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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Valley Pandits have Unique Funeral Rites, but a Helping Hand From a Neighbour is Always Welcome

Muzaffar Raina discusses how Kashmiri neigbours look after each other even when one is no more, and about a dying profession that is bringing out the best among Kashmiris

Muslim takes care of Kashmir’s dead Hindus

Srinagar, March 24: In a burning ground in the Valley, Hindus have to pass through a Muslim’s caring hands to leave this world.Mohammad Yasin Dar considers it his “religious” duty to ensure that the dead are not defiled—even if it means sitting by a body deep into the night amid hungry, prowling stray dogs.

“It’s a God-ordained mission for me,” says the 56-year-old, sitting under a lofty chinar. Dar is the caretaker of the lone functional Kashmiri Pandit crematorium in the Valley.

Over the past 10 years, Dar has supervised the last rites of dozens of Hindus, sometimes staying by a half-burnt body till it had turned to ash.Dar took up the job in 1998, and it was a conscious decision.

Most Pandit families had left the Valley after militancy broke out in the late eighties and the crematoriums were without a caretaker, or Kawij, as they are locally called.For the 5,000-odd Pandits who chose to stay back, it meant cremations were a hasty affair, done by people with little or no experience.Pyres were lit crudely and stray dogs sometimes devoured the half-burnt bodies. A local Pandit leader took up the job for some time, but it was only after Dar stepped in that the dead started getting a decent send-off.

“It was not a simple decision because I am a Muslim and I didn’t know how others would react. But thank God, things went smoothly,” Dar says, sitting inside the crematorium at Batmaloo.

Dar was a labourer before he took up the job. He gets a monthly salary of Rs 3,000—but money alone doesn’t keep him going. “I ensure that the bodies are not defiled. It is my religious duty to help others in need,” he insists.“I arrange the logs, make a mound of them and, after the bodies are set on fire, I stay here for hours, at times till late into the night, to ensure they are properly burnt. I have a tough time keeping dogs away, particularly in the dead of night.”

Dar also takes credit for renovating a damaged Shiva temple that adjoins the crematorium.“I persuaded the management to do it, and they did it,” he says. Sanjay Tikoo, who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a body that represents Pandits who have not left the Valley, says his folks are “happy” with Dar’s work.

Unlike those outside the Valley, the Pandits here can say they follow all their customs and rituals while cremating their dead. “When a person dies, we put fried fish and pieces of meat in cooked rice and keep half of it beneath the funeral pyre. The other half is left for the birds,” Tikoo says.“We can do it here because the crematorium is under our control. Pandits outside the Valley can’t do it.”

But something worries Dar—the future of his children.Many gravediggers, his counterparts among Muslims, dissuade their children from taking up the job because it could come in the way of finding a good groom or bride.“God knows whether it will prove a hurdle in getting alliances for my children,’’ says Dar, a father of three.

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