Sunday, July 26, 2020

Portrait of Mahrattas, KP family, Brariangan, 1950s

Back in 2012, I had posted this photograph from a collection given in "The Hindu Householder Family and Kinship: A Study of the Pandits of Rural Kashmir"(1957-58), an anthropological study of Kashmiri Pandits living is "Utrassu-Umanagri"  (Votaros-Brariangan, as known to Pandits)) twin villages 12 miles east of Anantnag. Even then I wondered who exactly were the subjects of the study and what became of them. I was not married back then. After getting married a few years back, I have now new relations. The image meanwhile the image was often shared around online all these years, even making it to some random articles on Kashmiri Pandits.

used in Quint

This is the story of the photograph and the people in it.

A few days back, my brother-in-law from wife's side Rajesh Pandita wrote in to say that the little girl in the front centre is his mother. 

Rajesh Pandita provides the details:

This photograph is of my maternal side family who used to live in Brariangan (Umanagri). At the back is in turban is my Nana Ji:  Mahishwarnath Mahratta. On right is my Nani: Mugaljigri. Left side is my Mamaji, O.N. Mahratta. In front of them is my mother Jaya Mahratta along with her bother Vasudev Mahratta. Two ladies on right are part of extended family.

Prior to 1947, Mahishwarnath Mahratta was living in Delhi at Connaught Place and working with Birla group at the time of construction of Birla Mandir. His name is engraved in a stone there.  He was manager at Birla House Manager which at the time was a new structure. Primarily he work involved taking care of  guests like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahamta Gandhi and freedom fighters who used to frequently visit and stay in the Birla House. My Nana was close to both Gandhi and Nehru but had a special Kashmiri bond with Nehru. In early 1950s, when Nehru visited Kashmir after independence, he visited Pahalgam and invited my Nana to Pahalgam. After the 1948 War, my Nana he moved back to Kashmir due to health reasons and built a house in Umanagri, Anantnag. The house seen at the back of the photograph. 

T.N Madan knew Mahishwarnath Mahratta back from his time in Delhi. When Madan moved to Kashmir for his study, he sought him out, moved to his village, stayed with them for weeks and thus the famous anthropological study of Kashmiri Pandits was born. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Devi Angan Conundrum

 Hari Parbat Hill Map, Drawn on a Shawl, 1850s.
Information that is easily available online: 

In 1930s post-communal violence, Kashmiri Pandits laid claim on whole Hari Parbat (land around it was called "Devi Angan") as their religious site. The claim was rejected by Glancy Commission even though they accepted it as Hindu land. The process was thought to be too inconvenient for majority community and prone to raise communal tension.

Info. not often mentioned (however recalled by poet Zareef Ahmed Zareef):

Decades later (in 60s-70s, exact date not known) Jia Lal Nagri associated with the temple came up with a plan to distribute (retained trunctated) empty "Devi Angan" land around the temple among needy people. According to the plan if 10 plots were carved out of the land, the distribution was to be in this proportion: 2 were to be given to a Muslim, 1 to a Pandit, every 6th to a Sikh.

Hari Parbat Temple (left). 1958
via personal collection: ‎Satinder Singh Sandhu‎

Info. not easily available ( told in "Crisis in Kashmir" (1991) by Pyarelal Kaul) and not often mentioned: What still happened in Kashmir:

In May 1972, Pujaris of the temple were attacked by "unknown assailants". One of the Pujari died. The temple committee wanted to build a wall around its land to keep it safe. There were forces at work who would not allow it. Even official permission was not given. Meanwhile the temple committee setup a fence around the land. The land was still not safe. The chowkidar of the land was harassed by people till he left the job. A Sikh guard, a former policeman was hired to keep watch. This man also left the job under pressure. Then a Muslim man was hired, he too was harassed till he also excused himself. To keep the land safe, the temple committee planted vegetables on the land. One night, someone let loose cattle on the land. Then the committee landed fruit trees on the land, one night someone uprooted all the trees. In all this, the pilgrims still arrived everyday to Parbat like they had for centuries, circumambulating the hill, they worried a bit, but went about their prayer rituals as usual. When on action was taken by goverment, only then the actual land grab around the temple started. Bagh-e-Ram Singh which fell on the traditional Parikrama route around the temple was also grabbed. Now the pilgrims couldn't even circle the hill using the old routes. They kept their heads down, took other routes, prayed, returned to their homes. This went on till 1983 and later.

Chakreshwari Temple on Pradyumna hill/Hari Parbat.
Other Shrines also visible
 Drawn on a Shawl, 1850s. 

Post 90, the land was still getting grabbed. This was happening with other temples of Kashmir too. Pujaris (often non-Kashmiris) were bribed, temple committees subverted, deals done, "land leased", land sold and money made. 

Dome of Chakreshwari Temple getting constructed.
inaugurated by Laxman Joo 
via: Anil Bhat
[Bharat Wakhlu adds: My father Mr. O.N. Wakhlu designed the shell structure. Supervision of the contractor’s work was done by Mr. A.N. Thussu, who became Chief Engineer a few years later.
 He was an ardent devotee of Swami Lakshman Joo. The year should be 1963-64]

Post 2000, when new Pandits tourists started arriving "home", cut-off from the land, its bloody history, most not even aware what the place waslike a few decades ago, the tourist Pandits quietly arrived at the temple, claimed the stairs, deliberately avoiding Muslim majority lanes of Parikrama route, said their prayers and marvelled at the beautiful view of the sad city from the hill.

The iconic gate of the temple.
Post construction.
[Bharat Wakhlu adds: The gate was already there. Used to be wooden earlier. ]


Monday, July 6, 2020

Pandit Bazaz the Iblis

If we know one thing about how ethnic cleansing is possible, it is that first intellectual arguments for defining them as perpetual "problem" is done. It needs creation of an amoral society in which killing of the "other" can be legitimised. In India, if we have Congress, Communists, Socialist etc that have done lot of work countering attempts to delegitimise Muslim existence in India, in case of Kashmir, it was National Conference that laid the foundation of systematic hated for Pandits. It was not work of religious parties in Kashmir, they joined in later, it was work of ultranationalists in Kashmir who needed a perpetual enemy they could blame for all that was wrong in Kashmir.

By 1989, the ground had already been prepared to cast Kashmiri Pandits as the eternal enemy of Kashmiri Muslims. No matter what politics they pursued - communist, socialist, ultranationalist, democrat - they were marked people. To illustrate it we can see how Prem Nath Bazaz, the man that certain Tahreekis still love to quote, was perceived in the "intellectual" circles of Kashmiri Ultranationalists.          

In "Perspectives on Kashmir" (1983) by Mohammad Ishaq Khan, writes:

"The emergence of the Kashmiri Muslims on the political map of the sub-continent forced them to move in two directions viz, communal and secular. While more than 99 per cent of the Pandits opposed the popular movement tooth and nail, an insignificant number of the Pandits like Prem Nath Bazaz decided to support the Muslims. However, the role played by the 'secular' Pandits too, proved to be far from satisfactory. Bazaz, for example, was a great influence on Shaikh Muhammad Abdullah and, although the conversion of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference was brought about by the political sagacity of the latter, it was in no small measure, the outcome of the influence of Bazaz's powerful writings and his close association with the Kashmir leader.

But it remains to be seen why Bazaz who played an important part in laying the the foundations of secular nationalism in Kashmir, later turned to be an arch enemy of the National Conference.

Not only did Bazaz join hands with the enemies of the National Conference after 1940, but he even did a lot of academic propaganda against Shaikh Abdullah so as to tarnish his towering public image. Whether Bazaz's role in Kashmir politics since 1931 has been that of a 'nationalist', a 'Pakistani', a 'socialist', or a 'reactionary' masquerading in the guise of a 'secularist' is a question worth studying; nevertheless, the course of development in his political thinking suggests particularly one significant conclusion that his political role was always strong enough to induce mutual conflict in the Muslim community of Kashmir. This is not only proved by his writings but also by the fact that the Mir Waiz family of Srinagar always enlisted the support of Bazaz in order to regain the position it had lost in Muslim society of Kashmir owing to the emergence of Shaikh Abdullah. Thus, while the pre-independence period, Bazaz supported Mirwaiz Muhammad Yusuf Shah demand for the integration of the State of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, in the Assembly elections of 1977 he pitted Mir Waiz Moulana Muhammad Farooq against the National Conference so as to pave the way for the success of the Junta Party in Kashmir. It is interesting to note that the main item on the agenda in the meetings presided over by Bazaz at the Miz Waiz's house during the elections was how to bring about the downfall of Shaikh Abdullah."
Thus we find that even a Pandit like Bazaz was simply seen as a man whose actions lead to conflict in Muslim community. That Ishaq Khan links it to event of 1930s when NC was born out of split in Muslim Conference is significant as it places Pandits as a historical enemy who for their interest are always conspiring to split the Kashmiri Muslim ummah. So not only are 99% KPs are painted communal but intentions of 1%  Bazazs is also questioned. They are seen as someone extra cunning who will only confuse and mislead the Kashmiri Muslims. *

These are charges that 30 years later still are hurled at Kashmiri Pandits. The language and those making the accusations change but the gist remains the same. An evil insidious villain is made out of the community. Ishaq Khan continues with his accusations:

"The radical land reforms introduced by the National Conference government in 1950 were interpreted in communal terms by the Pandits and their supporters in Jammu and New Delhi One of the main arguments raised was that the reforms were directly aimed at the Pandits. Though the Central Government was not against the spirit of the re forms, it did not approve of the manner in which the re forms were implemented. Sardar Patel's group particularly was greatly alarmed by the radicalism of Shaikh Abdullah.
It is, therefore, hard to contest the view that Shaikh Abdullah's expulsion from power in 1953 was mainly the result of a conspiracy hatched by those Pandits whose interests in the land were affected by the promulgation of the Big Landed Estates Act of 1950.

The Pandit agitation over the voluntary conversion of a Pandit girl to Islam in 1967 also bears an eloquent testimony to the fact that Pandit leadership role in Kashmir has always been against the larger interests of the country. No less anti-national has been the role of the national press fed mainly by the Pandit correspondents; its editorials, articles and news concerning Kashmir have often looked at things with jaundiced eyes by magnifying the problems of the Pandit community. So great has been the effect of the propagandist activities of the Pandits that even a seasoned politician like Indira Gandhi was forced to remark recently that the 'minorities' are not safe in Kashmir.!

It will thus be seen that in spite of their numerical in significance, the Pandits have not only made their presence felt in the arena of national politics but even now seem to guide the destiny of the Kashmiri Muslims. True that the politics of the Pandits is the politics of certain vested interests it has, nevertheless stood in the way of emergence of the Kashmiris as a monolithic political group. The Pandits phobia regarding their property, life and religion have only served to strengthen the revivalist and the separatist forces in Kashmir in recent years. The growing popularity of the Islami Jamiat-i-Tulabba among the Muslim youth may be described as a chain reaction to the onslaught of communal forces in the Kashmir politics One need not feel surprised, therefore, why in a mammoth Friday gathering at Hazratbal recently Shaikh Abdullah felt constrained to openly criticise the inimical activities of 'Hindu communalism' in and outside the State against the Muslims of Kashmir."
When Shaikh was thrown out of Power, again a Pandit conspiracy was blamed for it. Street gossip is passed off as popular opinion. The portrait of KP that is painted sees them as people who lie to Center to make Kashmiri Muslims suffer, KP journalists as "agents" who mislead someone "seasoned" as Indira Gandhi and communalists driven by phobia who are forcing not just Muslims youths to turn to Jamaat and radical Islam but also forcing Shaikh Abdullah into making communal speeches. Thus they are presented as the anti-national devil who has been (mis)guiding the destiny of Kashmiri Muslims. They are the reason for all that is wrong in Kashmir. It is a surprise that in 1989 when guns arrived in Kashmir as the "solution", it was only the "Pandit Problem" that got solved? Is it a surprise that the marked men among KPs were journalists, historians, socialists, democrats, communists, liberals, secularists, nationalist and ultranationalist of all kind? Every KP was a problem. It was this intellectual sophistry that made this violence possible. 


*After coming across these writing of Prem Nath Bazaz, I was expecting that someone among Kashmiri Ultranationalist would have gone out of way to discredit him. 

These writings and thoughts were the trigger:  

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