A Village Where Edifice Of Muslim-Pandit Unity Stands In Ruins

A Village Where Edifice Of Muslim-Pandit Unity Stands In Ruins

23 September 2012
Rising Kashmir
Nasrun Mir

Srinagar: It is unlike any other village in Kashmir. Passing by the main road that cuts through Hawal (pronounced as Haal by locals) a good part of the village looks as if it has been subjected to aerial bombing with scores of houses lying in ruins, bereft of humans. Falling between South Kashmir’s twin towns of Pulwama and Shopian, it is hard to believe that Hawal was once considered to be one of the most prosperous villages in its neighborhood. Brown brick houses and villas are crumbling amid green walnut trees, giving a ghostly look to the village. The erstwhile kitchen gardens are now covered under grass and wild bushes. The houses are without windows and doors and in some cases without rooftops. The stink of the decaying walls, human and animal waste fills the air inside. The graffiti by village boys narrates teenage love stories, broken promises and scandalous affairs. These young men come to this desolate neighborhood every day, to have fun, puff tobacco and play cards. For them these houses were always desolate. But for the elders, Hawal used to be a prosperous village once. Just as the foundation of the abandoned Pandit houses have been rendered fragile in the absence of caretakers, the edifice of the famous Muslim-Pandit unity of the village also stands on weak ground in Hawal. In one of the desolate brick houses, a gang of Muslim boys is playing ‘I spy’. The teenagers are quite used to their distinctive surroundings. Just across the bridge, that serves as an entry point to the village, is a colony of Pandit families constructed by the government as part of its rehabilitation plan for the migrants who have returned to the valley. There is a police check post at the entry of this Pandit settlement with white-and-red colored single-storey flats inside. The guards keep vigil and ensure round-the-clock security to the Pandit families. Amid this reinforced sense of security, some families could be seen drying vegetables in the open under the autumn sun. Talking to members of the two communities gives a glimpse of the fault lines that run deep in their psyche post-1990. One story, two narratives render the air of Hawal with strange uneasiness. It also points to the hurdles in the larger process of Muslim-Pandit reconciliation in the valley. Kashmir was once considered as the “ultimate” example of Muslim-Hindu unity. This was until the armed uprising in early1990 in which many local Muslim boys picked up arms to fight the Indian state followed by mass migration, which saw thousands of Kashmiri Pandit families leave their home and hearth behind for the safer but sweltering Indian plains. Back in Hawal, a village once projected as a model of Kashmiryat, identity is sharply defined by religion. Both Hindus and Muslims in private pledge their political beliefs to their religion of birth. A concept of religious pluralism, ‘Kashmiryat’ is still regarded a controversial subject in the valley. Like their community members in other parts of the valley, Hawal Pandits left the village, except for one family which had exhausted all the savings to buy the house and did not have enough money to leave and start afresh. “No Muslim has ever threatened us,” says Lajwanti, a woman in mid 70s. Her Kashmiri still carries a heavy border village dialect. She is a Hindu from Doda, a remote border district of Jammu division and was married to a local villager some 50 years back. Her husband, Omkarnath Bhat has been managing the village temple all these years. He was advised rest by doctors after being hit by a car while coming back from the temple. Logistic support for temple has always come from local Muslims, including labor work, and the money from a local MLA’s personal fund. At the surface of it, everything appears fine, but as one gets close to the intricacies, the cracks in the edifice of the Muslim-Pandit integration look deeper and the uneasiness looms large. “I don’t come out like Muslim women on the door to talk to strangers,” says younger daughter-in-law of the household refusing to reveal her name. She is clear they don’t have much contact with the Muslim neighborhood. “We stayed here because we had no money to leave,” says Lajwanti whose two sons and daughter work as government officials and live a reasonably comfortable life. “I don’t like to live here, but I don’t have the option of leaving this place,” Lajwanti says as she admits that she does not go to wedding feasts of Muslim families when she is invited. Lajwanti’s story may be different because she is not an ethnic Kashmiri Pandit, but the divide gets evident and intense when the issue of reconciliation and Kashmir’s future crosses the bridge and enters the barricaded Pandit settlement where around 70 families have put up. All of them work in government departments and most leave Kashmir in winters. Most of the families living in this colony are not from Hawal village and have no plans to settle back in their native places. They have not even supported the reconstruction of the village temple. For them the colony is just a transit place, which allows them to earn money. They do not go out and have minimum contact with Muslims. “We can’t relate to Kashmir anymore. We are here to earn money and build house in Jammu,” says Poshkernath, a Kashmiri Pandit in his mid-sixties, who lives with his two sons in the colony. “Our religion is our identity. We support India because it is a Hindu nation. We don’t support Independence movement here.” Views of Poshkernath are endorsed by many Pandit families, who have either come back to Kashmir or continue to live in different parts of India. He also supports rightwing Pandit group, Panun Kashmir, which seeks a separate homeland for Kashmri Hindus within valley. “It will be perfect if they create a separate homeland for us within Kashmir,” says Poshkernath. “If Kashmir is independent, they will not let us live here. They will turn it into a Muslim land.” But a local historian, who supports the Kashmir resistance movement and didn’t wish to be named for the story, challenged the perception. He said in 1947 when Muslims in Jammu division were targeted in thousands, not a single riot was reported against Hindus in Kashmir. “The 1989 events were purely based on class struggle to change and challenge the rule of minority on a majority.” In the past, separatist leaders have welcomed return of Kashmiri Pandits. “There has never been a major riot against them in Kashmir history even during the times when the valley was ruled by Muslim kings,” says veteran separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani who heads his faction of Hurriyat Conference. According to the government figures, around 219 Kashmiri Hindus were killed in the last two decades. Some local community members put the number at 500. Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh announced a special package for Kashmir Pandits in 2010 to facilitate their return to Kashmir. Under the scheme, 25000 government jobs have been created to adjust the Kashmir Pandits back in valley. The government has also built special colonies at various places for migrant Pandits. The initial response to the policy has been good. So far 57000 families across Jammu and Kashmir have accepted the package. “Nobody asked us to leave. We were scared and left the valley,” says Sachin, a government employee who now manages the affairs of the village temple at Hawal. Though he was born here, he prefers to live in the government colony for “security reasons”. Meanwhile, a Muslim resident, who spends most of the evenings in the compounds of desolate houses along with his friends, says he is happy with the return of Pandits. But there is nothing emotional behind this feeling. “Since they have settled in the colony, our village has now a working dispensary and electricity,” he says. “I wish they put a Pandit in each village of Kashmir. Valley will automatically develop.” Abdul Ahad, a Muslim villager in his late 60s, is upset with the local Pandit community which left the village without even speaking to him. “Days before they left, both communities met and Pandits took a pledge they will stay and we Muslims promised to protect them. They still left,” says Ahad. “See these houses are here for the last 25 years and no Muslim has occupied them. It is theirs and will always remain that way.” He was not happy with the new settlement down the bridge. “For us they are strangers. We never see them. They are always guarded. They are just like the ghosts….just like the houses here. ” But in the “ghost colony”, Pushkarnath and other families believe their future is secure with India and that Pandits were killed because they were nationalists. “They killed Indian nationalists. We support India in the name of religion,” he says. As Poshkernath spoke in an agitated voice about Hindu nationalism, a local Muslim security guard started to murmur in a quiet voice to his friend: “If he is right by defending his nationalism in the name of religion, why is a Kashmiri Muslim termed fundamentalist when he supports Pakistan in the name of Islam,” he asked his friend. Instead of a forthcoming reply, he got a gesture to be quite.