March 2002 News

Kashmiri duo scripts story of hope for nation

10 March 2002
The Indian Express
Mazamil Jaleel

Arin (North Kashmir): While communal tensions simmer elsewhere in the country, two old men and a village script a story of hope in a remote corner of Kashmir. Twelve years after the massive exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley, 80-year old Lassa Koul, continues to live here. And he does not remember a single incident of hatred although his village is a hot bed of militancy and has seen over 200 violent deaths in recent years. Koul belongs to a family, who have been priests of one of the Kashmir's hilliest Hindu shrines, the Dhaneswar cave or Chotta Amarnath deep in the Harmukh range of Himalayas, for nine generations. The shrine is itself a symbol of Kashmir's composite culture which at one point of time seemed all but lost in the valley in the early 90's. The chowkidar of the shrine traditionally comes from the Lone clan, a Muslim family of neighbouring Dardpora village and the two families have always shared the alms which was once the main source of their income. "I can't even think of leaving my village. I have never ever felt different just because I am a Hindu," Koul says sitting in his mud house. "For a moment I wanted to leave when the ugly wave of communal tensions gripped Kashmir and most Hindus left their homes but my neighbours convinced me to stay back. I gave if a try and I am happy I took a risk," he says. His house lies in the heart of the village. Idols of Shambhu dot his open compound where a few old . women sit on a rug, enjoying the winter sun. "I own nine canals of land and an apple orchard and live a comfortable life. I am hota fanner. It is my Muslim neighbours who plough my land and take care of my orchard," Koul says. "I attend their weddings and celebrate Id with them. They too don't let me feel lonely on Shivratri," he says. "Before the migration (of Kashmiri Hindus), the entire .area would look forward to Shivratri more than even Id because thousands of pilgrims would come for a yatra to the holy cave. It was not just a happy festival, it would bring a lot of business as well." Koul's closest friend remains Ramzan Lone, the chowkidar of Dansheer cave. He lives a few miles away up in the mountains with his family and comes down almost every week to meet Koul "For the last 12 years, there "For the last 12 years, there have been not many pilgrims to the shrine and it is only the families of security forces who come for, the yatra," Koul says. "I don't like up to the cave often but he (Lone) has been taking care of the shrine all these years. Did he ever got scared because of militancy? "Not really," Koul says.. "This village had been a hub of militancy but nobody touched me. Nobody ever even addressed to me as a Hindu," he says; A Muslim village elder and a school teacher, who lives in the neighbourhood, gave the reason. "It is not that people here are saints and that there is no possibility of a communal tension here," he says. "Connmunalism has much to do with Vested interest If he (Koul) were a businessman or a contractor, things might have been different Religion would have certainty been exploited to force him out of the village because it would have suited some vested interests. But he is not a threat to anybody so nobody bothers about his faith," he says. "Communalism is a ruthless game. It is always used to secure power or monopoly taking advantage of the faith of the ordinary people," he says. Koul's relatives, who were employees or engaged in business in fact migrated in 1990, leaving behind him and his elder brother Jankmath Koul. The elder Koul died a few years ago. My Muslim neighbours went all out to help me to perform his sanskar (last rites)," Lassa Koul says. Ironically, Koul had problems With the security forces who could not understand how he survives in sucha militant-infested area. "In the beginning, they kept asking me why I did not leave. They suspected that I was helping militants. But soon they realised their mistake," Koul says. "Now everythings fine. In fact, I get kerosene for my daily use from the local Army unit," he added.


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