Composite Culture of Kashmir’s: Sufferings of Kashmiris as a Whole.

Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Zahoor Ahmad Rather1, Rumana Majid2

Deecmber 9. 2017


The composite culture of Kashmir has been the concern on the part of both communities over long centuries of interaction to preserve their religious identities. A Kashmiri Pandit may be poles apart from a Kashmir Muslim about the observance of his religious practices and rituals. But culturally both have developed a somewhat exaggerated notion of their water and Kashmiriness in religious symbiosis. This fact continues to be mainly reflected in their poetry and literature even during the period of turmoil in the Valley. We need to look at the sufferings of Kashmiris as a whole. Kashmiri Pandits have suffered. But why should we gloss over the fact that Kashmiri Muslims too have been victims of the unfortunate developments that took place in the post-1989 period? The emerging point is that there is still an ample scope for the resurrection of the composite culture of Kashmir once Delhi and Islamabad are in a position to demilitarize the state of J&K so that both the communities often invoke the past for glorifying the wonder that was Mouj Kashmir.
Keywords: – Culture, Kashmiriyat, Social Relationship, Migration, and Improving Situation.


Culture is the end-product of several hundred or over thousand years of history during which many factors have not only influenced but also reacted against one another and thus helped to shape the formation and development of culture. ‘Culture’ does not imply a set of traits permanently defined in society but as a set of constantly contested attributes, which come into being as a result of socio-economic dimensions of interaction among people1. Space has a cultural significance as there is a primary connection between culture and space. Cultures take place in defined spaces, but the relation between displaced people and places implies that culture in the new locales is also informed by the culture. Culture is modified in the new locations in sites of different people in different settings which are sites of cultural interaction2. Cultural synthesis is possible, but the synthesis of religions or, for that matter, even religious synthesis is a mirage. What is unique about the composite culture of Kashmir has been the concern on the part of both communities over long centuries of interaction to preserve their religious identities. A Kashmiri Pandit may be poles apart from a Kashmir Muslim about the observance of his religious practices and rituals. But culturally both have developed a somewhat exaggerated notion of their watan and Kashmiriness in religious symbiosis. This fact continues to be particularly reflected in their poetry and literature even during the period of turmoil in the Valley. It follows that there is no justification for magnifying the divide between the two communities on the grounds of mass exodus. Kashmiri Pandits have suffered, but we need to look at the sufferings of Kashmiris as a whole, damaged the cause of pluralism in the Valley.3


Kashmiriyat as a word itself suggests its meaning and is used to denote Kashmiri-ness. The word ‘Kashmiriyat’ signifies a centuries-old indigenous secularism of Kashmir, characterized by religious and cultural harmony, brotherhood, patriotism, and pride for the mountainous homeland of Kashmir by the Kashmiris. Kashmiriyat is a common word in Kashmir which is often used to determine the tolerance; that majority community used to display towards minority community both in religious and cultural aspects. The tolerant nature of Kashmiri people, their culture, and centuries-old traditions, their manners of living together in a harmonious relationship by accepting and respecting one another’s values gave birth to Kashmiriyat. According to T.N. Madan, “The composite culture of Kashmir is and was a living reality of the Kashmir valley; it was a non-conflictual, integrally shared, and integrally harmonized culture of Kashmir.” Further according to him, “It is a heritage rather than construction, and that it is based on the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of difference.” Further, in this regard, he emphasized, we (Kashmiris) had strategies of not converting differences into conflict; we had strategies of living together without losing our individuality, of living together without turning hostile to each other”. This composite culture is often designated as kashmiriyat4.

Notion of Common Cultural Traditions

The main inhabitants of the Kashmir valley are Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, sharing of a common culture. This common culture and their peaceful coexistence have been used to describe Kashmiriyat5. The main tenet of Kashmiriyat is the network of socio-cultural and historical ties that bind all Kashmiris regardless of religion, into an independent social collective. While Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits follow different religions, they share many cultural practices that are a fusion of the elements of their respective religious practices as well as the uniquely Kashmiri devotional and philosophical norms. Communal harmony has been a strong social norm in Kashmir society. Social harmony and close association between two communities have been regarded as one of the indicators of Kashmiriyat6. The local traditions regarding language, food habits, and dress are similar. Members of both communities speak the same Kashmiri language – called Kausher – that, according to Grierson, has Dardic origins rather than Indo-Aryan. They wear the same dress, pharen, use kangari to keep warm in winter, and Kashmiri tea (nun-chai) keeps brewing in both households throughout the day. This commonality and the close association has been attributed to geographical and historical factors; geographically huge mountain ranges cut-off its inhabitants from the outside world and helped them form a close-knit community and historically mass conversion to new religions occurred without erosion of earlier cultural traditions.
The Social Relationship of Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits.

To understand the relationship between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits before and after the turmoil and the focus here is on the perceptions of that generation of Kashmiri Pandits who have lived a significant part of their lives with Kashmiri Muslims. The relationship between the communities has given birth to the term Kashmiriyat and Bahichara. Where does these brethren relationships stand for after the migration and how Kashmiri Pandits perceive the absence of Kashmiri Muslims in their lives after the migration? In the present scenario, if Kashmiri Pandits return to their homeland, whether their wills the same camaraderie or not? How the younger generation of Kashmiri Pandits reacts when the older generation talks about their past relationship with Kashmiri Muslims? Responses to such questions would throw light on the earlier existing reality and the present reality of the nature of social relationship according to the perception of the older generation of Kashmiri Pandits7.

The Kashmiri Pandits are the participants of Sufism and Rishi culture of Kashmir. They have had immense faith in the shrines of Sufi saints. The shrines of Sufi saints were revered by Kashmiri Pandits not only in a similar manner but more than their Kashmiri Muslim compatriots as told by the older generation of Kashmiri Muslims participants. Kashmiri Muslims had deep faith in these shrines. That has also contributed towards strengthening the bond of brotherhood/Bahichara between Kashmir Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, as both had a close association with these practices irrespective of their faiths. The shrines of Sufi saints were an integral part of Kashmiri Pandit’s life and culture in Kashmir. They used to visit these shrines frequently. However, after the migration, being out of Kashmir, these shrines are absent in their lives. This part would reflect on the impact of migration on their belief system at present. Being out of that cultural context in which various ziayarats/shrines of Sufi saints were an important part of their belief system, it is important to know the significance of Sufi practices and belief system for them in the present context and how they perceive Sufi practices now. How Kashmiri Pandits who are still in Kashmir perceive the Sufi practices and do they still go to these shrines? The part would reflect on the answers to questions like “How did the Sufi practices contribute in developing the bond between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits in the past?” If they ever visited Kashmir after migration, did they also visit any these shrines that they used to visit when they were living in Kashmir?” Do their children know about these Sufi saints of Kashmir? 8 This is the matter of serious concern.

Why did Kashmiri Pandits leave? – State Response

Kashmir experienced an unprecedented political turmoil during the last two decades. The worsening communal scenario in India in the decade of the 1980s added fuel to the fire of militancy in Kashmir, started in the latter half of 18th century as a consequence of referendum/Plebiscite front organized under the leadership of Mohammad Afzal Beig. Meanwhile, the harmony prevalent in Kashmir received a communal tinge. Non-state actors took advantage of the distortion and targeted Pandits for their ends. As a result, an atmosphere of fear and a sense of insecurity gripped the Hindu community. In this tense situation, Jagmohan, appointed as the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir was more interested in evacuating the Pandits to deal with the militants in an organized manner. Although, Pandits had decided to migrate in 1986 the decision remained in abeyance by the intervention of goodwill mission, constituted by prominent Kashmiri Pandits steeped in plural culture. As the militancy stepped up, goodwill mission was dissolved by Jagmohan as one of the members of the team was forced to migrate to Jammu. Jagmohan got support from Hindu communal forces in spreading fear and terror in the minority community of Kashmir. Rumours were spread in Jammu and Delhi that Hindu temples and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed in Kashmir. It was strongly opposed by the leaders of the Muslim community to the hilt; even now these religious places are respected and secured by the Muslims. However, encouraged by Jagmohan and other communal minds Pandits left the Valley and are living a miserable life in refugee camps in Jammu and rest of India. However, the role of turmoil can’t be underestimated in this context, but violence was not specific to non-Muslims. It must be noted that among the victims of violence a large number of Kashmiri Muslims were killed or compelled to leave the Valley. In fact, Pandits were well aware and attached a good deal of significance to this naked reality that the first victim of militancy was a Muslim. According to a government report of March 2010, 219 Pandits were targeted by militants from 1989 to 2004. Among these 122 causalities were witnessed between 1 January 1989 and 1 December 1990 and from 2004, no report of such killings came forward9. However, one can’t be callous and mindless in counting over a lakh killed Muslims in scores and a handful of Pandits in hundreds. It is, of course, a gross insult to the bruised sentiments of the Muslim community; never saw a day of comfort since the Valley was occupied by foreign forces, 500 years ago10. In fact, the last decade of 19th century was a time of myth-making and spreading rumors. The Kashmiri Pandits themselves confessed that until today, we don’t know who posted that threat. The state-supported migration rather than taking any step for assuring them of the security of their lives and property11. The Pandit families living in Kashmir, not migrated from the Valley are critical of states inability to provide security to the minority community. However, they acknowledged support and protection provided by Muslim neighbors. There are several examples of Muslim neighbors and friends looking after the dignity of non-Muslims. In the initial years, militancy was within the confines of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, an organization fighting for self-determination, and Hindus as a community didn’t feel threatened12. In fact, the ideology was also professed by Pandits, they were quite compatible with separatist tendencies and were advocating Kashmiri nationalism in spite of the fact that killing of people associated with Indian state arouses fear among them. When the militancy was started in 1989 Kashmiri Pandits participated in the anti-Indian procession and provided support to the separatist’s groups. According to Balraj Puri, he stated that there was no hostility between the two communities but security forces were involved in gross human right violations in 199013. Thus, the tradition and culture of Kashmir received a serious set-back with this mass migration.

Besides, all these ill effects, sufferings of Kashmiris as a whole, education sector was worse hit by the migration of a community who were undisputedly considered very much dedicated, capable and hardworking teachers. People of Kashmir valley even today miss these great Pandit teachers like Shri Sham Lal and Shri Maharaja Krishan. Though, the overall literacy rate in the state had increased, but it had not benefitted all regions equally. While the Jammu region had attained higher literacy rates, Kashmir region showed comparatively poor performance according to Census Record of J&K, State, 2001. Consequently, the minority community shrank from 140,000 in the 1980s to 19,865 in 1998. Among these families, 34,644 families are in Jammu, 19,338 families in Delhi and 2,398 families in other states/union territories. About 21,927 families are government employs/pensioners, and 16,679 families in Jammu and 4100 families in Delhi are getting relief from the government and 237 migrant families in Delhi, and 4,778 families in Jammu are living in 14 and 12 camps respectively14. The migration put heavy pressure on government funds as a big chunk of the population was to be supported in all respects. The Kashmiri Pandits are getting everything like; economic relief not only from state government but Centre is also proving every kind of assistant to these people. They are getting necessary physical facilities like electricity, water, sanitation, etc. with required accommodation but unfortunately, the Kashmiri Pandits are mentally and spiritually dissatisfied.

Improving Ground Level Situation in Valley

The conditions are now improving very fast, and even the Joint Resistance Leadership assured Kashmiri Pandits full security15. They reported that Kashmiri Pandits have always been a part of our culture and our history … Kashmir is a garden, and there are many flowers in here…Kashmir is incomplete without the Pandits. Kashmiri Pandits should come back to their homes. Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference, assured them that 90 percent of the Muslim population in Jammu & Kashmir would protect their Hindu brethren if they returned to the Valley16. But he strongly condemned the creation of separate colonies for Kashmiri Pandits as he believed that Indian government is rehabilitating non-Kashmiri Hindus in these colonies for changing the ethnic composition of Kashmir. He stated that Kashmiris have never opposed the return of Pandits, but are against creating separate zones for them. It is an attempt to divide Kashmiris along religious lines, which is harmful to the Kashmir cause17. The people of Kashmir expressed their generous nature as they elected Pandit, woman as a Panchayat member from Wusan, a village in north Kashmir where 98% electorate is of Muslims signaling a change in the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. The Pandits have also realized such changes as they are coming back into the Valley. Although it is not possible for generation next to return to the Valley as most of them are well settled outside the state, and they are involved in different professions, occupations and other economic activities in different cities of India and aboard, and they are not willing to come back in the land of less opportunities and still groaning under turbulence. However, elder people would love to be in the Valley as its inhabitants for rest of life, and it is the inner desire which they would like to fulfill during their lifetime. National President of All Migrant Camps Co-ordination Committee, Resh Rattan Pandita, reported that 14,000 Kashmiri Pandits have filled up the forms giving consent to return to their native places in the Valley. Ali Mohammad Sagar, Leader of National Conference, said that the time is not far when they would return and again start living in the same old tradition of mutual brotherhood and peaceful co-existence.


Thus it is clear from the above discussion that Kashmiri Pandits were a vital organ of the Kashmir, born in the Valley, cremare their ancestors here and spent most of their lives. In fact, their culture is quite different from the Hindus in other parts of India, so they are finding themselves aliens outside the Valley. So it is not possible to find out the permanent, lasting solution of the Kashmir problem without taking into account the voice of the Kashmiri Muslims and the Kashmiri Pandits as a united but separate entity. Only on encouraging Hindu-Muslim reconciliation and return of the Kashmiri Pandits into a welcoming and safe environment would there be a growth towards such a future. As I seek to understand the objective truth underlying the assertions of secular-minded Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims on the negative impact of militancy on our pluralist traditions, I feel more and more convinced that such contentions show their acute concern to preserve the composite culture of Kashmir. So the point that needs to be stressed is that the ethos or the foundations of our composite culture cannot be obliterated within just a decade or nearly two decades. The emerging point is that there is still an ample scope for the resurrection of the composite culture of Kashmir once Delhi and Islamabad are in a position to demilitarize the state of J&K. Ram Jethmalani, Chairman of a four-member team of Kashmir Committee, said that the Kashmir issue could be resolved only when displaced Pandits return to the Valley. Returning of Kashmiri Pandits to their homes would be an essential milestone in the search for peace in Kashmir and often invoke the past for glorifying the wonder that was Mouj Kashmir.

Sawhney, Charu (2015), Displacement and Cultural change: The case of Kashmiri Hindus, The Eastern Anthropologist, 68: 1 (2015), p, 87.
Gupta, D (2000), Culture, Space and Nation State. New Delhi: Sage.
Khan, Muhammad Ishaq (2009), Unmaking of Kashmir’s Composite Culture? Greater Kashmir, 14, Oct.
Shudhganda; Understanding Kashmiriyat; Chapter III.
Puri, Balraj (1990), ‘Kashmir Defending National-Cultural Identity,’ Economic and Political Weekly, March 3, pp. 422-423.
Punjabi, Riyaz (1992). ‘Kashmir: The Bruised Identity.’ In Raju Thomas (ed), Perspectives on Kashmir, Boulder Westview Press.
Greater Kashmir, Srinagar, 22 June (2011).
The perspective of Kashmiri Muslims: The Older Generation – Shodhganga
Bukhari, Shujaat, 219 Kashmiri Pandits killed by militants since 1989, The Hindu, 24 March (2010).
Qadri, Mohsin, KPs return: unthoughtful thought, Greater Kashmir, 14 January (2010).
Pandit, Giridhari Lal, the state of collective crimes: beyond South Asian political ritual dynamics, World Affairs, 14 (1), 167 (2010).’
Bhan K.L., Seven Exodus of Kashmir Pandits, 24 (2003).
Puri Balraj, Kashmir Defending National-Cultural Identity, Economic, and Political Weekly, (3) 422-423 (1990)
Annual Report, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 28-30 (2003-04)
The Economic Times, 12 July (2012)
Greater Kashmir, 18 July (2012)
Greater Kashmir, 30 July (2012)

Posts Carousel

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

SAJ on Facebook

SAJ Socials


Top Authors