By Anupama Handoo
(Core Group Member, Team@KPCS)
“Martyr Tikalal Taploo wasn't killed by militants- much before that he was killed by his own brethren - who didn't vote for him (in 1983)”. A friend said that to me in passing. 31 years later its election time again in J&K and we were discussing candidates. 24 Kashmiri Pandit candidates decided to stand for election from Habbakadal this time - '2 for each month’ I retorted, but something snapped inside me. I am intrigued by the seemingly rudderless community of mine. Why in Vitasta's name can't we choose a leader and follow him/her?
The answer coming from all directions is- because we are all intellectuals. We look for flaws in our leaders and highlight them as reason for not following them. Fair enough! We did however vote for Ghulam Mohd. Bhat (Gul Raida) in the election that both Pandit candidates, Sh. Tikalal Taploo and Sh. Piaray Lal Kharihalu lost in a Pandit majority constituency of Habbakadal. Was he flawless? We have also been staunch supporters of the Nehru-Gandhi family and their version of Congress. They aren't blameless either. So this argument doesn’t hold much weight. It is however apparent that we like to salute the rising sun. An already successful leader is more likely to gain our adulation than someone who is still struggling to rise. Sycophancy is one of our exalted virtues.
Another casual chat, another argument surfaced. We Kashmiri Pandits suffer from crab mentality. If there are people amongst us who are doing well (leading), we try and bring them down. In fact, I see that a lot around me. A lot of energy is spent negating good work, creating misunderstandings, denigrating people, their character assassination and holding a moral high ground. I am no expert on human nature, but can safely say that this happens in all communities not just Kashmiri Pandits. However the difference is that in other communities people do this for a reason. Someone will step on you because one wants your fame, power, money, business, promotion etc. In our community someone will step on you but not be necessarily interested in your goals, your promotion, your position. So it is crab mentality, but neither of the two crabs succeeds - and in the process actually the community loses.
I have spoken to many intellectuals in our community and they are all very keen to draw parallels of our similarity to the Jewish community and the Holocaust. However, I fail to see the same commitment for a common cause, a unified community or a purposeful collaboration by Kashmiri Pandits. Many communities vote en`masse so they have political clout. Other communities do business with or recruit within a preferred group so they get financial or professional clout. We Kashmiri Pandits do neither - actually we positively discriminate against our own and that keeps the whole community down.
Coming to the topic of leadership - isn't it strange that we are spread around the world as scientists, doctors, bureaucrats – but not as leaders. I will be happy to be proved wrong – but there is not a single Kashmiri Pandit Member of Parliament (or any other democratic institution) in the whole world – as against Gujaratis, Punjabis, Tamilians etc.
Hari Krishan Kaul, premier of Kashmir in 1930s is fabled to have said: ‘Haro, batt` chuii – Khyavizen Chhavizen, Yezzath karizes, magar Pachizes n zaahn’. Translated: Haro (name) beware of the Kashmiri Pandit, treat him, feed him, respect him, but do not trust him. The master leader, bureaucrat Hari Krishan Kaul (for whom the term Sher-e-Kashmir was originally coined) himself did not trust the community he belonged to. He was actually wary of them. Eventually he was proven right, as on his way out, his own community spurned him. As a community we do not trust each other. Socially we love, respect, go out of our way for each other – but if it was to trust a fellow batt’ with a job, business or our precious vote – we wouldn’t. Sanskrit poet and philosopher Kshemendra (c.990 -c.1070 CE) coined the term ‘Batt’ gav Takshuk’ translated ‘Batt` is a serpent’. This is not the dark ages…but ‘lack of trust’ is still hard wired in our psyche.
My analysis for the lack of leaders in our community has pulled me into a rabbit warren of reasons. Firstly, there is our high horse - ‘b chhus t baey na kah’ (translated ‘no one is as good as me’). Then, there is the habit of pulling people down for no good reason other than that, we have a bit of incriminating information. Lastly, it’s the lack of trust within our own. This lack of leaders is certainly not a good sign. As a dwindling community we need people to represent our interests in the corridors of power. Unless there is a shift change in our mentality as a community, we will be leaderless, rudderless and purposeless for generations to come.
Follow Anu on Twitter: @anu_handoo