One of the greatest tragedies about the debate revolving around the fate of Kashmiri Pandits is that the story of their pain and suffering has been communalized beyond imagination. Instead of objectively analyzing the causes and reasons behind the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits following the outbreak of insurgency in the Valley, secessionists and nationalists, both have tried to tell only that part of the conflict which has suited their political interests. It is high time that the truth which has been tightly concealed by these political players is brought to light.
The first and foremost thing which we need to realize is that the Kashmiri Pandits were indeed driven out of their homes in a very unjust manner. According to government statistics (Reproduced by Zeenews.com on 16th May, 2012) there are no less than 58,697 Kashmiri migrants in the country. It is understandable that many of them happen to be Kashmir Pandits who began to leave the Valley in large numbers starting 1989. The Hindu reported on March 24th, 2010 that 24,202 Kashmiri Pandit families moved out of the Valley due to tensions triggered by the insurgency. The penultimate question is what led to the exodus of Pandits? The secessionists pin the entire blame on Governor Jagmohan and exonerate jihadists from any role whatsoever in being responsible for the ethnic cleansing. The nationalists argue that it wasn’t Governor Jagmohan but rather Kashmiri Muslim jihadists who made living in the Valley equivalent to hell for Kashmir Pandits principally because of their Hindu identity and support for the Indian State. The truth of the matter is that the blame has to be shared between Kashmiri Muslim militants and Governor Jagmohan. Those secessionists and Kashmiri Muslim-sympathizers who say that militants were not hostile towards Pandits are being nothing but intellectually dishonest.
Since 1991, homes of 32,000 Kashmiri Pandits have been burned in the Valley as pointed out by Rahul Pandita (20th July, 2013, OPEN). There is no question of absolving the militants of the barbarism which they carried out by terrorizing Kashmiri Pandits. The threat which the Kashmiri Pandits faced from the militants was real and not some propaganda being carried out by RAW or IB. We must also realize that the manner in which Governor Jagmohan handled the entire situation was dismal and it only aggravated the crisis. Some narrations state that the exodus had already begun by the time he took charge but when a large threat looms over a certain section of people, the government’s job is to ensure their safety by strengthening security measures. Their confidence needs to be rebuilt and the government should exhort them to act with valour and confidence in the moment of crisis. Instead of doing this, Governor Jagmohan created a panic like situation in the Valley and facilitated the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits by providing them with transport vehicles to move out of the Valley. This was the monumental error on the part of Governor Jagmohan. He may have had no intentions of fuelling the exodus but his mismanagement of the entire conflict will never be forgotten or forgiven.
Another lie which is frequently told in the name of Kashmiri Pandits is that they have been the sole sufferers of the insurgency. Those who say this are basically communalists who love to rip the society apart on the basis of religion. All communities living within the Valley have suffered due to militants and terrorism. 36 Kashmiri Sikhs were killed in a brutal manner on 20th March, 2000 in the Anantnang district of Jammu & Kashmir. The Indian Government puts the number of civilians who died due to the conflict in Kashmir at 20,000 (Reported by Reuters.com on 21st November, 2008 in an article titled “India revises Kashmir death toll to 47,000”). The Government of Jammu and Kashmir has revealed that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed by militants between the years 1989 to 2004. It further stated that no killing of Kashmiri Pandits was recorded after 2004 (“219 Kashmiri Pandits killed by militants since 1989,” The Hindu, 24th March, 2010). Statistics show that far more Kashmiri Muslims have died due to the conflict than Kashmiri Pandits as the total death figure of civilians is at 20,000. This punctures the communalist’s claims of the Kashmiri Pandits being the sole sufferers in the Valley.
Those who love to communalize this issue also try to portray that only Kashmiri Pandits exited the Valley and following their removal, Kashmiri Muslims lived with great joy. Statistics show that by 2010, there were 13,917 non Kashmiri Pandit families who migrated out of Kashmir because of the violence out of the total 38,119 families registered with the Revenue and Relief Ministry. Some people raise the rhetorical cry of Kashmiri Pandits being relegated to refugees in their own country. While their anger is justified considering the fact that Kashmiri Pandits have still not returned to the Valley nearly 25 years after their exodus began, their selective narration of suffering is indeed very dangerous. There are various other states where large scale displacement has occurred frequently and people have lived in refugee camps for a long time. The Amnesty International stated in 2012 that at least 21,000 persons were living in transit relief camps even a decade after the 2002 Gujarat riots (“Gujarat Riot Victims Still Await Justice,” The Hindu, March 2nd, 2012). Following the Assam riots in 2012, lakhs of people were forced to live in relief camps. After the riots, some of the Bodos refused to allow Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants to come and live in their villages. Some of the Bodo leaders were firm upon their decision to first see the citizenship papers of the refugees. The refugees on the other hand claimed that they had lost all their belongings and documents in the arson caused due to the riots. They opined that this was a conspiracy by some Bodo groups to rob them of their land and homes. English magazine Frontline did a cover story on Assam riots following the mayhem in 2012. In that report, it document that several such exodus’s and mass displacement of people had taken place in Assam during the past two decades. The point is simple; several groups have suffered and made to live as refugees in India due to the negligence of the State. By calling Kashmiri Pandits the lone refugees, political opportunists are playing with fire.
It is true that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir has made the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit families a part of state policy but it has failed to effectively bring back the Pandits to their deserted homes. By and large, Kashmiri political heavyweights have forsaken the fight for Kashmiri Pandits. While there are massive agitations in Kashmir whenever Kashmiri Muslim youth are murdered illegitimately by the Indian army, there have been little or rather no agitations held in solidarity with the cause of Kashmir Pandits. Secessionist leaders like Yasin Malik and Syed Ali Shah Geelani have only given token statements demanding the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. Kashmiri Pandits avail of a facility which no other internally displaced group of people has in India. They are entitled to reservations under Kashmiri Migrant quota. Unfortunately, this quota has also been communalized. Right wing groups have protested in the past against Kashmiri Muslims getting admissions in educational institutions under the Kashmiri Migrant quota. Nevertheless, Kashmiri Pandits are scattered in different regions of India and are among the wealthiest refugees or internally displaced people.
Time and again, some subversive forces have utilized Kashmiri Pandits as strategic assets. While they claim to sympathize with them, they are not interested in rehabilitating them as it would lead to the death of their politics. Also, if Kashmiri Pandits are resettled in the Valley, the clamour for a plebiscite to determine the fate of Kashmir would grow. A plebiscite cannot take place in Kashmir until and unless the original demographic ratio is not arrived at. Political forces have taken contrasting stands on the issue of Kashmiri Pandits and their position is in alignment to their political interests. Lastly, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits has also led to rise of the idea of Panun Kashmir. Panun Kashmir as an organization was formed in 1990 by some Kashmiri Pandits. Their solution to the Kashmir problem is a communal one as they are asking for creation of a separate homeland for Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley. This idea is bound to fail and trigger greater commotion because it is in absolute proportion with the original demand for Pakistan. The creation of Pakistan did not lead to safeguarding of minority rights in India or Pakistan then how will the creation of Panun Kashmir lead to safeguarding of Kashmiri Pandits who are a minority in the state? Partition cannot be a solution because total population exchange is not a possibility. Some will always be left behind and be treated as slaves.
Samuel P Huntington’s controversial thesis revolving around the Clash of the Civilizations does not merely apply to the political tussle being played out between the Judeo-Christian West and Islamic Arab Land but also involves into its ambit what some call, ‘Hindu India’, an identity of India based on its Hindu majority. The fact that the world is beset with sectarian bloodshed and religious tension proves that there is some truth behind what Huntington initially stated in a foreign affairs publication in 1993. American intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out to the close diplomatic alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the most conservative country in the region of Middle East, to show that Huntington’s theory is planked on oversimplified analysis of subjects which are often influenced by political opportunism.
Whether or not there will be a civilizational clash in the 21st century is debatable but what is not debatable is the rampant rise of bigotry, racism and stereotyping as is visible through Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism or what scholars call the assault of secularists on Jesuits. In the midst of all this commotion, the Western media has been quick to highlight the rise of fascist movements in the Indian subcontinent be it that of the Hindu Nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in India, Bodhu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka or 969 in Myanmar but so far they’ve greatly ignored the phenomenon of ‘Hinduphobia’. Over 90% of Hindus in the world reside in secular India, a country which has been home to the Hindu civilization since the past 5000 years. Unlike the two major monotheistic faiths ie Christianity and Islam, which happen to be the dominant faith in scores of countries besides being powerful minorities in several other nations, Hindus aren’t scattered in that much quantity across the globe. A good reason behind this could be the lack of consensus on the issue of proselytization among Hindus but organizations like Ramakrishna Mission and ISKCON have managed to bring saffron-hood to the West by means of their preaching.
The political and theological discourse revolving around Hindus and Hinduism is intrinsically associated with India as it’s not only the holiest place for Hindus but also because it is one among two Hindu majority countries in the world. The community which has interacted most with the Hindu community of India has been that of the Muslims. The Hindu-Muslim interaction began with Arab ships coming to India in search of business and spiralled with several invasions of Muslim rulers on the territory of India. The partition of India in 1947 on religious lines has left a permanent scar on relations between Hindus and Muslims but over the past six decades various commendable efforts have been the made to bring the two communities close to one another.
The road to reconciliation between these communities is often derailed due to the activities of hardline Islamist and Hindutva groups in Pakistan and India, respectively but another significant threat to better relations emerges from the growing Hinduphobia among certain sections of the Muslim community in India and Pakistan who disseminate their ideas to other parts of the Islamic Ummah. The prejudices which many Muslims harbour regarding Hindus revolve around theology, politics and history.
Theologically, prejudiced Muslims view Hindus as a community of ignorant polytheistic idolaters who are seeped into superstition and cow worship. Hindus are ridiculed as a bunch of people who pray to idols signifying sexual organs (Shiv Lingam) and equated with Pagan Meccans who waged war against Prophet Muhammad and his companions. This image of the Hindu being a descendant or somehow being associated with Pagan Meccans is propounded by Muslim Zionists like Pakistan’s Zaid Hamid. This understanding of Hindus and Hinduism is flawed because unlike the Pagan Meccans, the Hindus are in possession of literature which they claim to be divinely revealed. They call it the Vedas and besides the Vedas, the Hindus happen to have scores of religious scriptures and discourses. Secondly, despite their polytheistic cum pantheistic beliefs, the Hindu at the end of the day says that God is one and there are different paths of approaching that one God, something which the Pagan Meccans never stated. But then people will argue that they worship the cow, if the Jews can be nephews to Muslims even after worshipping the calf then what’s wrong with the Hindus? In the Islamic sense, the Christian concept of the Trinity and The Cross is viewed as polytheistic and idolatrous but they still continue to be the People of the Book. The Quran doesn’t equate Zoroastrians with Pagan Meccans for worshipping fire but still some continue to draw proportionality between Hindus and Meccans on account of their nature worship.
Thirdly, Pagan Meccans have been heavily criticized by Islamic scholars principally because of their uncivilized ways of living. The Hindus on the other hand have been associated with one of the most advanced civilizations to have ever existed in the world. During the ancient times, the Hindus achieved great progress in the fields of architecture, engineering, medicine, astronomy, philosophy, literature and jurisprudence. The illiteracy and ignorance of the Pagan Meccans stands in complete contradiction to the intellectual might and scientific advancement of the Hindu civilization. Fourthly and most importantly, the first set of Muslim conquerors that came to India associated Hindus with the People of the Book, a Quranic term referring to the Jews and Christians. This was because of the scriptural nature of the Hindu religion. It became the basis of Hindu-Muslim relationship and might have been the possible reason behind Hindu-Muslim marriages as Muslim men are permitted to marry from among the People of the Book. It’s utter falsehood to even remotely suggest that Hindus have always happened to be an object of ridicule for their Muslim brethren. In fact, 11th century Muslim scholar Abu Rayhan Al Biruni is recognized as the “Father of Indology” because of his remarkable study of India and its people.
On 6th of December 1992, secular India was jolted heavily as the disputed Barbi Mosque, which was constructed controversially in 1527, was razed to the ground by a mob of over 100,000 Hindu fascists. Secularists in India, majority of them belonging to the Hindu faith, have come to treat that incident with disgust and have slammed those who were responsible for carrying out the sacrilegious act. The kind of negative perception which India’s populace, again majority of them being Hindus, holds regarding the Babri Mosque demolition was so fierce that the man who headed this controversial movement, Former Deputy PM of India, LK Advani, had to willingly or unwillingly remark that 6th December, 1992 happened to be the saddest day of his life. Currently, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute is being heard by the Supreme Court of India and whatever the court judgement might be, it shall certainly uphold the secular spirit of the Indian constitution. However, there are some people, especially some Muslim intellectuals based in Pakistan who periodically rake up this issue to score brownie points during debates and discussions. They rhetorically ask, “Who destroyed the Babri Masjid?” Do these people remember how many Hindu temples were destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh as retaliation for the destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya? These are the very people who frown at the demolition of the Babri Mosque but glorify the iconoclasm carried out by plunderers like Mahmud of Ghazni. There is a tendency among some Muslims to lionize anti-Hindu emperors like Ghazni who invaded and plundered India 17 times. It’s absolutely legitimate to assert that the demolition of the Babri Mosque was illegitimate but was demolition of scores of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers in the name of Islam legitimate?
While one might not agree with the exaggerated estimates of temple destruction as documented by Hindutva ideologues like Arun Shourie and Ram Swarap but there has been objective research carried out on the subject by historians like Richard M Eaton of the University of Arizona. His well researched book titled, “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States in Medieval India” traces the history of temple destruction for political purposes by both Muslim and Hindu rulers. Babri Masjid’s demolition will remain a blot on India’s image but so will the destruction of countless Hindu temples by Muslim rulers prior to colonisation. The main question is why defend the indefensible. Was Mahmud of Ghazni acting like a pious Muslim while desecrating the Somnath temple? He was utilizing the loot money to finance plundering expedition against fellow Muslim kingdoms in the Iranian plateau. Was Aurangzeb being a good Muslim when he was using the jizya to economically oppress the Hindus? The Prophet himself said that on the day of judgement he shall stand in testimony against those who extract more tax from Non Muslims than what they can bear. This is the same Aurangzeb who murdered his brothers and imprisoned his father to grab the Mughal throne. Then how can he be a good Muslim? The Quran says that there is no compulsion in religion but Tipu Sultan ordered forced circumcision and conversion of Hindus. Should such a person be remembered as a Muslim hero? Unfortunately, in the history textbooks of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, these emperors are shown as exemplary Muslims who have left behind a historic Islamic legacy.
The imbroglio surrounding the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir also plays an active part in fuelling anti-Hindu rhetoric. Kashmir is the most heavily militarized zone in the world with over 600,000 Indian troops stationed in the state to maintain law and order. The human rights violations carried out by the Indian army has given further boost to the ambitions of the local populace to secede from the Union of India. As per the Indian Government, the conflict has left 47,000 people dead. Kashmiris hold the Indian army responsible for various forced disappearances and mass rapes which have occurred in the Valley. Kashmiri Muslims have taken to jihadist insurgency to gain their ‘Azaadi’ from India and have targeted civilians across India in their mad pursuit of independence. From Pakistan to Iran, several so-called Islamic countries have expressed their solidarity with the people of Kashmir but these people of Kashmir only seem to be the Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri Pandits were wiped out of the Valley during the ethnic cleansing which occurred when the insurgency began after the disputed election of 1987. The Government of India says that there are more than 58,000 Kashmiri Pandit families living in a state of exile in various parts of India. The mainstream discourse concerning Kashmir has so far ignored the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. Some Kashmiri Muslims have definitely spoken in favour of the Pandits returning to the Valley but the reasoning which they give for the exodus of Pandits from Kashmir is purely hypocritical. To pin the entire blame on Governor Jagmohan without saying a word about the threat posed to Pandits by Muslim terrorists is indicative of the Kashmiri Muslims sympathy as well as support for the jihadist insurgency. Many Muslims highlight the issue of Kashmir to show how brutally Hindus have ruled over Muslims in ‘secular India’ but will these people ever realize that the Kashmir dispute has been as painful for the Hindus as the Muslims.
Most of the Western scholars who have studied Hinduism have criticized it on the basis of the repressive caste system which forms a very integral part of Hindu society. The Islamic scholars have also rested bulk of their criticism of Hinduism on the caste system. However, the Islamic scholars have turned a blind eye towards the casteism which has developed among South Asian Muslims. The people who indulge in this sort of a denial also deny destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims zealots, forced conversion of Hindus and role played by Islamist terrorists in driving Kashmiri Pandits out of the valley of Kashmir. The fact of the matter is that the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent happen to have Hindu ancestry. But some Muslims are so busy in romanticizing themselves as Arab Muslims that they’ve continuously denied any such connection as if it would lower their stature within the Islamic Ummah. Some surnames which are common amongst Hindus and Muslims are clear evidence of the Hindu ancestry which Muslims possess. Muslims in this part of the world compete with Hindus in terms of being feudal and class bound. A Muslim who happens to be Shiekh or Syed would never marry someone who is an Ansari. This problem of casteism among Indian Muslims cannot be solved till they realize their roots which are primarily Hindu. Nobody is recommending Subramanian Swamy kind of radical solutions that Muslims should be stripped off their voting rights if they don’t accept their Hindu ancestry but they should realize that this problem exists because of their prior associations and while they might have converted to a different faith, they haven’t yet realized its essence as they carry on with such kind of discrimination based on socio-economic conditions and tribalism.
American journalist Fareed Zakaria has stated that despite all the cynicism which has engulfed the world, there is enough factual evidence to show that we are living in a world which is far more peaceful and prosperous than ever before. If the 21st century intends to prove Samuel P Huntington’s thesis wrong then it has to learn the art of disagreeing without being in disagreement. If any community or group is subjected to constant ridicule and humiliation over a long period of time then a day would come when they would revolt. It’s important for the law to defend people of all faiths and even those who have no faith. It’s extremely disappointing when bigots say that Hindus (India) are poor because they worship Satan-like Gods or that Hindus, again signifying India, would not have been living in a state of destitution had Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth existed. Making fun of the hair tail which Hindu monks have on their head is just as ridiculous as treating someone inferior because of his black skin. Some people would definitely try to discredit this piece by citing the religious affiliation of the author and by accusing him of trying to appease Hindus but this writer has also been one of the fiercest critics of rising Hindutva fascism and has in the past written several pieces condemning extremism carried out by saffron groups besides writing a piece on the shocking Islamophobic views of some revered Hindus like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.