A separate state for Kashmiri Pandits is not the way forward

25 years have passed since the exodus began but no one has really stood up for the Kashmiri Pandits. (Image: Reuters)

25 years have passed since the exodus began but no one has really stood up for the Kashmiri Pandits. (Image: Reuters)

On January 19, 2015, the Hindu community of the Kashmiri Pandits completed 25 years of exile. Following the outbreak of Islamist insurgency in Kashmir during the late 1980s, Kashmiri Pandits started finding themselves at the receiving end of a mindless wave of violence unleashed by terrorist groups. The mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley began on the night of January 19, 1990, as the valley reverberated with slogans of “azaadi”, “nizam-e-mustafa” and “la ilaha illallah”.

Militant outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen had issued open threats to the Kashmiri Pandits to leave Kashmir. Those who managed to escape the violence and migrate to the Jammu region have lived to tell tales of how the mosques’ loudspeakers were used to intimidate the Pandits. Various derogatory slogans were chanted, urging the Kashmiri Pandit men to leave.

The ethnic cleansing of the Pandits clearly indicated the failure of the Indian state to provide adequate security to the community. Thousands migrated via the use of private transport in order to escape the wrath of the militants, whilst others, instead of being protected and guarded, were pushed to move out of the Kashmir valley by Governor Jagmohan. The government failed to prevent the persecution of a people who held allegiance to India close to their hearts.

In his book, ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’, renowned Kashmiri Pandit author, Rahul Pandita, spoke about the gross injustice meted out to the Pandits. Whilst writing for Open Magazine, Pandita mentioned that nearly 32,000 houses belonging to the Kashmiri Pandits have been burnt down since 1991.

While it is difficult to state statistically the scale of the tragedy, as per Amnesty International an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits left the valley after repeated threats from terrorist groups. In 2010, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir said that 219 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by militants since 1989 but the figure was disputed by an organisation named the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti whose survey claimed that the death toll stood at 399. Some organisations have gone to the extent of claiming that thousands were butchered and mutilated. Hence, the real scale of the tragedy is unclear.

Now, 25 years have passed since the exodus began but no one has really stood up for the Pandits. The Indian National Congress (INC), which positions itself as the epitome of secularism in Indian politics, has never taken up their cause as vigorously as it should have. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has talked about Pandits quite often but has failed to move beyond rhetoric. It appears that the Hindu nationalist BJP views them merely as a vote bank because BJP’s track record in this matter is something not to be proud of.

Both the parties have headed coalitions at the centre and led national governments since the exodus happened but none could reverse the ground situation or ensure the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. The regional parties in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, namely the NC and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have exchanged power in the state several times but have never gone beyond making ceremonial gestures towards the Pandits.

The so-called mass leaders of Kashmir, who hold protests and rallies regularly when human rights abuses are carried out by the Indian army, have never really dissented with the same zeal for the human rights of the Kashmiri Pandits.

In the last few years, how many angry protests have we seen in Kashmir demanding the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley?

The answer is obviously disappointing. Why is it that the state of Pakistan, which has repeatedly raised the issue of Kashmir at the United Nations, never spoken in favour of the Kashmiri Pandits? Are they not Kashmiris? Why this selective discrimination?

President Musharraf could see the carnage against Muslims in Gujarat but not the communal violence of which the Pandits became victims. Let us stop this hypocrisy.

It is high time that the Indian state woke up from its slumber and gave justice to the Kashmiri Pandits. They have been wronged for too long. Though the community has rebuilt itself through tireless hard work, it requires the active support of Indians from all classes, communities and regions.

On the 25th anniversary of the exodus, Arnab Goswami’s hyper nationalist programme, The Newshour aired on Times Now, abruptly ended a debate on Kashmiri Pandits to relay BJP President Amit Shah’s press conference live in which he would go on to name Kiran Bedi as his party’s chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi elections.

The channel’s news selection reflected the lack of importance attributed to the cause of the Kashmiri Pandits. Though social media has enabled their cause to be taken up in a big way, this issue needs to make it to the front page of newspapers and generate nationwide empathy and support for the Pandits. We cannot afford to let it slip away.

There is a need for the government to initiate confidence building measures between the community of the Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims. The spirit of Kashmiriyat or the composite culture of the place cannot be restored unless the Pandits are resettled in the valley.

But the real question is whether the two communities trust each other.

Will the Kashmiri Pandits be willing to go back to the same neighbourhood, and will the Kashmiri Muslims welcome them with open arms?

We need to realise that the road to reconciliation lies in integration and not segregation. This is the reason it would be unwise to support those who ask for a separate homeland for Kashmiri Pandits in the name of Panun Kashmir. The partition of India failed to resolve communal problems. From time to time, different religious communities have been persecuted on both the sides of the border. Hence, there is a dire need to stop resorting to segregation and aspire for integration.

As Kashmiri Pandits await justice, we must rise up to the occasion and put a stop to this indifference.


(This article was originally published in The Express Tribune.)

Reclaim lost glory of Allahabad University

Reclaim lost glory of Allahabad University - Hindustan Times

Newspaper clipping from Hindustan Times

The residents of Allahabad have been in jubilant mood ever since it was announced that the “sangam city” would be turned into a “smart city” as part of an ambitious developmental plan involving the government of USA. But we must remember that merely economic growth and infrastructural progress is not sufficient to propel inclusive development. India has repeatedly sidestepped human development resulting in the country registering a dismal rank of 135 in the human development index maintained by UNDP.

The seed for balanced development has to be sowed in the education sector. In the case of Allahabad, the government must initiate the process of reclaiming the lost glory of Allahabad University which was earlier referred to as the “Oxford of the East”.

In the contemporary era, education is the single most potent weapon through which individuals transform their lives. We often hear of success stories of students from prestigious institutes like IITs and IIMs who go on to fetch crore plus salaries. But such tales of triumph, though not entirely absent, are nevertheless negligible in the case of Allahabad’s ancient varsity.

What are the reasons behind this? It is a matter of fact that many of the departments in AU do not even hold regular classes. This practise needs to be completely done away with. Instead of manual computation of attendance which provides ample space for interpolation, attendance records should be maintained via computer software. Disciplinary action should be taken against errant professors who spare time for political activism instead of lecturing in class. Absenteeism on the part of students should be dealt with equal firmness.

The education imparted in the varsity should make appropriate use of information communication technologies (ICTs). Besides building on strong theoretic fundamentals, students should be enabled to improve upon their communication skills and become computer literate. The university should have at its disposal the required technical infrastructure to provide hands on learning to its students. New age courses involving media, animation, designing etc need to introduced with students being provided access to laboratories with cutting edge technology and sophisticated equipments of professional standard.

Projectors should be installed in classrooms for computer backed teaching through PPTs or power point presentations which would help in better comprehension of complex topics. Lectures should be recorded and made available on the university’s website in the form of videos or podcasts which can be downloaded by students. E-libraries must also be created.

Moreover, political goodaism in the name of student politics on the campus should make way for rational debates and discussions as witnessed in places like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Technology is an asset which cannot be ignored by educational institutions. The smart city initiative has to necessarily combine intellectual capabilities with technology. If this is achieved then the resurrection of Allahabad University is bound to follow. The varsity will attract the best of talent from across the nation and once again be recognized among the foremost centres of higher education. But for that to happen the education sector has to be given primacy in the smart city initiative.

(This article was originally published in Hindustan Times.) 

Colouring texts

When the Modi government was required to resolutely defend secularism and reiterate its commitment to the constitution, its External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was seen alongside VHP’s Ashok Singhal calling for national recognition for the Gita. (Image: Reuters)

When the Modi government was required to resolutely defend secularism and reiterate its commitment to the constitution, its External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was seen alongside VHP’s Ashok Singhal calling for national recognition for the Gita. (Image: Reuters)

Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently propped up the idea of making the Hindu scripture Gita, India’s national book. This is not the first time that Swaraj has demanded so. In December 2011, when a court in Siberia, Russia was considering a ban on Gita then too Swaraj as Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament, echoed a similar viewpoint.

The statement could not have been more badly timed. Just days before, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti had made a hateful remark which led to an impasse in parliament. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned her remarks, no action was taken against the hate-spewing Sadhvi.

The targeting of minorities has sharply increased ever since the BJP government came to power at the centre. In the capital city of New Delhi, riots in Trilokpuri area led to the imposition of curfew. Few weeks back, St. Sebastian Church was burnt down in the north-eastern region of the city. Instead of assuring the minorities of safety, BJP leaders are busy making controversial remarks like the Taj Mahal being a Hindu temple. Swaraj’s comments concerning the Gita are highly irresponsible.

The developments over the past few months have indeed created a suspicion in the minds of the people. Prior to the elections, the BJP sought to underplay the Hindutva card. But post elections, their real intentions have emerged on the fore. While the focus should be on development and championing industrial growth, attempts are being made to re-write history in the favour of right-wingers.

Politics is about creating the appropriate perception.

Many scholars have argued that the Gita is not a religious book but a discourse on philosophy with universal application. But this argument cannot be used as a justification to give it the status of a national book. The adherents of other faiths are bound to argue as to why does the government not recognize the universal essence of the teachings enunciated in religious books like Bible, Guru Granth Sahib and Quran?

Sectarian recognitions are bound to alienate minorities. Pakistan was born in 1947 as an “Islamic country”. At that time, the founders of Pakistan had assured the minorities of equality and freedom of religion. The “Islamic” tag was in no way supposed to hurt the rights of the minorities. Has that promise been upheld? Not only has the population of minorities steeply fallen, the state has institutionalized persecution of minorities. This was done by means of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan which declared Ahmadis as “non Muslims”. The writing on the wall is clear. Symbolic sectarian gestures pave the way for greater communal advances in the future.

A small demand concerning the Gita may set off dangerous precedents. In an op-ed piece for DNA, Subramian Swamy had suggested that India be declared as a Hindu Rashtra, a nation for the Hindus and those whose ancestors were Hindus. He went on to state that non-Hindus who did not recognize their Hindu ancestry should be stripped of their voting rights. This venomous piece of writing led to Swamy’s dismissal from Harvard but it continues to hold contemporary relevance.

If symbolic demands are given into, it would embolden the more radical Hindutva leaders like Swamy to call for fulfilment of their other outrageous needs. This is indeed a critical stage for Indian democracy. The Bharatiya Janata Party has for the very first time managed to win a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha. The test for BJP lies in resisting constitutional erosion. If Modi wants to deliver then he will not only have to clampdown on those from within his party who are trying to disturb the constitutional balance but also create a much larger public impression which doesn’t show this government as dancing to the tunes of the RSS.


(This article was originally published in Kashmir Life.)