A marriage of discord

Naeem Akhtar

Marriages in Kashmir have rather strictly been within the respective folds of two main social components over centuries, Pandits and Muslims.

The two communities deeply respected each other’s cultural tradition, participated in weddings and ceremonies connected with them and helped as neighbours, colleagues and friends. Nuptial relations between them were however unthinkable so generally not even debated.

Inter dining became acceptable only after the fall of feudal system that had accorded Pandits an almost divine epithet; raazeh for men and raazehbaai for the women. The Pandit kitchen would remain out of bounds even for the Muslim domestic helps. But the equations started reforming with the abolition of big landed estates and Muslim journey upwards in education and services. A new concord seemed to be unfolding between the communities when suddenly an upheaval jolted Kashmir, creating waves in rest of the country.

In the summer of 1967 we as students only knew to our relief that educational institutions had been closed indefinitely. And the long chhutti became longer with the din reaching higher decibels and things turning hot between the communities that to us, children never seemed different, hostile or least of all clashing. Most of our teachers in Islamia College were retired and venerable Pandits. The discord was unfathomable then but started making sense as a response to shifting power equations as time passed and climaxed in the unfortunate exodus of Pandits in 1990.

Processions, demonstrations, firing and crowds dominated the city for more than two months. Home Minster Y B Chavan came to Srinagar and the happenings here started echoing all across the country. At the centre of this storm that seemed to be rocking the Congress government of G M Sadiq who had been instrumental in formally burying state’s autonomy was a marriage between two salespersons at a departmental store run by cooperative department opposite Biscoe School.

The two youngsters Ghulam Rasool and Parmeshwari became the undeserving mascots of the only Pandit Muslim socio-political hostility witnessed by our generation in Srinagar. Till then there had been some interfaith marriages but confined to the elite. This was the first one made literally at the shop floor between the daughter of a poor hapless Pandit widow and a common downtown boy who was successful enough in life only to become a salesman at a soon to be closed shop.

Before the Parmeshwari marriage that sent Pandits into an unprecedented rage there had been similar tie ups as happens in mixed, close knit localities but the general rule was to stamp them out at community level with the help of a sympathetic and understanding administration and not let these happen. The elite were always a different proposition as they are now even enjoying electoral approval.

Prior to the Parmeshwari marriage another marriage between a Sikh boy and a Muslim daughter of a rayees, a former governor of Kashmir had caused a social scandal but did not go beyond the Masjid gossip or a satirical lament. Or take the marriage between eminent doctors Naseer Ahmed Shah and Girija Dhar. It did not cause even a whimper among either community. Both remained professionally and socially most acceptable and respected couple and Pandits had no objection to that one.

For the first time in those days we heard perhaps first time slogans against someone other than the usual ‘villians’ Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad or any other pro-India politician of whom Sadiq was singularly dependant not even on the usual local vested interest but entirely on Indira Gandhi and the establishment.

Sadiq earned the free insurance and immunity in lieu of the ultimate ‘constitutional’ engineering of integration that he led. But that is beside the point. An interesting fact though was that the Pandit crowds would focus on reviling DP Dhar, the wise man of Indian politics in Kashmir who was the home minister at that time. Many people thought the slogans against him were ‘fixed’ in today’s cricket parlance. The agitation soon petered out after some crucial middle level changes in police involving D N Kaul a scholar cop and Sadiq’s reportedly ‘hot’ meeting with Gandhi.

The few local newspapers published here those days carried reports of the ‘communal engagement’ with obvious biases. Pandits ran two Urdu dailies, Martand and Vitasta while the main paper remained Aftab of Khawaja Sanaullah. National press was entirely represented by non Muslim correspondents, mostly Pandits. Sharp divisions were obvious as happens in such volatile situations.

But if one were to get really educated on the background of the flare up it would be essential to read Shameem Ahmed Shameem’s imaginary correspondence of two letters between Dhanwati and her daughter Parmeshwari in his iconic weekly Ayeena. Only the sizzling prose of a great like Shameem could have put the episode in perspective. The master craftsman of words and argument, Shameem exposed the duplicity employed in stoking a fire that, one would realize much later, was a defining moment for what history had in store for both Pandits and Muslims of Kashmir which was developed into the fabled Sharda Peeth by the former and enriched by the later as Pirwaer- the garden of scholar saints. The letters are a must read to understand the chemistry of those times.

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