The Social Set-up of Kashmiri Pandits In India

by P. N. Walie

In 1968, I had an occassion to be associated with a Swamiji in Chandigarh. He had spent forty years in the valley. He was eighty five and of Shankracharya Sect. Radiating a robust health, he had remarkable mental agility and speed in action. His face which was pink looked all the more radiant because of following snow-white beard and hair that reached his shoulders. Spirituality or no spirituality, his very bodily features were enough to draw attention of those who even passed by him. So when he spoke, people listened. What he said about Kashmiri Brahmins passed for authenticity.By virtue of his long stay in the valley, he had developed an affinity with Kashmiri Pandits. He would even join the meetings of Kashmiri Pandits’ association, when I was its General Secretary. Once addressing a Kashmiri Pandit congregation, he remarked, ” I am of a firm opinion that whereas Guru Nanak looks after Sikhs in whichever foreign country they happen to be: Shiva, the lord of intellect, education, art, sciences and conjungal happiness looks after Kashmiri Brahmins wherever they are in India and abroad. They are being guided by Shiva everywhere whether they acknowledge this fact or not. I have an evidence to prove my point regarding Shiva’s grace to Kashmiri Brahmins. In the wake of 1947 raid, I went round the places which fell to raider’s vandalism, in order to find out the state of Shivalings in God-forsaken places. Not a single Shivaling was dismantled.”

This statement put me to thinking, and Lo! Among seventy odd men audience I counted eleven who drew four figure salary; ten who were gazetted officers, twenty owned houses in Chandigarh (now there are about forty.) Out of seventy men about fifty were graduates and above. Most of them had come away from the valley after 1947 raid. With heart within and God overhead, they had made room for themselves in a different world outside their own.

When speaking rationally, we do not take cover under religous hypothesis but when reality is taken into consideration, one is amazed while pondering over such statistics. Here I shall refer to ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’, which, about seven years ago, brought out a feature pertaining to the Kashmiri Brahmins of India. Its statistics showed that this section of Indian Society from Kashmir to Kerala and Gujrat to Assam consists of only one Lakh and fifty thousand men, women and children. But in proportion to this number this sub-clan of Brahmins produced two Prime Ministers, two cabinet ministers, one chief-justice of India, two general secretaries of parliament, one chief election commissioner and four generals ! ‘Disproportionate to its population are high-ranking civilian and military officers, diplomats, doctors, engineers, scientists, famous actors, businessmen, men of letters, university teachers judges etc. etc. When I was in active service, the Kashmiri Pandit Officers in the Indian army, after independence, outnumbered the Kashmiri jawans therein. If attainment of positions of any section of Indian society has any bearing on its social set-up then the Kasbmiri Pandits in relation to their numerical strength are far ahead as a social group in our country.

Scattered all over India and abroad in small groups they have organised exclusive cultural associations. They publish their own magazines. Observe typical Kashmiri festivals. Hold biradiri elections. Celebrate pleasures of one another and share the pain of the unfortunate among them, wherever they happen to be outside the valley.

Even the last solar eclipse which turned out to be a scientific fan-fare throughout the world threw up the name of Kashmiri astronomer since dead. The fanfare of first Indian Sputnik ‘Aryabhatta’ leads one to realize as to why Kashmiri Pandit, in the valley was, and is, called ‘Bhatta’.

Under dispassionate analysis, this reality cannot be relegated to mere coincidence because, this social position in relation to this microscopic section of Indian society with its typical identity has been more or less constant. It was about half a century ago, when as a boy, I read Late Shri Anand Koul Bamzai’s ‘The Kashmiri Pandit’. I marvelled at the fact that those of Kashmiris who fled the valley as refugees under various pressures, two or three centuries ago and settled in the plains, had made enviable positions for themselves. Less then five thousand paior to indepenance these handful of people had produced men of national stature, out of sheer merit and became the very elite of Indian society. Under British rule they earned the status of being the blue eyed boys of the ‘Raj’. In administration, under British rule there emerged in the plains Kashmiri Pandits of Knighthood, Rai Bahadurs, Rajas, Rai Sahibs, men of I. C. S. cadre, famous lawyers, professors of reput, scholars, writers and poets. In education and refinement, they were an aristocratic class by themseleves. In the field af national politics this negligible society threw up the people of the highest social stature like the Nahrus, Saprus, Katjus, Kinzus; and other dignitaries during forty year’s time span. In Lahore, Delhi, Jaipur, capitals of the then princely states, Lucknow, Allahabad, Calcutta and large towns then Central India, Kashmiri Pandit was recognised as a man of substance and respectability. Yet he retained his identity. It is because of that we to-day distinguish him from the rest and attempt to analyse intrinsic powers to rise among crores of Indian masses above the level of the average in his social set-up.

So if this trait of Kashmiri Pandit to emerge despite political social and financial handicaps in land outside his own appears to be a constant factor then there is indeed some uniquequality in this sub-clan just as there is God given fair complexion and bodily features. Otherwise how in such a hotch-potch of religions, castes languages, cultures, economic disparities, illiteracy and other myriads of disabilities prevalent everywhere in the plains, this Kashmiri Brahmin is making his presence felt now as before? To find the reason, I have to go back to the the times of Martand Ruins.

Archaeology has ceased to be a boring subject for all those whose hobby happens to be general reading even regardless of any special interest in history. From archaeological findings lavmen enjoy co-relating affairs of their heritage with what they are at present. So the discovery that Martand Relics are five thousand years old a discerning Kashrniri Pandit straight away connects this Circa to his traditional calender called in Kashmiri as “Nich-Patri”. It shows along with Christian Era, Vikrami Era, Saka Era, the current year as 5056. A Kashmiri Pandit, social and cultural age therefore, is justified in the assertion that his is consistently and persistently as old as the Martand Ruins. Our ‘Nich Patris’ have been brought out all along the ancient times down to the present day without a break. “The Sapta Rishi Samvat” of 5056 years that appeared to a layman as an astral era has manifested in the background of archaeological research a different meaning in the terms of Kashmiri Pandits’ culture and their whole social standing. Thus, he can examine this fact under the much condemned (and justifiably so, Hitlerence theories and analysis of races. In that cult a pure Aryan has God-given attributes commensurate with geographical and biological factors. This valley of Kashmir of temperate zone, eighty miles in length and twenty – three in breadth is peopled by a race which is pure Aryan, not in mere aspects of natives, physique but instinctive behaviour. In the whole of Asia only this area, covered on all sides by majestic ranges of Himalayas, has sustained this purity of Aryan of creativity and initiative. Historically, morally and politically, we are all strongly averse to the claim of racial superiority. But realistically speaking we cannot deny under any pretext that the western world, whose achievements we envy and whose way of life we strive to follow, has been the leader in the progerss of making and is currently regardless of our spite. There appears to be no time in the foreseeable future when the process Even Japan is the jap we admire because for the last hundred years and more she has gone the western way by her own efforts to follow in the foot-steps of Europe and United States where the pure Aryan abounds.

One of the foremost qualities of the aforesaid race is the initative in its intrinsic ability to turn to its use available resources by its own genius under any evironment, hostile or favourable.

Under this analysis, we take into account the people who lived in the valley of 80 miles by 23 miles in a geographical set-up that made communication with the outer world extremely difficult two or three centuries before and almost impossible in the B. C. Era. This state of being cut off and what the avarage Kashmiri did on his own, within his available resources and by his own genius to live with it proves exclusive characteristics to survive and retain his identity. This becomes all the more pronounced when other classes of Indian society placed in similar conditions and with available natural resources have not been able to turn them to their own use, on their own initiative. When reference is to an average Kashmiri in relation to an average individual of other parts of India, it excludes those who have privileges of birth, economic well-being, education or any other social distinction. Normally it is a man in the street and a representative sample of millions of illiterate people whose economic condition precludes any special feature in cultural fields.

Here in the valley, right from copper age, the average man has on his own, shown creative instincts, productivity, originality and adaptability. The exploitation of wood, the indigenous water transportation devised so as to take advantage of gently flowing rivers, the crafts, handi-work, weaving, floating vegetable gardens, boat-craft such as ‘Doon-gas’, ‘Khachus’ (later house-boats), pottery innovations, the ‘Kangri’ the type of cooking hearth (Daan), foot wear out of hay, warmth generating fuel out of tree leaves, all have the stamp of creativity and adaptability. And most important of all is the fact that these items are out of available local natural resources.

Even in the art of house – building Kashmir had devised special aspect of construction which is exclusviely his own and this has been profusely praised by construction experts because such construction had outstanding features of adaptality to extreme cold and earthquake prone conditions of the valley. Surprisigly the cost was less in relation to durability. For all this type of exclusive requirement of life in the valley since, ancient times, it has generally been the genius and the initiative of the average man that has produced the results which are tenable even today despite mechanical life that has overwhelmed countries ill around the world.

The foregoing is just an illustration to prove the point that a Kashmiri pandit being a pure Aryan has an edge over others who do have availble to themselves the natural resources which, if exploited on their own as did the Kashmiri, would have definitely raised them the level of backward sections of society about which we read and hear day in and day out through the media. I have had the opportunity to assess the quality of the average man in many other parts of India in comparison with average Kashmiri by virtue of my All India Service. This quality of adaptability, creativity and exploitation of resources and situations towards his own good has come in good stead for a Kashmiri Pandit. This is an intrinsic trait. This has been the product of biological and geographical conditions obtaining in the valley over the centuries.

Besides, the Kashmiri Pandit has a psychology which has been nurtured by his religious beliefs of exclusive ritualism. As education and the effects of environments mould the character of an individual so do the religous beliefs shape and formulate a collective behaviour of a section of people which we term as its cultural. So in the religious aspect of Kashmiri Pandit’s life, a reference is necessary to substantiate this argument. To a Kashmiri Brahmin upto eleventh century A.D. the reality that Vedas were transmitted over 5000 years by ‘Shruti’ and ‘Samriti’ from mouth to mouth must have been an inconvenient process. He therefore, applied his quality of adaptability to this aspect of his life. Pandit Vasukura, the Kashmiri Brahmin was, thus the first individual who reduced the Vedas to writing. In evidence of this statement, I refer to para 2 of page 2 of a treatise on “Vedic India” by Louis Renou, the French scholar of Paris University as translated by Philip Spratt in 1957. Apart from this documentary authority I have my personal experience right since my boyhood to have perceived that our religious rites were elaborate and always in the medium of Sanskrit accompanied by manifold symbolisms, figures, diagrams, mud improvis- tions, rice-balls, Kusha grass, copperware, limestone, barley and various techniques like, the “Shokh-ta Punshun” at the time of births. Earlier the whole of this was a ‘tamasha’ for me but after going through the above named French scholar’s work of research in Vedas, I am convinced that Kashmiri Brahmin was meticulous in performance of religious ceremonies. Such process was common in every household and was precisely as laid down in Rig-Veda five thousand years ago. But elesewhere during my forty-five years in plains, I have not witnessed such festidiousness in performance at the function of any non-Kashmiri Brahmin. Even in the process of “Lagna” at the marriage functions the Kashmiri Pandits’ technique excels; i.e. the bride and the bridegroom hold each others hands both together go round the fire, whereas non-Kashmiris tie the bride to bridegroom’s dhoti who takes her round as an appendage. In Kashmiri Pandits procedure bridegroom and bride moving around fine, hand in hand, appear as equal partners in the journey of life. In the other case the girl is a mere follower with no status of equality in participation of life together.

Besides this aspect, I have had the opportunity to be in almost all British-time provinces of India which include Pakistan and Bangladesh. I worked in Army Ordnance Depots such as the one in Srinagar called Badami Bagh Depot. In those depots throughout India, local civilian labour (average Indians) is employed. From the collective observance of religious function of those average civilians in the country, I have been able to note that whereas Hindus of particular state or region celebrate festivals exclusive to them only, we Kashmiri Brahmins in the valley recognise and celebrate all these put together. Illustrate this point by the mention that in Maharashtra the greatest religious exclusive festival is the fortnight of Lord Ganesha. We also celebrate ‘Ganesh Cheturdashi’ and a fair is held at ‘Ganpath Yar’. In deep south Maha-Shivratri is observed among wider range of Hindu community. Kashmiri Pandit does it over a number of days. In Bengal, Durga Puja or worship of Maha Kali is an exclusive annual feature. We also perform Durga Ashtami ‘Havans’ during the same period and observe Maha Kali day in December every year. Janma Ashtami, Navratra and Dussehra being most widely celebrated in Karnataka, U. P., Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and H. P; in Kashmir these are the festivals of equal importance. Brahmin’s New Year Day in the south is the same as our ‘Navreh’. ‘Nag Panchmi’, a snake worship is in vogue in Central India; we observe ‘Ananta Chodah’. Baisakhi is celebrated in Hindi Belt but not in the South. It is a festival in Kashmir. In certain parts of U, P. and Bihar, ‘Khichari’ festival coincides with our ‘Kicha Mavas’. In Assam region, worship of ‘Ghar Devta’ is common and we also perform puja and offer rice and raw fish to ‘Yach’ during the same month. In Jabalpore and Andhra where female labour is employed by Ordnance Depots, leave is obtained by Hindu women because of the fast of ‘Chandan Shisti’. Kashmiri Pandit ladies observe this accession at a mass scale. Diwali is common everywhere as in Kashmir. In Kerala the thread ceremany is a lengthy affair with the connected ‘havan’. It is as elaborate a performance in Kashmir. In ‘Shradha’ functions rice-made ‘Mool Purusha’ other than ‘Pindas’ is a common sight in deep South and the same is the feature of a Kashrniri ‘Shradha’. In Eastern U.P. ‘Chandika hawans’ are just like ours in Kashmir. Despite having highest percentage of educted members, Kashmiri Pandit sub-clan is the most ritualistic among all the classes of Hindus, I have had occasion to study in different parts of India in relation to our religious life. All religious proceeding, and temple recitations of Kashmiri Pandits are unwittingly still in Sanskrit even though we seldom wittingly or studied Hindi or Sanskrit as a subject in Schools.

With all the above mentioned religious background the Kashmiri is respected for this trait by Pandit is secular by disposition and other non-Hindu communities in the rest of India. The Muslim surnames are an evidence substantiating non-fanatical attitude of this community. I am both a “Pandit” as well as ‘wali’ and there are Kashmiri Pandits in India whose surnames are Mullas, Sultans, Mirzas, Durranis and Qazis. They have not changed in Kauls or Dhars so far! There is no feeling of embarassment whatever even though in the other parts of India than Kashmir such names exclusively identify Muslims.

In the light of all this, Kashmiri Pandits settled in plains after 1947 or earlier are, to my personal satisfaction in this regard, above average, economically and educationally with high sense of hospitality and intellectual disposition when compared with Indian masses in any part of the country and are proud of their heritage. Their power of competition under odds in the various walks of Iiie which are peculiar to Kashmiris such as services of sort professions based on education, modern sciences and technology, is of very high potentiality. Normally Kashmiri Pandits calculating mind which over-rules emotion at the time of scoring over others, is a determining factor in his struggle for survival especially in places and societies where he has landed outside his own state.

In this context, the social set-up of Kashmiri Pandits in India has now manifested a new pattern. There are easily distinguishable two groups of this sub-clan, difference between them has become pronounced because after 1947 a large number of Kashmiri Pandits left the valley and settled elesewhere in India. Almost all of the present generation of Kashmiri Pandits whose fore-fathers have permanently settled in plains over last century or so, do not speak Kashmiri even though they retain much of Kashmiri culture. They speak, Urdu or Hindustani regardless of the local languages of an Indian State in which they happen to live and thrive. They seldom arrange inter-cast marriages, even though recently settled Kashmiri Pandits do without inhibitions even intercommunity weddings. This class of Kashmiri Pandits normally find matches for boys and girls among the biradari scattered over various states. They arrange matches in towns and cities hundreds of miles away from boy’s or girl’s home. But the culture, tradition, religious functions, mode of marriages are uniform despite being in different states and far away towns of course other, socialities conform to those prevalent among the class who have settled in plains after 1947. But these are drastically curtailed. In this respect also I have opportunity to study this sub-clan of a sub-clan at their close quarters becausce I married in 1946 in a family of Kashmiri Pandits who had settled in Lahore, a hundred and fifty years earlier. All relatives on my wife’s side and that of my daughter-in-law belong to this social group. So they refer to Kashmiri Pandits who have recently come away from the valley and speak Kashmiri as “Taza Kashmiri” whilst the latter call them ‘Purane Kashmiri.’ For convenience sake I have coined my own nomenclature. I demarcate the members of either group as ‘Typical’, and ‘Non-typicals’. This terminology has been catching up since 1946 as it has obviated confusion in reference. I call a Kashmiri Pandit ‘Typical’ if he speaks Kashmiri. Those who have settled in earlier times and do not speak Kashmiri, I identify them as ‘Non-typical’. My family, therefore, has a composite culture, Typical and Non-Typical put together !

My personal knowledge based on my relationship with this sub-clan of a sub-clan is that those who are highly placed are more or less cosmopolitan, but in many ways have affinity with a Kashmiri Pandit as in early days. In British India it was this tendency to help fellow Kashmiri Pandit that benefited this class by creating social net-work consistently for about a century. If an uncle in Kanpur held a key position he would see that his nephew in Rawalpindi availed benefit of his being a relative. And this sort of help members of this social group gave to one another regardless of relationship also contributed to their sustenance as a class as well as to their emergence of a priveleged social entity in British time. The British rulers were susceptible to their in-born abilities and mastery over English language.

At this present juncture, this social group has three stratas. The first strata has already been referred to. The middle one has retained the family tradition and a cult of ancestors which are somewhat unlike not distinct, except that of a typical Kashmiri. The lowest strata is not distinct, except that it speaks Hindustani or Urdu and the women do not, unlike typical Kashmiri wear Punjabi dresses or that of other states. All the three stratas have no compulsions to stick to certain avoidable formalities as typicals do, which include the art of presentation of hospitality. Against this, the typical Kashmiri copies Punjabis in dowery, dress, other things and above all arranges inter-caste marriages. Among non-typical Kashmiris, inter community or inter-caste marriages, are only the result of a boy or a girl having fallen for a boy or a girl of other community. Parents or relatives do not as a rule arrange such marriages. Even in food habits, they have a creed of their own, which is different from that of typical Kashmiri, a Punjabi or natives of other states where they live. But on comparison with typical Kashmiris who have recently settled in plains the non-typicals of middle and lower starta appear, these days, to lack lustre in many fields of competitive life and education.

All said and done, this whole idea of a microscopic distinct class as Kashmiri Pandits in India can sustain its social individuality with its God-given attributes in case it retains by effort, its culture as well as purity of blood. If that is to be an aim, inter-caste or inter-community marriages merrily arranged by typical Kashmiri parents work counter to it. A sub-clan of a lakh or two numerical strength among 70 crore people of Indian Society does not take long to disappear as a group of a disinct set-up. At the present speed, the inter-caste or inter community marriages accelerated by the compulsions of irrational and bad dowry and marriage customs of the typicals as well as love affairs of non-typicals, the social identity of Kashmiri Pandit, in India will be gone and forgotten, if not now, but here-after.

The reader may justifiably observe that I have chanted only the beauties of the good, of the social set-up of the Kashmiri Pandits in India and not barked against the bad; like a pianist, I have only touched the keys that made my tune and have ignored the rest.

 

http://www.koausa.org/Glimpses/SocialSetUp.html

 

http://sidileak.com/2014/04/29/16319/

 

…and I am Sid Harth