I don’t remember the year vividly but it is an unforgettable that it was LK Advani who in a characteristically fiery address to a mass of people called the Congress leadership “pseudo – secular” for their complicit role in minority appeasement (Read: Muslims) in India. It rang alarm bells in my mind, a beautiful girl in my class had this catch word “you are such a pseudo” for me every time I tried to impress her with the information I mugged up from newspapers. I always thought “you are such a pseudo” was a flattering expression and hence it always evoked a grin from me. But all that changed after Advani’s lecture; I was sure he would never use a flattering word for the Congress leadership especially with the imminent elections. So I finally used a dictionary.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that lecture and the word pseudo-secular had remained in my jargon unused and safe till I read Vinod Mehta’s autobiography “The Lucknow Boy”. In the early parts of the book Mehta talks about the heterogeneous environment in which he grew in the Lucknow of old. It is a heartening passage to read; especially in an increased polarized society like ours, Mehta’s reference to his boyhood is a reminiscence of a wonderful past. I believe I am a pseudo-secular like Vinod Mehta claims himself to be. I have deliberately chosen the word pseudo-secular because few years ago an RSS ideologue in my home city of Jammu had convinced me that a man can’t be secular in Indian sub-continent. So I finally decided that if I can’t be secular then I am a pseudo-secular.
If you are a Kashmir citizen (Pandits and Muslims irrespective) it is impossible for you to have escaped the sense of superiority we have towards ourselves as a community. I fell prey to the same in my growing years of adolescence; I read the literature by Kashmir Pandits (some of them my relatives). The poetry of Dina Nath Nadim, the philosophy of Lalla, the administrative acumen Birbal Dhar, PN Haksar etc. and to top that the sense of entitlement that my family instilled into me because of my “Gotra”. “Dattatraya Kouls” are a considered to be a superior “gotra” amongst Kashmir Pandits and I thought for long that I had inherited their Brahmin intellect (if there was any) till I met Vaibhav Ghodeswar. I knew little about Dalits in India, my knowledge about Dalit history and the years of political, social and religious exclusion that they had to face was abysmally low (The NCERT propaganda that I read in school had Ambedkar mentioned through a sixty year old cartoon depicting him as a lazy professional) .
Vaibhav being a Dalit himself taught me to look at things from a perspective other than the self-righteous one that I had. Between us there was generations of apartheid to overcome so I started by taking a small step, eating together. In modern urban upper-middle class society apartheid and untouchability is ingrained in everyday life. Even in families with educated professionals in most of the Hindu communities marrying into a family lower in the caste hierarchy is very infrequent. We live in such mutually exclusive oysters that anything as insignificant like eating with a man of not your caste can be a bonding factor. A lot of our debates often boiled down to the genesis of the caste system in Hindu society. I carried the widely shared idea in upper-caste Hindu families that caste system in Hinduism is marginally dependent on the family you are born in. Moreover; one could escape (not at the escape velocity of Jupiter though) the cruelties of being a low-caste born by getting educated. It got shattered by one single idea put forward once “Would the Jagadguru in Kashi shakti peeth call Dr B R Ambedkar a Brahmin considering his education and his work as an intellectual; most probably not. Vaibhav introduced me to Ambedkar’s writings, some of his path breaking work like “The riddles of Hinduism” and “Who were the Shudras”? It opened a sea of alternative thought about the origins of the so called “untouchables” in India to me. It’s a pity that while unfortunately 65 years into independence India is still fighting its 15th General elections on the arguments over which national party in India is more communal, dalits who constitute 166 million of India’s total population have still not found a reformist leader post-Ambedkar. Literature about a certain community emanating from a non-community member exhibits an outsider’s point of view, which in every form is important. However; many a time it also undergoes a metamorphism to become patronizing and preachy. Therefore; inaccessibility of Ambedkar’s writing during his lifetime and the dalit literature post-Ambedkar is a huge loss for the general readership in India. Arundhati Roy’s foreword to Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of caste” is as useful an insight into Ambderkar’s world as is Anand Teltumbde’s assessment of his works. My reading of Ambedkar’s works and dalit literature caused a whirlpool of emotions stirring up inside me. “Jenahue” (the sacred thread that Brahmins wear across their upperbody) which is bestowed upon every Brahmin in any ethnic Hindu group has a historical significance in determining caste based segregation amongst Hindu’s across the world. It was and still remains a symbol for oppression and subjugation for millions of “Low caste” masses. Was it an attempt to become secular when I removed it in London during my post-graduation to make my Dalit house mates feel comfortable and invited?
It seems baffling to think while every political party runs a short courtship with the Dalit voters at the eve of elections; no major political party has been able to evoke permanent loyalty from the Dalits in India (BSP included). On the contrary Post-Babri Masjid demolition BJP with clandestine (or rather not so clandestine) support from Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS has emerged as the champion of the Hindu cause who they believe have been subdued and under-represented post independence. Recently when Subramanian Swamy tweeted: “I believe Narendra Modi has all gunas to be a Brahmin, therefore; with the power vested in my authority I hereby declare him a Brahmin” was he endowing Modi with Brahminical superiority thus making him more eligible for the PM post? Or was he trying to court the Brahmin vote bank in India? In both cases do you realize it is an act of protracting the Brahminical imperialism in India? May be it’s just another rumbling of my pseudo-secular brain.
Talking about loyalty there is another community whose loyalty all major political parties are grinding hard for; Muslims. Being a Kashmir Pandit my community’s relationship with Muslims, especially from Kashmir has been chequered.
Through the entire bloody history of Kashmir post the advent of Islam; Muslims and Pandits have faced several oppressive forces in Kashmir. Mughal invasion, Afghan invasion, Sikh rule, Dogra rule, Tribals in 1947. However; with changing discourse after the famous rigged election of 1987 Pandits found themselves at the ire of a growing extremist view of the militant forces in Kashmir. What happened in 1990 forever tore the secular thread of Kashmir society to pieces. I find it funny when people in India in seminars and conclaves preach secularism to Kashmir people who breathed secularism before 90’s. I recall Prof. Saleem Beg’s story at a conflict resolution workshop conducted by WISCMOP (Women in security, management and peace). He said while growing up in Kashmir he hated hartal calls. He said “every time there was a hartal call, he would have to carry two heavy bags of grocery items all the way back home from market. It was an unsaid rule; the other bag of groceries for his elderly Pandit neighbour as he had three daughters and no son.
We have traversed a long way from this Kashmir to a Kashmir where debate is on whether we want an Islamic Kashmir where Sharia law would be followed or an Independent secular Kashmir amidst a land-locked communal South-Asia.
In past few years especially with the popularity of Social media; a nationalist mafia has emerged whose major work involves creating a divide between Pandits and Muslims in Kashmir. I remember watching a debate on NDTV on which the famous Retd. Maj. Gen. G D Bakshi (yes the one with the handlebar moustache) expressing horror when Rahul Pandita was accusing Indian army of blatant human rights violation in Kashmir. Bakshi in that video says “How can you side with these people? Have you forgotten how they killed your people? This statement is a representation of the popular sentiment in India against the demand of Azadi in Kashmir. In last 25 years political leaders, some journalists, right wing activists have used the exodus of Pandits as a pin to puncture the Azaadi balloon, as a result engineering a process of othering of Pandits from Muslims in Kashmir. Unfortunately even after almost 3 decades of the exodus of Pandits no subsequent govt. in India has looked in to the genuine problems of Pandits empathetically but a fake unpopular sentiment of their return to “Hindu Homeland” within Kashmir has been created to be used as a political weapon. As a victim of brutal violent force I am most sensitive to extremism and increase of ethnic violence in the world; however because of my Pandit identity talking against the military occupation in Kashmir only draws long sad faces in India. Needless to say I am easily branded a pseudo-secular, but did I just not already confess being a pseudo-secular.
I loved the Eid “maaz” (sacrificial meat) and other cooked delicacies that Latif uncle’s family sent us whenever they were in Jammu on the festival day. I always felt VVSG (Very very special guest) on every visit we paid to their home in Jammu. Farewell would always mean a never ending barrage of kisses on hands, forehead, cheek etc. When my parents visited Srinagar and stayed at Latif uncle’s brother-in-law’s hotel he refused to take the cheque my dad tried to give to him for the bill incurred. I always saw a Kashmiri Muslim from the prism of my pseudo-secularist brain, I believe it is only reason that I am able to accommodate and tolerate views that are in contrast to mine on religion, politics, sexuality, history, feminism from people world-wide.
(Amit Bamzai was born to Kashmir Pandit parents in Jammu. He finished his schooling from, Army School Damana and has deep rooted interests in Literature, Poetry and Kashmir's history and culture. He was recently invited as a Kashmir youth to participate in a workshop by WISCOMP (Women In Conflict, Security Management and Peace, Workshop) Identity, Conflict, and Coexistence: A Conflict Transformation Workshop for Youth Leaders held on December 18-20, 2013 in New Delhi. Amit has been writing articles in the Kashmir Sentinel, in the youth space and is working towards sustenance of the Kaeshur in the youth.)