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The ‘lost’ tribe of Tibet

September 24, 2007

Paramita Ghosh, Srinagar,
Hindustan Times
September 23, 2007
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

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.

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