Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kashmiri Pandits - 25 Years in Exile

So after years of avoiding it, I return to a topic that is very close to my heart - Kashmir.. the enchanted heaven doomed to live out its destiny in strife..

Many of you may be familiar with my earlier articles on the present situation in Kashmir for which I blame successive Govts. and certain trigger-happy factions in our Armed forces {Read The-Kashmir-Conundrum and Stop-human-rights-violations-in-Kashmir}. But what I want to share today is what the children of the 90s are not aware of even in Kashmir!

Unfortunately, while the mainland and even Kashmiri pandits to some extent have sought to wipe out the memory of the travesty that happened with them by settling in new places, the new generation of Kashmiri muslims have been fed a white-lie of Pandits fleeing on their own under coercion by the then Governor of Kashmir. Combined with the authoritarian regime enforced by successive governments in the valley, most of the ones I have personally spoken to ACTUALLY believe it to be true for it fits in with their idea of India as a dictatorial and anti-Kashmiri nation!

It has been TWENTY-FIVE years since Kashmiri Pandits were thrown out of their homeland. 25 years after, can they retain their distinct identity in the face of alienation from their land and successive generations inter-marrying with the people of the regions they have settled in? More importantly, can they ever dream of going back to their home state and living a life of safety again?

As the main-stream media continues to ignore their plight, it is time to take stock of the situation that has only deteriorated in these two decades. I do not claim to be an expert in the situation in Kashmir since I was too young to follow the events then but I have followed it now for years and do remember that there were many Kashmiris joining my school around that time. Over the years many became good friends and still remain so and this article is an attempt to put forth their version in front of the rest of the country as well as other Kashmiris to tell them what REALLY happened there two and a half decades ago!

The name Kashmir comes from Kashyap-Mir, a reference to the Hindu sage Kashyap who was a grandson of Lord Brahma and had his Ashram here. Legend has it that the valley was full of water in Puranic times and the lake was called Satisar - the Lake of Shiva's wife Sati. The Nilmata Puran which is a 6th century scripture, details the story of how the lake was drained by Lord Krishna's brother Balram to expose the demon Jalodbhav. 

Ancient Kashmir was one of the prominent seats of Shaivism in India with its Trika philosophy adding a distinct flavor to the Shaiv thought from other parts of the country. The famous dynasties of Kashmir are chronicled in the Rajtarangani by Kalhana which is an account of the various monarchies of Kashmir, prior to the advent of Islam. All those who say that Kashmir was never a part of India should read these two books before making their tall claims.

You would be surprised to know that this exodus of Hindus was not the first time that the minority community was targeted in the state. By the account of many historians, it was the SEVENTH such situation since the arrival of radical Islam in Kashmir which till then had followed a very liberal Sufi philosophy and in the face of this radicalization, thousands of Kashmiris had to flee their homeland and live as refugees in their own country.

Col. Tej Kumar Tikoo the author of Kashmir, its Aborigines and their Exodus states that the tide turned for Kashmir from early 14th century when Islam was first introduced in the valley. Born in Srinagar, Col. Tikoo spent a major portion of his thirty-four years of service in the army on the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir or fighting insurgency operations including the 1971 war with Pakistan that set Bangladesh free. 

The north-western regions of Indian sub-continent had already been converted about two centuries ago and it was many decades later that it saw inroads into Kashmir. In his well-researched manner Col. Tikoo gives details of the first Muslim rulers of the valley starting with Malik Sadarudin, Shamsudin and the Syeds of Iran who had fled their own country and started proselytizing in India. It wouldn't be possible to go into the details here but for now it would be sufficient to say that in face of of the atrocities by the Sultans of Kashmir, followed by Aurangzeb and then the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali, waves of Hindus left the valley, their sole concern being the safety of their women and children and their resolve not to convert to Islam. 

There were also a few Muslim rulers who weren't so high-handed and welcomed the Pandits into their courts and for brief periods, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism co-existed in the valley giving rise to a syncretic and tolerant culture called Kashmiriyat.

When Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab extended his Sikh dominion over the state, it gave respite to the 10% Hindu population that was left unconverted. And the status quo was maintained when the Britishers defeated the Sikh, and the Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh was entrusted with the kingship of the British Principality. Many may not know but it was only in 1838 that Srinagar was made the Summer Capital of the kingdom while Jammu remained the regular one.

The Insurgency of the 90s began in the backdrop of the ousting of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and strengthening of radical Islam in the sub-continent. Pakistan's attempt to annex Kashmir in 1948 was thwarted when the then king joined India but it never lost any opportunity to get it back, finding in Kashmir a willing scapegoat for its proxy war with India. 

Due to some extreme steps taken by the then PM Indira Gandhi, the separatist movement in Kashmir had already begun to take roots just as it had in Punjab and Pakistan did not wish to waste such a stupendous opportunity to avenge its humiliation in Bangladesh. The movement which had started to save Kashmiriyat, instead became centered around Islam with attacks on prominent Kashmiri pandits and sustained campaigns through the mosque pulpits declaring three choices - RALIVE, GALIVE YA TSALIVE - Join us (convert), Die or Run away!

The same congress government that was responsible for the complete mishandling of situation in Kashmir in the past years was also responsible for turning a blind eye to the mass exodus of more than 300,000 Hindus from the valley due to its pseudo-secular philosophies. 

Rahul Pandita, a displaced Kashmiri from the younger generation gives a heart-wrenching first-hand account of the events faced by many Hindu families in his book - Our-Moon-Has-Blood-Clots. It is a powerful autobiography that brings to life the Pakistan-backed separatist movement that turned large parts of what was once a Sufi land into an Islamist hub. The author and his family, like innumerable Pandits, were forced to live as refugees in Jammu before finally settling down in Delhi, changing houses as many as 22 times. If you need to understand the Kashmir story, this book cannot be ignored.

Pandita reflects upon the betrayal that the Hindu community felt when he speaks of his Muslim friends with whom he had grown up - " For them, the events of 1990 were a rebellion against the Indian state. For me, the same events led to exile and permanent homelessness."

Only one who has undergone pain and witnessed it first hand could have written this moving account of how Kashmiris of a particular community forced other Kashmiris to flee because they belonged to a different religion and then sowed the seeds of fiction that Governor Jagmohan authored the exodus so that he could 'take care' of the Muslims.

Each milestone in his adolescence is a landmark in the political history of Kashmir - the Pakistani flags and posters of Pakistani cricketers in the first ever international cricket match in Srinagar in 1983; the jubilation in 1986 when Pakistan defeated India in Sharjah and people of Srinagar poured into the streets to celebrate; the gutting of the 300-year-old Baba Reshi shrine; the advertisements in Urdu newspapers warning Pandits to leave the Valley; Pandits shot by militants and refused treatment out of fear and perhaps the most vivid - watching the houses built with provident funds burned down or ransacked.

I have always heard my Kashmiri-resident friends openly complain about the behavior of Indian troops and their tirade against the government which I agree is justified to a large extent. But I am yet to meet a single Kashmiri Muslim who openly shows sympathy for their OWN brothers who were thrown out by their own elders. Agreed everyone was not a part of this frenzied jihad but those who did not intervene and let their fellow Kashmiris be killed, raped and thrown out of their own land are equally responsible!

If the fight of the separatists is for KASHMIR why does religion come into the picture? Shouldn't ALL Kashmiris be taken into confidence and then a strategy planned? Sadly, the ones that were thrown out of their homes and forced to live as refugees today have NO PLACE in the separatist's agenda.

Clearly then, the fight is NOT about Kashmir but abut a religious identity of a 95% Muslim state in a country that is 75% Hindu. A lot of Kashmiri people in their misguided zeal think they would be better off with Pakistan since it is a Muslim country but they conveniently forget that this entire fiasco and their troubled status is because of Pakistan itself!

Had the Pakistani Army not sent in tribal forces to annex Kashmir right after partition, Maharaja Hari Singh, the then ruler of the kingdom would NOT have ceded to India and Kashmir could very well have been the only Indian state to become a separate kingdom! 

And lets not forget the recent protests in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir region AGAINST the Pakistani establishment and the use of force in curbing those protests. Three different places in POK - Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Kotli held massive protests against the way they are treated by Pakistan Govt. and shouted slogans for Azadi or Independence. They even said that the lives of Kashmiris living in Indian Administered Kashmir was much better than theirs!

Massive anti-Pakistan protests rock Kashmir

Watch the never before seen protests in POK

The bottom line is this - if Kashmiris want Independence, they have to join hands with ALL their brothers whether those living in Indian or Pakistani portions of Kashmir as well as the ones who have lived as refugees for 25 years! Without the participation of all factions how can they claim sovereignty in the name of ALL Kashmiris??

The SEPARATISTS have no option but to take the mandate of all people who have roots in Kashmir irrespective of their religion if they truly respect the spirit of KASHMIRIYAT. Moreover, if Pakistan and Indian Govts. are REALLY serious about solving the issue of Kashmir, BOTH countries have to stop the subjugation of Kashmiris by their armed forces. And ALL of these parties have to come together to figure out a way to re-instate the Hindus who were thrown out of the valley! 

The younger generations living in Kashmir have to be made aware of the atrocities committed on their brethren who were exiled by their elders just as the Kashmiri pandits should be made aware of the problems their Muslim counterparts have faced in the valley in the decade under UPA govt. If both communities can find a common platform to stop the rhetoric and actually UNDERSTAND the others' point of view, only then can a TRUE solution be found to this complex situation. Otherwise it shall remain a never-ending vicious circle of mutual hate that shall be fueled by right-wingers on both sides and this Paradise shall in all probability be lost forever.. 

Hoping to see both Kashmiri Hindus & Muslims live without fear in Kashmir
within our lifetime!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Beef Eaters of India

There has been an intense debate going on in literary as well as political circles of India about consumption of beef, specifically the meat of cow, an animal considered holy in Hinduism. (Remember the expression Holy Cow? Yes, this is where it comes from.)

I am both amused with the politicians who say that beef-eating was NEVER a part of Indian culture, as well as those pseudo-intellectuals who are citing the same few references at every place to show beef was ALWAYS consumed since Vedic times. Both these factions are nowhere near the truth and are resorting to extremist behavior hence I thought of sharing evidence from Hindu scriptures to stop this pointless argument.

First, let us understand why the COW was and still is considered HOLY in India as well as Nepal (the latter by the way is the only country in the world to have banned beef).

The cow was not just any animal for the predominantly agrarian Indo-Aryan society, it was the provider of MILK, the major source of proteins as well as Calcium for all vegetarians (and there were a lot of those in ancient India). COW-DUNG was essential to improve the fertility of the soil where FOOD grew and was also used to put a clean layer for the floor inside the huts, a practice still followed in thousands of villages. The dung cakes were also used as FUEL in earthen stoves and fifth, its URINE that possesses antiseptic as well as medicinal properties was used in Ayurveda.

The CALF, grew up to provide labor required to till the fields as well as helped travel to distant lands by means of ox-carts. Even the HIDE of the dead animal was useful for it helped create shoes to protect human feet from the harsh terrain. For all these reasons and more, nothing was considered more sinful than killing the animal that provided so much without asking for anything in return except some amount of daily food and affection. 

Cows are intelligent animals who stay in touch with other members in the herd, recognize their owners and show affection to them as well as other farm animals!

Since most city-dwellers would be alien to this idea of being affectionate to a cow, let me just give an example. How many of you like dogs or cats? Many of you who have pets at home may also be non-vegetarian but do you ever dream of eating a dog or a cat? 

Would you ever eat your own pet??

Also do give a consideration to the question why was there so much hue and cry all over the world against a recent Chinese festival where dogs were killed in thousands? Would people have made so much noise if it was lamb or chicken-slaughter? No one even complains about the millions of goats sacrificed on a certain festival that originated in the Arab world then why so much outrage over killing of dogs?

Precisely because dogs are devoted to humans and share their love and affection. Imagine that kind of a bond between a cow and its owner, where it is not just a pet but also immensely useful for the sustenance of an entire  family! BTW If this diatribe made you believe that I am a cow-lover, well I have no shame in accepting that since I love all animals :) 

But this article is not about my personal opinion rather the opinion of our scriptures

So let me first pick on this idea that beef-eating was introduced in India by the Mughals. I am sorry to tell the devout who are being fed this idea that this is not the case. The Mahabharat talks about a certain king Rantideva who is glorified as the utmost host. The reason for his glory is that even though this gentleman was himself a vegetarian, he still served the guests who came to visit him meat including that of cow!

It may sound shocking but yes, there it is. Thousands of animals were sacrificed in his kitchens everyday to cater to the never ending stream of visitors and in fact the river Chambal (earlier known as Charmanvati) gets its name from the blood washed off the hide of these sacrificed animals. 

King Rantideva giving away all his riches

But let me also add here that this generous king gave everything away in charity to the extent that his family had to go without food for 48 days at a stretch. When they did manage to get some food, he was accosted by beggars and he willingly distributed all that he had among them. Clearly he is not a normal man and one of very high virtue so I wouldn't even try to compare myself or any other regular human being with him. He followed the principle of Atithi-Devo-Bhav to the extent that he himself was reduced to penury but really how many of us can do that today?

King Rantideva reduced to a pauper due to his generosity

The Apastambh Grihya Sutra also mentions that cattle may be slaughtered when a guest arrives, or at the occasion of marriage or as an offering to the ancestors in the Shraadh ceremony. These are indications that bovine meat was indeed consumed in ancient India.

There is another verse from Manu Smriti that talks about meat-eating which is being used in online discussions to somehow show that meat = cow meat! My intellectually blinded friends who are copying the same dubious references everywhere please read this particular book just once. It specifically sanctions meat-eating ONLY at the time of a sacrifice offered to the gods and calls those who indulge in it everyday as RAKSHAS or Ogres. 

But now that we have got the elephant out of the bag, lets see the other point of view as well!

Both these above examples (except that of Manu-Smriti) show us that cow-meat was offered to the guests or for an extremely important ceremony but what about the HOST? Was he also supposed to consume the cattle he was rearing? 

The same Grihya-Sutras that mention the offering of cow ALSO tell the householder to let the cow loose when a guest arrives so that he does NOT have to sacrifice it to entertain the guest! In fact, even the guest is urged to let go of the cow and at multiple times at multiple places they suggest that cow's flesh should be substituted with that of a goat or a ram or even better, cooked grain or payasam (kheer in Hindi).

A Yagna does not necessitate animal sacrifice

At the very maximum, one may charge the writers of these Sutras with duplicitous behavior as regards offerings to guests but you can not charge them with the promotion of beef-eating! In fact, it gives more credence to the belief that they actually DID NOT want the cow to be slaughtered hence suggest an escape route to the host.

Some online articles talk about mention of Indra, the leader of the gods eating cows and let me tell you that is balderdash. One particular verse Rig Veda 6.17.1 is claimed to say that Indra ate the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo! In truth the verse eulogizing Indra for the feat of killing the dragon Vritra who had taken away water from the Earth causing a famine. If any one of you find a mention of a cow or even a horse being consumed by Indra in this particular verse kindly feel free to enlighten me - {Rig Veda verse 6.17 in English}.

The Vedic Thunder-god Indra
{Art by Lingar Bramanty}

Another verse that is being bandied about everywhere is {Rig Veda verse 10.85} which is supposed to say that on the occasion of a girl's marriage, cow and oxen are slaughtered. The verse is in fact talking about the wedding of Surya, the sun-god and even in that particular wedding, though there is a mention of oxen but surprise surprise, NO COWS!

I could find only one verse where cow, that too a barren one is supposed to be offered to Agni along with Ram or Oxen and this is - {Rig Veda verse 10.91.14}. Again the verse talks about a sacrifice being offered to a god NOT about the consumption of the said meat by humans. I have seen some other similar verses mentioned but none of them talk about consumption of this meat by humans!

On the other hand, there are multiple verses that mention the cow as Aghnya or one who should not be hurt and I am giving examples for the same.

In {Rig Veda verse 7.56.17} the supplicant has equated the lives of men with those of cattle by praying to the Maruts to keep their storms away that kill them both. It is noteworthy that no other animal has been mentioned except cattle which shows how strong the bond between men and their cattle was. Again the {Rig Veda verse 1.164.40} wishes cows good fortune to find great pastures in every season so that the men can also stay healthy and wealthy. Again the word used for cow here is Aghnya or inviolable.

A Holy cow in an Indian village

{Rig Veda verse 10.87.16} goes so far as to wish violent death for those who kill cattle, horses and humans showing once again that the lives of each were equally precious. I quote here the Griffith translation - The fiend who smears himself with flesh of cattle, with flesh of horses and of human bodies. Who steals the milch-cow's milk away, O Agni,—tear off the heads of such with fiery fury.

The entire 28th sukta of Book 6 shared here - {Rig Veda 6.28} in fact talks about how cows enjoyed freedom from persecution in the Vedic society - These are ne’er lost, no robber ever injures them: no evil-minded foe attempts to harass them.... These Cows, the cattle of the pious worshipper, roam over widespread pasture where no danger is..Never be thief or sinful man your matter, and may the dart of Rudra still avoid you!

{Atharva Veda verse 10.1.29} says again in the words of Griffith - The slaughter of an innocent O Kritya is an awful deed. Slay NOT our COWS, Horses or Men!

{Yajur Veda verse 1.1} mentions and I quote again - O Savitar.. guard thou the cattle of the supplicant! The word used for cattle in this verse is the same Aghnya I mentioned above.

Again {Yajur Veda verse 13.43} mentions - Harm NOT the cow Aditi, widely ruling

{Yajur Veda verse 30} offers prayers to the Solar god Savitar who is the brother of Indra and Surya, to provide many things to the people who deserve it. Its a beautiful verse which shows the ingenuity of the composer where each couple is perfectly matched viz. - Dexterity is matched with a chariot-maker, Laughter with an artist, Misfortune with a eunuch, Welfare with a farmer, Beauty with a jeweler, serpents for an untrustworthy man and the most relevant for us, DEATH for one who kills a COW!

I can go on and with such verses but above examples are more than enough to show that cow was ALWAYS considered sacred in India right from time immemorial since the Vedas are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Cow was as much a member of the family as other humans and the tradition of respect and love can still be seen in smaller towns and villages all over the Indian sub-continent.

For many Indians even today cattle is like family

Based on the scriptures shared above, it should be abundantly clear that for a practicing Hindu, cattle especially cow was considered sacred, holy and indestructible and the death penalty is to be given to those who attempt to kill cattle, horses or men.

So what changed? How did Kings like Rantideva begin killing cows? 

If you know the chronology of Hindu scriptures, the Vedas are the oldest and Mahabharat and Ramayan come much later. Out of the two, Mahabharat is supposed to be even more recent, ushering in the dreaded age of Kaliyuga that we now live in.

This text does show that the cow that was considered inviolable in Vedas was being consumed by a few people during Mahabharat time. Yet, the very fact that king Rantideva is mentioned to have served this meat to guests but not consume it HIMSELF shows what his own opinion about eating cow was! Those who cite his example conveniently forget that the said king was a man of high virtue and did not mind accumulating the sin to please his guests but are we really of that caliber?

Nevertheless, this change in behavior is a reflection of the changing norms of that particular society that was on the brink of Kaliyuga, the last and most evil of all four Yugas where beef-eating is listed as one of the sins. 

I shall share with you why I am calling it a sin by countering one more argument thrown by supporters of beef consumption from the Satpatha Brahmana, presumably written by Rishi Yajnavalkya. In verse he is supposed to have stated - I for one eat 'maans' since it is very soft and tender - {Satpatha Brahmana, 3rd Kand, 1st Adhyaye, 2nd Brahmana}. 

I found this verse in the said scripture which BTW doesn't specifically mention cow meat but I also found something that is NEVER mentioned whenever this verse is quoted!

The text before this admission of the writer goes as follows - Accordingly they bestowed on the cow and the ox whatever vigour belonged to other species; and therefore the cow and the ox eat most. Hence, were one to eat an ox or a cow, there would be a going on to the end (destruction). Such a one indeed would likely be reborn as a strange being, (as one of whom there is) evil report........let him therefore NOT eat (the flesh) of the cow and the ox. 

So the author, a learned rishi, even if we assume he is admitting that he does eat the flesh of sacrificed animals is ALSO admitting that it is a SIN. Wonder how this particular line never got mentioned before in any online article?? Selective propagation of truth to suit one's own convenience perhaps?

People who give the above mentioned examples conveniently forget that in the very same Mahabharat that talks about such instances, Shri Krishna who is declared as the Supreme Lord, is also called the Go-pal or the protector of cows. But again who would wish to talk about that inconvenient truth?

Krishna, the Go-pal

The truth is that cows specifically and animals in general have ALWAYS been considered sacred in India. Even today, according to data from the NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) the major beef-eating community in India is of Muslims (that too 40% not the complete population) followed by Christians (26.5% of the total). According to the same data less than 2% of Hindus eat cow or buffalo meat. More data available here - {Who are the Beef-eaters in India}.

I as an animal lover would love to see ALL animals living a free life but irrespective of my personal beliefs, I have to say that the evidence given in the Vedas is foolproof that cow-meat is NOT to be consumed by religious or devout Hindus irrespective of which caste or region they belong to. Even today festivals like Pongal & Makar Sankranti involve worship of the cattle that help a largely agrarian Indian economy survive! Millions of Hindus all over the world still revere the cow as sacred so if you can't stop eating beef at least don't malign their beliefs!

My city-dweller friends who believe more in logic than religion should also know that Article 48 of Indian Constitution MANDATES the state to PROHIBIT the slaughter of cows, calves and other milch as well as draught cattle. In fact the Honorable Supreme Court has also upheld the constitutional validity of anti-cow slaughter laws enacted by different state governments in 2005.

Whether you are a Hindu or non-Hindu who consumes beef, I have no personal comment about your choices but this article is to counter those false claims being made in the online forums that beef-eating was actually ALLOWED and SANCTIONED in Vedic scriptures! Eat what you want but don't twist the teachings of an ancient religion to justify your choices..

May there be Peace & Love for ALL ANIMALS!