At the present hour welcoming summer, the old city and its allays come tuning with us about the histories which have caught the dust of time. In this episode, I dig deep, and enquire about the forgotten elements of the past intertwined with love and politics.
It is 1960’s, an enamoured couple, witnessed their union being publicized and politicized for months on stretch.
Now stationed in their red bricked house which stands tall among other oldies somewhere within the shelter and divine shadow of Astaans in the old city of Srinagar, what locals call chesti kocha, their love sustained the project of communalism and hatred.
Octogenarian today, Ghulam rasool and Parveen akhter, fell in love in summer of 1967 while they worked together as sales executives at a newly established Apna bazaar.
Kanth belonged to a Muslim family, while Parveen Akhter was a Pandit Hindu girl, who was known by her near and dear ones as Parmeshwari Handoo.
In a candid conversation with Free Press Kashmir, noted poet and historian from the valley Zareef Ahmad Zareef details us about the event to which he himself was an eyewitness:
“Around 1960’s, a cooperative store, Apna bazaar was established near Lal Chowk below Lala Rukh hotel. That store held everything needful for people. From accessories to eatables, everything could be sought there. In the same store, Ghulam rasool and Parmeshwari Handoo worked . These two fell in love and married each other.”
What and who ignited the communal flames, and tried painting love into animosity, Zareef answers:
“Jan Sangh’s president, Balraj Madhok who was also an assembly member visited Kashmir and addressed Kashmiri Pandits in view of the matter”
The old city, devoid of the old character which came about to one as a charming retreat, Pandits and Muslims, suddenly turned against each other, making the sky and soil miss the warm conversations.
The conspirators programmed their agenda using a marriage troupe, when they could find nothing else to rely upon.
A private affair was thus used to further communal divide.
Author Khalid Bashir records in his book, Kashmir: exposing the myth behind the narrative, “Rishi Kumar Koshal, the general secretary, All Jammu and Kashmir Jan Sangh who was accused of active involvement of Muslim massacre in Reasi in 1947 was the man behind starting the party in Kashmir”.
The red square, and it’s liveliness were overshadowed by the massive protests which would take place occasionally, each time someone would come to hatch another conspiracy and disturb the equilibrium.
Not far from it, Sheetal Nath became the meeting point where protests were put together. It was here, Madhok’s inflammatory speech triggered a response from the Muslim community, as he spoke along religious lines.
Zareef adds, “in order to save the city from uncalled protests, curfews were put in place. I used to work in the information department then, I vividly remember the announcements of Curfew being made across the city from Sonwar to Safa Kadal.”
Amidst this disgruntled chaos, love awaited freedom.
Kashmir Hindu action committee (KHAC) was given shape to spearhead the agitation thus required to “restore” the girl back to her family. KHAC for months under the presidency of one Prem Nath Gasi , and under the aegis of Jan Sangh prodded the hate narrative.
Love couldn’t be contaminated, or suppressed by ideologies, it surpassed barriers of religion and caste way before 1960’s.
Adding to this Zareef mentions, “Prior to this wedding, Kashmir had already witnessed interfaith marriages, even among the high ranked Muslim elites of the city including the Nasqshbandis. I recall Salam Shahi Naqsbandi, a erudite man who served as a commissioner during Hari Singh’s reign. Among his two daughters, one married a Sikh manager who served at the Palladium cinema. That marriage didn’t create any ruckus, apart from the many interfaith marriages which would take place in villages and other areas of the city. However, they wouldn’t become a matter of worry.”
Interfaith marriages though uncommon, and sparse weren’t atypical to Kashmir’s setting.
While their marriage wasn’t the first of its kind, nor was it the last, their wed-lock which was solemnized by the Mufti Azam of Kashmir, silenced the streets which were otherwise busied by the typical downtown chit-chat between members of the two communities.
In his seminal book, Kashmir: exposing the myth behind the narrative, Khalid Bashir records that two years prior to Parmeshwari, a marriage, a high profile wedlock between Kashmir’s noted physician, Dr Syed Naseer and Dr Geerja Dhar had taken place which did not raise eyebrows.
Kashmiri Pandits set themselves against the Muslims who they claimed had “kidnapped” their minor daughter. Her mother Dhanvati, a widow, also moved to the court in order to seek nullification of her wedding.
An emotional mother’s appeal couldn’t break Parweshwari’s resolve, nor could the rallies/slogans weaken her emotive strength.
Today a grandmother, Parmeshwari fought the forces by not surrendering.
Khalid Bashir writes, “on august 4, the newly converted Parveen Akhter appeared in Sringar’s Jamia Masjid, and announced her conversion to Islam and nikah with Ghulam Rasool. She also offered Friday prayers in the mosque and appealed the congregation for moral support.”
Such was the gravity of the unwelcoming protests, that student bodies were caught in the grip of these communal confusions, their minds were conditioned to see their Muslim brethren as the “other”, so much so, that on 16 August, 250 young Pandit women took out a procession through Ganpatyar, Habba Kadal, raising slogans, “hum goli khayege, behan ko wapaas layege”.
To them, Parmeshwari was the sister who was in need of a saving.
Suddenly a love affair turned the valley into a hotbed of communally charged sloganeering. The attempt of infantilizing a mature Handoo’s decision of an inter-faith love marriage was a marker of the masculinist conspirators who many years later have come to accomplish their goals through the spell of Love Jihad which seeks to criminalize inter-faith marriages of Hindu women with Muslim men.
Zareef comments, “love-jihad is the new new normal today, seeking to cause division among masses, it ideologically carves out hatred and attempts at disintegrating peace among people who are otherwise socially and culturally connected”.
For a few days, their marriage was a hush-hush affair, until the man-hunt for them began, these newlyweds hid in order to save themselves from the spear bearing rioters who were nowhere close to see or understand the power of love.
In the backdrop of the events which unfolded, Zareef reminisces moments when the newly married were secretly interviewed, “as the search for the couple was initiated, they obviously took a secret shelter which I recall was the house of Abdul Rahim Dalal at Mahrajgunj, who was a known businessman then. Shameem Ahmad Shameem, a known figure among the scribes of the day interviewed her for his weekly Ayeena”.
Zareef’s literary manoeuvre, as he recalls, was strengthened by Shameem’s rich crituique, “I was lucly to have assisted him during the interview, the story was later published under the title ‘Parmeshwari ki kahani, Parveen akhter ki zubaani’. I poetically reconstructed the interview, fictionalizing the reality of the occasion.”
How did the man who chaired the government under such volatile conditions respond?
Delhi’s favourite man who chaired the first cheif-ministership of the valley, after allowing parliamentary resolutions in the state’s constitution, Sadiq sang the “secular” tunes, positing himself pure from communal touches, and declaring in the state assembly his stance on the situation. He called the matter sub-judice, and preferred a non-interventionist role in its politics.
Back in Delhi, the ripples created from the waters in Kashmir reached Indira Gandhi’s office. Her closest aides conveyed that never before was Miss. Gandhi seen so disappointed with the role played by Pandits. Delhi sent it’s office man to Kashmir to look into the state of affairs:
“Sadiq was asked about the state of affairs prevalent in the state, by YC Chwan, the then home minister of India who also visited Kashmir along with other leaders. I remember the talks when he was asked of sending the girl back to her family. But Sadiq didn’t budge, he instead boasted of Indian secularism and democracy which allowed citizens individuality,” Zareef recalls.
The jingoism of Indian media on the other hand brushed off fact checking, and televised a sensationalised version of the marriage. The quandary created out of marriage and politics ran high and loud for months, claiming 10 precious lives.
The slogans were a binary of “Behan ko wapas karo” from the Pandit end, while the Muslims would respond with “Mahraz ko phirsaal karo”.
Eventually, after running through the court proceedings for months, the case was consigned to the records. The intricacy of the matter concerned the “policy-makers” miles away perturbed by its sensitivity which was also being felt in parts of India. The defence and prosecution both settled the scores. The Pandit agitation was thus withdrawn marking an “end” to the volatility which had engulfed the valley for months.
How many thoughts went into engineering hateful months, some commentators say:
Bakshi’s men were behind the agitation in order to topple Sadiq’s government, while a lot other go by the belief that a post 1947 Kashmir also meant “democratization” of opportunities which for decades had been the monopoly of Kashmiri Pandits. In disbelief, a few men from the Pandit community were motivated to spread hatred and fear.
A nostalgic Zareef remembers with rapt clarity the days gone by, when some peace was felt in the corridors of the valley which now hosts unnatural silence.
Parveen Akhter had seen in Mr. Kanth a man of character, someone who still continues his unwavering love despite the hurdles they had to come across. It is this love alone which fights and continues fighting the cataclysmic hatred. It is love which conquers after all. In his sanctum, Zareef talks of the universality of love, how it knows of no boundaries- how it`s the healer.
“Hearts’ universe stands aloof from the customs of society, it doesn’t see colour, status or looks of the beloved. Majnoon’s love for Laila made him a stranger in his own little world. In his eyes, Laila was all the beauty he knew of. No worldly power can diminish that.”
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