A Kashmiri Pandit counters the theories of Kashmiri writer Haseeb Drabu

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A Kashmiri Pandit counters the theories of Kashmiri writer Haseeb Drabu

Mr. Haseeb Drabu, your warped criticism of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), dishonestly wrapped in intellectual semantics, has not served your intended purpose of projecting KPs as having been abandoned by both, the nation and the destiny. Your sympathizing with the displaced KPs sounds hollow as your arguments are based on twisted recounting of events of Kashmir history, pre-and post-accession. Like a frog in the well, you refuse to see beyond the ring of mountains that surrounds you in Kashmir. Let me reply your contention point by point.

You called KPs Pariah

The very central heading of your article is an insult to the resilient community like Kashmiri Pandits who, despite numerous onslaughts on them since the arrival of Islam in Kashmir in the fourteenth century, have not evaporated into the thin air, which you and your co-religionists within the valley (with active support from across the Line-of-control) had hoped for in 1989-90. On the contrary, it has rebounded with added zeal and risen from the ashes like the proverbial sphinx. A Kashmiri Pandit will, therefore, never be a pariah. If ever, the world has seen a global citizen, resurrecting himself time and again, it is Kashmiri Pandit. Of course, I do not expect you to understand this, constrained as you are, by the selfimposed 7 th -century world view.

Kissing Modi’s Hand in Houston

Kissing of Modi’s hand in Houston by Dr. Surinder Kaul who headed the KP/Indian delegation at Houston rally was spontaneous reaction by a patriotic Indian, particularly a Kashmiri Pandit, who had faced the ravages of Jihadi terror and subsequent displacement from Kashmir in 1989-90; a situation, in whose creation, Art 370 and 35 A played a significant role. Both these Articles created a mental block in Kashmiris that did not allow the fresh blood to nourish their mind, an opportunity that India’s democratic system provided. It is not about Kashmiri Pandits, it is about India. Besides, India had not till Aug 5, 2019, seen any Indian politician (wielding power) showing courage enough to neutralize Art 370 and the surreptitiously-included-Art-35A of the Constitution. This included the mighty Indira Gandhi too who returned 95,000 Pakistani PoWs without getting anything in return. Modi did it despite the sarcastic and insensitive challenge thrown by Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah. It was to salute that singular courage that KP delegation showered their love and praise on Modi. The same applied to those who distributed sweets and celebrated the events in streets in India. The coverage of the event or the willing participation of Pandits in this celebration was not Jingoistic but 2 spontaneous expression of happiness; it was the first desirable move that Govt of India made in its Kashmir policy since accession; the entire period that is filled with one significant error after another.

Saner Voices in the Community?

You have called those KPs who went to the apex court to challenge the abrogation of Article 370 & 35A and those who issued letters/ appeared in the TV Channels to criticize the Govt’s move, as ‘saner-voices’. Such People are neither our representatives nor do they speak for us. They were not displaced from Kashmir and hence do not know the pain of displacement and of losing everything as a result. Most of them have material/property interest in Kashmir and would like to protect these interests by being on the right side of those who call the shots in there. At the same time, this way they intend to endear themselves to all anti-Modi forces in the rest of the country. Their stand is driven by securing and advancing their personal interests and has nothing to do with the principles of justice involved in their own community’s displacement from Kashmir or the absolute necessity for India to protect its geopolitical interests in a dangerous neighborhood.

Constitutional Conquest

You called the notifications of Aug 5, 2019 (neutralizing Article 370 and 35 A) as a ‘constitutional conquest’. The term itself is an oxymoron. Anything done constitutionally in a thriving democracy like India with both houses of Parliament debating the bill for three days and passing by 2/3rd majority, cannot be termed as conquest. Frankly, I do not blame you for calling it as such, because to a Muslim mind in Kashmir ‘democracy’ is as far away as ‘conquest’ is close to it. At the same time, you overlooked the continued illegal occupation of 86,017.81 Sq Km of your state’s territory grabbed by your masters from across the LoC through military conquest. Do not be a hypocrite, please.

Calling KPs as Property Dealers

Your comments on those who “……offered free advisory on social media to the prospective buyers of land in the valley…”, are misplaced. At least, you a Kashmiri Banker, should know better. After all, our forced displacement from Kashmir created numerous property dealers among your Kashmiri coreligionists who became crore-patis overnight, buying/selling abandoned KP properties. it is estimated that your co-religionists gobbled up 5 billion USD worth of Kashmiri Pandit property (movable/immovable) because intellectuals like you kept mum when we were hounded out from Kashmir. Incidentally, what about those property dealers who grabbed big chunks of land belonging to Mandirs, Asthapans, Ashrams, Tirath Sthans, etc., of our sages/saints? As a banker you can easily estimate the value of such property before you start calling KPs as ‘prospective property dealers’. Also, 3 please do not forget that that Sheikh Abdullah’s first interim government did not even pay a penny to those KPs whose lands were handed over to the tillers as a result of the implementation of Big Landed Estate Abolition Act, 1950. Also, will you be kind enough to inform the public who got the whopping 87,000 acres of undistributed land which wasinitially turned into collective farms at Goplalpura, Shalteng and Harvan and whose final disposal was never made public?

You Term us as Disenfranchised

The New Domicile law does not disenfranchise KPs as you have projected it. It is a work in progress. What disenfranchised us was the en-masse deletion of our names from the voters’ list of our constituencies in Kashmir. Let me give you my own example; in 1996 elections, I, along with my brother, voted in my constituency, but subsequently the whole Mohalla, not just my family, had been removed from the voters’ list. This is the real disenfranchisement. The present definition of domicile is applicable only to jobs in the UT of J&K and has no other purpose. This matter has been brought to the notice of the center and the matter is being investigated. Incidentally, we KPs are keen to contribute in creating jobs in Kashmir by developing tourism, health care, hospitality, infra-structure, education, research institutes, etc. KPs would rather give jobs to the Kashmiri youth rather than seek government jobs. The fact is that the neutralization of Article 370 and 35 A has dealt a body blow to the monopoly of oligarchs, vested interests, the middlemen and those who considered themselves as the arbiters of Kashmiri destiny. Incidentally, Mehbooba Mufti and Umar Abdullah have both been proved wrong – Rivers of blood have not flowed in Kashmir, nor has Pakistan come to their rescue.

KP Role in the Introduction of State Subject Law

Now let us talk about the State Subject Law, which you have termed as a matter between the British rulers and Kashmiri Pandits. Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to the throne of Jammu and Kashmir in 1925, coincided with the growing British anxiety over the protection of their geo-strategic interest in Middle East in view of their apprehensions that Soviet Union would continue to expand south words towards the gulf, thereby threatening the British sources of energy; the oil wealth of Middle East, which the much-regarded British Governor of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Sir Olaf Caroe (earlier principle advisor to two Governors General, Lord Linlithgow and Field Marshal Wavell) called the wells of Power (the air power, the new and decisive entrant in the war after WWI, could only be used by have abundant oil and that was available in the Middle East. Besides, the British industrial revolution needed oil to sustain it). The British desperately needed a piece of ground under its control from where it could keep a watch on Soviet expansion to the south and south east. As per the reports submitted on various occasions by the British military strategists, Gilgit, Chitral and Swat had to be occupied by the British. This clash, termed as ‘The Great Game’ had started much earlier when the Russians started moving southwards in 1860s. Consequently, the British built a track from Gigit to Kashgar in Sinkiang via the 4 Mintaka pass in Karakoram. Kashmir became even more important for British after the Bolsheviks took control of Russia in 1920s. The British, therefore,started building pressure on the Maharaja to hand over Gilgit to them. Kashmiri Pandits, having seen through the British game plan, demanded from the Maharaja the promulgation of State Subject Law which would prevent the British from owning any land in Kashmir. Kashmiri Muslims, being ignorant of the strategic implications of this pressure tactics upon the Maharaja, opposed the Pandit demand, because opposing Kashmiri Pandits was a matter of faith for them, irrespective of the merits of the case, involved. The law was not meant to protect any of the KP interests, but to protect the State’s interests. Subsequent events would prove them right; capture of Gilgit, siege of Skardu and occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan through the treachery of Major Brown of British Army is too well known to be recounted here.

KPs Rendered Helpless when Urdu Replaced Persian as official Language

You have mentioned that when Persian was replaced by Urdu in 1989, during Maharaja Partap Singh’s rule, Kashmiri Pandits were hit hard. It is half-truth. You know, as do most Kashmiris, that Kashmiri Pandits have for centuries been the worshippers of Sharda, (Saraswati), the Goddess of knowledge and learning. When Zian-ul abdein introduced Persian, then too Kashmiri Pandits were hit hard. After all, knowledge and literacy have all along been our forte and when the king changes the rules of the game affecting this wealth, the repositories are bound to be hit hard. However, by stating that ‘replacing Persian with Urdu hit the KPs hard’ you have indirectly acknowledged that KPs had quickly adapted to Persian and had become indispensable to Zian-ul Abdein. Kashmiri Pandits moved with the times and soon became adept at Urdu too and produced many luminaries who mastered the language. When during the British Raj, English became all pervasive, Kashmiri Pandits learnt that language too and pretty fast at that. Sure, you will agree that we never allowed such obstructions to impede our move forward. Incidentally, 1320 CE through 1819 CE, Zain ul Abedien’s rule (1420-1470 CE) was the only brief period when Kashmiri Pandits enjoyed some respite. Before this and after this till 1819, the darkness that enveloped Kashmir resulted in their six exoduses.

Kashmiri Pandits Enjoyed Monopoly Over Government Jobs

During the Dogra rule (1846-1947), Kashmiri Pandits had no monopoly over govt jobs as you claim. Maharaja Gulab Singh had to borrow huge amount of money from Diwan Jawala Sahai, a rich Punjabi from Aminabad, to pay the British for getting the ownership of Kashmir (consequence of the second Anglo-Sikh war of 1846 and the signing of the Treaty of Amritsar-14 March, 1846). As a quid pro-quo, Sahai was made the first Prime Minister of the state. His office remained hereditary for many years. Thereafter, Sahai and his successors imported many people from their own area to fill-up various administrative posts in the state government. In due course, these people, locally called Khatri, 5 inundated the Valley. As far as the higher posts in bureaucracy, Judiciary, education, local administration, etc., were concerned, these were largely held by Bengalis (they had been exposed to British education/administrative process as the British had ruled India from Calcutta for most part of their rule over India). It was against this policy (of getting outsiders to fill-in government posts) that the agitation in 1894 was started. At that time, the Maharaja was all powerful and any other dispensation could not have been imagined: freedom of India, birth of Pakistan, princely states becoming part of any of the two independent states, etc., were all in the wombs of time. Therefore, the KP agitation in the context of the existing circumstances then was just and legitimate. Incidentally, you are the first person, not excluding historians, who has come out with a new theory, i.e., ‘on many issues Kashmiri Pandits and British in India worked in Tandem behind the back of the Maharajas’.

Low Kashmiri Muslim Literacy Rates

You are right in saying that in 1911, the Muslims of Kashmir had poor literacy rates. It is because of the stranglehold exercised by your Maulvis and Maulanas on the community. For them imparting deeni-taleem to Muslim children is far more important than providing modern education. After all, except for a brief period between 1819-1946, it was the Muslims who ruled Kashmir and they must be held responsible for this poor state. It was only after the campaign launched by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan that Muslims started embracing modern education. Even then, Muslims despite being the second numerous religions of the world and enjoying a near absolute majority in 55 countries, cannot boast of many institutes of higher learning, research institutes, leave alone having produced Nobel Laureates. Pray tell me Drabu Sahab, who is responsible for this sad state of affairs? Having enjoyed a career of power, privilege and comfort all your life, you have cleverly avoided attacking the Govt of India directly. But you have chosen to fire the gun from Kashmiri Pandits’ shoulders. Like many mainstream politicians who enjoyed unparalleled power and pelf behind the secure shield of Article 370 and 35 A, and who are today lying powerless and frustrated, you too have given vent to your frustration because of the pain that neutralizing of these articles inflicted on you. I am afraid, you have been too clever by half.

The writer Tej K Tikoo is retired a Colonel from the Indian Army, and he heads all the India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS)