Kashyap Bandhu - A Man Who Awoke A
Dwarka Nath Munshi, New Delhi
A hundred years ago, a boy was born in the small
simple village of Guer, about 40 km from Srinagar in Kashmir. His parents
named him Tara Chand. In a short time, he also came to be called 'Bulbul'.
As the boy grew up, he lived his name to the full, for he was bright as a star
(Tara), gentle as the moon (Chand) and sweet as the lovely little bird (Bulbul)
that wakes up late rising somnolents with its delightful and persistent notes.
The boy was destined to make a prominent mark in the history of Kashmir and
especially in the life of Kashmiri Pandits. Here I would take a minute to
talk of our past history only as a backdrop of his work. We have been
relating that history on most occasions and I would desist from going into those
off repeated details. I will speak of it in the barest outline and as I
have viewed if, and what broad lessons would be drawn from it, though not as
self reghteous victims alone.
For a thousand years before him these meek citizens given to gentle pursuits
of spiritual quest, philosophy, education, agriculture and other peaceful
mundane activities had been driven to the edge of extinction by waves of brutish
fanatical invaders as well as a cavalcade of rapacious local rulers. At
one time they had been reduced to no more than eleven families. The rest
of the entire Hindu population had been forcibl y converted to Islam or had
gradually decayed by falling prey to destructive customs and rituals.
Divided by Varna or caste, they could never stand united or put up a joint front
in any activity, least of all in their own security and defence. All this
had bred in them fatal urges for thinking or caring for nothing beyond the self
at whatever price.
It was in a world of such background and atmosphere that Tara Chand appeared
on the scene. Little is known about his early years. No authentic or
reliable records, generally of those times, of the socioeconomic or political
life of the people are available. All that they would haveexperienced was
that somewhere, far away resided, in the big palace, the great and all-powerful
Maharaja popularly called the 'Sarkar' or the sovereign of the humble 'Riyaya'.
If there was a 'madrassa' or 'maktab' or 'pathshala' (school), it must have been
miles away, where the boys would go and sit under the shade of the trees, and
the 'Ustad' or 'Panditji' (teacher) would be taking his nap and a light
massage from the boys. Then the bell would ring and the boys would run back home
to lend a hand at domestic chores.
How the little Tara Chand must have been affected in that isolation, and what
influences must have taken hold of his mind, can be anybody's guess. But as we
view him as a grown up young man, he was all charm and decency. He
had left Kashmir for the Punjab plains to seek a career or pursue the ideals
which lie appears to have developed from his early age. There is no doubt that
he must have been deeply influenced and motivated by the freedom movement in
India under Gandhiji's leadership. For, when he descended on the scene in
Kashmir in the early thirties, he showed clear, unmistakable trace of that
influence in each word and deed.
In the meantime, he had taken a wife who was a school teacher. Both husband
and wife would be seen in Khadi apparel of Dhoti-kurta of the
husband and Sari-chola of the wife. Both looked screne, cute and, indeed,
Tara Chand had by now also assumed the name of Kashyap Bandhu meaning the
brother and the servant of Kashmir, and had straightway plunged into the service
of the people, to arouse them to the fast-changing times, to live and work, to
think and act for people's emancipation, as India as a whole was striving to do.
Kashmir had not, however, remained untouched but had undergone a deep and
painful change of its own. A Muslim Conference had been established and Sheikh
Mohammed Abdullah had emerged as the Supreme leader of the Muslim Community.
The whole atmosphere was surcharged with Muslim Communalism and against the
Maharaja's 'autocratic' rule. In 1931 it turned violent and inexplicably
they attacked Kashmiri Pandits, who were in a negligible minority and yet were
being represented as the Dogra Maharaja's own, and exploiters of the majority
The first large-scale violence occurred on July 13, 1931. The Muslims,
though only some sections of them, had been subjected to communal propaganda
against the Hindus that is the Kashmir Pandits (KPs). A protest march by
the agitating Muslims was met by some excessive police action which exploded
into a wide conflagration. The marchers turned their wrath on the Kashmiri
Pandits, especially in Srinagar's central market of Maharaj Gunj, indulging in
loot, arson and wide-scale destruction and some deaths.
This was a wholly new and undreamt of experience for Kashmiris as a whole.
Earlier, the Pandits had suffered persecution and oppression for centuries under
the alien Muslim invaders, as I said a while ago. But now, for long years,
the Kashmiri stock was enjoying an exemplary communal harmony. Truly was
it held that the Muslims and Pandits were two brothers, pursuing two
different faiths in perfect mutual affection, respect and trust which was the
envy of many an outsider.
July 31 was thus the defining episode foreshadowing the State's trying times
to come. The wounds inflicted by the occurrence were not allowed to heal,
but to rather fester and deepen. For KPs the trauma was essentially of
betrayal of trust which created a sense of insecurity and darkness.
THE POLE STAR PANDIT
It was at such a time that Kashyap Bandhu emerged as a pole star to work for
the emancipation of the confused and depressed Kashmiri Pandit community.
To analyse a man's life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does but
also what he avoids to do, or purposely leaves alone or undone. Thus, we
see that he did not harp on the oppression and harm done to the community as
much as he sought to strengthen it by infusing courage and confidence and
self-reliance as positive action, which would be the right response for our
long-term salvation. His emphasis on social reform, on developing modern
outlook in day-to-day living, on power and dignity of labor, on empowering the
meek and the timid by collective voice and action, all flowed from these
Gandhian principles and emphasis was directed to achieving this central purpose.
It is instructive and interesting to see that there was an aspect of subtlety
and dual purpose to almost everything he undertook for the common people's
welfare. For instance, one of his first priorities was to develop a
suitable place in Srinagar for the community to congregate every week, in a
spiritual and joyous healthy seating. He selected a splendid site for the
purpose and went to work on it development. This was at a toe of the
sacred Hari Parbat, where all out Devis and Devtaas reside. Atop the
gentle slopes of the hillock at this point resides Goddess Hari, resplendent in
glowing Vermillion and decked in fragrant marigold and rose. On the
opposite side, lay vast fields of almond orchards and enormous stretches of
shimmering waters reaching to the foot of Mata Ragnya's abode at Khir Bhawani.
This glorious, environmentally refreshing and spiritually elevating point
needed to be enlarged to accommodate the growing numbers that flocked there
every Sunday morning. So Bandhuji called upon the youths to cut a new
pathway away and around it, which yielded the desired space. This
seemingly single objective carried in itself a few other significant ones.
It attracted the generally stay-at-home people, women in particular, to come out
into the open, healthy environs for a long morning, Parikrama in communion with
nature and the divine, and in step with others to establish a social closeness
and to take up boldly some manual labour as a rewarding exercise.
Amazingly our women-folk were drawn powerfully to these Sunday prayers and
social intermingling. Here I would like to give you the example of my own
mother who was a young widow of about 27 years and I as a little boy of four
summers hung on to her most of the time. But she would never leave the
threshold of our sprawling house and garden, attired in the customary Pheran and
Taranga (head-gear). As if by divine interference, she one day decided to
change to sari as Bandhuji had propounded. She felt a new spirit surging
within and would regularly attend the Sunday meeting at Hari Parbat, taking me
along and returning with a light heart and step.
On one such morning. Bandhuji hoisted out Community flag at the holy
spot. He then brought out a knife in the right hand and with it slashed
his left arm. As blood gushed out in thick drops, he poured it at the flag
staff base to sanctify it, and bear it as witness to the vow of life-long
service to the community. The entire audience stood up in awe and
solemnity to make a covenant with Ma Hari, looking from above, to abide by
all-round social reform in the society as delineated by Bandhuji. It was a
unique and memorable event in our life, inscribing within us, with the
resounding notes of the slogan 'Jai Kara-Jar Har Mahadev' the spirit of courage
and selfless sacrifice. The memory of that magnificent moment still shines
in the heart of the lad of the four tender summers who lives to relate today the
The changes that followed were pleasantly spontaneous. Men folk started
taking to dhoti or Pyjama/Kurta and gradually to more manageable caps in place
of the never-ending yards of the 'Dastaar'. For women in particular, the
Sari system of dress was a great liberating act, especially in the headgear.
The Taranga involved layers of the Kalpush (a cap) with taltchuk (an embroidered
adornment), the Zuji, over the cap, then the taranga of several carefully laid
out layers of cotton strip round the head, and on top of it all the 'Putch' a
longer Zuji going from the crown of the head down to the ankles, and finally the
wodapallav of fine cotton or Pashmina drapery over it all.
As you, the reader would have experienced even in following these complex
intricate details, it was a tedious time-taking and tiring exercise and demanded
assistance of a second person, expert in the process of placing these expensive
items in proper place at each step. the sari had dispensed with it all, at one
stroke, with just a flick covering the head with ease and elegance. I
guess in hindsight that, apart from acquiring a smart new visage, we integrated
our identity with the Hindus in the plains as also shed the laze-inducing alien
system of dress which was representing the remnants of the Muslim invaders' way
of covering themselves whole.
THE WATCHWORD: SOCIAL REFORM
Social reform had now become the watchword after the collective vow was
taken. It came as a read answer to the numerous meaningless customs and
sometimes ridiculous rituals such as at birth, weddings, festivals, birthdays,
death, et all. The dowry system was the most hateful of all. It
involved not only utter waste of scarce resources which often resulted in ruin.
It also created sulk and bitterness and long-drawn quarrels and disputes, where
it should have been mutual love and regard and close relationship between the
parties concerned. The vow did produce a salutary effect, though only for
a time before it started weakening and taking other alarming crude and
proportions characteristics. Even so, there are many young men and even
girls- the centre of this ritual-who abhor and reject those customs and prefer
to observe Social Reform.
Among Bandhuji's many social reforms, his persistent advocacy of widow
remarriage was taken regrettably with little seriousness or acceptability by the
community. A pity it was, indeed, when we recall how numerous young
widows, sometimes childless and helpless, sometimes with children but not enough
means, would pass their lives in mortifying loneliness, Penury and social stigma
or disdain, living from day to day at the mercy and sometimes cruelty of even
'their near relations, for no fault of theirs. Where some remarriages were
solemnised, these were generally wickedly referred to as having been out of
utter desperation or mindless bravado and even other unmentionable reasons.
We hardly ever took it as emancipation.
The pathos of it all is heightened when we realise that, typical of the times
and the negative influences we live in, we have now almost accepted with
relative ease or resignation the trauma of divorce followed by remarriage,
putting at stake the lives at least of their offspring, when we had resisted
unthinkingly the ameliorative widow remarriage.
Times were, meanwhile, changing fast in political and even social fields and
Kashmir was moving into the centre-stage. All the same, Bandhuji had
promoted some basic tools of response activities of long-term meaning and value.
THE RISE OF MARTAND
One was the launching of 'Martand' in Urdu, the mouthpiece of Kashmiri
Pandits and practically the first daily newspaper of Kashmir. Its
popularity was instant and phenomenal. Not only did it enter every KP
household regularly every morning, it made a niche for itself in every mind and
heart there. Bandhuji poured his soul into it day after day and filled its
columns with bold and fearless fight against injustice, with noble ideas and
pointed comments, fiery patriotism and words of wisdom for one and all.
Martand rose to great heights not only in Kashmir but as a medium of dependable
information and interpretation of event even outside the state.
It is painful to say that such a useful and influential institution should
have been so callously and incompetently handled and allowed to decline and
decay later. Yet the name Martand continues to fire emotions, esteem,
enthusiasm and pride in the hearts of us all, and we keep longing for it.
A HANDFUL OF RICE
To build institutions of physical or mental growth, to pave the way to
enlightenment, to help those in need, to keep the community informed, enthused,
involved or committed, to fight peaceful battles, all this and more simply needs
money. Where would it come from, placed and circumstanced as we were then?
Bandhuji had, therefore, to work out a magical novelty, the Mochchphol,
translated literally into English, it means a 'handful of grain' say rice, our
staple food. But the main idea behind it was for every family to keep
aside every morning at least this much of rice taken out of what was being taken
to the kitchen to cook for the family, and that would hardly make any
difference. At the end of the month, a collector would come and receive
this donation and deposit it at the central store. It was from there that
part of the collection would be distributed among the needy, and the remaining
would be sold in the market fetching money for funding the diverse activities of
the community Organisation, the Yuvak Sabha.
Mochchphol represented a lofty, yet easy and eminently affordable sacrifice
equally from the haves and the less fortunate, on one hand, and promoting a
social equality and consciousness of helping the needy and the community
organisation, on the other.
THE POLITICAL PLAZA
Meanwhile, the natural flux of time brought fast political changes in the
country and the State. The social milieu could not be immune to it.
Kashmir in the late thirties was rapidly moving to the centre stage.
India's freedom struggle had created new aspirations and compulsions among
the State people at large. Even the miniscule Pandits were turning
politically more conscious. The small band of leaders who had collected
under the Yuvak Sabha and around Kashyap Bandhu, started feeling different
urges, thinking in different directions and tones, and developing varied
political views, relating to the role and rights of the minority KPs.
The Muslim majority's leadership, on their part, also changed their strategy
and stance, giving up the communal flag for a progressive nationalist and
secular one. Bandhuji, following his long held convictions and instincts,
felt more at ease with this new stance, and soon lent them support in their
newly adopted political assertions. It bestowed significant credibility to
the National Conference in replacing the Muslim Conference. Nevertheless,
he continued to work in the social and developmental sphere rather than directly
in politics. When Kashmir got people's popular government at Independence,
he took up the important charge of rural reconstruction and resettlement of the
uprooted and the weak. This was much in tune with his life-long mission
and he acquitted himself very well.
Unfortunately, his relationship with this new setup was not as enduring as he
would have wished, and for sober reasons. Working within the majority
ruling establishment, and more particularly with the leader Sheikh Abdullah. he
felt increasingly unhappy with the actualities vis-a-vis the promises and hopes
that had been generated, especially among the minority sections. An
accompanying piece in this issue. which is a translation of the great leader's
own article in the then Desh of Srinagar. throws more detailed and authentic
light on it. This was first published in the NAAD of AlKs in its March
1993 issue. The more he strove for a proper balance, the more he got
disillusioned. He soon decided that it was now time to work for a just
order from outside rather than stay fruitlessly within. It did not take
him long thereafter to say good-bye.
However, his creative faculties would not let him rest. His love and
leanings for mass communication led him to energise the famous 'Desh' and fill
it with progressive and even revolutionary views and fearlessly and unceasingly.
His insight into the future was phenomenal and his style of expressing as
forceful, subtle, ironic, as the occasion demanded . His feelings for the
Pandits were always tender and concerned and sometimes foreboding would here
mention an example of it which contained in the emotionally painful little piece
about the last four Kashmiri Pandits that would have perished one by one by the
new millennium, that is now. Lamented he thus "one of them will die
and three others will cremate him and so on till the last one has no one to
carry his cortege. The body would thereupon be buried by the neighbouring
Muslims marking, the end of the KP community. Only a ghost of the buried
would roam and scream in the night." This was, of course, apocryphal, but a
deeply piercing comment both on the majority Muslims for their callous and
hostile attitude to the KPs, and, for us, to underline the need to be more alive
to the situation and remain vigilant. And how close a prophetic at vision
it eventually furned out to be!
As Bandhuji's sensitive spirit watches us from above, let us prove that we
are not the children of abyss, and we will do what we have to do to achieve our
own renaissance. We trust that what we will do will not only better our
own condition but will make a contribution to the success of the nation's
renaissance and towards identification of the century ahead of us as the Indian
century. That will bring his soul solace in heaven.
It may well be said that this polestar Pandit lighted out way out of the
obstructive trivialities into bold emancipative action.
Having attempted to portray Kashyap Bandhu and his work dispassionately, I
must confess that I may not have done full justice to the subject in the
circumstances we are placed today in this regard.
How did he frame the agenda of his life and mission, what influences had
shaped his simple but essentially powerful and charming personality, what were
the factors that had given him the extraordinary vigour and virtue of
persistence and persuasion, what had made him a seer who could see the future,
and many more questions arise in the mind but remain unsatisfied. For
there are no records and references of his life and especially of his enormous
work that one could find. The priceless volumes he produced of Martand and
Desh and Kesari and the countless public addresses he made are just not
available. The volumes of the papers, it they were filed properly and
regularly, would yield a rich crop, but alas these are beyond our reach and may
well have been destroyed. The reader will, I am sure, take this in view in
assessing the value of what has been offered here.
This is in essence an appreciation and interpretation of the work of a
visionary who was much larger that what we could see.