Dear Omar (Abdullah please and not Omar Farooq),
As one of your contemporaries, I will take the liberty of addressing you by your first name and not as the honourable CM or any of the official titles. I write to you as a fellow Kashmiri whose ancestors shared the same land, air and water as yours. But somewhere I seem to have lost the right over the place while you have achieved the highest office in land. As an Indian and a Kashmiri I was thrilled to see someone like you take the oath of office of the CM, rather than a rabble rousing ranter. The gods of Kashmir seem to be finally listening.
Though you might know and be aware of the existence of the community of Kashmiri Pandits, I don’t know how many of the current generation of the Valley are aware that such people did live alongwith their ancestors not so many years back. For their information I will add a few details about the community. Kashmiri Pandits are Hindus (all of them Saraswat Brahmins) whose generations were the early habitants of the Valley. Sparing the detailed historical tomes over here, the Kashmiri Pandits or KPs as they are called for short, suffered a series of religious persecutions over centuries. Yet to the surprise of everyone they managed to survive and achieve a high-level of erudition, both at the scholastic and spiritual levels. However as history teaches us, smartness doesn’t always lead to success. Continuous years of persecution created a shift in demographics against us pushing us to lose our religion and culture. However being a very stubborn and at times a very arrogant race, the Kashmiri Pandits decided to fight back on ways to preserve their way of life.
One of the many stories that Kashmiri Pandits tell their children is about an era when due to the religious persecution only 11 KP families were left in the Valley. It is left to that and no details are given. It is left to the imagination of their children to think of the dogged determination of their ancestors to struggle in the face of severe winters and a primitive lifestyle to safeguard and retain their culture and way of life for their descendents. Setting apart its religious angle, it is a story which strengthens the resolve amongst many of us– the descendents of those 11 families– to conserve and retain that culture. Over the years brothers of the different branches of families decided to leave the Valley and become part of the rest of the country. Here also they flourished. Of course one can never forget the legacy of the Nehrus, the Saprus, the Haksars to name a few.
When India became a sovereign nation, while the rest of the country burnt in communal frenzy, the Kashmiris fought back the tribal invaders and retained their independence. I don’t think I even need to delve on the way your grandfather Sher-i- Kashmir, Shaikh Abdullah managed to retain Kashmir for us and ensured that none of the KPs were harmed.
Post independence we worked and managed to build our lives in the state. Many of the landed gentry lost their land in the decree of “land to the tiller” without being given any compensation. But we never resisted or opposed those socialist decrees. We hung our heads down, prayed to Mother Sharika and walked to Ganpatyar for our morning prayers.
For us we did not care about the religion of our neighbor. We shared a common bloodline with our co-religionists in the Valley and we lived by it. So while rumours started in the 90s and people talked in hushed tones about our leaving the Valley, we did not think that was essential. We thought it was a bunch of lies. But then the killings started and the loudspeakers became blaringly louder to the cries of “kashir nimav bhatav bhagar bhatneyov saan” (we will take Kashmir, without the KP men but with the KP women). This time we knew it was over. The 11 families had managed to survive the sword, but we could not have managed in front of the Kalashnikovs. So we packed and moved. The heat and dust of the plains consumed many of us. But it did not matter. Nobody bothered about us. We were not even a minuscule part of the electoral ballot. As was with our ancestors we sought refuge in our pedagogy. We spread across this vast country. So many of us moved across the seven seas, to the US, UK and the rest and started again the process of reconstruction alongwith a tenacious determination to preserve the centuries old traditions.
As things start settling in the Valley, we understand if we are not wanted back. After all we can be a demographic danger to the rest of our brethren in the Valley. It is but obvious human nature to feel insecure. But I want to ask this to you and to everyone out there. What kind of history of Kashmir will be taught at the schools? When books are written about the history of Kashmir, will there be no mention of the Kashmiri Pandits? I am a citizen of India. The constitution of this country makes me feel very secure about my fundamental rights. But that security does not extend to the land of my forefathers. As a KP not born in the Valley I have no legal claim over the place. For that I have to first become a state subject and go through corrupt and red tape state babudom to get such a status. More so, as a KP married outside the community, I have completely negated my right over the land of my ancestors. My marriage is registered under the Hindu Act which was furiously debated and given a modernized outlook by the fathers of the constitution but sadly enough this did not extend to my legal claims over Kashmir.
Israel is lambasted for taking away the land of the Palestinians. What will the current denizens of the Valley answer for? As the head of the state, you need to start asking your people some of these questions. Because if you do not history will question them tomorrow. However, if you think these questions are irrelevant, and we need to again bow our heads and keep silent, please let us know. At least the souls of the ancestors of those 11 families will know their final status in a land which they fought so hard to be a part of.
Contributed By :- Preeti Bakaya