“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Altaf sees a backyard full of emptiness

(Mr. Altaf Bashir, 23, was born in Habba Kadal, Srinagar. He completed his schooling from Iqra Public School, Qammerwari, Sringar, and received a Bachelor’s degree in commerce from the Degree College Bemina, Srinagar. He is pursuing a Master’s degree in English from the Indra Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Mr. Bashir is currently working as hospitality trainer at the Don Bosco trainer centre, Kupwara, which is a Belgium based NGO working with the Union Ministry of Rural Development, MORD.)

Endangered Hangul and Pandits

HANGUL, a unique deer species found only in Jammu and Kashmir is presently battling for survival. So is the race of Kashmiri pandits, whose population has alarmingly decreased over the past decade and a half. While the rare wild species has been declared critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there is no such forum to care a fig for preserving the community of Kashmiri pandits who have given almost everything to the human civilization. From this small community have emanated masterpieces of human intellect, religion, philosophy, history, poetry, romance and fables. Many of the greatest Sanskrit scholars and poets were born and wrote in the Valley. It was probably for this very reason that those who are averse to art, literature, aesthetic and progressive thought, want to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits (KP’s) get wiped out, flee the valley or mingle with the rest.

Such was the situation that at one stage, it is said that only eleven KP families survived in Valley in times of Badshah, the Great King. The same appears to be happening again in another format, but with the same punchline! According to 1921 Census, the population of Kashmiri pandits in entire Kashmir Valley was 55,052. While 21,635 lived in Srinagar city, the remaining 33, 417 were putting up in Muffasils. Interestingly, there were more males (30,944) as compared to females, whose number was 24,108. There is a mention of the same in a famous book ‘The Kashmiri Pundit’ authored by historian Pt Anand Koul in 1924. During the past 86 years (from 1921 to 2007), the number of Kashmiri pandits living in Kashmir has drastically decreased. It was probably for the first time in post-Independence era of India when hundreds of Kashmiri pandits, putting up in North Kashmir, were killed at the hands of Pakistani tribesmen and raiders in October-November 1947 raid. It was finally in 1990 when majority of the community members had to flee Valley for good. And those who dared to stay put, were either killed in massacres or asked to join their brethren away from Valley.

Presently, it is estimated that just 4,500 KPs are putting up in some isolated pockets of Ganderbal, Anantnag, and Bandipur districts and few hundred families are in Srinagar city. The remaining are scattered, living away from their roots and Kashmir, getting mingled and losing their unique identity, which some unfortunately consider as a stigma attached to them.

If this is the tale of community of Kashmiri Pandits, the fate of Hangul is also hanging in balance. In 1947, there were roughly 5,000 Hanguls in Kashmir. In 1970, a census of the animal was conducted. It revealed that only 140 to 170 Hanguls survived in Kashmir. Subsequently, a Save Hangul Project was taken up with the expertise of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and 171 square kilometer Dachigam National Park was declared as the protected homeland of the animal. These aggressive measures soon started paying dividends and the figure touched 810 mark by the end of 1990. If post 1990 era is the darkest phase in the history of the Kashmiri Pandits, the same aptly holds true for the Hangul. With the onset of the political unrest and lawlessness in the State, the animal suffered massive disturbance in its habitat.

While there was no Wandhama type massacre of the Hangul, the survey carried out in 1992-93 reported that 648 Hanguls had been wiped out from the Dachigam National Park. A latest census conducted by Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India and some non-governmental organizations has revealed that that the endangered species is on the verge of extinction, as only 150 Hanguls have been reported alive in Dachigam Park.The Hangul and Kashmiri pandits face similar situation in terms of a serious threat of their extinction. The major difference, however, lies in the fact that the Hangul continues to live in a protected zone and on its soil.

In contrast, there has been no such homeland for the Kashmiri pandits for their revival. Instead, they were forced to scatter and live away from Kashmir, in alien atmosphere and culturally different places like Mishriwala, Muthi, Jhiri, in Jammu or Delhi and elsewhere, where the new generation of the community is losing the ground and turning rootless. And presently, such is the alarming situation that for a new generation of Kashmiri pandits, Kashmiri language is Greek. Also, due to inter-ethnic marriages, their gene pool is depreciating. The Hangul, on the other hand, continues to maintain its gene-bank. That is why it is designated as Cervus Elaphus – a unique deer species, only found in Himalayan belt of Kashmir.For a protected species like Hangul, a Dachigam National Park has been raised but for the Kashmiri Pandit community, a township is being raised at Jagti-Jammu and not in Valley.

If Hangul cannot survive away from Kashmir, can a Kashmiri pandit live in plains! The Hangul has a unique character as long as he is linked to the valley. Away from Kashmir, it is as good as a common deer. The same holds true for KPs. But who cares for their return to their ‘National Park’, that is yet to be identified or fenced!