Some 80 kilometers south of Jammu Kashmir summer capital Srinagar, Wantrag, a Pashtun village, is home to hundreds of Afghan families resisting cultural assimilation. The Pashtun community settled here before 1947 arriving from Afghanistan. And with time, they became part of Kashmiri society.

Kashmiri Pashtuns, also known as Kashmiri Pathans, mostly live in the Anantnag, Ganderbal, Baramulla and Kishtwar areas of Jammu Kashmir. They have imbibed and adopted the local Kashmiri culture, and some traditions associated with Afghan culture still exist in the community.

An outsider finds himself at odds to talk to anyone here. Most of the residents speak Pashto. And they still follow the Jirga system, a traditional assembly that makes social decisions by consensus keeping with the Pashtunwali.

Pakhtuns have a different style of greeting their guests. No Arab hugs or handshakes. They just place both of their hands over their heart and nod slightly. Even their marriages are endogamous, and mostly take place within the community.

With inter-community marriages also taking place, Pakhtuns fear the erosion of their “race” in Kashmir. They think they are losing their culture. “Earlier our marriages were endogamous, but today some of our girls are marrying into Kashmiri homes. We can’t do anything nor our Jirga community can resist this. Earlier Kashmiri girls would marry into our tribe and acquire the Pashtunwali tradition. They would learn to speak our Pashto language, even acquire our attire, which is not the case now,” says Tawseef.

Even many decades after Wantrag was founded by migrants from Afghanistan, their living and food habits and attire still reflect their culture. Pakhtoon youth are seen walking around wearing colourful kurta pyjamas, more notably groomed golden dyed hair, and sometimes black eyes wearing predominant surma.

Some Afghan traders who were stuck in Kashmir settled in Ganderbal and a few travelled back to Anantnag, then a major trade centre. “Some people with whom we were trading gave us shelter, but not indefinitely,” says Tawseef. “Then, we took to a higher plain of Wantrag and settled here”.