On Oct. 10, just two days after an earthquake killed tens of thousands in South Asia, Islamist terrorists belonging to Hizb ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar e-Tolba killed 10 Hindu civilians in the Rajouri district of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The attacks were part of an orchestrated campaign designed to cleanse Kashmir of its indigenous Hindus and bring the area entirely under Muslim governance — either through a union with Pakistan, or as an independent, Sharia-based Islamic state. Apparently, not even the massive devastation wrought by mother nature has slowed the terrorists’ murderous campaign.
Kashmir is the only state of India — there are 27 states and seven union territories in the nation — where the majority of inhabitants are Muslim. Indian law prohibits migration of Indians from other states into Kashmir, in order to preserve its Muslim character. In 1947 and 1948, when Hindus and Muslims were slaughtering each other on either side of the Punjab, Kashmir was remarkably peaceful, its Hindu minority lived without fear and the Kashmiris welcomed the Indian army, which protected the population from
invading Pakistani tribes.
How was this spirit of tolerance created? The answer lies in the nature of Kashmiri Islam.
Islam came to the Kashmir valley during the late middle ages. Some scholars argue that the slow and gradual conversion of the inhabitants was the result of an indigenous version of Islam promulgated by local mystics, or Sufis, called Rishis.
Rishis were celibate and pacifist mystics. Like the Kashmiri Yogis and Buddhists who may have been their models, they were tolerant of non-Islamic faiths such as that practised by the indigenous Hindus of Kashmir, the Pandits, whose most famous son, Jawaharlal Nehru, founded the modern state of India.
Rishis established centres of pilgrimage graced by beautiful buildings called Ziarat. Many of these places were honoured by Hindus, and many Rishi saints were venerated by Muslim and Hindu worshippers alike. Until the early 1980s, the Hindu Pandits of the Kashmir valley generally lived peaceably with their neighbours of the Muslim majority.
The basis of this mutual toleration is called Kashmiriat. Roughly translated into English, it means “the Kashmiri style or way of life.” Unlike the Salafist or Wahhabi Islam of Osama Bin Laden and his followers, Kashmiriat versions of Islam tolerate dance and music. (The Kashmiri musical tradition has more than 180 local ragas and myriads of dances that local musicologists are trying to record and disseminate.) For those looking to reconcile Islam and democracy, Kashmiriat provides an example of how a tolerant Islamic religious and cultural tradition can lay the groundwork for secular democracy.
But during the 1980s, Kashmiriat was dealt a blow from which it may never recover. Moderate Kashmiri Muslims woke up to find that their mosques had new preachers, many of whom had been trained outside of the country. They preached against the old versions of Islam and insisted that their intolerant Wahhabi strain must be adopted by all Kashmiris. Women were to adopt the veil and music was proscribed.
They also preached that indigenous Hindus should be forced to leave, so that Kashmir could become a land reserved for Muslims. No doubt, they were inspired by the world’s silence following the near total expulsion of the 50,000-strong Hindu community of Kabul after its conquest by the Taliban.
After a decade of preaching and fulmination, words led to action.
In 1990, the local Urdu-language press in Srinagar, the capital of Indian Kashmir, published a press release from Hizb ul-Mujahideen demanding that the Pandits of Kashmir leave so that Kashmir could join Pakistan. A poster campaign followed demanding that Kashmiris obey an “Islamic” dress code and that video parlours and cinemas be banned.
Shops, businesses and homes of Kashmiri Pandits were marked out, and notices were placed on their doors demanding that they leave. In villages throughout the region, hit lists of Kashmiri Pandits were distributed. Within a short period, gangs of young men carrying Kalashnikovs began random and indiscriminate killings of Pandit families and any Kashmiri notable who opposed the terror.
The state government of Kashmir collapsed, the Chief Minister went into hiding, and both the regional and national security forces sat idle while a flood of Pandit Hindus were driven out. On Sept. 12, 2004, The Times of India put the case mildly when it ran a story under the headline “Hindu population in decline in Kashmir.”
The American and British governments have confirmed that more than a quarter of a million Pandit refugees have been driven out of Kashmir into neighbouring states during the last 15 years. Yet the Indian government has yet to call these people what they are: victims of terror. As a matter of political convenience, it has labelled them “migrants.” They languish in refugee camps, in squalor and disease — people who were once famous for their pacifist version of Saivite Hinduism and who were once an inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi.
Meanwhile, the new Chief Minister of Kashmir has asked the Pandits to return. But each time such announcements are made, there is another terrorist attack against the remaining Hindu stragglers in Kashmir. The Oct. 10 attack was of this type.
Pakistan was created as an Islamic state. India was created as a secular democracy. Although Hindus outnumber Muslims in India by 10 to 1, the media and the government have always been fastidious in ensuring that their rights are honoured and protected. Allowing the expulsion of a quarter of a million indigenous Hindus from their ancestral homeland in Kashmir is not only a hateful, collective crime — it is also a betrayal of the tolerant creed that has allowed Muslims themselves to prosper. Qudsia Shah, former president of the College for Women in Srinagar put it bluntly: “The exodus of Hindus is not good for Kashmir. We Muslims are the losers.”
The Indian government must first recognize the Pandits as legitimate victims of terror in Kashmir. They must then give them back their stolen property and they must win the war on terror in Kashmir. By doing so, they will also allow the moderate Islam of Kashmir to return to that once fabled Himalayan paradise. Kashmiriat is good for democracy.