I was brought up in a non-pluralist Muslim society in Kashmir, born after the Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) fled the state in 1989. However, I know about a section of Kashmiri Hindus, living in exile in Jammu. But, never did I imagine the plight of this community till I visited a migrant family living there.
These were the days of the Hindu festival of Diwali. It was a pleasant morning in the migrant camp at Jammu. Our host, a teacher, was getting a lot of calls from his students to wish him on the occasion of the festical. Surprisingly, he wasn’t ‘happy’. In fact, he made no specific preparations for the festival. Our host’s only daughter was a bit enthusiastic but she too, wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
She didn’t respond to the sound of occasional fire crackers being burst outside. My host seemed to be in a dilemma – whether to celebrate or not. I was surprised, rather confused, and on enquiry I was told that the Hindu community back in Kashmir, actually celebrated different festivals such as ‘Herat’ (Shiv Ratri) while ‘Diwali’ and ‘Holi’ were as alien to them as they were to me.
Surely, the above account shows that the Kashmiri Hindu community is suffering from an identity crisis. This crisis that arose out of a conflict in Kashmir, sent shock waves down my spine. When I pondered over this, I realised that this identity crisis was a minor symptom of a bigger problem – tip of an iceberg. It manifested in many other ways.
The most outstanding feature of a culture is language and here, the adults talked in Kashmiri whereas their kids talked in a mix of Urdu, Hindi, Dogri and English. The well-known Kashmiri fire pot for warming, ‘Kangri’, was vanishing in this hot climate. Famed Kashmiri ‘Wazwan’ could never survive in a purely Hindu environment and wine, a not so popular drink in Kashmir, was creeping in. This is how a man suffers when the culture of living together is disturbed or negated.
Whatever, be the reasons, they can never be attributed to religion – at least not to Islam whose root word is the Arabic ‘Slam’ meaning peace.
Were the two communities in my homeland always opposed to each other and fighting? No, not even in 1947 when the whole sub-continent was burning. My elders say that they always shared joys and sorrows and celebrated Eid and Herat. Kashmiri Hindus relished Muslim ‘Wazwan’ and Muslims were always waiting for water soaked walnuts gifted to them on Herat. They (the Hindu community ate only ‘halal’ meat and on marriage ceremonies they sang folk songs – ‘Wanwun’.
The highly educated Hindus benefited the Muslim community a lot, whereas, the lands of the Hindus were green and their lanes and houses clean due to cheap manual labour of Muslims. Kashmiri language, long Kashmiri gowns ‘Pheran’ and fire pot ‘Kangri’ were a hallmark of both the communities. Both respected the mystic poetess Lal Ded who belonged to the Hindu community and the great preacher of Islam and an eloquent Kashmiri poet Sheikh-ul-Alam.
The most striking thing of this living together is that both these great personalities belong to the medieval period when mass conversion of Kashmiri Hindus was taking place through the teachings of the Irani preacher, Mir Syed Ali Hamadani. Means, the section of Hindus who didn’t convert to Islam respect the converter, Sheikh-ul-Alam and Mir Syed Ali Hamadani. This is the rarest of rare examples of tolerance, co-existence and the culture of living together. Then what happened in 1989?
In 1989, an armed struggle broke out due to political reasons. There was a lot of bloodshed. The Hindu community chose to leave Kashmir temporarily while some say that they were forced to leave under a conspiracy. Whatever, the reasons, they left and suffered a lot in the hot, burning climate of Jammu. Muslims suffered in a different way which was no lesser than that of the Hindus.
If both the communities would have stuck to the fundamentals of living together, they would have not suffered this way. Unfortunately, despite the common culture, the communal politics overpowered everything and perhaps it was due to lack of strong and coordinated leadership in both the communities.
The story narrated above shows how people, despite having religious differences, can live together by building bonds based on the common culture that they share. The same story gives us an example of a particular community feeling unsafe and betrayed, all because of a political game or conspiracy. In fact every communal or religious divide emerging within a society in any part of the world is not because of common people.
Common people just want a happy life where peace is essential. This proves that the rifts and tension between people of different religions are caused by some other factors. One such notorious factor is people’s greed to gain power through political gimmicks. At the same time, lack of sincere and coordinated leadership in communities serves as a predisposing cause. And then, irresponsible journalism adds fuel to the fire because by easier access to information, today’s world has become a global village and every rumor or ill conceived cooked news spreads like wild fire.
A system must be in place to check the state of violence as experienced recently in the Ferguson riots in USA, after a white police officer shot a black teenager dead. Sometimes, violence takes the form of religious divide. But going through scriptures of all the religions – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. – we find that the fundamentals of faith are common and human togetherness is advocated by all. This means, co-existence, tolerance, unity in diversity and developing a culture of living together is a cherished goal.
What was the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo management in 2015? An act of intolerance? Yes, but what about the Charlie Hebdo campaign of insulting a personality whom millions believe to be a pious Prophet, dearer to them, than their own lives and children? Is it not an example of intolerance on the part of Charlie Hebdo? Obliviously, yes.
So we are paying the cost of intolerance and we still need to inculcate a culture of living together peacefully and respecting others, so that, we are respected. The great Urdu poet Ghalib says, “Mein nay ladakpan mein Majnun pe ae Asad; sang uthaya to sar yaad aaya (In teenage I wanted to stone a lover (Majnun) and then I stopped as I remembered my own head which could be stoned).”
So, freedom of expression is a cherished value but it is never a license to abuse others. It is against the art of living (read culture) of living together. No stereotyping of a particular community, please.
Young people like me are induced to cultural prejudices created by elders. So we should be careful about it. Youngsters are connected to the whole world through social media. We should not fall prey to rumors but, promote human values. It will lead to mutual respect and a ‘live and let live’ environment.
We must try to learn at least two foreign languages to understand the psyche of other nationalities. Let us avert “Clash of Civilizations” as described by author Samuel P. Huntington.
Writing articles in school magazines and newspapers are small but effective steps towards developing a culture of living together. Hope we learn an age old lesson, “united we stand, divided we fall”.