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Bloodbath did not affect Kashmiri traditions

Srinagar: Having lost more than 70 thousand lives, mostly young, Kashmir has many things to teach to states like Gujarat. Despite all trouble, turmoil and dance of death and destruction, on for last more than 12 years, the centuries old traditions of brotherhood, harmony and communal tolerance are in full bloom in Kashmir nowadays. There are hundreds of migrant Kashmiri Pandits presently in the valley to enjoy 20 to 25 degree Celsius temperatures and the courtesy of local Muslims. Most of these people want to spend maximum time before returning to places of their settlement. They arrived here to attend the annual Kherbawani Mela at Tula Mulla on June 18. None among these wants to miss a visit to his/her native place. Even some among them have visited few highly vulnerable areas particularly in the old capital city of Srinagar.

Man Mohan Koul is an engineer by profession. He was living in the Aali Kadal locality of old Srinagar city. However after leaving the valley, Koul has now got settled in the Jani Pore area of Jammu city. The 32 years old engineer is presently in the valley. His wife Muni Mujoo and two children Ankush, 6 and Hena, 3, accompany Koul. Though the family is putting up in a hotel situated in a secured area only few hundred meters from the army headquarters here, however they have missed no visit of their choice in the valley. The Kouls even visited some of the areas in the old Srinagar city, which are considered highly vulnerable. Both Man Mohan and Muni visited their native places in Rainawari and Aali Kadal, respectively, in the downtown Srinagar. The family has so far visited Gulmarg, Mughal Gardens, Tula Mula, Hari Parbat, Zethyaar, Rajouri Kadal and some other places. Muni took her husband to her native area, and children too. Though a local Muslim has now purchased their (Muni’s) house, however the visiting family was treated warmly by the owners. Muni was born, brought-up and educated in the same area. She also went to have a glimpse of the college, where she was a student right from her childhood. While being in Kashmir for more than 12 years, Muni never forgot to see her old friend, Rosy, a local Muslim girl.

Muni recalls her friendship and close association with Rosy. "I had an idea that Rosy is working in a central government office in Srinagar. So I visited the office and met my friend", says Muni. According to her it was a highly emotional scene. "When we saw one another, we met, hugged and tears rolled from our eyes ", she says. Muni also took her husband and children to Rozy’s house in the old city and spent few hours there. Man Mohan too visited his birthplace at Aali Kadal where almost all Muslim neighbors gathered to greet him. He too had a busy schedule in meeting his friends and others. Kouls are very happy here. Only worry visible on their faces is return from their homeland. They are however happy that despite all sorts of destruction in Kashmir, traditions are intact. The couple regrets not being able to teach their two children Kashmiri language. The Kouls, while being out of Kashmir, talk to one another in Kashmiri. This has an impact on Ankush and Hena who understand the language but cannot speak it. The couple is highly impressed that wherever they went, the local Muslims took them in highest spirits. Interestingly one of the Muni’s uncles is presently living in the Baramulla district of Kashmir valley.

According to Muni, turmoil has not forced her uncle to leave Kashmir. "He is well adjusted here and has married his children locally", she says. According to Man Mohan they were unable to express their happiness while being in Kashmir. But for his wife, the real happiness was her meet with Muslim friend, Rozy. Infact their expectations of treatment were quite limited when they reached here. However they were returning, with what they term as bundles of joy and happiness. Girdari Lal Dass is also among the hundreds of Kashmiri Pandits enjoying 20 to 25 degree Celsius temperature of the valley in addition to their company with local Muslim friends. Dass has come with his wife and grandson Raj. After attending the Kher Bawani Mela, they have been busy in meeting and visiting their known Muslim families.

Unlike Kouls, Dasses are staying with a Muslim family at Khanyaar in the Srinagar city. Dass is highly disturbed over the dance of death and destruction, which is on in Kashmir for last more than 12 years. "I have lost many of my students in the turmoil", says Girdari Lal, who was running a school in the Rainawari area in Srinagar prior to moving to Jammu in 1990. The family was running "M-Dass" group of schools in the city. Girdari recalls when he came to know about death of one of his brilliant students. "I could not take any meals for about a week, as the students and their beautiful handwritings were roaming before my eyes," says Dass. According to him the deceased students handwritings were beautiful like print. Out of six schools, Dass family had raised of its own whole of the infrastructure of its main school at Zanakot in the outskirts of city. They were residing near the said campus. However after the family left Kashmir, the residential as well as school complex got damaged in a fire incident. Despite having visited a number of places, Dasses do not want to visit their own place saying they cannot afford to see debris of their structures. 

The family is now running a few schools in the Jammu city with Girdari Lal’s younger son Rahul leading the establishments. Girdari Lal recalls the ‘coldest’ night of January 1990, when a Muslim friend phoned him asking to leave in whatever condition. "Late Mohammad Amin (the friend) rang me up at 2.00 a.m., asking to leave Kashmir quickly and secretly", recalls Dass. 

Earlier the rumor of Dass’s killing had spread in the area, leaving his relatives and friends utmost panicky. Though the Dasses are in the valley for more than a week, they are yet to visit a number of places, mostly Muslim friends and people known to them. There are hundreds of Kouls and Dasses who have left the valley but are presently here to refresh their old memories. Many of them have to face sad moments also as they come to know about death of their neighbors and others. However every one among them is leaving Kashmir with fresh views about their Muslim brothers. "We were never expecting to be received here so warmly by the local Muslims, whom we had to leave in hurry while taking ways to different Indian cities", says Hadey Nath, a teacher. Hadey despite being a Pandit, was working as teacher, in the Islamia School here.

Earlier the annual Kher Bawani Mela had also witnessed the same scenes on June 18. A record number of Pandits, mostly from outside the valley, had attended the annual mela. Muslims were not only present there to greet the Pandits, but many were accompanying them. Besides the official arrangements for the annual mela, a number of Muslim orgnisations had set up different types of free stalls for the convenience of visiting Pandits. Many Muslim volunteers were also seen offering cold drinks to visitors in the mela area. "Today’s visit and watch has generated a hope in our minds that one day we will return to Kashmir as we have found our Muslim brothers more courteous and affectionate towards us". These were the words of one Makhan Lal who had come to attend the mela along with his wife Kamla Devi, all along from Indore. Having settled well in the Indian city of Indore, where his two sons are working as reputed medical and computer professionals, Makhan Lal however misses his homeland very much. He says after so much of blood having flown in the valley, no one was expecting so much warm and friendly atmosphere here. But according to Makhan Lal things have been found entirely different.

The state government’s tough attitude to cane charge the Milad procession on Rabiul Awwal 12, this year and make all other arrangements for the Kherbawani Mela, had also not deterred Muslims to welcome and host visiting Pandits. Though the action had created strong resentment against the government in Kashmir, it could not affect the hospitality and harmony on the part of the majority community. Another example at the same mela was visit of an old Pandit Shamboo. A Muslim neighbor, Sultan, accompanied Shamboo, a resident of nearby village Preng to the mela site. The mela too had a number of lessons for Gujarat.

The local Muslims have been performing marriages and rites of the Pandits who are living in Kashmir. There are dozens of instances to this effect witnessed in the valley despite trouble and turmoil. The latest of these was recorded on June 22, in a city locality here. Anil Raioo, a Pandit boy, was married to a south Kashmir girl of Shopian area in Pulwama district with local Muslims performing all arrangements of this marriage. Barat was seen off with traditional Kashmiri folk songs performed by Muslim women. Muslims dominated the function, as only a little number of Pandits was available to participate. Most of the people accompanying the barat (marriage party) were also Muslims, who later brought the bride with full enthusiasm and fervor. 

¯ Javed Matjee

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