The Biz Reporter
Wantrag, Nov 11: Nestled 80 kilometers away from Srinagar, Wantrag stands as a bastion of traditional Afghan life, where nearly 1,000 Pashto-speaking families passionately uphold their cultural heritage.
However, the community faces a twofold challenge — the dwindling preservation of language and heritage, and the struggle against political alienation and social exclusion.
Upon entering the village, the essence of Pashtun identity unfolds — from Pashto-inscribed shop signs to the aroma of Kabuli biryani lingering in the air. Yet, the Pashtun community’s reluctance to assimilate with the local Kashmiri population mirrors patterns observed in global diasporas.
Bashir Ahmad Khan, a retired Pashto activist, expresses deep concern: “Preservation of any community’s identity hinges on the conservation of its language and culture, and unfortunately, we are losing both.”
The roots of Wantrag’s Pashtun community trace back to the early 20th century when immigrants like Khan’s grandfather ventured into Kashmir for business, resisting cultural assimilation while shaping their lives in the region.
Despite being granted citizenship in 1953 and recognized as a backward community, the Pashtuns faced minimal representation in school graduates, leading to a sense of injustice. The 1986 survey categorizing Pashtuns under the Gujjar community dealt a severe blow, erasing their distinct identity.
The inception of Radio Kashmir in 1948 initially offered a platform for Pashto language and culture. However, modern education eluded the community, resulting in the gradual disappearance of Pashto programs on radio and television.
Khan blames vested interests among Other Backward Class (OBC) groups for obstructing Pashto’s presence in the media. “Our space and representation were taken away from us,” he laments.
The Pashtun community, known as Kashmiri Pathans, has seen cultural assimilation within the broader Kashmiri population, adopting traditional garments like the Pheran and accepting intermarriages. Yet, they strive to preserve distinctive aspects of their heritage, including language and food.
As endogamous marriages give way to inter-community unions, concerns arise about the erosion of cultural traditions. A small booklet teaching Pashto to children and the insistence on Pathan-style clothing by tailors reflect the community’s efforts to maintain its identity.
However, a delicate balance is at play. Bashir Ahmad Khan acknowledges, “Our kids speak Kashmiri now, and the community is opening up to marrying their children into Kashmiri families.” The Pashtun community finds itself at a crossroads, navigating the fine line between cultural adaptation and the preservation of their rich heritage in the face of inevitable integration into the majority Kashmiri population. (Courtesy DW)