TAKING SIDES
By Team Legistify / 2017-07-18

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Kashmiri Pandits are a marginal figure in Kashmir’s politics. But once it was not so. Prem Nath Bazaz, a Pandit, was a frontranking leader and a symbol of its nationalist-secular tradition. HT revisits his legacy on his 112th birth anniversary

Like many Kashmiri Pandits, Sanjay Tickoo, a Srinagar businessman, is imprisoned by the history of his state and his own paranoia of being a member of a minority community with a dominant past. Yet, in the mass exodus of the ’90s in which 34 Pandit families of his locality left Kashmir, his didn’t. “I still believe that by instinct, the Kashmiri Muslim is a secular person,” he says. That he can say this is not simply magnanimity. Behind this outlook of his lies an almost forgotten history of a robust secular tradition. And over this tradition looms large the shadow of a man who symbolised it; almost perfectly one could say. That man was Prem Nath Bazaz, a committed progressive Kashmri Pandit.

The story of Bazaz’s life is intimately entwined with the modern history of that secular tradition – at times referred to, a tad offhandedly, as ‘Kashmiriyat’ – and its vicissitudes. So, to tell his story is to also recall the history of that tradition, and its forgetting.

Kashmiri Pandits have a past that is as invisible as it is visible. An influential minority, in the Dogra Hindu kingdom (they occupied all the top jobs as administration and revenue officials), some of them were social reformers attacking orthodoxies in religion.They took active part in the politics of the day. Bazaz, a government official and a writer, was the man who took the initiative to bring the Yuvak Sabha, a predominantly Kashmiri Pandit oufit in the ’30s, to have a working relationship with the Muslim Conference, Kashmir’s first political party, after the 1931 anti-Dogra uprising in which Muslims protesting age-old social inequalities were massacred (22 men died in the uprising.) Bazaz was the comrade of Sheikh Abdullah, Kashmir’s first mass leader, and was a champion of Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, a stand unthinkable for Kashmiri Pandits today, and for most of mainland India.

Clearly, this ‘Kashmiryat’ was much about politics as it was about culture. Its ground was laid through the ’30s and ’40s when the first cracks in the Dogra kingdom were emerging as a result of the mobilisation of Kashmiri Muslims led by Sheikh Abdullah. Pragmatic Kashmiri Pandits like Bazaz (along with other Pandits such as Kashyap Bandhu, Shamlal Saraf, Jia Lal Kilam) realised the end of Dogra rule was near and set about building a common platform with Abdullah and his movement, the Muslim Conference (the predecessor of the National Conference or the NC). By working with them, people like Bazaz also came to terms with their own history of past privileges and understood the urgency of Muslims’ need to ease out the monarchy.

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