‘Naya Kashmir’ to ‘Panun Kashmir’: Reading on past to understand present

‘Naya Kashmir’ to ‘Panun Kashmir’: Reading on past to understand present

The ‘90 exodus of KPs from Kashmir is used to build a foundation to the victimhood narrative, according to Ahmad. Today, terms like “ethnic cleansing, genocide and holocaust” are used to demonise the Muslim community and win support of the Hindutva forces in India. Ahmad provides historical details of the enormous influence exercised by Brahmins in the governance of Kashmir, particularly during Kashmir’s colonial period, beginning with the Mughal conquest of Kashmir

By Rafique A. Khan

The Kashmiri people’s political struggle, a demand for responsive and accountable government from an autocratic dynastic rule, began in the 1930s. In ‘47, the British Empire partitioned the Indian subcontinent into two countries. Newly created India and Pakistan. The two countries depict the Kashmiri political struggle as a territorial dispute.[1] In the ‘90s, the Kashmiri struggle turned into a militant insurgency. A consequence of the militancy was population migration. An estimated 350,000 Kashmiris migrated out of Kashmir. The majority of these migrants were Kashmiri Hindus, known as Kashmiri Pandits (KPs). The KPs comprise about 4% of Kashmir’s population. Some vested interests now exploit the story of that migration and use it as a lightning rod to link the Kashmiri struggle with worldwide ‘Islamist terrorism’. In this new narrative, the KPs are portrayed as aboriginal inhabitants of Kashmir, persecuted since the advent of Islam in Kashmir in the 14th-15th century. The KPs demand a separate homeland, the so-called Panun Kashmir, to be carved out of the Kashmir Valley.

A new book called Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative, as the title asserts, is a counter to the Panun Kashmir narrative.[2] The author, Khalid Bashir Ahmad, is a retired Kashmiri civil service official. The 456-page book has nine chapters. Each chapter has extensive notes and references selected from government records, ancient and colonial era documents and local newspapers. Ahmad’s central argument is that the KP community has historically held power and clout and wielded enormous influence irrespective of who ruled Kashmir. He emphasises that religious tolerance among the Muslim-majority community has existed for centuries in Kashmir. For the past 400 years, he asserts, Kashmiri Muslims have borne and continue to bear the brunt of persecution. Ahmad concludes that the mistrust that now exists between KPs and Muslims in Kashmir is compounded by emphasizing selective events, and that to bridge the gap between the two requires “understanding and recognizing each others’ pain and suffering…” (Page 354). The following are key points:

KPs as ‘aboriginal’

Ahmad challenges the notion of KPs being aboriginal, that is, the only original residents of Kashmir. Kashmir–whose landmass equals that of Massachusetts, a northeast US state—is a river valley enclosed by the Himalayas. Its inhabitants have a distinct cultural identity. However, Ahmad points out, Kashmir is part of a geographically continuous mass with other lands. He describes Kashmir being at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road through Central and South Asia, absorbing influences from its surroundings. In Kashmir, three major religions have held sway—Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Buddhism entered Kashmir as early as the 3rd Century BC. Ahmad identifies the religion KPs practice as Shaivism. Shaivism, according to him, was introduced to Kashmir in the 3rd Century AD by a white Hun invader named Mihirakula who took the throne of Kashmir. Mihirakula patronized Shaivism and brought Brahmins from Gandhara (an area near present-day Afghanistan/Pakistan) to settle in Kashmir. Mihirakula’s rule, starting in 530 AD, marked the end of Buddhism that had remained dominant for over 800 years in Kashmir.

Ahmad questions the validity of the KPs’ claim of being the only original inhabitants of Kashmir by pointing out that there are scores of common surnames among KPs and Muslims in Kashmir. If the majority population converts to a religion, Ahmad asks, how can the minority that didn’t convert claim that the majority are outsiders?

Ahmad highlights that the origin of Kashmiri Hindus’ epithet change—from Brahmin to Pandit—happened during the Mughal rule. The Mughal empire annexed Kashmir in 1586. Kashmiri Brahmins were quick to learn the Mughals’ court language. That enabled them to attain positions in the Mughal governance not only in Kashmir but at the Mughal court in India. The Mughals trusted Kashmiri Brahmins in comparison to the Kashmiri Muslim majority that resisted the Mughal occupation of Kashmir. The 18th Mughal Emperor Mohammad Shah (who ruled from 1719 to 1748) issued a royal decree changing the title of a Hindu Brahmin of Kashmir to “Pandit.’’ (Pandit means wise and learned).

KPs ‘a persecuted minority’

The ‘90 exodus of KPs from Kashmir is used to build a foundation to the victimhood narrative, according to Ahmad. Today, terms like “ethnic cleansing, genocide and holocaust” are used to demonise the Muslim community and win support of the Hindutva forces in India. Ahmad provides historical details of the enormous influence exercised by Brahmins in the governance of Kashmir, particularly during Kashmir’s colonial period, beginning with the Mughal conquest of Kashmir. When Afghan rule replaced the Mughals in Kashmir, Pandits continued their dominance. Later, the neighbouring Sikh empire of Punjab defeated the Afghans. Still, Pandit leadership facilitated the Sikh conquest of Kashmir and thus continued their influence. Eventually, the British East India Company vanquished the Sikh Empire. Gulab Singh, a Dogra courtier of the Sikh rulers’ court, collaborated with the British and as a reward the British sold Kashmir to Singh.[3]

The Dogra dynasty oversaw a century of oppressive rule. During their rule (1846 to 1947) the Dogras employed two institutions that reduced the majority population to beggary. Kaar-i-Sarkar meant unpaid labour requisitioned for state purposes, and Chakdari was land yield taxation. The face of Dogra oppression, that is, officials responsible for carrying out those policies, came from the Pandit community.

In 1932, Dogra rule was in its 84th year. At the urging of the British government, Kashmir’s ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, appointed an inquiry commission to look into the Muslim grievances. The Glancy Commission report, submitted on 22 March 1932, confirmed that grievances of Muslims were indisputable. [4]


Sheikh Abdullah with his children and infant grandson, in 1951

The clan mentality in Kashmir is not limited to KPs alone. Sheikh Abdullah used to chant verses from the Qur’an and demanded an end to autocratic rule in his speeches from the mosque pulpits for two decades. But in his bid to gain power, he laid the foundation of modern-era colonial rule in Kashmir


KPs ‘as collaborators’

Since 13 July 1931, when Dogra government soldiers killed nearly two dozen unarmed civilians outside central jail in Srinagar, Kashmiris have considered 13 July as a landmark in their freedom struggle. They commemorate the event as Martyrs’ Day. The KPs declared 13 July 1931 as the ‘Black Day’ and have ever since sided with the government, always running opposite to the majority sentiment.

Ahmad points out that the majority community could not enlist the support of KPs, whether it was against the Muslim occupying forces, such as the Mughals and Afghans, or fighting non-Muslim tyrannies, such as the Sikhs and the Dogras.

Even Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the patron of secular politics—who according to Ahmad is accused of having handed over Kashmir to India on a platter—in his autography Atishi Chinar described KPs as the “Fifth Columnists” and “The Instruments of Tyranny.”

KPs’ ‘holocaust, ethnic cleansing’

Every year, 19 January is observed as “Kashmiri Hindu Holocaust Day”. That day, according to the KP narrative, 750,000 KPs were forced out of Kashmir; 3,000 to 4,000 were “murdered in an orgy of mass-murder, rape, arson and loot of Hindu men, women and children in Kashmir.” [5] Ahmad, citing census and other studies, questions the assertions of Panun Kashmir, one of the scores of organisations claiming to represent the migrant KPs, and provides references, including government reports to suggest that during militancy 124,453 KPs migrated out of Kashmir.[6]

Citing Kashmir government reports, Ahmad notes that during the militancy 13,226 civilians were killed by militants. This included 219 KPs and 13,007 Muslims. Ahmad points out that as per these official figures, the number of KPs killed by militants is 0.5% of casualties during the ‘90s. Meanwhile, Kashmiri Muslims make up 99.5% of civilian deaths in the period. (Page 255) Ahmad suggests that it is apparent that the killings of both KPs and Kashmiri Muslim civilians were based on allegations of them being informers of the security agencies. Rather than communal in nature, the killings were political (Page 229).

Khalid Bashir Ahmad, author of Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative


Ahmad’s Argument

In the epilogue of his book, Ahmad concludes that the present divisive discourse advanced among the KPs is a reaction rooted in the socio-economic advancement of the Muslims. He points out that after the end of Dogra rule, the KPs’ political influence and economic power weakened as Muslims gained a foothold in administration and business. As a result of the Muslim advancement, he argues “right wing leadership of the Kashmiri Pandits is seen increasingly allowing itself to be used by the Hindutva forces of India.” And that associating the Kashmiri political struggle with the ‘Islamic terrorism’ movement is to gain acceptance of Western nations’ support for Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Ahmad points out that throughout Kashmir’s history, the suffering of the majority community has been far greater than that of the minority. Moreover, the moral fibre and spirit of accommodation of the majority community, has enabled the minuscule minority to survive and even thrive. If 90% of Kashmir’s population was against the minority, then why was no harm done to the migrating KPs? And why, Ahmad asks again, even after decades of their absence has not a single place or Hindu symbol in Kashmir been changed into Islamic lexicon?[7]

Ahmad urges that the killing of a few hundred KPs must be viewed in the context of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims killed during the militancy. And that the suffering of KP refugees in Jammu needs to be accounted for along with the continued torment to Kashmiri Muslims in Kashmir—from the continued crackdowns, killings and custodial disappearances.

Learning from history

As Ahmad points out, the present KP leadership links the militancy in Kashmir with the worldwide rise of militant Islam. The militancy is projected as a new phase of the historic animosity of the majority community persecuting the minority. Ahmad provides convincing arguments to counter the KP narrative. He argues that in Kashmir the majority Muslim community has and continues to suffer at the hands of KPs.

This KP narrative and Ahmad’s counter, implying that animosity between KPs and Muslims communities in Kashmir is religion-based, is a misnomer. Yes, KPs sided with the oppressive regimes and did not affiliate with political aspirations of the majority. But the reason behind the KPs siding with the oppressive regimes is not religious antagonism. It is a manifestation of the feudal structure of the Kashmiri society. It is ‘Kumbaparvari’, feuding to safeguard clan interests, within the feudal system.


Sultan Sikandar accused of wanton destruction of temples and persecution of Hindu subjects—falsely according to Ahmad— was not alone in using religion to legitimise his hegemony. The worst iconoclasts were the ancient Hindu rulers of Kashmir—Ahmad chronicles six—who plundered temples

In Kashmir, as chronicled by ancient writings, infighting and disunity has been the enduring characteristic of the Kashmiri ruling class. Pandit Ram Chand Kak, who served as Prime Minister of the last Dogra ruler of Kashmir, sums the ancient history of Kashmir thus in Ancient Monuments of Kashmir: “For centuries the court of Kashmir was the Pandora-box of all the evils that afflict humanity,…Dissolute ministers of state, pettifogging functionaries as generals of armies, outcastes as reigning queens and kings,…”

Kashmiri Sultan Sikandar accused of wanton destruction of Hindu temples and persecution of Hindu subjects—falsely according to Ahmad—was not alone in using religion to legitimise his hegemony. The worst iconoclasts were the ancient Hindu rulers of Kashmir—Ahmad chronicles six—who plundered temples. Their purpose was to assert power and transfer of wealth. Religion was used as a means to justify abuse by all sides. Indeed, the lexicon of Hindu and Muslim animosity is a creation of the British colonial era. Historian, Audrey Truschke, suggests that the word ‘Hindu’ is Persian, not Sanskrit, and came into use during British colonialism.[8]

Back when the Mughals ruled Kashmir, the Kashmiri Brahmin clan wanted to maintain its position of privilege and did not want to be associated with the Hindus of India. They sought and were granted the special epithet: Pandit. During the Dogra rule, when the government had recruited Indians for administrative positions in Kashmir, the KPs started a campaign known as the ‘roti’ (bread) agitation. The agitation slogan was “Kashmir for Kashmiris.” At present, the Panun Kashmir narrative fails to mention the Pandit epithet. Instead, the KP/Brahmin is now projected as Hindu, part of the Indian Hindutva movement.


If 90% of Kashmir’s population was against the minority, then why was no harm done to the migrating KPs? And why, Ahmad asks, even after decades of their absence has not a single place or Hindu symbol in Kashmir been changed into Islamic lexicon?

The point to note is that the clan mentality in Kashmir is not limited to KPs alone. Sheikh Abdullah, ‘the lion of Kashmir’, used to chant verses from the Qur’an and demanded an end to autocratic rule in his speeches from the mosque pulpits for two decades. But in his bid to gain power, he opposed Muslim Pakistan and joined a Hindu India. Abdullah laid the foundation of modern-era colonial rule in Kashmir in ‘47. Following him are half a dozen surrogates of India, all with Muslim surnames. Now in Kashmir the historic power broker dynastic names of Dhar and Koul are now replaced by Abdullahs and Muftis. And let us also remember that 400 years ago, it was the Sunni clan, with the blessing of the saint Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom Sahab, that invited Mughal ruler Akbar to Kashmir and thus paved the way for 500 years of colonial rule in Kashmir.

Naya Kashmir’ to ‘Panun Kashmir’

As previously noted, the contemporary struggle for political rights against autocracy started in ‘30. In 1846, when Gulab Singh bought Kashmir from the British, he declared all the land as his personal property. He instituted the Jagirdari Nizam (feudal land grant bestowed by the ruler). Kashmiri peasants became landless, serfs at the mercy of the Jagirdars. [9]

By 1944, the demand for political rights from the ‘30s had evolved into an ambitious programme for Kashmir’s future under a democratic regime. National Conference, which was leading the struggle, adopted a manifesto entitled ‘Naya Kashmir’ (New Kashmir). The manifesto proposed popular sovereignty and an inclusive and responsive system of government. A key point of the programme was land reform: land to the tiller. The ‘50s became a milestone, with key points of the ‘Naya Kashmir’ becoming a reality, including land reforms. The Jagirdari Nizam was abolished. [10] Now, 70 years later, there is the demand for Panun Kashmir. It is not “Kashmir for Kashmiris.” It is a separate homeland for KPs within the Kashmir Valley.

‘Naya Kashmir’ was a utopia, long since aborted, for a secular democracy that would give every citizen, regardless of religious background, equal rights and opportunity. Panun Kashmir seems like a throwback to feudalism, the Jagirdari Nizam of the 19th century. Panun Kashmir advocates want 70% of the Kashmir Valley for 4% of its population. [11] Ahmad argues that Panun Kashmir manifests the KPs’ contempt toward Kashmiri Muslims asserting their political rights. I submit that the demand for Panun Kashmir is a demonstration of the continued feudal clan mindset—Kumbaparvari—in Kashmir.

Ahmad’s analysis of the KP narrative adds to our understanding of competing narratives of vested interests that shaped and continue to shape Kashmir’s political landscape. The book, 456 pages with 1,200-plus notes and references, is a lengthy read. It is worth reading to understand Kashmiris’ centuries-long political struggle. Get a copy and read it.

Rafique A Khan is a Los Angeles-based urban planner. He serves as the Managing Director of Kashmir Foundation of America (www.KashmirFoA.org). This book review appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s August 2018 issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, please mail here: [email protected]


1. Cabeiri DeBergh Robinson: Body of Victim, Body of Warrior; Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists, University of California Press. 2013. Robinson notes that the conflict in Kashmir is “…about the conflict and contestations for political recognition that were happening at the time of decolonisation, when Kashmiri peoples’ struggle for political rights were with the monarch of Jammu and Kashmir, not with the British colonial power or with the post-colonial nation-stares of India and Pakistan.” She also points out that the conflict in Kashmir is “fundamentally not a territorial dispute between states. It is a struggle by the ruled to establish limits on the sovereign power of their rulers.” [Page 33]

2. Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative (SAGE Publication, New Delhi, 2017, classifies the book as academic).

3. By virtue of this sale deed known as the Treaty of Amritsar, Ahmad writes: “An entire country along with its…six hundred thousands inhabitants,…at twenty-five shilling a head,…(is) the most extensive transaction of the slave trade of modern times.

4. As per the inquiry commission report, named after the British official Glancy, the government in certain major departments had 3,396 employees: non-Muslims 2,789, Muslims 607. The commission noted that in spite of imperfections in education facilities large number of qualified Muslims where available. In menial jobs, that required no educational qualifications, non-Muslim where 1,284 workers and 414 where Muslims. In 1932, the KP population was 4% of the state population.

5. See press release dated 18 January 2018. M.K.Dhar, Secretary Press and Publicity Panun Kashmir, email Pran Raina, [email protected] (Kashmir-global-network).

6. KPs’ population in 1981 was 3.96% of the total population of 3,134,9040 of Kashmir. Ahmad estimates that based on decades’ growth of the community from 1971 to 1981 as 6.75%, the KP population in 1991 would be 132,453. About 8,000 KPs did not migrate. Thus, KPs who migrated during the militancy could not exceed about 124,453, according to Ahmad. India Magazine reported 90,000 migrants. Also, total number of 38,119 families comprising 142,042 Kashmiri migrants were registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry. A survey in 2008 and 2009 by Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, reported 399 KPs were killed by insurgents from 1990 to 2011. Kashmiri Pandit – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmiri_Pandit

7. Ahmad notes that neutral observers who visited 448 temples on 1700 kanals land found no instance of desecration, and that visit “to temple after temple proved that it was not the temples but the BJP propaganda that needed to be demolished.” (Page 261).

8. Audrey Truschke, Aurangzeb The Man and the Myth, Penguin Randum House India, 2017, writes that the word ‘Hindu’ is Persian, not Sanskrit, and only became commonly used self-referentially during British colonialism. (Page 17.) She notes about the Hindu Muslim divide: “Such views have roots in colonial era scholarship, where positing timeless Hindu-Muslim animosity embodied the British strategy of divide and conquer.” (Page 100). She continues: “Modern suggestions that Rajputs and Marathas who resisted Mughal rule thought of themselves as ‘Hindus’ defying ‘Muslims’ tyranny are just that: modern. Neither Mughal nor Maratha writers shied away from religiously tinged rhetoric in narrating this clash, especially in later accounts. But, on the ground, a thirst for political power drove both the opposition to Aurangzeb’s rule and the Mughal response.”(Page 82)

9. During the Dogra rule “..almost all of Jammu and Kashmir arable area of 2.2 million acres had been owned by 396 big landlords and 2,347 intermediate landlords. [Sumantra Bose, Kashmir Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace. Harvard University Press, 2003. Page 27]

10. As a result of the Land To Tiller programme, between ‘50 and ‘52, 700,000 landless peasants, become landowners of nearly over a million acres. The ‘Naya Kashmir’ was a short-lived utopia. As noted by Bose, the ‘Naya Kashmir’ manifesto was “based on a Jacobin concept of popular sovereignty, augmented by a generous dollop of Bolshevism. Bose writes: “The deeply authoritarian streak in the NC’s emancipation movement rapidly became evident after ‘47 and made its own contribution to the subversion and retardation of democratic development in Kashmir. The founder of NC, Sheikh Abdullah, who spent a lifetime advocating democracy, ended up establishing his dynastic rule. Neutral observers agree that the hallmark of government in Kashmir is nepotism and corruption.

11. Kashmir Valley’s total area is about 15,500 sq km. The Panun Kashmir proposed land area is about 10,600 sq km of the Valley’s total area. This adds up to 68.38% of the Valley land area. It includes the fertile part of Kashmir Valley, including its major towns, waterways and its lakes and tourist destinations, in all two thirds of the Valley.


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