How Nirupama Kaul & Rabia Baji can forge peace in J&K, says VRINDA GOPINATH

Mar 19, 2014 No Comments by

Could a multiple religious identity be the answer to understand and grasp the discrimination, intolerance, hurt and grief of two hostile communities?

It’s the incredulousness of her own life in the story of Jammu and Kashmir that makes Rabia Baji a dramatic irony in the Meerut sedition drama.

Baji is perhaps the only known Kashmiri Pandit who has converted to Islam and works for the cause of her Kashmiri Muslim brothers and sisters in the Valley.

The 46-year-old Baji was born Nirupama Kaul, granddaughter of Pandit Parmanand, who was an educationist based in Ajmer.

The family was not part of the exodus from the Valley in the 90s but moved to Delhi soon after Independence in 1947.

So, imagine the shock and confusion of her parents and brother when one morning, on July 7, 1989, as Rabia lucidly remembers, she left the house to take the road to Srinagar, just when the first wave of Kashmiri Pandits were pouring into Delhi, fleeing the Valley from Kashmiri Muslim separatists and militant violence.

It was a journey that took the spunky and lithe 23-year-old Nirupama Kaul to be reawakened as Rabia Baji, with the somnorific incantations of the Maulvi, offering herself to be a good example and worthy of the great message that Islam brings to humanity.

Dual identity

Funny, but it’s her dual identity that bridges the two worlds in the embittered Valley, and which Rabia Baji uses craftily.

For instance, she continues to sign her name in official papers with both her names, which came to her in an astonishing way.

As the rotund Baji chuckles, it was the Hindu registrar who simply kept postponing registering her new Islamic name, and so it came to pass over the years that she has both her Hindu name, and an alias Muslim name.

The administrative delusion, however, gave Rabia a new-found respectability, eminence, trust and merit with both communities, Hindus and Muslims.

For starters, Rabia can instantly decode the invisible and unconscious ethnic and cultural values and priorities, which define both communities; after all she lived like both of them.

But it’s the negotiations between Muslim Kashmiris and a ‘secular’ administration, both in Srinagar and Delhi, that consume her time.

For instance, she has shrewdly cajoled the administration to allow certain licenses in the scholarship programmes like getting HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and the PMO to allow UGC approved universities to take the students despite the administration in Srinagar throwing its hands up.

“They are sympathetic to me in Delhi,” she says foxily, “it’s a frame of reference we can all relate to.”

On the other side, Rabia is able to dissolve resistance and refusal by her very presence – as the rotund, chador and pheran-wearing matron who ensures students get into the best professional colleges and universities.



Rabia, however, admits it was her politeness and amiability that made her keep both names – she didn’t want to offend either community.

Though it was an act of rebellion against her rigid and disciplinarian father which made her adopt Islam (he enforced a duppatta on her since she was 12), it was the lessons of fairness, equality and justness that drew her to Islam.

“I saw the absurdity of a ‘liberal’ Hindu life, which was more conservative than it pretended to be,” she says today, “as compared to the contractual nature of Islam.”

Her two lives, she says, give her the skills to unravel sham piety and guile on the one hand, and doggedness and iron faith on the other.

While she has bridged the spiritualism and humour of Hinduism with the win-lose orientation of Islam in her own life, Rabia wishes that respect for each other’s religion and India’s multi-culturalism had brought communities closer with more understanding and less prejudice.

It’s the best gift this country has given, she says wistfully, if only people could appreciate it, she says.

Typical remarks

In fact, discussions on her chador and pheran and her new identity with non-Kashmiri Muslims has helped break cultural and religious stereotypes with officials, government and people at large.

Rabia has picked up typical remarks and observations that she hears all the time, and has prepared a sketch for students about the challenges outside.

She has drilled into their heads that there is a system of disadvantage at the outset but it is up to the students, with the single-minded focus on attaining a degree and, therefore, empowerment, that will dissolve such prejudices.



Prejudices and fear

Such was the heightened sense of her own new identity that Rabia realised the importance of the scholarship programme outside the Valley, and the crucial intervention of university authorities in fostering relations between Kashmiri kids and the rest.

So, even as an Indo-Pak cricket match may get hackles raised on both sides, it was crucial that games are allowed under the watch and guidance of the university authorities; and in the wake of any trouble, the administration must condemn and counsel both sides.

“Through exploration only can come bonding,” Rabia believes.

And, so, as a dual religion person, Rabia Baji has accidentally shown how religious suspicion and hostility can be dissolved and how people can overcome their prejudices and fear through understanding and response.

Rabia Baji says people do say she looks and talks like them, though she wishes she could be like all of them all the time!

(This article first appeared in MAIL TODAY)


About the author

The author didnt add any Information to his profile yet
No Responses to “How Nirupama Kaul & Rabia Baji can forge peace in J&K, says VRINDA GOPINATH”

Leave a Reply