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Mainstream, Vol XLIX No 17, April 16, 2011

A Note on What Ails the Kashmiri Pandit Community

Thursday 21 April 2011

by P.N. Sadhu

The following piece is being published as a point of view of the author who himself is a Kashmir Pandit.

It is a privilege for me to write an article on what ails the Kashmiri Pandit community. What prompted me to write this is a request by the Kashmir Samiti, Panchkula.

Although I do not consider myself qualified to comment on this vast and complex subject, still in the following paras I pen down my thoughts and suggestions.

We, of the Kashmiri Pandit community, have suffered and gone through the terrible ordeal of being deprived of our ancestral homes, of our beautiful land where we were born, spent our childhood and wished to retire peacefully in the glorious atmosphere crafted by God. Having said so, we must take comfort from the fact that we are not the only ones to have been subjected to this ordeal. There are many other communities in the world who have suffered such a fate in recent times.
I am personally of the considered opinion that this misfortune could have been and can be built into an unprecedented opportunity leading to prosperity, if and only if we as a community shed our egos and our misconceptions.

We cannot overcome this grief by constantly harping on injustices done to us as a community without introspection on what ails our community and without realising that our predecessors earlier had also perpetuated injustices and things akin to apartheid and that the 21st century has opened up tremendous possibilities to those who can work and prove that there are numerous avenues to prosper.

In a book called The Western Dominance of Asia, author K.M. Panikkar has opined that immigrant communities all over the world have prospered and those communities who suffered, prosper.

I also feel that the Kashmiri Pandits’ exodus from the Valley in 1990 immensely benefited those who looked to the future and did not drown themselves in the sorrows of the past.

Kashmiri Pandits, who in my considered opinion have keen intellect, have not been able to set up an institute of eminence or a business of excellence though I am convinced that we have all the capabilities to set up such enterprises.

Having said so, I request the Kashmiri community to analyse why we, Kashmiri Pandits, are not great achievers. We are achievers to the extent that we work as good rather excellent babus/employees of private enterprises /small shopkeepers etc.

I request the present generation of Kashmiri Pandits to delve a little bit into the past—not so recent past but the past of mid-19th century and early 20th century when we had laid the foundation of some great enterprises listed below, which were destroyed by ourselves for reasons explained elsewhere in this note.
1. The first Silk factory in the world was set up by a Kashmiri Pandit family called Shairs.

2. The first banking on scientific basis was set up by the Kauls of Ali Kadal.

3. The first group of fashion shops of inter-national standard was set up by Kashmiri Pandits in Srinagar (Kashmir) with branches in Karachi, the then commercial capital of India.

4. The first news agency in Kashmir was set up by Kashmiri Pandits.

5. In paramedical trade, both in wholesale and retail, Kashmiri Pandits were the pioneers.

6. The first Houseboat in the Dal Lake was conceived and built by a Kashmiri Pandit.

7. The first set of organised apple orchards and seed farms were set up by Kashmiri Pandits.

8. Kashmiri Pandits were pioneers in the export of Kashmiri carpets and handicrafts.

9. The examples of the Kashmiri Pandits’ great enterprise from the late 19th century to mid-20th century are manifold.

I still recollect numerous shops of excellence belonging to Kashmiri Pandits on the Bund/ Residency Road of Srinagar (Kashmir).

The above entrepreneurship was embarked upon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the rest of India was still backward and when many of the present-day flourishing enterprises had not even started.

It is quite sad to note that all the above enterprises of excellence founded by our entrepreneurs were completely destroyed by the second generation of these pioneers for reasons which I personally attribute to the Kashmiris’ “ahm”, non-acceptance of someone superior because of petty intrigues/jealousy due to the immense conflicts within families, within brothers, within sisters, within the community as a whole, and this short-lived prosperity was made to die prematurely by the own actions of Kashmiri Pandits for which they cannot blame anyone but themselves.

It is interesting to recall that in the 19th century those Kashmiri Pandits, who set up small enterprises in wholesale and retail trade, were ex-communicated from the mainstream of the Kashmiri community and called ‘Buhurs’. Their married womenfolk were ordained not to wear a longi on pheran to distinguish them from the main community.

Thus ‘Buhurs’ the trading community of Kashmiri Pandits could not marry the so-called well-to-do Kashmiri Pandits who had mastered the three Rs or were employed with government departments as babus. In general traders or those who showed any entrepreneurial skills were treated as being very low socially and many of them could not get married and perforce they had to bring brides from Kishtwar, Baderwah etc.

Even those who performed pujas/havans were called ‘Gaurs’ and they had to marry within the sub-caste of ‘Gaurs’. Among those ‘Gaurs’, some families flourished in education, medicine and as government servants but were treated as untouchables socially. In short, ‘Buhurs’ and ‘Gaurs’ were outcasts of the mainstream Kashmiri Pandit community.

My personal reading makes me believe that we as a community are not adapters and our “ahm” (pride) comes genetically to every Kashmiri Pandit. They would never accept the comments of wise people and that is why the brilliant entrepreneurship of the 19th and 20th centuries ended with numerous court cases, conflicts etc.

We as a community do not have the grace to accept something good done by others.

An example: after independence the then government headed by late Sheikh Abdullah planned to distribute land and the absentee landlords were deprived of their Jagirs.

This brilliant legislation and act of Sheikh Abdullah, the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in having fulfilled a long cherished dream of independent India to have land reforms was criticised by our community as Jagirs based on ‘absentee landlordism’ were mainly owned by the Kashmiri Pandit community and there were few Jagirs based on ‘absentee landlordism’ of Kashmiri Muslims. This brilliant legislation of late Sheikh Abdullah, which deserved to be acclaimed by all Kashmiris was criticised by the Kashmiri Pandits in general, though this legislation has been greeted by none other then the Supreme Court of India as brilliant.

WE blame the majority community in Kashmir but we do not recollect the fact that for many centuries Kashmiri Pandits practised apartheid with the majority community to such an extent that even a servant normally hired by Kashmiri Pandits for all his life, was not treated equally, not allowed in kitchen, would be given food separately and his utensils etc. for eating would never be allowed in the kitchen.

Another example I wish to give is of South India. In the early 20th century and after indepen-dence South Indian Brahmins, who were ruling South India intellectually and in government departments by holding high posts, were deprived of these exalted positions in a very rough manner by the mass movement of backward classes in the early thirties and forties and vigorously after independence. Removal of Brahmins from the exalted and secure high positions was a major event. We as Indians have to be proud that South Indian Brahmins accepted the fact of life and diversified themselves into education of high standards, science and even industry. Out of these endeavours of the South Indian Brahmins were born Infosys/Narayanmurthy etc.

TVS, a very big organisation founded by an Iyenger Brahmin, ran initially a transport business carrying passengers from one place to another in Tamil Nadu and other parts of South India. Believe me, people were setting their clocks with the time when these buses would arrive because they would arrive most punctually.
Take the example of the vibrant Sikh community, they are spread all over the world and the main reason for Sikhs becoming a vibrant community is as follows:

They do not hesitate to do any type of work. In the initial stages of immigration to the United Kingdom people from Punjab, mainly Sikhs, did not hesitate to do even menial jobs at airports and other places. These very people in the UK today belong to the upper middle class doing flourishing businesses, running restaurants and happen to be well off. I think there are a few people who are still doing those menial jobs. Out of this migrant community we see the emergence of some of the well-known Indian origin indus-trialists—Swaraj Paul, Curry King Noon and others.

I cite another example of a Gurudwara in Greater Kailash–II (an upbeat colony of Delhi): Sikhs occupy nearly two acres of land in this prestigious colony. I would request Kashmiri Pandits, young boys and girls, to see how they maintain this Gurudwara. Even millionaire Sikhs come in their BMWs and other luxury cars to keep this Gurudwara clean.

If such land would have been given to the Kashmiri Pandits kindly think whether they could have built a temple, whether our young men and women among the Kashmir Pandits would come and clean the temple with their hands like Sikhs. The answer is big ‘No’.

A precious piece of land lies unutilised in East Delhi since the last 30 years. Even at Pamposh Enclave, New Delhi, a lot of land remains under /unutilised since the last 50 years because there is no unanimity among ourselves.

Churchill said once that nobody is complete unless he takes history lessons and he also said: “I lost my education when I went to school.”

I only want to tell of the Kashmiri Pandits that history repeats itself sometimes sympathetically and sometimes brutally.

Unless we update with historical facts we cannot take the right decisions.

In conclusion I say the following to all my Kashmiri brothers:

1. Let us learn from the past history of Kashmiri Pandits who have lost a lot by having “ahm”, a disease of genetics, and work in an intellectual manner.

2. Let us take the example of the Jewish community who have created a niche for them-selves not because they were more intelligent than the others but by their intellectual and sincere efforts.

3. I sincerely believe that Kashmiri Pandits as a whole are sincere, educated, forward looking, right thinking persons and we can become a vibrant community in the world and can build organisations of such magnitude as the Ambanis did but if and only if we learn from our past mistakes.

We should refrain blaming the Abdullahs/ Pakistan/Nehru for the so-called historical blunder to have taken the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations/Farooqs/Geelanis/Govern-ment of India but ourselves for not trying to get our acts together.

We do not want Panun Kashmir in the moffasil towns of the Kashmir Valley but we want Panun Kashmir everywhere in New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Pune etc. and in all other big cities of the world New York, London, Los Angles, Frankfurt, Paris etc.

We want Panun Kashmir by practising our intellectual brilliance and, believe me, we are capable in making our community great, if we work patiently and with great planning as the Britishers did in holding an empire for 250 years not just by force but by consent and planning. Let all Indians know that India was never occupied by force by the Britishers and the moment Indians decided that Britishers have to quit, they quit. Within five years of Mahatma Gandhi raising the slogan ‘Quit India’ in 1942 the Britishers left India.

The other great communities Germans/ Italians/Russians etc. could not achieve what Britishers did because they fought among themselves, and had super egos like the Kashmiri Pandits and did not have patience.

I have nothing more to add but we have to remember that God has endowed us with wisdom, with intellect, with desire to learn, self- educate ourselves but we have to work unitedly and without ‘ahm’.

In the end I would request the Kashmiri community to shed the idea of injustice meted out to us and instead try to become international citizens. Introspect what ails the community and how it would become a vibrant community of the world as God has gifted us with such intelligence, education, etc.

Our time has arrived to achieve greatness provided we cleanse our mind of ‘ahm’ (self-pride), pettiness/impatience to appreciate other viewpoints/self-delusions in thinking that we are always right/inability to work as a team.

Jai Hind.

The author is the Managing Director, Pamposh Constructions India Private Limited, New Delhi.

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