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Still green is my valley!


Kashmir’s Hutmura village stands out as a beacon of hope and harmony as TSI reveals that all is not lost in paradise
ZUBAIR A. DAR | Issue Dated: April 1, 2007
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Still green is my valley! Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan sketched an idyllic island in the middle of a murky world where people from two different communities existed in complete harmony. To many, Mano Majra might seem a fantastic fantasy, given the book was based around the time of India’s partition, at least until one encounters a village in southern Kashmir – Hutmura. On the surface, it seems like any other village in the bullet riddled valley but if one scratches the surface, it could compel a writer to pen down a completely new version of the classic!

Once upon a time in the late 1980s, Kashmiri Pandits, the minority Hindu community, were hurriedly packing their belongings to migrate. Mattan, one of the biggest Hindu religious centres in Kashmir – around 400 Pandit families inhabited this town then – was no exception. Just three kilometers away, however, at village Hutmura, life meandered along its usual course. Despite nervousness and uncertainty about the future course of events, none among a dozen Pandit families left this village. Or to be specific, none were allowed to leave! “Muslims did not let us go. They said that they would die before letting anyone touch us,” recalls Rajdulari, now in her twilight years. “They proposed to take us home in case we were too scared to stay on our own. I still remember those anxious moments clearly,” she adds.

Like times before the migration, these Pandit families, now having grown to 19 in number, live with the majority Muslim community in complete harmony. But for a customary fold horizontally circling their Firan (traditional Kashmiri gown) in the middle, a first timer would find it difficult to separate a Pandit from among the Muslims of this village. .

Khuda may be well be a word from the lexicon of Islam. But at Hutmura, Pandits call upon it as frequently as Muslims do. It isn’t surprising, considering the frequency, proximity and socio-cultural intimacy of interactions between Pandits and their Muslim neighbours.

“Who would intimidate us,” says Avtar Krishen Sadhu, Rajdulari’s neighbour, when asked if they have been forced to indoctrinate the terminology. “It has become a habit. Not just the word Khuda, we also say Assalamu alaikum and even Quranuk Kasam (I swear by the Holy Quran). It becomes embarrassing though, when we meet fellow Pandits in Jammu and talk the same way there,” explains Avtar. But Avtar does not mind the embarrassment. “There is no harm in saying what you think are nice words. Muslims greet us with Adab Arz Mahra (the traditional greeting).” Serving at the village’s Animal Husbandry Office, Avtar’s 24-hour presence in the village makes him a confidant to both closely knit communities. As Avtar walks his way to the office through the main lane of the village, he is greeted at every doorstep. At the village grocery store, as Avtar stops for a chat, it takes little for a group to assemble. While some have queries about their cattle, others join in just for the joy of it. Still green is my valley! For these Pandits, this village is their world. Though most of the men go out to other areas to earn their livelihood, there are no relatives to visit or receive at home as all of them live in other parts of the country now. Two of Rajdulari’s daughters too live in Jammu with their families as do the parents of her daughter-in-law, Nisha. But the very thought of parting with the village folk with whom she has spent a lifetime is unthinkable.

“We share our grief with Muslims, sometimes quarrel and reconcile. But no one has ever asked us to leave this village,” says Rajdulari. The odd spat in this rural setting, in fact, reflects the freedom that Pandits enjoy, free to stand for what they deem right. “Who does not do that? Disagreements happen between all neighbours. We may disagree over matters of land, but the dispute has never been about religion,” insists the grand dame. Was it all that easy to stay on when caravan after caravan of men, women and children drove past this village with little else but their lives? Perhaps not! Neither for a Pandit daring the rough, nor for a Muslim encouraging him to do so. And both were aware of the risks they were taking. While Muslims recognised the Pandits’ right to live in Hutmura and stood by them, Pandits maintained a low profile in order to attract minimum attention. “Panen chi boye. Yate rozan ne tai tele kot gachen? (They are brothers. If they do not live here, where else shall they go?)”, asserts Rajdulari’s neighbour, Naseema. “Aren’t their children our own?” she asks. Why should someone be asking such silly things? In her innocence, she can’t understand why a Pandit needs to flee.

For the Pandits, however, keeping a low profile meant abandoning the idea of constructing their own temple in the village. Till 1988, when they decided to construct one in the village, Hutmura Pandits prayed at the Temple at Mattan. And when the exodus started, just the plinth for the new temple in the village had been laid. With violence surging, Pandits postponed the construction. “It could have meant risking lives, ours as well as that of our Muslim brothers,” says Avtar. “No one stops us from praying in homes. We should be content with that for the moment,” he adds. With uncertainty prevailing over how things could unfold in future, the postponement lingered on despite insistence from Muslims to take up the construction.

“We have been telling them to construct a place of worship. But there is some hesitation,” says Zameer, a Muslim youth with a doctorate in West Asian Studies. “I think they understand the sensitivities of the issue better,” he adds. The village hopes that someday, matters would improve, and like them, all Kashmiris, Pandits and Muslims will live together, happily ever after. Aameen!
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017