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The ‘lost’ tribe of Tibet

While religion binds Tibetan Kashmiris to the Muslim majority in the state, a section, still has emotional ties to the Nehruvian model of the nation state, writes Paramita Ghosh.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2007 00:33 IST
Paramita Ghosh

All families are like each other but rarely do they begin the same way. “In ’59, when trouble started with China, Grandfather, a Kashmiri, brought Grandmother, a Buddhist, to Kashmir. My father was born here. Hum to pehle se hi yahan they,” says embroiderer Mohammed Abdullah. Mohammed Asif, a cook, says the same. So do 215 families at the Tibetan settlement in Idgah and Haval, Srinagar, with minor change of detail.

For most Tibetan Kashmiris, an ethnic minority of Kashmir, homeland is here and now and Tibet, with all its symbols and references, inherited geography. Usman and wife Rukkayya, flatly say: “We came from Tibet. But we don’t remember when.” Rukkayya’s mother was Buddhist but her conversion, she says, happened minus heartburn. “Buddha is not god, but a man. And Muhammed, too, never claimed he was divine. On her deathbed, mother told me to be a Muslim. Beyond that, I don’t know.” The living quarters are an indication that this loss of memory is lived reality, and will stay that way.

Kashmiri carpets line the floor. Verses from the holy Koran, embossed frames of the holy Kabah, Aitulkursi (the prayer recited to drive the devil before going to bed) adornthe walls. “Yahan pe kalma hi kalma nazar ayega, (You’ll see the holy verses everywhere here)” observes Ghulam Mohi-ud-din, the former director of Archives and Archaeology of J&K, who drops in for a brief visit.

Perhaps, this is just a case of bad timing. The breaking of the Roza is just a few hours away and Rukkayya has no time to talk. She is busy rolling out bread for the evening meal. Daughter Sumaiya, a student at the prestigious Mallianson Girls High School, takes out a purple silk chuba — a long frock worn with a blouse — but adds that it’s just for ceremonies. “Is anything Tibetan about me? Just my physical appearance I should say,” she says winning this wordplay.

Common-sense has fashioned the political rhetoric of the Tibetan Kashmiri. While religion binds them to the Muslim majority in the state, a section, still has emotional ties to the Nehruvian model of the nation state — a country of diverse groups and claims. “The Kashmiri is also an Indian, is he not?” says Muhammad Usman, the principal of the Tibetan Public School. “Islam doesn’t say that if someone is pushing you from behind you have to come forward. There are dangers of being branded Talibani.”

The articulation of the azaadi struggle in the idiom of religion since the mid-90s (the JKLF represented a regional aspiration but lost ground to Pakistan-based Islamist groups) and the post- 9’ 11 scenario, has led to label-wariness in Kashmir. Especially among a people who, without state recognition, count themselves as refugees.

“We may not have joined the struggle but we are not spies. We are neither muqbirs (informers) nor mujahideens. ‘Repatriated Indian Muslims of Kashmiri origin from Tibet — that is our status,” says Nasir Qazi the 35-year-old suave school chairman. “I have Kashmiri friends, I studied at Kashmiri schools, our school has a mix of Kashmiri and Tibetan students, I participate in Assembly elections — then why am I not still a state subject? Every year, the MLAs come during elections and say ‘this year’ it will happen...”

The interaction with non-Tibetan Kashmiris is a cordial one. Friendly and formal all at once. At some level, there is even state patronage. A new wing at the Tibetan school is being added with a 10-lakh donation from Farooq Abdullah’s MP’s fund. “We participate in each other’s festivals. We visit Kashmiri homes. They also worship in our mosques,” says Qazi. And love and marriage?

“I love Kashmiri girls. But mother will beat me if she finds out,” says a young boy it would be a shame to name.