(Mr. Brij Nath Watal "Betab", 55, was born in Akingam, Anantnag district. He attended the Government High School in Achabal, and completed his pre-professional studies at the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He received a Master's degree in Political Science from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. He is presently employed as a broadcaster/journalist by the All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi. Mr. Betabhas published three poetry collections, and received a National Award for poetry. He has traveled to Central Asia, and attended many national and international seminars. He is a regular contributor to half a dozen magazines, and is the honorary editor of the Hindi edition of the "Koshur Samachar." Mr. Betab is a member of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) subcommitte on Kashmiri language. He isassociated with various Sahitya Academy projects, and served as its jury. In leisure time, he enjoys writing and reading poetry, oriental studies and Shaivism.)
Kashmiri Pandits and the Minority Status.
I begin by paying my salutations to Goswami Tulsi Das, who says, there is innumerable sorrow and pain in this world, but the most severe is inflicted if a community is humiliated.
Unfortunately this has happened to the community of Kashmiri Pandits, who are forced to live a miserable life, after becoming refugees in their own country.
I shall not touch upon the reasons for the miserable condition of this community, as much is known to the countrymen and the government, and much has been discussed and handled during the last 21 years.
However, before I present my arguments in favour of granting the Minority status to Kashmiri Pandits, I want to give a brief account of the community, its historical background .
According to the 6th century Nilmat Purana, the land of Kashmir was occupied by a vast lake called "Satisara". Modern geological observations have supported this legendary view. On the basis of this fact, the word "Kashmir" is derived from Sanskrit "Kashyapa + Mira" which means the sea lake or the mountain of sage Kashyapa. Kashyapa was the originator of Kashmir.
Kashmiri Pandits are the progeny of this Rishi Kashyapa. Hence the original residents of Kashyapmar, the modern day Kashmir.
These Kashmiri Pandits have a recorded history of more than 5000 years, the only of its kind in India. The History starts from the coronation of a queen, Yeshomati by the Lord Krishna himself.
For the history, as well as for the early geography of the valley, the 5000 year account, given by Kalhana's in his chronicle Rajatarangini is a very important document. In the first Taranga of his work, he gives us an account of the people and the kings of this land.
For geography of this land, like holy Ganga in Indian plains, Kashmir is bestowed with Vitasta that finds a mention in the “Nadi Sukta of Rig Veda. Among the epics, we find the name of "Kashmir" in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both.
This is a brief mention of the background of this land and the community of Kashmiri Pandits.
This community, as we all know, has been living in different parts of the country during the last 21 years, due to the ongoing militancy particularly in the valley of Kashmir.
Having left behind homes and hearths, the community today faces extinction because of the most un-favorable and inhospitable conditions of their living that are an impediment for any religious, linguistic and ethnic group to flourish.
It is the context of this threat of extinction, that the community faces for the last 22 years, that the Kashmiri Pandit community has been demanding a minority status, that will ensure its survival as a distinct ethnic, linguistic and religious group, as enshrined in different Articles of the constitution of India, like the Article 29, that protects the interests of minorities. The Article says that ‘Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same’.
Likewise Article 30(1) says that ‘All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.’
The Constitution of India uses the word ‘minority’ or its plural form in some Articles – 29 to 30 and 350A to 350B. But does not define it anywhere. Article 29 has the word
“Minorities” in its marginal heading but speaks of “any sections of citizens… having a distinct language, script or culture”.
This may be a whole community generally seen as a
Minority or a group within a majority community. Article 30
Speaks specifically of two categories of minorities – religious and linguistic. The remaining two Articles – 350A and 350B – relate to linguistic minorities only.
In common parlance, the expression “minority” means A group comprising less than half of the population and differing from others, especially the predominant section, in race, religion, traditions and culture, language, etc.
The Minority Rights provided in the Constitution which fall in the category of ‘Separate Domain’ are as under:-
i. right of ‘any section of the citizens’ to ‘conserve’ its ‘distinct language, script or culture’; [Article 29(1)]
ii. restriction on denial of admission to any citizen, to any educational institution maintained or aided by the State, ‘on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them’; [Article 29(2)]
iii. right of all Religious and Linguistic Minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice;[Article 30(1)]
iv. freedom of Minority-managed educational institutions from discrimination in the matter of receiving aid from the State;[Article30(2)]
v. special provision relating to the language spoken by a section of the population of any State;[Article 347]
vi. provision for facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage;[Article 350 A]
vii. provision for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities and his duties; and [Article 350 B]
viii. Sikh community’s right of ‘wearing and carrying of kirpans; [Explanation 1 below Article 25]
We know that the UN declaration of 18th December 1992 is the basis of the formation and enactment for the formation of our National Minority Commission. In order to strengthen the cause of the minorities, the United Nations promulgated the “Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” on 18th December 1992 .
In India also the National Minorities Commission Act, act no 19 was passed in the 43rd year of republic, in the year 1992. (The National Commission for Minorities was created 1978, and in 1992, it was made a statutory body)
The Act however is not applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, due to constitutional obligations.
Now the question is how do we achieve this.
Constituting a State Minorities Commission is up to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and its legislature that must enact a law and institute a State Minority Commission on the pattern of other state’s Minority Commissions.
Once the commission is in place the rest of the things will follow.
The question is what these constitutional guarantees will ensure. My opinion is that these constitutional safeguards will ensure that the Kashmiri Pandits will have the constitutional guarantee that they can live in their original abode, Kashmir. Once a state minority Commission is in place, it will ensure that their places of worship is not encroached upon in the name of ‘public utility services’.
Today the dilemma with Kashmiri Pandits is that in the state of their origin, Jammu and Kashmir, they are not part of the Majority and in the country, they are not part of the Minority.
The Minority status would ensure that this distinct race of a distinct genealogical order will be able to continue the race. The constitution will ensure that their, language which is distinct and varied from the majority language in the valley, will survive, with its distinct tone, tenor, form syntax and script, that is not the one used by the majority community.
The community would be able to pursue its tradition of deep research in religious and philosophical spheres, as has been the tradition of Kashmiri Pandits, whose contribution to Indian polity since ages is immense. From Kumar Jiva to Kumar Krishna and from Kalhana to Abhinavagupta, this community has contributed from Buddhism to aesthetics and from History to modern day science. The community under the Minority status, will be able to preserve its Art forms, Cultural moorings, linguistic base, and shall continue to hold their tradition and preserve, conserve, propagate, and adhere to their unique traditions of day to day life, as there would not be a threat of Persecution and annihilation.
The present position is that the state and the centre governments are in knowS of the matter.
The matter was put before them by the All India kashmiri Samaj,AIKS, and an NGO, formed in 1996 by one prof.Gopi kishen Muju, named ‘Kashmiri Hindu Minority Conference’, in Jammu with a view to fight for the minority status for the Kashmiri Pandits.
According to Sh. Muju his organization, on December 18 , 1998 submitted a memorandum to the then state Chief Minister (DR. Farooq Abdullah), with copies to the Union Home Minister (Shri L.K.Advani) and Chairman National Commission for Minorities (Dr. Tahir Mehmood at that time) However there was no response from the state and Central Governments
But the Chairman of the National Minorities commission, responded immediately and sent an official reference from the Commission", stating that "our Hindu brethren are a minority in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and in other five States".
The National Commission for Minorities unanimously endorses each of the seven demands made by the "Kashmiri Hindu Minority Conference"
The Seven demands are:
1. Amendments in the State Constitution to the effect that the regional minorities in the State, without prejudice to any sections and groups which have formally been declared/categorised as SC/ST/OBC etc., be recognised and declared as minorities under the State Constitution and given Minority Status.
2 The State Government should take proper steps, Constitutional and judicial, to provide the extension of the jurisdiction of the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 to J&K State
3.The State Government Constitutes anrepresentatives to prepare a blue print for presentation to the State Legislature in regard to grant of Minority Status to the regional Minority groups in the State.
4.The privileges and facilities which would accrue to the minorities in the State after the recognition of their minority status be clearly stated in the Constitution of the State when a Bill for amendments is introduced.
5. The minority groups should be given their adequate representation in all the three organs of the State viz. executive, legislature and judiciary
6.The amended constitution should also provide an effective mechanism of redressing the grievances of the minorities without prejudice to the interests of the larger sections of the society.
7. while amending the State Constitution it should be made obligatory on all formally recognised political parties to have a Minority Cell each in order to work for the welfare and betterment of the thus declared minorities.
After the NCM’s directives’ The state Chief Minister in 2006, Sri G.N.Azad declared in the state Assembly that ‘the Government would set up a State Minority Commission’. Seizing the Opportunity the KHMC with the help of some legal experts prepared a draft bill at par with the National Commission for Minorities Act and submitted the same to the State Government. Since then however nothing is heard.
After some time, the Kashmiri Hindu Minority Conference’ involved with its struggle other minorities of the State also including, the Buddhists, the Sikhs, and the Christians from Jammu region and an organisation called J&K MINORITIES RIGHTS FORUM was formed. On Dec. 18, 2010 the J&K M.R.F.organised a seminar in Jammu to garner support that was luckily forthcoming in abundance. on the "Political, Legal And Social Status of the Minorities of the J&K State" The demands made earlier by the KHMC were reiterated with some minor changes here and there.
As for AIKS,the Delhi based organization of Kashmiri Pndits, approached the NCM, chief with the request and the commission in principal agreed to the demand. AIkS general secretary Dr. Ramesh Raina informs me that they are in possession of a letter from Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, the Chairman of NCM, wherein he favours the grant of minority status to Kashmiri Pandits.
Advisory Committee comprising representatives of minority groups, legal experts and Government At a programme ‘ Meet your bright stars,’ organised by Kashmiri Pandit United Forum, Mr. Vajat Habibullah participated as the chief Guest and in his speech, he re-affirmed his support, says Mr. Raina.
Again, the a delegation of AIKS in 2008 had a meeting with the Minority affairs minister, government of India, Sh. A.R.Antuley. Sh Antuley showed his keenness and sent reports to the Prime Minister and the congress President.
The case seems to be under consideration.
The conclusion could best be summed up in the words of Mr. Ajay Bharti, who is a social activist of the Kashmiri Pandit community. He says and I quote, ‘Affirmative action or constitutional and legal mechanism to protect rights of minority is essentially an attempt to remedy the effects of past biases. In a democratic set up where majority rule prevails, minority community like ours has to suffer by default.
We have this history of suffering during past six decades. In a systematic manner we have been excluded from all forms of governance institutions. We elected four members to constituent Assembly of J&K in 1952 now we are not in a position to elect a single member to state legislature.
In executive our number is negligible. Hence our role in policy and planning is not adequate.
It is to fight this exclusion from the so called secular governance module that state needs to take some affirmative action. Declaring us a minority and extending all those benefits which are available to minorities in entire nation would only be a logical step’.
(With inputs from Government of India and NCM websites)