Deconstructing ‘Kashmiriyat’: ‘A myth woven around history’

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Before being shot dead by RSS man Nathuram Godse this day, 70 years ago, MK Gandhi had seen ‘a ray of hope in Kashmir’s secularism’. At the fag-end of the Plebiscite Movement, when that ‘secularism’ abruptly took the form of ‘Kashmiriyat’, many in Kashmir felt that a new construct has been floated to throttle the present-day struggle with the mythical past.

Kashmiriyat is a word used by the Indian academia and media to perpetuate the psychological subjugation. Used synonymously with tolerance and communal harmony, one can argue as to why does communal harmony or tolerance or mutual coexistence need a special term to be referred to, particularly in the Valley.

This controversial term effectively denotes the kind of an unequal and oppressive relationship between a Pandit upper, landowner class and a Muslim lower, manual labourer class. The injection of Kashmiriyat corresponds to the silent acceptance of this unfair fulcrum of power. Both the classes went on to perform their roles.

The propaganda by the Indian state in recent times to disguise this ‘harmony’ as Kashmiriyat, intends to thwart the attempts that may cause any disruption in this unequal order.

Thus, whenever Kashmiri Muslims began forcing their say in political matters concerning them, the equilibrium began to swing, like in 1931 & 1989. Any intention to subvert the relationship that had existed between these two classes for so long is seen as a threat and attack on the ‘communal harmony’, and consequently on the notion of Kashmiriyat itself.

The base of this concept is unfair. So is the building constructed on it. And similar is the propaganda derived out of it.

A myth woven around history, it has never been used by any historian in his/her references to our socio-cultural values before 1975. Why? Because it didn’t exist. As per T N Madan, famous anthropologist and a Kashmiri Pandit himself, “The first thing to emphasise is that Kashmiriyat is not a Kashmiri word. It may not, therefore, be claimed to be native category of perception. It is an artificially produced clone of Punjabiyat and a recent coinage of not earlier than the 1980s.”

In an editorial named ‘Srinagar ke akhbarat aur urdu zaban’ published in an Urdu newspaper called Srinagar Times dated September 23, 1975, we find one of the earliest mentions of Kashmiriyat, it ends with, “The editors of Srinagar’s Urdu papers are not accustomed to the right type of Urdu language. Therefore, it would not be very surprising if Kashmiriyat appears in their journalistic language”.

The term Kashmiriyat in this article simply means Kashmiriness, proving that the term has been corrupted at a later stage.

As per late Mohammad Ishaq Khan, Kashmiriyat is not of local origin and it has been used by the media to serve the ideological interests of the Indian state. He further says that, during 1975-87, Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims produced literature on Kashmiriyat which was against those forces who posed a threat to Kashmir’s indigenous identity. He says, “The antagonists of Kashmiriyat… deliberately drawing herring across the trail either for saffronising Kashmiriyat or for making it appear as the anti-thesis of Islam for their vested monolithic political ideologies.”

The main hero of this myth is King Zain-ul-Abideen but the historians forget that it was not his Kashmiriyat that made him do what he did but his gratitude to a Hindu physician who saved his life. He is considered as a champion of Kashmiriyat because Pandits, even though close to 1% in population, were the ruling class, all of the high positions belonged to them. The influence of Pandits on him was such that he banned the killing of fish, eating meat on several days, and cow slaughter. He also approved of sati.

People also mention Reshi and Sufis to prove and support their argument of how far back Kashmiriyat goes. Sufis and Rishis worked for the propagation of Islam but did not try to disturb the existing social and cultural order, they preached Islam through the existing practices, so that the people faced no difficulty in understanding and practicing the new faith. We can even now see bells, belts and gongs in some Ziyarats. It was not due to an existence of a vague concept called Kashmiriyat but a strategy to gently modify the habits of Kashmiris, accustomed to a different way of life, looking to find equality in a system out of the discriminating caste structure that Hinduism had placed them into.

Under the redefined ‘Kashmiriyat’, Kashmiri Muslims have suffered the brutalities of the worst kind. Even after the Hindu rule ended and the era of Sultans began.

When the Sultans took over, the administration continued to be in the hands of Kashmiri Pandits (except during the rule of Sikhandar Shahmiri). Pandits like Ganesh Koul, Shri Bhatta, Gopala Kaul, Madho Koul, Jonaraja, Sadaheo Bayu, Soma Pandit, Sumitra Bhatta, Rupya Bhatta, Karpur Bhatta, Jaya Bhatta and Srivara enjoyed patronage. They also used their influence at the court to benefit their miniscule community.

During the rule of Chalks, Pandits continued to tighten their grip over the administrative posts and receiving patronages from the royal court. Mathas were built and villages endowed in their favour. The Chak kings also used to participate in their festivals.

During the rule of the Mughals, the patronage continued and they received rent-free lands. While the majority population lived under subjugation, Pandits enjoyed the fruits of proximity to power. Mughals banned the entry of the Kashmiri Muslims in their army and also snatched trade and commerce from them, while the same were kept open for Pandits. As per Jai Lal Kilam, Kashmiri Pandits had chosen to identify with the Mughal system and used to stick to Akbar ‘as flies stick to sweets’. As per Kilam, Pandit ascendancy in the political field was unrivalled in Kashmir and the bureaucracy was manned by them. Pandit Mahadev was Kashmir’s prime minister from 1650-1657.

Afghan rule is considered one of the most brutal periods of Kashmiri history. During this era too, Kashmiri Muslims had to face the brunt of oppression. As per Jai Lal Kilam, in ‘A History of Kashmiri Pandits’, “The lot of Kashmiri Pandits, when compared to other people (Kashmiri Muslims), was indeed happier… The political power was generally and largely centered in their hands. During the Afghan rule, a number of Kashmiri Pandits maneuvered themselves to prominent positions in the country’s administration. The local bureaucracy was manned by the Pandits and some of them were employed in offices even in Kabul.”

It was due to the incitement of a Kashmiri Pandit, Mahanand Dar that Sukh Jevan banned cow slaughter in Kashmir. Muslims who had secured positions in the army since the arrival of Afghans were disbanded and replaced with Sikhs and Hindus. Another Kashmiri Pandit, Dila Ram Quli, is accused of instigating Shia-Sunni riots in 1786 and was later beheaded at Khanyar. But there are various versions that counter this claim too.

When a moderate Governor, Atta Mohammad Khan revolted against the brutal rule of Afghans and declared Independence, he advocated equal opportunity to Muslims in the administration. This irked the Kashmiri Pandits and a group of them went to Kabul and succeeded to get him removed with the help of a huge army.

During the Sikh rule, a Kashmiri Pandit, Birbal Dhar banned prayers at the Jamia Masjid and imposed a ban on cow slaughter in Kashmir, violation of which would lead to a death penalty. A different version of history though says that Birbal Dhar played the role in order to prevent the destruction of the Jamia Masjid by using diplomacy to get it locked down instead.

Nonetheless, many Muslims were mercilessly killed for slaughtering a domestic animal to fight starvation. During the governorship of Diwan Chunni Lal (1825-27), three prominent Muslim businessmen of the Kawoosa family were hung, and their bodies dragged on the streets on false charges of cow slaughter. The word Gaw Hatya, evolved into ‘Hatya Haanz’ (accusation of murder), which is used to this day as a synonym for incorrect allegations or rumours. The law then worked like the infamous Blasphemy Law.

Similarly, 12 members of a family in Hawal and 17 members of another family in Chhatabal were burnt alive on allegations of cow slaughter. 19 members of a boatman family, including women and children, living by the Doodhganga stream were also killed on false charges.

Muslims who had secured administrative posts were again ousted and replaced by Kashmiri Pandits. Even marriages and divorces were taxed by a Pathwari, who as per the rules had to be a Kashmiri Pandit.

The condition of Muslim was such that as per Moorcroft, “During the Sikh rule, the Kashmiri Muslims were economically strangulated and the condition of the people was so poor that water-nuts formed almost the only food of at least 30,000 persons for five months in a year. The Lotus stem sustained 5,000 persons in the city of Srinagar alone for eight months. Their houses in the country were in a ruinous condition, with broken doors or no doors at all.”

During the rule of the Dogras from Jammu, the infamous Begair system (forced labour) was also administered over by the Kashmiri Pandits. When the demand was made, the Tehsildar (a Kashmiri Pandit, as per the rule) would double the demand and his subordinates would quadruple it making 3/4th of the demand available to buy their freedom from this form of slavery. These helpless Kashmiri Muslims would end up paying per head. Pandits made a tremendous profit out of this.

Kashmiri Muslims were tortured to such an extent that as per the 1891 Punjab Census Report, 1,11,775 Kashmiri Muslims had migrated from Kashmir in search of better living conditions. This population is almost equal to the entire population of Srinagar at that time.

When lands fell uncultivated during the famine of 1877-79 during which lakhs of Muslim cultivators migrated to Punjab, Pandits took over huge areas of land claiming it as waste and uncultivated land. On returning from Punjab, Muslim cultivators found themselves ousted from their own land which they had cultivated for generations. In 1896, a Kashmiri Pandit, Dewan Amar Nath had possession of 5,047 acres of land which he had no right to.

Kashmiri Pandits still had a strict hold over administrative posts. They were Tehsildars, Naib-Tehsildars, Pathwaris, Shakars, wazir-e-wazarats, shakdars, sargoals, tarakardars, hakim-e-aalas and harkaras, to mention a few. This can be well understood by the fact that Muslims used to refer to Pandits as ‘Mahra’ shorter form of Maharaj (King or superior).

When the new scheme for shali distribution was setup, Kashmiri Pandit enumerators used to exclude the names of Musalmans who deserved rasad [rations], enumerating only their fellow Pandit chakdars, moneylenders and high state officials who didn’t need it, as per the Political Department 123/1921, Jammu State Archives.

As per Altaf Hussain, in ‘The Wounded Paradise’, “The Pandits had all the privileges and authority in Kashmir. The ill-treatment of people was as much resorted to by the Maharaja as by the Pandit officials. In the heavy exactions, the Pandit revenue collectors would grab a handsome share for themselves. If a peasant wore clean clothes and a white turban, he was instantly accused by the officials of being rich and was doubly taxed accordingly. This forced people not to look respectable, to be shabby was the fashion of the day. The poor people were entirely at the mercy of heartless officials. If the aggrieved complained, it was with difficulty that they got a hearing and if their complaint was against a Pandit, they might as well have complained against the Maharaja… (almost like how AFSPA works in the favour of the army in the present day). Apart from the exorbitant taxes payable to the government, the policeman and the attendant Pandit clerk used to fleece the hapless people on frivolous excuses.”

“No Kashmiri Pandit accepted food or water from a Kashmiri Muslim or ate by his hand. Conversion to Islam was banned, violation of which would lead to imprisonment, torture and confiscation of property. Preaching of Islam was also banned. Pandits grew so strong that during the rule of Pratap Singh they attacked Khanqah-e-Moula and broke its windows and doors. Muslims weren’t allowed to join the army or even carry firearms.”

Dozens of Europeans, who had come to Kashmir have documented the inhumane treatment meted out to the Kashmiri Muslims by the alien rulers with the help of Kashmiri Pandits.

After 1931, Kashmiri Pandits were angry at Sheikh Abdullah for calling the victims of July 13 Massacre as martyrs, celebrating Eid, collecting funds for mosques, reciting Quran or doing anything related to Islam. But in 1947, when he surrendered before a Hindu Maharaja and a Hindu India, Kashmiri Pandits hailed him as a reincarnation of Vishnu.

One should also remember that “the Government of India, after independence, also made a policy decision to exclude the Muslims of Kashmir from the armed forces.” (Sheikh Abdullah, autobiography, page 576)

Since 1989, Kashmiri Pandits have allowed themselves to be used as a weapon to attack and humiliate Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination.

So where does one see the Kashmiriyat above?

Kashmiri Muslims rose for their rights in 1931 and 1989, both of which are termed as death blows to Kashmiriyat. So what is Kashmiriyat? The subjugation of Kashmiri Muslims and accepting Kashmiri Pandits as masters? Returning back to the age where we were barely treated as humans?

As per Author and Lawyer, Nandita Haskar, “Kashmiriyat is an artificial concept being promoted by the State which shows that Hindus and Muslims have been living happily for a very, very long time.”

Author Mridu Rai writes in her ‘Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects’, “Yet the notion of cultural harmony was predicated on the requisite condition of protecting Kashmiri Pandit’s privileges and a consequent subsumption of the interests of the majority Muslims.”

The so-called Kashmiriyat (if it existed) has been molested time and again. Vicious propaganda and dehumanization of Kashmiri Muslims on the Indian media and social platforms going on even now is a case for it.

Hence Kashmiriyat is a ruse offered to us. And we may often fall for it. Our tolerance and hospitality need no proof. At least it does not require people to ride our backs for travelling purposes. Our silence on our oppression is not tolerance. Rather silence on the crimes done to us is a betrayal to our own existence.

A return to the old order can neither be acceptable nor reasonable. Let the Pandits return as equals, not as our masters. All animals are equal and no animal is more equal than other.


Arsilan is a Kashmir based blogger. 

Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.

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