Kashmiri Pandits welcome first batch of Haj pilgrims on return
A group of Kashmiri Pandits and some people from other faiths welcomed the first batch of this year’s Haj pilgrims back home, singing praises of Prophet Mohammed at Srinagar airport on Saturday.
While the gesture struck a chord with many, the presence of a few BJP leaders in the small crowd prompted some to question the intent.
The video of the group reciting Naat (eulogy to the Prophet) has been trending on social media, many calling it a heartening gesture and a symbol of communal amity in a time of hate.
Kuldeep Singh Reshi, Srinagar airport director, was among many who tweeted the video, calling it a “cordial welcome to Haji Saheban”.
The first batch of 145 Hajis — 80 men and 65 women — from the Valley returned after performing the 40-day pilgrimage.
The group welcoming the returning pilgrims recited well-known Kashmiri Naats and greeted them with flowers and harmala smoke, traditionally used here during festive occasions.
“Our Kashmiri Pandits welcoming Hajis at Srinagar airport today by singing traditional Naat seeking the blessings of Prophet. This is our syncretic culture — believers of Islam are enablers of Amarnath Yatra & the followers of Shaivism are messengers for unity,” Mohit Bhan, a Kashmiri Pandit and spokesperson for the People’s Democratic Party, tweeted.
Our Kashmiri Pandits welcoming Hajis at Srinagar airport today by singing traditional Naat seeking the blessings of Prophet. This is our syncretic culture believers of Islam are enablers of Amarnath Yatra & the followers of Shavism are messengers for unity. pic.twitter.com/5E7egZ2D7p— Mohit Bhan موہت بھان (@buttkout) July 16, 2022
The Valley has keenly missed such gestures since the 2019 scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. The targeted killings that followed of non-locals, particularly Hindus, widened the gulf between the communities.
But many were surprised that leading Saturday’s gesture were a few small-time leaders of the BJP, a party with a reputation for divisive politics. The gesture came a day after the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh registered a case against unknown people for allegedly offering namaz at a Lucknow mall.
A local BJP leader, Nanaji Dembi, told The Telegraph that the airport gesture was his initiative and that he wanted to send across a message that Kashmiriyat, which symbolises the Valley’s syncretic culture, was alive and kicking.
“Leave the party aside, it was my individual effort. I had brought along my wife, mother and children to receive the returning pilgrims. I got a lot of calls, including some from BJP men, praising me for this,” he said.
Dembi’s wife Rajni, who participated in the welcome, is vice-president of the BJP’s Kupwara unit and a sarpanch. “I felt happy receiving the pilgrims,” she said.
Dembi said some local Muslims, a Sikh and a Christian were part of the initiative.
“Yes, I am a youth BJP leader. It was an individual effort and I enlisted some people I know. It’s the slogan of the unity of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Isayees (Christians) that binds us all,” Dembi, district president of the Amarnath Yatra Welfare Society, added.
Many praised the airport gesture. “Kashmiri Pandits are part of our body, those who tried to separate us from each other are our common enemy,” Kashmiri activist Raja Muzaffar tweeted.
Kashmiri Pandits are part of our body, those who tried to separate us from each other are our common enemy. One of the best example of religious harmony. At Srinagar Airport, Kashmiri Pandits reciting Naats welcome Hajis returning from Saudi;@bobrobertsjr https://t.co/upuoa7YBv6— Raja Muzaffar (@Rajammuzaffar) July 16, 2022
“One of the best examples of religious harmony. At Srinagar airport, Kashmiri Pandits reciting Naats welcome Hajis returning from Saudi.”
A Kashmiri Pandit leader, who requested anonymity, said the presence of the BJP members made the gesture doubtful.
“It needs no emphasis,” he said, implying the BJP leaders may have done it to gain political brownie points from both communities.