“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

Towards a Self-Reliant Pandit Community

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

15 August 2005

Internal perspective on the Kashmiri Pandit community, presented at the Chandigarh (India) meeting of the All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS) on 4th September 2005.

I want to commend the AIKS for holding a meeting on the subject of community growth. On the other hand, a meeting such as “Towards a Self-Reliant Pandit” would be unnecessary because there is no comparable example in the world of self-reliant individuals – operating away from their cultural roots and in many cases from the land of their birth – who have done as well as Kashmiri Pandits (KPs). The challenge as I see it, and hopefully the organizers will stress on, is in bridging the immense gulf between “individuals” and “community”.

That gulf today is wider than ever. The fissures brought about by the internal displacement of the community members from the Kashmir valley should have normally been a catalyst to close in the ranks and coalesce into a compact force able to take on uncaring authorities and political adversaries, but actually the reverse has happened – the community is more fragmented than ever. Let us look into some of the major reasons why that happened, how others in similar situation have handled the situation and what can be done, if anything, to get back on bringing together the community.

The lesson I learned as a historian and a strategist is to start with one’s weaknesses and strengths. I will mostly dwell on our weakness (as a community) since that is the bane of our problems. First and foremost, everyone with a political opinion in our community thinks that makes them a political analyst or an expert on political matters. This is truly unfortunate because we (as a community) respect education, training, experience, and talent in all forms of expertise, except in politics where everyone feels he or she is as good any anyone else with an opinion of one kind or the other. Unless we do not recognize and encourage political expertise and talent in our community to be treated as an exception rather than the rule, we will continue to hear things like, “all Chiefs and no Indians.” Similarly, those of us who are good in cultural matters should be so recognized on those merits without undue pressure on such leaders to be also our political leaders since there are two separate and distinct lines of expertise involved.

Second, we need to be truthful at least within our own community regarding the state of affairs leaving aside the “politically correct messages” that we may wish to give to others outside of the community. While the exodus has deprived the community of its cultural and linguistic “critical mass” in the land of our forefathers and forced IDPs and their progeny to risk dissolution of their heritage in the vastness of India, the reality also must be acknowledged that KP’s are economically and financially much better off today than we have ever been in our history (I am making this statement after doing some research from early 1700’s). The displacement from the valley has particularly helped young KP’s from remote villages of Kashmir (who had less than 40% chance of ever completing their degree education) to find new vistas for education, jobs and social betterment. The credit to a large extent goes to organizations such as AIKS which assisted with opening doors in universities and industries for the displaced and to the youth for having seized the initiative to stand on their own two feet once the paradigm shifted. Sad as I am to see them now more remote than ever from their land of birth, I am also glad to see these young people in their mid 20’s doing incredible things and lifting my spirits on otherwise normally gloomy days. Folks from Srinagar may not appreciate the feeling that I am trying to express, but what has happened to our youth from villages is nothing short of a miracle. So please let us do away with the begging bowl and adopt a “can do” attitude.

Third, we need to back away from the concept that we are uniformly affected by the turmoil as a community. Those who left of their own choice before 1989 (myself included) can not and should not try to put themselves in the same basket as those who left out of fear and lack of safety in early 1990’s. Those who stayed behind and continue to live in the valley are, without exception, the bravest amongst us all because they too had a choice and chose to stay put in spite of risks involved. One of the reasons why we can not come together as a community is because we all like to see ourselves in the same basket when in fact such an unitary basket is a myth and never existed to begin with. Similarly, those who became IDP’s 15 years back and have assimilated in the Indian or overseas diaspora should not count themselves among those “going back.” That is plain and simple a lie. And sooner we confront that truth, the sooner we will shed our collective duplicity which is at the heart of our inability to succeed as a community.

Communities are formed by bonds fostered by trust, mutual respect, and sharing of certain core values. Our common cultural heritage is necessary, but not sufficient, to provide those common core values that nurture a community. Successful individuals can create a successful community by being kind to others, by sharing good fortune with those in need, by putting others ahead of the self, by volunteering one’s time for activities unrelated to one’s own family or relatives, by being honest and truthful in dealings within community, and above all by accepting the idea that someone else will lead and the individual will follow unhesitantly.

A “self-reliant community” takes the concept of a successful community one step further. It requires individuals to see their own community as the principal resource for nurturing growth and prosperity. Financially and culturally successful communities in India (Marwaris, Kutch Gujaratis – also called “Kutchis”, Parsees and others communities) have been successful first as individuals and then as a community to become self-reliant, and in all cases the communities named did so far removed from the land of their forefathers. There is no reason why a community of successful individuals like ours can not work collectively towards a successful self-reliant community.

So I have no doubt that KPs who have settled in India could achieve the goal of a self-reliant community. But are they ready to change the paradigm? Can they wean away from special privileges and “freebees” from the government to a more professional life style that involves entrepreneurship, innovation, hard work and community involvement? Can those leaders who are not going back to the valley dedicate themselves to forming the anchor for that community and publicly acknowledge so in order for the roots of the community to take hold. Otherwise, it will continue to be a free-for-all where “doublespeak” and “upmanship” are hallmarks of leadership leading to fragmentation that is evident for all to see today.

For those KP’s going back (really going back), please unite behind the community that is still in the valley. Stay in touch with them because they will tell you what it means to live in the valley. Anyone can say anything in the safety of one’s own space, but if that statement is made far removed from “ground zero”, it actually neither helps the speaker nor the community it is trying to get back to. The valley based community has a different set of problems than those living outside of the valley, but one thing that can help them is when all of us – no matter where we live in the world – recognize and respect the fact that they are the true torch bearers for our culture and ethnic identity, and that community can survive only if we support them from the outside. While the rest of us can worry about self-reliance, they have the misfortune of worrying about survival. Please do not ever forget that.

This article was published in the AIKS journal NAAD dated September 2005.




About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.


Jammu & Kashmir Map