It was the cold and terrifying night of 19 January 1990 when the life of valley-based Kashmiri Pandits (KP) turned into one of the worst nightmares. The winter months witnessed gruesome happenings, the likes of which had not been seen by the community since the Afghan rule. Targeted killings of KPs and rapes of their sisters and daughters coupled with the valley reverberating with slogans of ‘death to India’ and ‘death to kafirs’ and promise of ‘Nizam-i Mustafa’- relayed through loudspeakers -all aimed at letting the community know that they were in the line of fire.
Local newspapers and mosques issued declarations giving KPs three options -“Ralive, Tsalivya, Galive” (Convert to Islam, leave Kashmir or get killed. It was certainly not an advertising tagline to attract tourists but a direct message to Pandits to leave.
Result: the peace loving Pandits were left with no choice but to migrate to alien lands. Incidentally, Jagmohan who was sworn in Governor on 19 January, 1990 was recalled after just four months in office on 26 May 1990 – yet the exodus of Pandits continued into the entire decade of 1990s and beyond. Who will tell the militants and their handlers and supporters that “no one leaves a home unless home is the mouth of a shark?”
Unfortunately, few authors have done justice to effectively articulate their plight as migrants and the trauma accompanying the loss of one’s homeland. A large number of writers, political commentators and journalists have either distorted or misrepresented this sad chapter in Kashmir’s history. That the forced migration involves the loss of the familiar, including language (especially colloquial and dialect), attitudes, values, social structures and support networks causing a grief reaction has sadly received scant acknowledgement and analysis.
To separate fact from fiction, truth from falsehood is what Dr.Chander Kanta Gariyali has attempted in her latest book ‘Kashmir, The Land of Kashyapa :The Saga of the Kashmiri Pundits.’
Although she has never lived in Kashmir – the family migrated to Delhi in 1948- she has been deeply attached with the rich Kashmiri Pandit culture and customs. Soon after graduation from Delhi University, she qualified for IAS in 1972 and was allotted Tamil Nadu cadre. As a civil servant she has made significant contributions in the areas of population limitation and poverty reduction in India through women’s participation. She also served as Principal Secretary to the late Chief Minister J .Jayalalitha.
She is a devotee of Swami Lakshman Joo and is fluent in Kashmiri language. She grew up in Old Delhi – in close vicinity landmark religious places: Mandir, Gurudwara , Mosque and a Jain temple.’We lived beyond the norms of social class, caste or race and respected what others did for their spiritual advancement…. What was it which made us so liberal? Made us so inclusive? For years I sought an answer to this question. Then I realized what was responsible for it was the Kashmiri Pandit way of life. It was a unique path, based on the largely forgotten tenets of Kashmir Shaivism; which had yet remained in our cultural memory. This realization has urged me to write this book on the Kashmiri Pundit way of life, history, culture and philosophy.’
Under the chapter ‘Resurgence of Atrocities: Displacement & After’, the author provides graphic account of the various ugly that disturbed the peace in the valley. She pays great tributes to three heroes of 1947 war who saved Srinagar from falling into the hands of Pakistan : Brigadier Rajinder Singh who sacrificed his life at Buniyar in Uri , 18 year old Maqbool Sherwani who single-handedly frustrated the forward march of militia raiders and Biju Patnaik who piloted the first plane that landed in Srinagar on 27th October carrying Indian forces.
She blames the political vacuüm for exacerbating the conditions prevailing on the fateful nights of January 18 & 19:”There was complete political vacuüm in the state. The Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had resigned. The Chief Secretary was proceeding on leave. The new Governor Jagmohan was just appointed and had only reached as far as Jammu, the winter capital on January 19. The prime Minister V.P.Singh and Home Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed took no measure to protect the Pundits who were at the mercy of gun totting militants, and were contacting every single person in authority for help on those fateful nights but no one cared. In a free secular India, the Government of India failed miserably.”
The noted corporate executive turned education administrator, Raj Nehru who is currently Vice Chancellor of Shri Vishwakarm Skill University of Haryana, has written an excellent foreword ” … While the book celebrates the intellect, the unique way of life and achievements of Kashmiri Pundits, it also reflects their sufferings from the 14th century onwards. Referring to the tragic exodus of 1990, Raj Nehru writes “ever since they have drifted away like broken Chinar leaves, the sacred River Vitasta has been wailing in anguish as no one to offer it worship. The Land of Kashyapa is under a curse, not only for Pundits but for everyone, all the native sons and daughters living there, working there, trying to survive there, are in a state of distress and suffering.”
In his introduction, P.N.Vasudevan, Managing Director, Equitas Small Bank, Chennai, highlights the contribution of the bank in offering assistance to needy Pandit families and students. “At her (CKG) behest Equitas visited the Jagti displaced persons camp in Kashmir and met groups of men, women and youth and guided them towards skill training and employment. Equitas organised a Job Fair in February 2019 along with Helpline Humanity, a Jammu-based NGO, Rotary International and CII…” C. K.Gariyali has herself been actively working with the Kashmiri migrant families in refugee camps around Jammu.
The author has taken great pains in capturing all aspects of our ancient history, culture, customs and socio-political events and the displacement. From Gotras and surnames to Marriage rituals; from festivals to saints of Kashmir, from sacred shrines to displacement … one finds mention of all this in the book spanning 300 pages. Published by the reputed Shubhi Publication, Gurugram, the book also has a Kindle version. It resembles a mini encyclopedia – thus ruling out a bald summary. Rich archival photographs illuminate the narrative.
What distinguishes this book are highly informative annexure written by leading experts: Kashmir Shaivism by S.S.Toshkhani, Lone family Liderwan by Opinder Ambardar, Eyewitness Account of KabailiHamal by Triloki Nath Bhan, Destruction of Hindu temples by Peerzada Ashiq etc… She is also generous in acknowledging the support that she received from community activist Sheela Kaul Handoo.
She takes pains to define the philosophy underling Kashmir Shaivism to outsiders. It is a non-dual form of Shaivism . It is unique as it conceives of ‘ultimate reality’ as one pure and undivided consciousness vibrating in everything in the universe from Brahma to a blade of grass.
The text is fairly easy on the eye and the mind. Her aim is not so much to have the better of the other as to get to know herself a little more intimately. This is how every interaction becomes a voyage of self-discovery for her.
One can’t miss the note of personal anguish in the book. What Garyali gives is, in fact, not just an account of series of targeted killings and rapes. It is as much a story of her own despair and helplessness in being a KP. If what she states rings true, it is precisely because being a proud KP she empathises with all her brothers and sisters. That is why the picture which emerges from a multitude of details in her book is far more convincing that those that rely only on third sources. It is not for the author to close all the yawning gaps in the history of the period she writes about.
She believes that ‘Land of Kashyapa’ is under curse, not only for Pundits but for all the native sons and daughters living there. For Kashmir to regain it past glory, she hopes for the return of the KPs and dreams of a day when the valley will again vibrate with the prayers to Kashmiri Devi, the presiding deity of the land and when the River Vitasta is worshipped again.
It may be comforting to persuade ourselves to go back to the roots but we cannot wish away the forces beyond our control which have been busy pulling out these roots for a long time. Let us remember that the ideological obsessions of ‘international migraine’ Pakistan- securing Kashmir, balancing India and dominating Afghanistan – remain unchanged.
That explains why the ‘community in exile’ continues to oscillate between hope and despair. And that explains the agonizingly painful living!
(The author is a noted management & media professional)