Social Profile of Kashmir

Hamid Rather

The political and social history of Kashmir in its formative period is widely unresearched scientifically, if not is unavailable. Only a dozen books have been produced rather re-produced over its complex history and that too on the basis of those few primary sources.  Its mythologized version popularized by Hindu scholars that Kashmir was once a lake called satisar that was drained by Brahman Kashyapa Rishi through his magical powers, has lost its relevance as it bears no geological and archaeological evidence. Dr. D. P. Agarwal, a well-known technology historian and archaeologist of India in his videos on YouTube says that there is no geological evidence found in support of themythologized version. It is Kalhana’s Rajtarangini in which we can find glimpses of historiography writings in the real sense. Even, the Kashmiri youths were observed by this writer over social media taking pride over the prowess and writing genius of Kalhana who was the pioneer of historiography writings in India. Indians are often lamented by the western scholars like Vincent Arthur Smith and Max Mueller, to name a few for lacking a sense of historiography writing. This criticism, however, is true to certain extent but the western scholars were trying to create an impression that Indians were incapable of governing themselves and hence British should rule over them to modernize them. Propagandistic indeed! Sir Aural Stein, a British linguist and archaeologist, while translating Rajtarangini had adored the intellectual genius of the writer, but he himself, according to Akther Mohiud-din, a Kashmiri language poet and social activist, had committed many mistakes in naming the places. Apart from Rajtarangini, we find an excellent mention of the older traditions of Kashmir in the Nilmat purana. In the wider sense, compiling social history from the political history literature is an arduous process which is not interesting at all, at least for two reasons. (Mohiud din Akther, 1995) Firstly, these accounts only hover around the kings and less about the common people, about their organizations, their foods, attire and culture in general. In such accounts, the smell of the books does not activate the neurons and fail to elongate the antenna of one’s concentration, which V. A. Graicunus, a French Management Consultant called as the ‘Span of Attention’. Secondly, their viewpoints are often not attested by the archaeological evidences (p. 4). This lack of scientific temper causes dizziness and tempts to avoid this work if possible. Here an effort is made to compile the social history from the fourteenth century onwards where both these weaknesses had withered away.

It is believed that till the beginning of the fourteenth century Kashmir was populated only by Hindus. Later in the middle and the end of the fourteenth century, a mass conversion of Hindus to Islam through the efforts of Shah-i-Hamdan and his followers took place.  It is believed by many Hindu scholars that mass persecution of Hindus was conducted on King Sikander’s orders, which was followed by their mass exodus from Kashmir. It is a common belief among Pandits that only eleven Pandit families were left behind who survived the war-like situations. Many Hindu scholars targeted king Sikander for violent bigotry and prosecution of Hindus and labeled him ‘but-shikan’ (sic iconoclast). (Taseer Rashid) Contrary, Sikander is also regarded as the ‘best human being’ of the fourteenth century by many Hindu scholars (p.16). Whether King Sikander was a ferocious killer or a kind ruler is left for the historians and scholars to decide. It has been attested by many scholars that the persecution of Hindus had happened during their mass conversion to Islam. While drawing this inference, most of the scholars have relied on the traditions and less on the research. Walter Lawrence, for instance, writes “Traditions affirm that the persecution of the Hindus was so keen that only eleven families of Hindus remained in the valley” (p. 302). These traditions had even divided the Pandits further into two broad groups – malmas and banamas. The descendants of eleven families of Pandits who survived mass exodus are called malmas and the descendants of the fugitives and Hindus of Deccan, who had come to Kashmir later, are known as the banamas. These two classes of Hindus do not intermarry and have strong hatred against each other.

Apart from the cast-system which is common among all Hindus, a class division exists among Kashmiri Pandits or Brahmans. This class division is permeable to the institution of marriage and also conditions their social and spatial mobility. Kashmiri Pandits are categorized into three indigenous classes with well delineated boundaries: the astrologer class (Jotish), the priest class (Guru or Bachabat), and the working class (Karkun). “The priest class do not intermarry with either of the other classes, partly because they are regarded as divine and cut off from mankind, and partly because the laity abhor their practice of accepting the apparel of deceased Hindus” (Lawrence Walter R. p. 302). But the other two classes – Jotish and Karkun intermarry. The Jotish Pandits are experts in Shastras, the priest class performs the religious rites and ceremonies and the Karkun class represents a vast majority of the Pandits which are either government employees or businessmen. In Kashmir, a person’s occupation continues to determine his social position and even now most of the institutions like marriages, social prestige, etc. have a strong correlation with individual’s occupation. The villagers were looked down by the city people and it continues even in the present society. “The Pandits of the villages consider it no degradation to follow the plough and to carry manure; but the city Pandit who has not severed himself from the literary atmosphere of the capital, is inclined to look down the Brahman agriculturist, and though he will take a wife from the villages, he will not, if a man of any position, permit his daughter to marry into a village family” (Lawrence Walter R. p. 303). This social differentiation is still prevalent in the contemporary Kashmir as the city people especially Srinagarities often call the village people by disrespected names like graees (sic farmer), gamuk (sic villager), etc. However, the digital revolution especially the emergence of smart phones have made the village youth more conscious and witty and it has given them more eyes, more ears and more hands to stand at equal footing with the Srinagarities, Muslim Brahman class.

The Pandits are called ‘Ba’te’ (sic Kashmiri Hindus) by non-Hindus in Kashmir. This word is not humiliating in any way and does not arrogate Pandits or instill in them a sense of inferiority. It had originated out of the harmony and cordial relationships among Pandits and Muslims. The Pandits were never seen unhappy on calling them ‘Ba’te’. Like Indian Hindus, the Kashmiri Pandits are divided into many gotras (tribal divisions). It is believed that there are eighteen known gotras among Levite Brahmans and 103 among the other Brahmans in Kashmir. The Pandits do not marry within gotras andare often distinguished by their kra’m (sic family appellation).

Thousands of Kashmiris including Pandits, Muslims and Sikhs were displaced during 1990s. The causes of their migration are interpreted differently by different stakeholders. Displaced Kashmiri Pandits who settled in other states held that they were displaced due to an atmosphere of fear and insecurity created by Muslim separatists who killed many of their prominent leaders. They established ‘Panun Kashmir’ as their mouth-piece. The Kashmiri Muslims and pro-self determination group held that the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits was an orchestrated plan staged under the supervision of the then Governor, Jagmohan Malhotra. The Pandits who did not migrate or who returned shortly after migration were never against them. They maintain that it was because of their good Muslims neighbours that they did not leave in the time of war. They are represented by ‘Kashmiri Pandit Sangarish Samiti’ (KPSS) headed by Sanjay Tikoo. They are very critical of ‘Panun Kashmir’.  The displaced Kashmiris have been living as refugees in Jammu, Delhi and other states depending upon the state benefits. They are set apart from their land, people and relationships. Financial packages and job promises in MNCs or State will no longer satisfy them in the coming years. They are losing their Kashmiriyat (sic common Kashmiri identity) as their new generations hardly speak Kashmiri language. A phase of identity crisis is approaching the displaced community. They may emerge as the worst marginalized group of Kashmir if not rehabilitated soon.  Zahir-ud-Din, a journalist cautions the community of a cultural crisis in an opinion published in Kashmir Reader. Here is an excerpt:


“The migrants are perceived as intruders outside, notwithstanding the packages offered by Maharashtra, Gujarat and some other states. Slowly but surely the community is getting diluted. A human being cannot survive on reservations in technical institutions, jobs in big business houses and hollow slogans alone. Something else is also needed. The Pandits have to understand that they are being used in the name of employment, residential plots and economic packages. A migrant is appointed and posted in a remote corner of the valley. He joins his duties but in a month or so his officer engineers and facilitates his exit from the valley of ghosts. The migrant gets his pay but the vacancy created by his exit goes to the kith and kin of the officer. The migrants have become a goldmine for bureaucrats. They do not want the honourable and dignified return of the migrants for obvious reasons. It, therefore, is high time that the Pandit leadership, the dissident leadership and the civil society in Kashmir initiate a serious dialogue. Together they can make a difference.” (“Options with Migrant Pandits”, Kashmir Reader,2013)


Muslims are in majority in the Kashmir valley. Besides administrative grouping, the Muslim community is socially and largely organized on religion and castes lines. Although Islam does not recognize caste and class contrivances, still the institution of caste is vibrant among the Muslims in Kashmir. The Saiyads, the Sheikhs, the Mughals, the Pathans, the Pirzadas, the Mirs, etc. are some religious-based castes who owe their origins to different preachers from Iran. There are Sufis and Rishis (indigenous Sufis of Kashmir) in the valley too. An increasingly large number of Sufis and Rishis earned the epithet of ‘Reshvaar’ (Garden of Rishis) for Kashmir. Muslims following different religious schools emerged as new social and religious groups if not castes. Many revival movements in Islam like Jamaat-e-Islami, Tabligi Jamaat, Ahl-e-Hadees, Devbandi, Barelevi, etc. have become popular among Muslims in the valley.  The Muslim population is largely divided into two sects of Sunni and Shia (largely Jaffaria Shia). The classification of castes into higher castes and lower castes does exist in Kashmir Muslims but is not as vibrant as among the Hindus. (Fauq Mohd Deen) The castes like Watal, Dums, Galwans, Band, Chaupans, etc. are often looked down by the people of higher castes and are considered as the lower castes. And the castes like syed, hamadani, andrabi, naqashbandi, shah, pir, rizvi, geelani, badi, etc. are socially regarded as the superior castes (p. 177-185,416-434). The occupation of a person largely determines his/her social stature among Muslims. The government employees enjoy social prestige in the society of Kashmir. It is partly because of the absence of the well-developed occupational system in Kashmir. The society exhibits ascriptive (credit given to other) values and the achievement values found in developed cities like Delhi and Mumbai are highly missed.  Even some castes have evolved on the basis of performing low profile jobs like chopan, doom, watal, etc.

Apart from Pandits and Muslims, Sikhs and Christians also form a significant part of kashmiriyat. Religious minorities – Pandits and Sikhs are demanding the government to grant them the minority status. All these communities are living under harmony and peace and take full pride in their kashmiriyat.

Apart from the large scale religious based social organization which is prevalent in Kashmir, we also have geographic and linguistic based socialization. Gujjars, Bakerwals and kandi, to name a few are geographical based communities which have their unique lifestyle, food habits, attire and language. Similarly, there is a feeling of solidarity among the speakers of a language or dialect like Gojri speaking or pahadi/pahari speaking people. Apart from these social groupings, certain new social groups have emerged as an off shoot of militancy.  Ex-militant is one such group comprising of about 300 to 400 families. Pertinently, in 1990s thousands of youths had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to undertake arms-training in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and returned as militants under the patronage of Pakistan. However, most of them had returned as militants, laid down guns and had started living a civilian life. They are called ‘surrendered militants’ to distinguish them from the ex-militants. However, they still don’t escape from the wrath of the security forces whenever an untoward incident happens in the valley. Unlike ex-militants, they are well-integrated into the society and enjoy all the rights as the other civilians. However, some of the youth did not return to Kashmir as militants, soon they became disillusioned, gave up their arms, married and settled in PoK. They always longed to return to their families in Kashmir and demanded a re-union of the divided families which materialized though the Jammu and Kashmir Rehabilitation Policy, 2010. They are officially called ex-militants. However, once back in the valley, they are constantly harassed by the intelligence agencies. Their security is poor and not guaranteed as one such ex-militant, Liyaqat Ali Shah while returning via Nepal border under Rehabilitation Policy was arrested by Delhi Police and interrogated under fabricated charges of orchestrating terrorist activities. Unlike surrendered militants, ex-militants do not enjoy the franchise rights and even do not possess identity cards. They live under abject poverty: they have no sources of livelihood, dependent on their relatives and friends, their children are denied admissions in schools and this way they lead a life of shame. The PoK returnees said that they were getting a monthly relief of 10,000 Pakistani rupees in PoK but once back in Kashmir they were forced to starve. They constantly rue their decision of returning back. The families are not allowed to visit their relatives in PoK. They are torn between two halves – of relations of lands.

Kashmir as such, has experienced certain changes in its social organizations. It has not remained inert to the changes taking place in its environment; rather it has affected them and has also got affected in return. This is called ‘circular response’ by certain scholars, which is a classic feature of a living and vibrant society and Kashmir is its characteristic example.


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