Pandits shouldn’t let their grievance become hatred

Pandits shouldn't let their grievance become hatred - Kashmir Reader

Newspaper clipping from Kashmir Reader

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.)

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.)