Denigrating Kashmiri Muslims

12 Aug, 2014    ·   4616

Shujaat Bukhari responds to journalist Rahul Pandita's latest commentary on the Kousar Nag pilgrimage

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
For the past few months Rahul Pandita, a journalist with ‘The Hindu’ has unleashed his “creativity” to project the Kashmiri Muslims as a community that has nothing to be proud of their past. Using ‘The Hindu’, widely read and respected newspaper of India known for its unbiased treatment of news and views, he has not lost any opportunity to paint the Kashmiri Muslims as intolerant religious bigots who have no respect for religious independence. So far it has remained a one-sided affair as he continues to thrust his opinion on the minds of millions of readers.

Pandita has every right to have a view and articulate that. But his tone and tenor only shows his intentions to denigrate the Kashmiri Muslims, who unfortunately are in figurative majority in Kashmir. He blames the Kashmiri society for everything without going into the genesis of the wrongs that have been done during past 66 years. Kashmiri Pandits have played a significant role in shaping up the situation we are in right now.

As part of his diatribe, he earlier tried to project Kashmiri Muslims as “Shawl walas” (Shawl sellers) who would often dupe the Indian customers. He was perhaps the inspiration for the cellular company ‘Idea’ that had made a commercial on similar lines. It was later removed as people lodged a strong protest.

The latest piece Pandita has written in ‘The Hindu’ is about the controversy over Kousar Nag yatra. He focuses on the yatra through the octogenarian separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who was one among many to “oppose” it. Politicization of issues like this in contemporary Kashmir is not new. This helps the vested interests from all sides. But the reality in this case is that the opposition to the conduct of yatra is not merely political. People in the area besides the civil society reacted with a measured response. Since the institutionalization of such pilgrimage has more than one message to be conveyed to the people, it ought to raise concerns.

In case of Amarnath, the number of pilgrims went up from a few thousand to five lakhs in the past two decades. What is perceived in Kashmir is that the yatra was institutionalized with an objective to convey that “Kashmir had been re-conquered”. It may not be true but the perception is so deep that the mistrust that exists between state and people makes it a strong belief.

Not that the Kashmiri Muslims, who according to Pandita are all communal and have an Islamist agenda, are opposed to any such religious activity, but the way the yatras have been conducted in past 20 years have not helped to strike a chord with them. With political firmament laden with competing narratives and the contradictions in facilitating one religious activity and thwarting other, the sense of disempowerment has further deepened. There is no discounting the fact that some Kashmiri Pandits had been visiting Kousar Nag as a matter of respect for being the abode of Vishnu. But it has never been seen as a full-fledged yatra spread over a calendar. Usually whosoever would visit Kousar Nag would do so as an adventure since the area is a known trekking destination. Notwithstanding the fact that there are traces of such spots of religious significance in Nilimut Purana and Rajtrangni, the oldest testimonies to Kashmir history, but all of them have not been popular destinations for pilgrimage. Many Kashmiri Pandits would authenticate that Kousar Nag was not a yatra destination the way the newly formed Pandit body is projecting it. Pandits are also not known to go for Amarnath pilgrimage in large numbers.

In an interview with this newspaper, senior National Conference leader and Member of Legislative Council (MLC), Vijay Bakaya said Kousar Nag was never a pilgrim destination and that some groups were blowing the issue out of proportion.
“As far as I know, Kousar Naag has never been a pilgrimage destination and people have been going for trekking to this beautiful lake,” Bakaya said in the interview.
The former chief secretary said the environmental concerns of the people of Kashmir were legitimate and needed to be taken care of.

With Pandita’s inherent hate for Kashmiri Muslims purring off and on, his bid is to paint the Kashmiri Muslims as an intolerant lot. Kashmiri Pandits surely have lost their place due to the adversities of time. The armed rebellion in Kashmir is responsible for that and the killings which took place also cannot be condoned. But the way the situation has shaped for Muslims in Kashmir for last 20 years is also not one of comfort and to blame the entire society for the miseries of the community is unfair. If Kashmiri Pandits blame Kashmiri Muslims for not showing any concern over their displacement and killing of 219 Pandits, but as an “emancipated” community that has been elite for centuries also failed in showing even a shred of solidarity with the latter in last two decades.

According to Mike Quigley, “Protection of religious freedom means considering the faiths and beliefs of everyone involved”.

Such freedoms cannot be enjoyed selectively and in isolation but can only be cherished by treating all the faiths on equal terms. In past 20 years the state government has banned the Milad procession in Kashmir so is the case with the Muharram procession. Similarly the religious leaders are not allowed to offer prayers in the mosques. Ideological differences apart, Geelani has been under house arrest for six months and he has not been allowed to fulfill his religious duties. Law and order is an excuse that government uses to justify its actions. But state has responsibility to maintain that with huge apparatus at its disposal. It cannot be done by putting every other person under house arrest. This amply makes the distinction in according the religious freedom clear.

Coming back to Kousar Nag, the argument put in contrast is that how other water bodies have suffered in Kashmir and why the opponents are only concerned about this yatra. One may agree on this point that we need to talk about the decay of Dal, Wular and Anchar lake. But the moot question is why to pollute a clean water source then? It is state’s responsibility to ensure that the money spent on these bodies is utilized for retrieving them and the Kashmiri civil society has been voicing its concerns all the time.

We as a society might not have done enough to protect these bodies but that does not mean that if a pure water source is still away from human intervention it should in coming years replicate the Dal.  Visits to places of religious significance are welcome but the way the institutionalization is taking place through the state is not in the interest of the people. Politicization of every issue has ruined Kashmir and to deal with it in compartments and with a clamour of victimhood does not augur well for a peaceful and safe Kashmir.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir