(Ms. Monisa Qadri was born and raised in Srinagar. She has been a Mallinson Girl and studied bio-chemistry at the Women's College, Srinagar. She has studied mass communications and journalism from Kashmir University, and worked for a few years in the Corporate Communications and Public Relations Department of the J&K Bank. She is now a member of the faculty at the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) in Awantipora, teaching journalism and mass communication. She writes as a freelancer.)
Tibetans of Kashmir
Tibetan Colony of Kashmir is still an enigma for most of the Kashmiris. Many people do not know much about them. After converting to Islam, these people migrated to Kashmir from Tibet around 1960, and are since then called as ‘Tibetans’. They settled in Srinagar city in the areas of Hawal, Eid-Gah and Gulshan Mohalla of Makhdoom Sahab, the place now known as the ‘Tibetan Colony’.
Some 120 families are believed to have migrated from Tibet, and at present there are about 270 families settled in these three localities, which make up a population of about a thousand people. Abdul Majeed Dar (55) has faint memories of migration but his elders have told him much about it. He says, “We first settled in Numaishi (Exhibition Grounds) when we came here and then we were shifted to Eidgah and other areas, where a colony was built for us.”
Like majority of Kashmiri at that time, their financial condition was not good and so they had to struggle hard for their living. “We even sold off jewellery and other valuable things. When the civil Secretariat was being constructed, we laboured for it,” he adds.
With typical Mongoloid features, these people have still held onto their culture. Their food comprises of famous Momo, Thukpa, Chowmein and their women wear ‘Shhuba’-a gown and they speak mostly in their mother tongue Tibetan. They relish these symbols of their identity. Every household has varied items of Tibetan origin like utensils, fabrics, carpets or wool.
Tauseef Ahmad Shahkuli, a 24 year old self-employed boy, and his sister-in-law happily showcase these and other things like Ginseng Tea, painkillers and so on. While holding out a bottle of Vapourub, he says, “This is the original product” and as naming a popular Indian brand he adds, “that is simply a copy that is why we use Tibetan items.” When asked about how these things are procured, it was said that they are mostly bought from Tibet, when somebody travels to and fro and also from Tibetan markets of Jammu, Ladakh or Delhi. Strangely, there is no such market in the Valley and that is why Asma, who got married last year, had to get her Shhuba and Paandaeyy (apron) stitched from Delhi as there is no such tailor here. These are a must for every bride.
Almost every house has typical aluminium cookware ‘Moattu’ with two parts, meant specifically for preparing Momos in steam. Big, small and in every size as the need be. Majority of these people are associated with the business of embroidery, hosiery or tourism. Tauseef himself is associated with tourism and has two cabs, while his family runs an embroidery business.
His shop, which is located near his home, displays variety of Tila (Traditional embroidery in Silver and Golden thread) designs done mostly on Pherans (Kashmiri Gown worn during winters). Amidst sounds of sewing machines, he talks about his business and while talking about their speciality, he says, “We don’t do the handwork, as we use machines and that is why Kashmiris refer to this kind of work as ‘Boata Tila.’ There is a good market for this work also as it is reasonable.” Shahkulis’ different ventures provide employment to around 25 people.
Generally, these people are hardworking and honest, which has earned them good reputation among other communities. While entering into the Eidgah Colony, we saw an octogenarian woman busy with knitting and she was there even after we were coming back. ‘Maulaa’ or Granny as she was called by everyone in the colony, seemed little bothered about this unfamiliar face as she went on converting yarn into a sweater along with two other women Zulaikha and Haseena in their forties.
She has been good at almost everything as Tauseef said that she is the Momo specialist and has fed people for decades in her little Momo restaurant. Maulaa, whose real name is Zeenat has been a witness to the migration and she was in the prime of her youth then as she says, “I was 28 then as I came here with my family and that was a difficult time for all of us.” Zulaikha says that due to the communist control on Tibet, it was deemed fit by their elders to return to Kashmir so that they could practice their religion freely. “My grandfather, Habibullah was arrested along with his friends who were religious heads of Muslims there and he died in prison some 15-20 years after we came here. And we too had to experience lot of issues when we came to Kashmir; language was one of the biggest problems,” she explains. By this time, three more people are already there –Ishrat Ganai (23), Wajida (6) and Ghulam Rasool (52). After listening to the point regarding language incompatibility, she quietly whispers about Maulaa’s awkward moment saying, “She would ask for Mohabbat (Love) if she wanted a Mombati (Candle).”
On a serious note, Ghulam Rasool mentions that they were asked by the Indian Government to go to any other place in India, but since they were originally from Kashmir, they chose to come to Kashmir. “It was also because of our religion that we felt we should come here,” he adds. But, there have been so many things that bother this community which includes denial of state subject, little opportunities for higher education besides no access to government jobs here. The latter two are a result of the state subject issue.
State subject is not given to these people, even though they have all the other documents like Electoral Identity card, ration card etc. Article 370 is the reason behind this, but they are basically of Kashmiri origin and their forefathers had migrated to Tibet, the proof of which being why they re-migrated to Kashmir in 1960, in which the Indian government was instrumental. Abida Parveen, a final year student is unsure about her future. “I don’t know how I will be able to get admission for my Post Graduation for the want of a state subject.”
This is the tale of almost every graduate or higher secondary pass-out, who needs to produce state subject at the time of admission, and true with regards to those yearning for a government job as there also the requirement is the same. Seema Qazi, who teaches in the Tibetan Public School, is a graduate and she did not study further because of this and now also she is not looking for any other job.
But, those who are fortunate enough to travel to different cities of India like Delhi, do not face such a problem and every Tibetan colony member who has gone for further studies has studied outside. Dr. Qazi, a young university assistant professor, has studied in New Delhi. He has been studying in a university there from his undergraduate days but not everyone in their community is able to do so.
Poor literacy rate is another major problem. Lack of opportunities in both higher education and employment discourages many, while few seem to be disinterested altogether due to a mixed bag of reasons. For Ishrat, former was the reason for not pursuing studies after completing her 12th, while she says that some of her cousins were never interested in studies and wanted to engage themselves in business ventures.
Nevertheless, there is a great bonding between them and certain Kashmiris who think positively about them. Abdul Rasheed, a local businessman working with some members of the Tibetan community including Tauseef and Majeed, says, “I have been trading with them and they are my very good friends and honestly it is good to deal with them. However, due to generic problems like counterfeiting that exist in Kashmir, at times our business suffers.” Tibetan Kashmiris too feel that they have never felt any social discrimination as Abida points, “There are inter-community marriages as well and we live in a great harmony with everyone.”
(The article is part of Indo Global Social Service Society’s (IGSSS) Media Fellowship Programme under Youth Action for Peace Project. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect views of Indo Global Social Service Society)