5 kilometers from the district town of Ganderbal, a detour from the motorway leads to a picturesque hamlet. Twenty minute bumpy ride through a rugged path; surrounded by rice fields and orchards, leads to a village called Gutlibagh, which is home to the largest number of Pakhtun communities in Kashmir. A few bends further, a well-maintained old house stands with a lively atmosphere. A German Shepherd greets the arrivals with constant howls and barks. Inside the house, a single ceiling fan makes more noise than air. A man in the early 1980s dozes off on a bed. Disturbed by the arrivals, the man, Nasrullah Khan stirred and rose from his bed. Khan with a close shave looks much younger than his age. Khan belongs to the second generation of the Pakhtun community who migrated to the region during Afghan rule in Kashmir and settled in various parts of the region.
Recalling his ancestral history, Nasrullah says that: “My father was a trader. He belonged to the Yagistan region of Pakistan. He visited Kashmir quite often. He was enchanted by the beauty of the area and decided to settle here. While some of our parents settled in the Zakura region in Srinagar, my father decided to settle in Ganderbal. My father brought about 50 kanals of farmland at the rate of 50 rupees per kanal. We were financially very strong even as the majority Muslim community in Kashmir.
The Pashtuns mainly came under Afghan rule, but many were brought in by Maharaja Gulab Singh under Dogra rule for border service and are now mainly found in the southwestern region of Jammu. In July 1954, some 100,000 members of a Pashtun tribe living in Jammu and Kashmir who previously did not have citizenship became de facto citizens of India. The ceremony was chaired by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in the village of Gutlibagh Ganderbal, during which citizenship certificates were presented in batches. The prime minister is said to have paid tribute to the Pashtun community for its “role in the country’s liberation struggle”. Anantnag, Kishtwar and Baramulla (Uri, Sherri, Kaleban).
With more than a lakh of population in Jammu and Kashmir, the community strives to protect its culture and identity. The elders of families strive to ensure that their children and grandchildren pass on their culture and identity to future generations. Like others, Nasrullah Khan also does his part in recalling the legends of his community.
“Being born here in Kashmir, I still cannot speak Kashmir, none of my siblings speak it. This is because our late father made sure that we kept our tongue intact. So, he never encouraged us to speak or learn another language. When I became a father, I wanted my children to go to school. While going to school, they learned Kashmiri and Urdu. Eventually, while talking, they started to turn to Urdu and Kashmir. Now, I can hardly claim that my children speak pure Pashtun. But I made sure that we continued to speak our language at home, ”said Nasrullah.
“For my grandchildren, I started telling them legends about my father and my ancestors so that they would know how their ancestors lived. I tell them stories about how my father once fought a leopard with his bare hands and killed him with a few hits by breaking his spine, and survived with a small scratch on his back. I tell how their grandfather, that is to say me, spent nights in the deep forests and came back in the morning with a big hunt and how I traveled for miles to the Great Lakes to fish for the famous trout ”, Nasrullah added.
“I was the best hunter in the community,” Nasrullah boasted.
Having lived for over a century now, the Pashtuns have managed to preserve parts of their distinct culture and identity. The community still holds “jherga” (councils) to resolve disputes before they go to the police and court. The Jherga is run by a person who enjoys a good reputation within the community.
“Jherga has been part of our habit for decades. No matter how serious the dispute is, the Jherga decides and makes a decision that everyone in the community must follow. If a person or group of people refuses to follow the decision, the person / group is excluded from the community, ”said Asgar Khan, a local Pashton.
“I believe this is a very effective means for a rapid dispensation of justice. Also being an underprivileged community, with meager sources of income, Jherga is the best fit for us because it costs nothing at all, ”Asgar added.
Whereas previously the Pashto fought to keep Kashmiri wazwan away from their wedding ceremonies, but now wazwan has taken the place of their traditional dishes. What sets their weddings apart are the folk songs, dancing and sword fighting. Weddings always take place within the community so that the language and culture remain preserved.