This January 2020, it is thirty years since the Kashmiri Pundits’ exodus from the Kashmir valley took place. They had suffered grave injustices, violence and humiliation prior to the migration away from the place of their social and cultural roots in Kashmir Valley. The phenomenon of this exodus had been due to the communalization of militancy in Kashmir in the decade of 1980s. While no ruling Government has applied itself enough to ‘solve’ this uprooting of pundits from their roots, there are communal elements who have been aggressively using ‘what about Kashmiri Pundits?’, every time liberal, human rights defenders talk about the plight of Muslim minority in India. This minority is now facing an overall erosion of their citizenship rights.

Time and over again in the aftermath of communal violence in particular, the human rights groups have been trying to put forward the demands for justice and rehabilitation of the victim minority. Instead of being listened to those particularly from Hindu nationalist combine, as a matter of routine shout back, where were you when Kashmiri Pundits were driven away from the Valley? In a way the tragedy being heaped on one minority is being justified in the name of suffering of Pundits and in the process violence is being normalized. This sounds as if two wrongs make a right, as if the suffering Muslim minority or those who are trying to talk in defense of minority rights have been responsible for the pain of Kashmiri Pundits.

During these three, many political formations have come to power, including BJP, Congress, third front and what have you. To begin with when the exodus took place Kashmir was under President’s rule and V. P. Singh Government was in power at the center. This Government had the external support of BJP at that time. Later BJP led NDA came to power for close to six years from 1998, under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Then from 2014 it is BJP, with Narerda Modi as PM, with BJP brute majority is in power. Other components of NDA are there to enjoy some spoils of power without any say in the policies being pursued by the Government. Modi is having absolute power with Amit Shah occasionally presenting Modi’s viewpoints.

Those blurting, ‘what about Kashmiri Pundits?’ are using it as a mere rhetoric to hide their communal color. The matters of Kashmir are very disturbing and cannot be attributed to be the making of Indian Muslims as it is being projected in an overt and subtle manner. Today, of course the steps taken by the Modi Government, that of abrogation of Article 370, abolition of clause 35 A, downgrading the status of Kashmir from a state to union territory have created a situation where the return of Kashmiri Pundits may have become more difficult, as the local atmosphere is more stifling and the leaders with democratic potential have been slapped with Public Safety Act, where they can be interned for long time without any answerability to the Courts. The internet had been suspended, communication being stifled in an atmosphere where democratic freedoms are curtailed which makes solution of any problem more difficult.

Kashmir has been a vexed issue where the suppression of the clause of autonomy, leading to alienation led to rise of militancy. This was duly supported by Pakistan. The entry of Al Qaeda elements, who having played their role against Russian army in 1980s entered into Kashmir and communalized the situation in Kashmir. The initial Kashmir militancy was on the grounds of Kashmiriyat. Kashmiriyat is not Islam, it is synthesis of teachings of Buddha, values of Vedant and preaching’s of Sufi Islam. The tormenting of Kashmiri Pundits begins with these elements entering Kashmir.

Also the pundits, who have been the integral part of Kashmir Valley, were urged upon by Goodwill mission to stay on, with local Muslims promising to counter the anti Pundit atmosphere. Jagmohan, the Governor, who later became a minister in NDA Government, instead of providing security to the Pundits thought, is fit to provide facilities for their mass migration. He could have intensified counter militancy and protected the vulnerable Pundit community. Why this was not done?

Today, ‘What about Kashmiri Pundits?’ needs to be given a serious thought away from the blame game or using it as a hammer to beat the ‘Muslims of India’ or human rights defenders? The previous NDA regime (2014) had thought of setting up enclosures of Pundits in the Valley. Is that a solution? Solution lies in giving justice to them. There is a need for judicial commission to identify the culprits and legal measures to reassure the Pundit community. Will they like to return if the high handed stifling atmosphere, with large number of military being present in the area? The cultural and religious spaces of Pundits need to be revived and Kashmiryat has to be made the base of any reconciliation process.

Surely, the Al Qaeda type elements do not represent the alienation of local Kashmiris, who need to be drawn into the process of dialogue for a peaceful Kashmir, which is the best guarantee for progress in this ex-state, now a Union territory. Communal amity, the hallmark of Kashmir cannot be brought in by changing the demographic composition by settling outsiders in the Valley. A true introspection is needed for this troubled area. Democracy is the only path for solving the emigration of Pundits and also of large numbers of Muslims, who also had to leave the valley due to the intimidating militancy and presence of armed forces in large numbers. One recalls Times of India report of 5th February 1992 which states that militants killed 1585 people from January 1990 to October 1992 out of which 982 were Muslims and 218 Hindus.

We have been taking a path where democratic norms are being stifled, and the promises of autonomy which were part of treaty of accession being ignored. Can it solve the problem of Pundits?


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Are Adivasis Hindus?

Ram Puniyani

Forthcoming Census and RSS campaign

Currently massive protests are going on against NPR, NCR and CAA. At the same time we are going to begin the process of decadal census in 2021. Already RSS is active in promoting NPR, NCR and CAA. At the same time RSS wants that Adivasis should register themselves as Hindus rather than ticking the column of ‘Others’. As per their spokesperson in the 2011 census many Adivasis groups ticked that column because of which the population of Hindus came down to by 0.7 percent point to come down to 79.8 %. This has sent signals to this Hindu nationalist organization and is planning to ensures that Adivasis tick the column of Hindus in this census.

As such RSS has a very clever attitude in defining the term Hindu. The first formulation was by Savakakar who said that all those who regard the land east of Indus as their Holy land and Father land are Hindus. This left out Muslims and Christians, and brought all others in the ambit of Hindu fold. From the decade of 1980s due to electoral compulsions they have been trying to articulate that all those who are living in India are Hindus. Murli Manohar Joshi stated that Muslims are Ahmadiya Hindus and Christians are Christi Hindus. Recently there was a controversy when they restated that Sikhs are not a separate religion but are a sect of Hinduism. Many Sikh organizations stood up to say that Sikhism is a religion by itself and recalled the book of Kahan Singh Nabha, “Hum Hindu Nahin”

As far as Adivasis are concerned in contrast to what is being planned by Hindu nationalist RSS, many Adivasis groups have been meeting from last couple of years to demand just the contrary. As per them there should be a column where they can tick their identity of Adivasis.  There are active campaigns among Adivasis groups to uphold their Adivasi identity in Census. As per them in the first census which was conducted in Independent India, the column, Aborigines, was there, which was later removed forcing them to club themselves with other religions.

After 1951 in addition to Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddha, the column ‘others’ was also there which was removed in 2011. Even during British period if you look at the censuses of the British era (from 1871 to 1931); there was provision for tribes to choose Aborigine as an option. There are nearly 83 religious practices being followed by Adivasis. Few major of these are Sarna, Gondi, Punem, Adi, and Koya. What they share in common is that they are animists, worship nature and spirit of ancestors; do not have priestly class or Holy Scriptures and Gods and Goddesses characteristic of the broad Hindu pantheon.

RSS as per its political agenda of Hindu Nation regards them as Vanvasi. They pontificate that they have been part of Hindu society who were driven away to forests to escape the forcible conversion being done by the Muslim invaders. This concoction is contrary to the interpretations based on the studies from population genetics. The Hindu nationalist argues that Aryans have been the original inhabitants of the country from where they spread to other parts of the World. The book by Tony Joseph, ‘Early Indians’ tells us that away from the race theory, we are all mixed up. The first inhabitants in our land were the ones who emigrated from South Asia over Sixty thousand years ago.

The Indo-Aryans came here nearly three thousand years ago and they pushed the aborigines to the forests and hills and that’s what constitutes the Adivasi community of India.

Hindu Nationalists like all the nationalists who construct their nationalism around their religion claim to be the most original inhabitants of the land, and their interpretations of past are molded according to that. RSS right from beginning has not been using the word Adivasi, it calls them Vanvasi. As per its agenda it wants them to be part of Hindu fold, despite Adivasis themselves saying that they are not Hindus, they have beliefs and practices which are far away from Hinduism in whatever form.

To enhance its political reach from the decades of 1980s in particular its work in Adivasis areas has been intensified. While ‘Vanvasis Kalyan Ashram’, part of RSS Combine which was formed much earlier, it was in the decades of 1980s that their work was jacked up by sending more Pracharaks in Adivasi areas. We see that in Gujarat, Dangs and nearby area, Swami Aseemanand, in MP, centered around Jhabua-the followers of Asaram Bapu and in Orissa Swami Laxmananad stationed them. They saw Christian missionaries working in the field of education and health as an obstacle to Hinduization of Adivasis. Their propaganda against Christian missionaries led to the ghastly murder of Pastor Graham Stains. It was this propaganda which led to anti Christian violence in various forms, the most horrific being the Kandhamal violence of 2008.

In order to culturally co-opt them into the fold of Hinduism they began series of religious congregations, Kumbhs. Shabri Kumbh in Dangs and many other Adivasis predominant areas created an atmosphere of fear, Adivasis were asked to be part of it, saffron flags were distributed and they were made to put it in their houses. Two religious icons were popularized in these areas, one was Shabri and other was Hanuman. To cap it all, Ekal Vidyalayas, started spreading RSS’s interpretation of history in these areas. The other angle of the whole thing is that Adivasis are living in the areas rich in minerals, which the BJP supporter Corporate World wants to take over.

World over aborigines have similar pattern. They are animists and what they practice is a culture as such. Many have converted to other religions out of their choice for sure, but finally in these matters what is important is the self perception. Hemant Soren the Chief Minister of Jharkhand pointed out that “Adivasis are not Hindus. ”Keeping that in mind; the column of Aborigines needs to find its place in our census forms.


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED