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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 41, New Delhi, September 28, 2019

Kashmir in Focus

Saturday 28 September 2019, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

In 1967, that is, fiftytwo years ago, N.C. visited the Kashmir Valley for a few days and held detailed discussions with a wide cross-section of opinion-makers and political personalities of all shades there. On his return he wrote a series of pieces on Kashmir in Mainstream. The following is the first instalment of the series ‘Special Report on Kashmir’ and was published in this journal’s September 30, 1967 issue. It is being reproduced now that Kashmir is in the news once again.

Autumn has set in the beautiful valley of Kashmir—the autumn of mellow fruitfulness. And in the breath-taking beauty of this rich land, one comes across today the spectacle of simmering tensions between brother and brother, tensions which were never in the past allowed to vitiate relations among Kashmiris of different communities.

The people of this picturesque valley have passed through many an ordeal—two invasions in two decades and the convulsions following the deposition of one of their leaders. But none of teses—not even the shock of the temporary loss of the Muslim Holy Relic three years ago—could weaken the bonds of communal harmony in Kashmir Valley that has been a precious asset for the whole of India. But today when one hears talks of communalism crossing the Banihal, it may be worth recording some of the impressions gathered during a brief visit to this enchanting valley in distress.

What really is the crux of the Pandit agitation in Kashmir? The elopment of an allegedly minor Pandit girl with her Muslim office boss would by normal standards have been an issue of local excitement: there is no doubt of bungling by the police in handling the case, which was all the more thoughtless since there was the danger of the episode getting communal overtones—a danger which was least expected to be missed by the Kashmir administration with its record of vigilant anti-communalism for two long decades.

In fact, inter-communal marriages have throughout been more frequent in Kashmir than in any other part of India: cases of Pandit girls marrying Muslims, or Muslim girls marrying Hindus and Sikhs have been numerous, quite a few having taken place in recent months.

The reason why there was so much stir over this particular case of Parameshwari Handoo was that it was linked up with the dwindling economic status of the Pandit community. In their very first press conference, the Hindu Action Committee made it clear that their programme of struggle had been taken up “for restoring the rights that are being denied to them as citizens of free India” as “they have been undergoing continuous and unabated process of denial in all walks of life”. In their representation to Sri Chavan also they complained about their “disabilities and difficulties“ as a community.

From the more statement of this position one would possibly get the impression that the Kashmiri Pandit is being treated today as a second-class citizen in his own homeland. But a dispassionate study of the reality would show that this is far from the truth. Numbering roughly about sixty thousand, they constitute less than two per cent of the total population of the State. As against this, they still hold as many as 638 out of 2252 Gazetted posts in the State, thereby cornering more than 27 per cent of the higher-income government jobs. The total number of non-Gazetted posts in the State is 44,529. Out of this, as many as 7136, or 18.25 per cent are held by the Kashmiri Hindus. (Incidentally, this shows that the Kashmiri Pandit as a relatively affluent community tends more towards the higher-income jobs.)

Perhaps no community in India is so favoured—not even the majority community in most of the States—with a population strength of less than two per cent it has been permitted to retain as many as 27 per cent of higher-income jobs and 18 per cent of the lower-income jobs under the government.

This weightage in favour of the Pandit is more sharply brought out when one looks at the corresponding figures for the Muslim community. The Muslims constitute 68 per cent of the population of the State, but they hold only 42 per cent of the Gazetted posts and a little over 47 per cent of the non-Gazetted posts.

The charge of discrimination, if levelled against the Sadiq Government, becomes patently untenable when one looks at the figures of recent government appointments. Of the 136 Gazetted appointments made since March 1966, the Muslims number only 45 while the non-Muslims (including Sikhs) were selected for as many as 91 posts, of which the Pandits bagged 47. Obviously, the badge of the community has not been the major consideration in the making of these appointments.

In the matter of educational facilities, one hears of the difficulty of the Pandit students getting admission into the Medical and Engineering Colleges. As for medical education, 104 went to Muslims in 1966, and 131 to non-Muslims. In the Regional Engineering College in Srinagar, the figures of admission in 1966 are interesting: Muslims 77, non-Muslims 127 (out of whom 60 are Kashmiri Pandit boys).

In the higher echelons of the bureaucracy, the non-Muslims in Kashmir have an honoured place: the Chief Secretary, the Financial Commissioner, the DIG of Police, the Trade Agents are non-Muslims. Of the three High Court judges, only one is a Muslim.

In terms of government employment, there-fore, if any community in Kashmir can have a grievance, one should think it is certainly not the Pandits. But the background to the undoubted sense of frustration which prevails among Pandits has a history behind it. Under the Maharaja rule before independence, the Pandits monopolised all the government jobs and the Muslims definitely were the have-nots, despite their being the majority community. As early as 1928, the then Prime Minister of the State, Sir Albion Bannerji, had compared the state of Muslims in Kashmir to a flock of sheep. One of the major causes of the uprising against the Maharaja rule in 1931 was the grinding economic impoverishment of the Muslim masses; this led to the appointment of the Glancy Commission which suggested measures for adequate representation of Muslims in government services as also the spread of educational facilities. But the feudal autocracy of the Maharaja hardly made any efforts to improve conditions. In 1939 Sir Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, who was then the Maharaja’s Prime Minister, added to the civil service recruitment rules of the State that in making appointments the government would take into account the comparative representation of different communities in the State. This also did not improve matters and the last of the efforts in the direction were indicated by the Jha Commission which highlighted the inadequacy of Muslims in the matter of government appointments and facilities for education.

After independence, the successive governments in the State have paid more attention to spreading education among all sections of the community rather than forcing an artificial percentage ratio in the matter of government appointments; this in fact is the contrast between the Kashmir Government and the Muslim League Ministers of pre-independence days, particularly in Bengal and Punjab. With the spread of education, naturally the majority community has also thrown up a number of educated men eligible on grounds of merit for services; and so the monopoly held by the Pandit community has been undermined in a natural process. As a senior Kashmir leader put it to me with a total sense of unbias, the cake has remained constant while the clamour for shares have gone up, with the result that one who was having almost the whole cake for a long time has been finding that he has to share it with others equally entitled to it. It is in this way that the problem of educated unemploy-ment, which has been growing all over the country, has got into a distorted focus in the mind of the Pandit community which looks at it with alarm as a serious inroad into their past privileged preserve.

In this connection it may be worthwhile noting the peculiar characteristics of the Pandit community. It is a closed tribe of highly cultured and widely educated men and women, who more than the Bengali bhadralok have kept themselves confined mainly to jobs instead of branching out to commerce and industry; nor one finds them engaged in agriculture, or the poorest section going in for factory work. Obviously the fate of such a community in the new economic set-up would be very trying: out of their closed-wall frustration any small incident could spark off an angry outburst.

One cannot say that the Kashmir Government is completely oblivious to this state of affairs. This is clear from the fact that right from the beginning Sri Sadiq has refused to turn a deaf ear to the problem. Even before Sri Chavan went to Srinagar, the Kashmir Chief Minister in a statement before the Assembly on August 31 said: “We live in a democratic age and have the proud privilege of being the citizens of the great Republic of India, and any differences or grievances which any section of the people may feel, can be discussed and thrashed out in a proper manner......I, on my part, assure them of all the consideration in examining their grievances.” In the official statement at the end of his visit, Sri Chavan mentioned: “The Chief Minister had already announced a decision to constitute a Committee which should examine all these and related matters (referring to the disabilities and difficulties of the Pandit community). Soon after a memorandum on this subject is made available to the Chief Minister by the Action Committee, the State Government would set up such a committee as would command universal confidence.” Uptil this day, the memorandum from the Action Committee has not reached the Kashmir Government.

It is not that the sober sections of the Pandits did not realise that in the solution of their problems a large-scale agitation involving communal tensions would not help in the least. The terms of settlement of the agitation announced by Sri Chavan on September 3 were offered more than once by Sri Sadiq and his colleagues to the Hindu Action Committee right from the beginning of the agitation. Why then did the leadership of the Pandit agitation take to the path of direct action?

It is in this context that the Jana Sangh’s role assumes significance. More precisely, the RSS elements are reported to have provided the aggressive communal pep to the entire agitation. The Hindu Action Committee as such has been trying to say that it has no specific political affiliation, but there is known to be a strong Jana Sangh faction in it; the President of the Committee, Sri P.N. Ghasi (incidentally, a Bakshi associate), is believed to be leading this faction.

There are also reports about the mysterious doings of a seemingly social organisation, Anand Marg, which, according to responsible Bihar sources, had taken a prominent part in the communal happenings at Ranchi.

Against this background, Sri Balraj Madhok appeared. Sri Madhok officially came as a member of a parliamentary delegation, but as a sideline, he intervened in the Pandit agitation. When he met the Chief Minister, he gave the impression of being anxious to help in calming down the excitement, but the impact of his address at the public meeting had just the opposite effect. He exhorted the Pandits not to consider themselves as a minority, but to realise that the entire Hindu India would back them; and naturally enough, he warned the Muslims that the Jana Sangh was the emerging authority in the national scene: it all had the smacking of a retaliatory mind.

This provocation had its inevitable impact. Two days later, on August 24, a lakh-strong Muslim procession was out on the streets denouncing Sri Madhok’s speech. Obviously the pro-Pak elements took advantage of the situation—since Sri Madhok almost proved their thesis about the incompatibility of co-existence between the Hindus and the Muslims—but the Congress leaders claimed that by joining in this demonstration, they could prevent it from taking a violent communal turn: it was confined to angry gesticulations against Sri Madhok.

Next day, the Hindu Action Committee retaliated by bringing out another procession: tensions bean to mount and the zero hour was fast approaching. The government clamped down the curfew. But one can hardly say that the government acted with the ncessary firmness: for instance, seven thousand curfew passes were issued, and the next day, the authorities, in such an atmosphere surcharged with communal tension, were complacent in permitting a full-scale procession with the body of one of the Hindu demonstration who hd died in hospital as a result of police lathi charge. This procession became violent and there were clashes with rival groups; the result was arson on some of the shops and premises, in which both communities suffered. This was the only fatal case involving the Hindu community: against this, Muslim circles have complained that hardly any notice was taken of the death of two Muslims in the disturbances.

Incidentally, one could hear in Srinagar of charges of communal bias against the Central Reserve Police and the Punjab Police, while the Hindus criticised the Kashmir Police for lathi charging women in a Pandit demonstration.

After this, there has been no disturbance in Srinagar, barring a little rowdyism by student groups a few weeks later, on September 20. At the Women’s College, a statement signed by students had been drawn up repudiating the hair-raising stories of insecurity of the lives and honour of Hindu women, whipped up by communal elements outside the State: this had a particular reference to Sri Ghasi’s public allegations in New Delhi and also to virulent writings in the north Indian press, particularly some of the Indian language dailies. This was picked up by some Hindu students of another college as an item to be objected to, on the ground that the signatures to the statement had been secured under duress: and fifty of the boys went on a dharna for hours in front of the Women’s College gate in one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. The police was present throughout but with amazing ineptness let this provocative demonstration go on for hours, instead of removing the boys at least under Section 144, which was supposed to be strictly in force. Three hours later, an equally bellicose Muslim students’ procession came out with provocative slogans. Then the police woke up and lathi charged both sides to disperse them.

It is to be noted that two members of the Hindu Action Committee actively tried to dissusade the group of Hindu boys from demonstrating, but they were brushed aside.

The Hindu Action Committee attacked the Sadiq Ministry for having warned the govern-ment employees that any of them found to be guilty of violating the law would not be reinstated after any police action against them. But what the Hindu leaders have refused to take note of is that last year Muslim employees involved in a demontration brought out by Maulvi Farooq’s men, were immediately suspended and some are still in prison, and none of them have been reinstated. This time, in contrast, the government employees engaged in the Pandit agitation have not been punished, but only chargesheeted and as far as could be made out, no action has been taken against them.

How hideous is the nature of communal propaganda let loose in Kashmir could be seen from many of the inflammatory material sent into the Valley from outside. On August 31, for instance, the police seized a parcel at the Indian Airlines office at Srinagar: it had been despatched from Amritsar, where the leaflets had been printed. The leaflets contained straight inflammatory call to Hindus to fight the Kashmir Government, Sri Sadiq himself being branded as a regenerated Aurangazeb.

Another leaflet which got fairly wide circulation attacked Sri Sadiq for being worse than President Ayub, who, according to this version, had shot a Muslim doctor in East Pakistan for having coerced a Hindu girl into marriage, and sent her off along with her father in safety to India. “He (Sadiq) should have settled the issue as a statesmanlike General Ayub of Pakistan who settled the issue as a soldier.” There are reasons to believe that the origin of this leaflet could be traced to pro-Pakistani circles which are naturally fishing in the troubled waters of Kashmir.

This is but one of the many evidences of how the Pandit agitation is providing good meat for the pro-Pakistani elements, which, after the grievous setback suffered in 1965 with the failure of Pakistani forces in capturing Kashmir, had been largely demoralised and had to lie low. Recently with the unearthing of a key Pak spy-ring in Kashmir, these suffered another severe blow. But now, with the Pandit agitation fanned by the RSS elements, the pro-Pak agents have received a shot in the arm. Their activity is conspicuous in tension-charged Srinagar.

The key point which the Pak propaganda has made so long in Kashmir is that it is impossible for the Hindus and Muslims to coexist. For nearly three decades, the Kashmir leadership has by their word and deed been consistently refuting this Jinnah thesis. Today, the Pandit agitation, made into a catspaw of extreme Hindu communalism, is trying to sabotage the crusade by the Kashmir leadership against Pakistani communalism. “Our unity has been our strength in many a grave crisis we have been called upon to face during the last two decades,” Sri Sadiq appealed in the Assembly. “This unity we must preserve at all costs.” This was reiterated before Sri Chavan by a group of Kashmiri Muslims in a written memorandum: “We are proud to claim that we have resisted our co-religionists from across the border and protected life and property of other communities and have not at any stage hesitated to sacrifice everything dear to us to achieve this end.”

This was no empty boast even today. In the very week when Sri Balraj Madhok was delivering his passionate oration exhorting the Pandits to look upto the Hindus in India as their protecting angel, a congregation of fifty thousand Muslims at Hazratbal mosque took the pledge of defending Hindu-Muslim harmony at all costs. Mirza Afzal Beg, the founder President of the Plebiscite Front, defying the internment restrictions on him, boldly came out in defence of the Hindus and never let communal hatred pollute the air of his home district, Anantnag.

What is very often missed by outsiders is that the communal passions never spread beyond the city limits of Srinagar; and there too, it caught on for short periods in localised areas. Even at Srinagar there was not a single case of stabbing, the very first sign of communal clash judging by the yardstick that one has come to follow in the rest of the subcontinent.

Through the entire countryside, the picturesque hamlets stretching from Baramula to Pahalgam, from Gulmarg to Kokernag, have at no time been disturbed of their idyllic peace and warmest communal amity. It was not for nothing that Sri Chavan in his Srinagar press conference said: “In Kashmir there were no communal riots, Hindus and Muslims as such did not clash with each other.” And this he considered to be “the basic difference between Ranchi and Srinagar. This by itself provides the finest commentary on the robust secularism of the Muslim peasantry of Kashmir and constitutes the bedrock of their resistance against the onslaught of communalism, whether of the Pak or the RSS variety.

At the same time it would be incorrect to assume that nothing has been lost in the short-lived tension generated in Srinagar by the Pandit agitation. The tension has no doubt subsided, but a climate of mutual alienation has set in: for the first time, since independence, many in Kashmir have begun to think in terms of their community affiliation.

The stifling frustration at being unable to hold the communalists in the leash has further embittered relations. Even comrades-in-arms of the Quit-Kashmir days have started ssuspecting each other of communal bias. At Srinagar, one felt this most acutely when going round meeting old acquaintances: there has grown the very perceptible tendency of looking inward—towards one’s own community—instead of trying to build bridges between the two communities.

It is in this background that one would not be surprised if this was magnified through whispers by those having a vested interest in communalism, the RSS elements on one side and the Pak agents on the other.

But When I met Mir Qasim, one of the first things he asked me was why onlty Sri Balraj Madhok could come to Kashmir and no MP from any of the secular parties with the sole exception of Sri Raj Narain. He was most insistent that democratic forces in India should come forward in the common struggle to drive out communalism from Kashmir. This obviously is not the voice of a communalist. One could feel a sense of agony as one listened to his very just complaint that the job of fighting communalism could not be left to the people of Kashmir alone. If in despair some elements got cooped up in the shell of their own community, the blame should fall squarely on the democratic forces in India as a whole.

Equally distressing was it to hear some friends talking of Sri D.P. Dhar as if he had become an ardent Pandit. Sri Dhar, actually, was the target of attack in the Pandit agitation, and he was one of those who earnestly tried his best to bring it to an end. He reinforced the plea for democratic intervention by secular forces from India.

More important than all the mutual misgivings, I found a surprising consensus among all these leaders about the basic cause of the Pandits’ unrest. All these years, when the supreme task facing the Kashmir leadership has been to combat the anti-India forces, the Pandit community has been left unattended. On the question of integration with India, the Pandits naturally were taken for granted, and no political work was done among them to educate them and bring them into the mainstream of secular democratic movement. Barring a few—not counting more than a hundred—the Pandits as a community did not participate in the freedom struggle against the Maharaja rule. And when freedom came, they came into the new world without the baptism of fire through which large sections of other communities in Kashmir had to go through.

It was in this political vacuum, communalism stepped in to cash in on the economic unrest. It is no accident that one of the first speeches that incited the Pandit community into action this time was delivered by Sri S.N. Fotedar (the former MP and now the Chairman of the State Legislative Council) the very same person who had led a black-flag demonstration against Nehru in 1946 when he had rushed there to stand in solidarity with the Quit-Kashmir movement and courted arrest defying the Maharajah’s ban on entry into his state.

There were no doubt certain lags in the functioning of the Kashmir leadership, which any honest reporter can hardly overlook. The Congress as an organisation was almost petrified by this agitation. I could hardly get any evidence of an all-out bid on the part of any democratic, secular organisation to combat the communal menace. There was much that the all-India Congress leadership itself could have done to help the Kashmir leaders: not even a line of condemnation of the Jana Sangh depredations in Kashmir came from the Congress President, though less than a year ago, he himself was the victim of communal vandalism in New Delhi. While Smt Indira Gandhi commands support in most sectors of public opinion in Kashmir, there is universal complaint about the Centre’s indifference—not a single central project is located in Kashmir, and the rail link with Jammu is put off from year to year.

The complaint against the Left parties that one heard from the Kashmir leaders was not confined to their silence or inaction in combating communalism generated by the Pandit agitation alone. A long chain of events of the last six months has created a sense of estrangement between the Kashmir leadership and the Left parties, particularly the Socialists and the Communists. The stand taken by the Left parties in opposing Dr Zakir Hussain’s election as President was resented by the Kashmir leaders: for them, it is a very big thing to be able to tell the masses in Kashmir Valley—so much under constant Pakistani propaganda—that an eminent Muslim has been elected to the highest office in the Republic, a true sign of secularist outlook; and they feel that by opposing this choice, the Left parties have weakened the sense of reliance in them that the Muslim masses generally repose in anti-communal forces.

The forming of coalition governments with the Jana Sangh as a partner is another point on which I found the Kashmir leaders very much agitated. Their point has been that such a strategy would at least weaken the scope and capacity of the Left parties in combating the communalist menace. The Jana Sangh’s spectacular success in the election to the Delhi Metropolitan Council and the equally poor show of the Left parties also had an adverse reaction in Kashmir.

On top of it all, the Ranchi riots—and the gruesome slaughter at Hatia—followed by the spate of communal outbursts from Ahmednagar to Gorakhpur could not but accentuate the worry of the leaders in Kashmir at the rising menace of communalism; and one could understand their resentment at the Left parties not taking up the struggle against it as a sacred crusade: in a sense, this resentment itself is the testimony to their long-nurtured faith in the democratic parties. There is no doubt that the rise of Jana Sangh in north India has perturbed the Kashmir leaders; and as one of them put it to me: “Perhaps we would have felt secure if Kashmir had been situated in South India.”

It is not that the present leadership in Kashmir has a poor record to its credit—an impression which one often comes across in India. After the fiasco of the Pakistani attack in 1965, the section of Muslim opinion which was under the spell of Pak propaganda were gradually getting reconciled to finding a solution within the four corners of the Indian Constitution. This was further facilitated by the government’s impres-sive record on the food front, particularly this year: and food, as it known all over India, is the main source of mass discontent. The food production in the State went up from 4,50,800 tonnes in 1965-66 to 5,83,365 tonnes in 1966-67, and this year’s returns would show a further spurt without doubt.

From even casual enquiries, one could not but be struck by the effective measures taken by the present government on the agrarian fron: all forms of eviction of sharecroppers are banned by law, while Kashmir is one of the first States to go in for the abolition of land revenue for the small cultivator. One of the main reasons for the very good harvest this year is the liberal distribution of fertilisers. For the current year, the target of distribution has been fixed at 1.04 lakh tonnes, while in the entire five years of the Third Plan only 30,095 tonnes were distributed. In the crash agricultural programme undertaken this year, as much as Rs 2.28 crores would be spent on fertilisers out of the total outlay of Rs 3.71 crores for the programme. The cultivator is given fertiliser on credit and the loan is to be repaid after harvest in kind to the government. This year, Kashmir has abolished all trade, both wholesale and retail, in foodgrains, and I found Sri D.P. Dhar, the Food and Finance Minister, quite confident of the success of this experiment. Rationed rice is sold at 35 p per kilo—subsidised by the State Government and not by the Centre.
In blackmarket, it is available at Re. 1.20 p per kilo.

There are thus many items in the Kashmir Government’s record which the progressive forces in the new United Front Governments in different States may emulate with profit. To take one more example, the last session of the Kashmir Assembly passed a bill disqualifying from standing for election for ten years any person found by a court or commission presided over by a Supreme Court Judge “to have illegally or by corrupt means or by otherwise abusing or misusing” his position as a legislator or holding any office thereof. This is one of the concrete steps by which corruption in public life could be fought.

In this connection, one has to refer to the dwindling prestige of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed. After the publication of the voluminous Ayyangar Report spotlighting his versatility in irregular practices, Bakshi has gone down in public esteem. He is trying to salvage his public life by desperate means: reports are current about encouragement given by his side to the Pandit agitation, while there are other reports about his links with the Muslim extremists. But the overall impact of such multifaced intrigues has been that his political image has been tarnished for good.

Braving the constant barrage of Pakistani propaganda that Muslims would not be safe in “Hindu” India, the present leaders of Kashmir have undeviatingly stood upholding the cause of secularism, trying to convince the Muslim masses in Kashmir that the secularist forces in Indian democracy would defend them from communalist domination. The disturbing developments of the last few months—the rise of the Jana Sangh—could not but come as a threat to their political campaign against Pakistani propaganda among the Muslim masses in Kashmir. In the arduous battle for winning over the bulk of the Kashmiri people, the the Jana Sangh’s ominous debut in Kashmir politics will naturally help to undermine the strength of the pro-India forces and come as a god send for the Pakistani propaganda.

It is but natural in this context for the Kashmir leaders to demand that the secular forces in India should make common cause with them. “In 1965, we fought the infiltrators, but the Indian Army also came and fought by our side to ward off the invader,” one of the senior Kashmir leaders told me. “Today, political infiltration has begun, and are we not justified in expecting India’s secular forces to come and fight these shoulder to shoulder with us?”

The battle for secularism has to be fought in all earnest in the valley of Kashmir. Breaking the narrow horizon of the Pandits’ agitation, it is time that the democratic forces all over India caught the wider perspective of the struggle in Kashmir. One must not get bogged in the weeds of the Dal Lake and miss the majesty of the Chinar in the Shalamar Gardens.

(Mainstream, September 30, 1967)

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