep set blue eyes looking aimlessly nowhere.

I went to her and asked her in my not so fluent Kashmiri why she was sitting all alone in such hot summer afternoon? To which she politely replied that she was waiting for her grandson who studied in 3rd standard in my school. I asked her where she lived; “Purkhoo camp” was her answer almost as an afterthought. For next half hour that old lady showed me a picture of KP migration to which I was never exposed. Being born and brought up in Jammu I was spared of a gruesome atrocity inflicted on Kashmiri pundits called the migration of 89-90.But talking to her for next half an hour brought me face to face with the bitter picture of our exodus. Her voice had a deep but perpetual undercurrent of pain as she mentioned the sleepless nights she along with her family spent in hot and humid conditions of migrant camps, of which they had no before hand experience. Her eyes welled up with emotion while she told me about the loss of her husband to sun stroke who couldn’t survive the cruel and unforgiving summer of Jammu and Kashmir’s winter capital. She said that she dies a thousand deaths every day to see her post graduate son leave for a non descript carpet factory in bari brahmna where he works as an accountant. She lamented that with the kind of education his son has had it is such a shame that he has to do such a meager job to earn a square meal for his family. I clearly remember that she took a pause, probably lost in deep thought or perhaps she got stuck in a nostalgic moment. After a few moments she looked into my eyes as if to stare down directly into my soul and said “son do you know what the greatest tragedy with our community is? I replied with a stoic “no”. she said that the greatest tragedy to have happened to us wasn’t the religious cleansing of pundits before migration nor was the exodus of pundits from Kashmir but the greatest tragedy to have happened to us is that we are born kashmiri Pandits in this ‘riyasat’. The government doesn’t care for us because we are not a compact and significant vote bank, the common Kashmiri Muslim whom we trusted blindly before the migration stabbed us slyly on our back, our children who are both suitably talented and well educated don’t find jobs here because of their surnames. The locals of Jammu could never and still can’t accept us one amongst them because to them we are ‘Kashmiri’. It is hard to imagine a condition worse than this; all this while I kept looking at her withered face and kept imagining the pain and anguish she carried in her frail body. How hard it was to step into her shoes and to see the world from her eyes, how difficult it was to imagine her family clinging to each other in a corner of their one room hutment to save themselves from rain water dripping from their leaky roof. To reproduce her emotions on a piece of paper, the helplessness in her eyes, the pain behind her quivering lips is impossible. Just when I was about to leave I saw a cute little boy running towards us with a notebook in his hand, he stopped at the old lady and said “jigri look madam gave me a good in my notebook”. I saw that four letter word written in red ink in the notebook, it brought an instant smile on the face of that old lady, a weak but genuine smile. She lifted the notebook and kissed it. I couldn’t help but smile at the ironic but beautiful ending to our conversation. Sometimes I feel if ever a research is conducted on Kashmiri Pandits the scientistswould find a lot of rubber in our composition. Even after going through such heavy turmoil we have not only survived but also excelled in our respective fields, which is a great achievement in itself. However whenever I read or hear kashmiri pundits assembling at jantar mantar or India Gate striving to bring murderers of Priyadarshini Mattoo to justice or whenever a Nadimarg or Wandhama massacre happens and the consequent callous approach of the government towards us, her words start ringing in my head “son! Our greatest tragedy is that we are born Kashmiri Pandits”.

Few days back I received an e mail from a friend of mine, it was titled “result of inter-caste marriage, funny”. I clicked open that mail It went something like this “The only problem with inter caste marriage is that then there was a picture of a donkey and a zebra with a progeny of theirs. It had black and white strips on its legs which are the very characteristic of zebras but its torso and the rest of the upper body was muddy brown as that of donkeys.

And the message above the picture continued like this ………….it’s always the kids that suffer. Frankly it didn’t make me laugh but surely sent me into a contemplative mode. In Last 2 years I saw 2 of my dearest cousins get married into Bengali community both of them are blessed with a caring, affectionate and sensitive spouse. However after reading this mail I thought but what about their kids? What would be their identity? I have always taken pride in being a Kashmiri pandit, I love my language, my culture, the rituals (in spite of the fact that I am not very ritualistic).But what would my nephews be, which culture would they follow, what would be their mother tongue? Such and many more similar questions make me shudder. This recent trend of inter-caste marriages has inflicted great wounds on us causing both genetic dilution and general loss of cultural values. History suggests that all great civilizations came to an end at some point of time, even the culturally rich and visionary Aryans didn’t survive through test of time. Their annihilation gave rise to many small but consequential communities, may be our community is also walking down the same lane towards its end. I not being unnecessarily worried but the signs are too obvious and are written in bold letters on the wall. Any community derives its identity from its geographic distinction, a common belief system, a mother tongue and a religion to bind the community together. Kashmiri pandits lost their homeland in 1989-90 when they were driven out of the valley in herds. Now Kps are scattered in jammu, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and other parts of the world as refugees they have accepted their present land as their abode (temporary or permanent I don’t know ) so they have lost their geographic distinction. As far as belief system is concerned our values are dying a sudden and tragic death, our rituals and festivals find no place in the lives on the generation next, and to them these things sound both illogical and obsolete.

As far as mother tongue is concerned kashmiri speaking is growingly becoming unpopular amongst children, teenagers and young adults. Today when a child is born in a kashmiri household the entire focus of the family is to teach the child to speak fluent English. Doubtlessly this would help the young one to get through school will land him/her in a decent job the globalised Indian market. But in this race to grow big and bigger every day we keep forgetting that it is impossible to grow upwards if you are not firmly attached to your roots. Strangely parents who keep moaning every now and then, about loss of our cultural values never encourage their children to speak kashmiri or teach them the significance of our cultural values. When I look at these parameters the only conclusion that I can come up with is that our community is heading towards a never ending bottomless abyss.

I am well aware of the fact that I am ending this article with a lot of questions but to find the answers let us all look deep inside ourselves and act now because for us this is a fight for our survival.