On Sunday, May 02, the Kashmiri Pandits held a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Kashmiri Pandits held a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The KPs, who were forced into exile 25 years ago following the outbreak of insurgency in Kashmir, demanded that the New Delhi and state government of J&K consult the community members before devising a roadmap for their rehabilitation in Kashmir. The protesters carried placards with slogans like “Modi blinks, hope sinks,” “Going back but not to be butchered” and “We want Homeland.”
The protesters at the venue raised slogans against the pro-azadi leaders Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Geelani. They urged the government to prosecute those who were responsible for the killings of KPs. Noted filmmaker Ashok Pandit also flew in from Mumbai to be a part of the demonstration. The event was well covered by the Indian mainstream media as reporters from Times Now, NDTV, ABP News and several others jostled with each other to get sound bites from the organizers and protesters.
However, one aspect of the protest has gone largely under-reported. Tarek Fatah, Canadian author and broadcaster, had also come to Jantar Mantar to support the protesters. A day earlier, the Pakistani-origin writer had released his book “Chasing A Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” at the India Habitat Centre in the presence of former top cop KPS Gill and journalist Saeed Naqvi. Speaking at the book launch, Fatah batted in favour of the rehabilitation of KPs. The ‘Pioneer’ newspaper quoted him as having said, “Kashmiri people face many difficulties and being a Muslim, I want every Indian Muslim should come forward to support Kashmiri natives.”
But when Fatah turned up at Jantar Mantar to support the cause of KPs, he was in for a rude surprise. When Fatah, dressed in a green shirt, took to the stage, some of the right wing organisers objected to him addressing the gathering. As a result, Fatah wasn’t allowed to speak. The fact of the matter is that Fatah is one of the fiercest critics of Islamism and Pakistan. His writings have attracted so much of controversy that he has often been labelled as an Islamophobe. But Fatah himself became a victim of Islamophobia at the KPs protest venue. Some of the embarrassed protesters tried to argue that the organizers might not have been aware of Fatah’s view on the subject and hence, protested against him addressing the audience. But the truth is that he was prevented from speaking merely because he had a Muslim name. This kind of outright bigotry certainly doesn’t help the cause of KPs.
The KPs have every right to be enraged at the fact that no government has come to their rescue in the past 25 years. It is precisely because of this reason that protests like the one held at Jantar Mantar should be organised regularly so that the government at New Delhi and the state is pressurized into acting on this humanitarian issue. But some right wing elements within the KP community need to realize that Muslims are not their enemy. It is understandable that many Pandits were disappointed when they saw lack of support from their Kashmiri Muslim neighbours during the time of migration. But that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to hold some form of prejudice against anyone who is a Muslim. Why didn’t the liberal protesters at the venue exhibit their dissent against the high handedness with which Fatah was treated? Why didn’t they protest against this blatant act of racism? Instead the demonstration continued as if nothing happened. After the event formally concluded, some of the protesters chanted slogans in favour of “Panun Kashmir”.
Panun Kashmir—the idea of a separate state/union territory for KPs—is a Pakistan-like solution to the prevailing problem. What needs to be realized is the fact that separatism cannot be used as a tool to fight secession. Rashneek Kher, being an opinion leader of KPs, should understand how unreasonable is the demand of settling all KPs in “one contiguous piece of land exclusively for KPs.” Is there any portion of territory inside India that is earmarked only for the members of a certain community? Yes indeed there is a need for resettlement colonies because the homes of several people have been destroyed post migration. It is the duty of the government to provide such people with homes. Moreover, the houses of a number of KPs have been arbitrarily taken over by other residents living in Kashmir. The government should help KPs in retrieving their land and property. But at the same time communal demands of exclusive settlements cannot be tolerated. Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley was correct in pointing out that “KPs, Muslims and Sikhs are all an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir’s demography.” Hence, there is a need for mixed townships which promote intermingling among the different community members.
On Sunday, a small minority of conservative KPs were successful in silencing Tarek Fatah because of his Muslim identity. The incident hinted at the distrust which some Pandits harbour when it comes to Muslims. If such religion-based boycott has to be prevented from happening in the future then emphasis has to be laid on the spirit of togetherness, which cannot be developed in a union territory or an exclusive settlement for KPs. The Kashmiri Muslims too cannot afford to remain silent. If the extra-judicial killing of single Kashmiri is enough to fill the streets of the state with protesters then why haven’t we seen demonstrations of the same magnitude demanding justice and rehabilitation for Kashmiri Pandits who have faced continued government apathy since 25 years? Why protests are mostly held to echo reservations about the resettlement of KPs and not against the unpardonable crime of their migration? It is high time that the two communities start understanding the perspective of the other and dump their prejudices for a while so that the process of bridging the gap is initiated.
(This article was originally published in Kashmir Reader.)