Culture & Society

Displaced Kashmiri Pandits Losing Touch With Language, Culture

These changes cover almost all spheres of their lives such as birth and wedding rituals, their traditional food, and even the Kashmiri language.

A Kashmiri Pandit devotee reads Hindu scripture during the annual Hindu festival of Kheer Bhawani.

The cultural practices of Kashmiri Pandits have gone through changes since their displacement from the Valley in 1990. These changes cover almost all spheres of their lives such as birth and wedding rituals, their traditional food, and even the Kashmiri language.

In place of their traditional and elaborate rituals, a section of the displaced community has adopted shorter and non-Kashmiri customs over the years. Language is another aspect that has been affected over the years. Not many children born outside of Kashmir speak the language of their parents.

Sanjay Kaw, a journalist with The Asian Age newspaper who had to leave Srinagar with his family in January 1990, tells Outlook about the linguistic issues, “Our children understand the language and can speak some of it as well but they are not fluent in it. It has become a foreign language as they don’t learn it in school. It’s not natural to them anymore.”

Not many people in the community are now versed in the traditional Sharda script.

Jammu-based Kashmiri Pandit activist Srishti Kaul, whose family left Kashmir in 1990, says this is because the foremost priority for them after having to leave their home became survival.

She tells Outlook, “We have seen cultural dilution. Many of us have lost touch with our language as well because our immediate focus was on our survival. The cultural aspects took a backseat.”

Kaul adds that their wedding ceremonies are also experiencing cultural dilution.

She says, “We have authentic Kashmiri cooks here but even then our weddings are increasingly having Punjabi or South Indian food.”

When asked if this is not just cultural evolution, Kaul replies it’s not so. She says, “Evolution can’t be stopped as it’s natural. Our case is a mixture of both but it’s mostly dilution. The intermixing is understood if a Pandit is marrying a Punjabi but even weddings within the Pandit community have started to have non-Pandit ceremonies and food and this suggests a dilution.”

This aspect of life in displacement is also seen in the 2020 film Shikara, which is set in the backdrop of the 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. In the film, the protagonist couple attends a wedding of a fellow displaced Kashmiri Pandit but they seem confused at the scene in front of them – loud music and dance, which is in contrast to their traditional wedding that’s shown in brief flashbacks in the scene.

Kaw is not confident whether their cultural traditions can survive this dilution. He says, “When it’s hard for us to keep the traditions alive, how can our children do it? This feels like the beginning of the end of our cultural heritage. Our heritage and culture are rooted in a community that lived in a particular place. Now that we are not at that place in the midst of those people, it’s very hard to keep it alive.”