Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A firebrand Kashmiri Journalist Stumps for the Return of Natives

Arjimand attends a Kashmiri wedding in a far away city and finds something missing ....

A Wedding in Exile: Kashmiri Pandits now better say good bye to a life by proxy.

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 33, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. Arjimand is currently working as Project Manager for Action Aid International (India) in the Kashmir region and is a member of its International Emergencies and Conflict Team (IECT). His forthcoming books: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?" are scheduled for release in 2008.)

Can any place on this earth replace a home? And would anything we are emotionally and spiritually connected with be as good as its proxy? Perhaps never.

Just around the time Syed Ali Shah Geelani last week made a fervent appeal to migrant Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes in Kashmir, a wedding was happening in exile in a Delhi suburb. It was a wedding at a close family friends’ place who happen to be Kashmiri Pandits. It was a girl’s wedding who has no brother and I, as a close Kashmiri Muslim family friend, was supposed to do all that normally a real brother does. And would the outside world ever be able to understand this unique bonding that Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits have always shared?

Much more than the emotion of playing this role, one was struck by the spiritual and cultural loss that those Kashmiri Pandit families are suffering from who left Kashmir in the 90s and who continue to have a strong spiritual bonding with this land. In spite of the family having done everything possible to make the wedding as close to Kashmiri tradition and culture as possible, yet there were many things amiss. Somehow there was an aura of emptiness. The costly setting of a rented marriage hall, the lovely Kashmiri food put on a buffet and the sweet and sour nothings of a typical Kashmiri wedding were missing something - the feeling of all that happening being painfully artificial. I think every Kashmiri Muslim being there would have felt bad for the loss of culture among Kashmiri Pandits, no matter most of them were doing economically much better than before their migration, were globe trotters today and were continuously raising their educational and economic profile.

I was told by many Pandit friends that nowadays getting 100-odd Pandit guests in Delhi has become very difficult. The traditional Kashmiri priests are in great demand both in Delhi and Jammu. They are very few in number now and maintain appointment diaries. They have sent their children overseas for education and are not interested to take the tradition forward. Sadly, Mahoorat, or the auspicious times to perform sensitive rites, are now flexible to suit their time availability and not the vice versa. Today Pandits are worried that after a few years they might have to finally ask the priests from Hindu temples to perform their religious rites – something they are reluctant to do.

Happily, Kangri is there to change hands among the elderly but there were hardly any youngsters who looked eager to touch it or appreciate the aroma coming out of the burnt herb. It was a wedding where there were hardly any people to chant the traditional Kashmiri songs and mantras which were an integral part of a Pandit wedding. Today singers are replaced by audio cassette players.

The house through which the groom was supposed to take his bride holding her hand was not his home; it was a makeshift shack of a few rooms in the lawns of the marriage hall. The groom breaks the coconut shell and the priest makes him to take oath to stand by his bride through all the highs and lows of life. But it was not a home. It was a proxy home, a symbolic shelter through which the groom took his bride only to come out from the back door and take her to the mandap to perform the pooja.

The site of the pooja does not look like it would normally look if it were a wedding to happen in Kashmir. The idol of Shiva was not the earthen pot (kalash) which was normally used to make him act as the witness. Today’s Shiva idol is made out of a steel jug.

I don’t think many from the generation to which I belong and even the ones younger to us know that Pandits too observe the Mehendi Raat almost in the same manner that we Muslims observe. At this wedding, the Yazman - or the wedding hosts – (to my surprise Pandits also use the same term as Kashmiri Muslims do) had gone an extra step to bring in Kashmiri singers from Jammu to enthral the mehendi raat guests. As the singers started beating the Kashmiri traditional drums (tumbakh narr) and played the Katyu shukha nund baneey music, all the elderly eyes around were moist. While the eager and soul searching elders stood awake the whole night; sadly enough the youngsters were hardly amused. I was told they were expecting dance sequences over latest Hindi film songs.

Amidst all this there has been a slight silver lining. Thanks to Internet, Pandits are today able to remain in touch no matter the distances separating them. Internet is helping them to connect and find suitable matches for their children. But not all are so lucky to find matches within their own communities. Inter-caste and inter-ethnic marriages are widely prevalent today.

The saddest thing is that the younger generation of Pandits which hardly grew up in Kashmir has almost no emotional bonding to this land. They - like numerous other communities of the world – are today part of a global community on the move. There are no moorings. No emotional hang-overs. No nostalgia. No malice. No love. For them Kashmir is a tourist place like for any other non-Kashmiri. They prefer to visit Kashmir on a holiday, stay in a hotel or house boat, move around the Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens and other health resorts. Today they have fashionable digital cameras. They shoot pictures here and go back and make digital albums for the photographs.

Even today one is left with a feeling that few Pandits realise the pain and love that Kashmiri Muslims nurse for them. Sadly, even today a good number of Pandits in the hearts of their hearts feel that common Kashmiri Muslims could have prevented their migration. Far from being true, I think a time has come when past has to be left behind. Accusations often invite counter accusations. While Pandits expected Muslims to do more to prevent their migration, Kashmiri Muslims, all along, expected a few words of empathy and sympathy from Pandits for the repression that they have been going through. If not an active part of the freedom struggle, they expected them not to act at cross purposes for a cause that belongs to Kashmiri Muslims, Pandits and all those communities who live in Kashmir.

But now past has to be left behind. It is true that not all Pandits would come back, mainly due to economic reasons. But then there are many who crave for the land that belongs to them as much as we Muslims. They must heed Mr. Geelani’s call and reject the idea of living in security zones. We don’t want Kashmir to be another Jewish-occupied land of Palestine. Do we?

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