Kashmir Scan Magazine June 2016 issue
Even as the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has categorically said that there is no land in Kashmir for making Sainik colonies and there is no question of making exclusive colonies for Kashmiri Pandits, the twin controversies are far from over.
The armed conflict, which erupted in 1990, changed Kashmir in many ways. Besides the wholesale death and destruction, the valley witnessed the biggest exodus in its history as thousands of Kashmiri Pandits left their home and hearth for safety of Indian plains. The exodus left deep scars on the Pandit community.
I remember listening to phone-in program for migrants “Hello Kashmir” aired on Radio Kashmir. The program played messages of Kashmiri Pandits who have settled in different parts of India. As they speak to the anchor and go down the memory lane, they are overwhelmed with emotions. Born and brought up in Kashmir, many of them have adapted to new places, but some still feel like aliens in a strange land. Their words reflect the sense of loss and a yearning to return.
Pandits who speak on “Hello Kashmir” express how much they miss their birthplace, its food, water, air, climate and everything else. Even though they have spent last two decades outside the valley, the longing to return has not faded. The Kashmiri proverb, “Tsari chu kand thari peth karar” (a bird is content when it is on its own branch) sounds apt for these people.
While they express emotions in words, some emotions can only be felt in their broken voices, often punctuated by sighs and tears. Some Pandits say how much they miss the cool shade of Chinars and the endless conversations with their Muslim friends and neighbours. True, many Pandits may have moved on with their lives outside Kashmir, but the hearts of many more still beat for the valley.
Unfortunately, just like the human face of the conflict has been lost in the larger politics of Kashmir issue, the emotions attached with the mass migration are also seldom considered. There has been so much focus on the political dimension of the problem that the apolitical aspects have been altogether ignored. What more, there are enough people to play politics over the emotions.
There are different narratives about the mass migration, which only complicates the return of Pandits to their homeland. Some people would have us believe that it is only about the security concerns. But it is not. One of the dominant narratives in Kashmir valley is that the Indian state was responsible for the exodus of the Pandits and that Governor Jagmohan asked them to leave for time being so that he could do away with Muslims. Some argue that by being part of Jagmohan’s “conspiracy” against Muslims, the Pandits have forfeited their right to return.
The parallel dominant discourse, prevalent among Pandits, runs completely opposite to the above argument. It states that the Pandits were betrayed by the majority community of Muslims.
In an interview with Wall Street Journal, author of “Our Moon Has Blood Clots”, Rahul Pandita said: “In 1989-90 there was a deep divide between two communities in Kashmir – the Muslims and the Pandits. And the Kashmiri Pandits became victims of the brutal ethnic cleansing which was perpetrated by the majority community backed by Islamist militants, not the other way around.”
“The biggest tragedy of this whole conflict is the betrayal at the hands of the majority community. All said and done, we faced what we did in 1989-90 for two reasons: for upholding the national flag and for upholding our religious identity,” Pandita added.
These two extreme positions are dangerous for the efforts of reconciliation between the two communities and will only pull them apart. Distances can often lead to misunderstandings. Elements inimical to Pandit-Muslim bonhomie are bound to exploit the situation where there is disconnect between the two communities.
In fact, some self-styled representatives of Kashmiri Pandits have been crying hoarse over what they claim as “genocide” of their community in the valley. However, they never have had the figures to support their claims of genocide. They have been busy campaigning against Kashmiri Muslims. From websites to photo-exhibitions, these fringe elements in the otherwise tolerant Pandit community have tried desperately to malign the Muslims of the valley.
When the state government revealed that 219 Kashmiri Pandits were killed during the last 20 years of turmoil, their genocide accusation lost its ground. Besides, if 219 killings merit to be called as genocide, then one may have to invent a new term for the killing of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims.
There is a dire need to isolate the elements which try to whip up the emotions of Pandits for vested interests. Similarly, the Muslim separatist leaders need to speak more often about the safe and dignified return of Pandits. In fact, this should be part of the main discourse of Hurriyat and other parties, lest they are misunderstood on the subject.
The government has so far tried unsuccessfully to woo Pandits to return to the Valley. One of the main reasons is that Kashmiri Pandits are yet to evolve a consensus on the issue. As former chief minister Omar Abdullah once remarked, Pandits themselves have to take a call on their return. They left their native land amid a hostile atmosphere. The threat perception still looms large. If they want a pre-1989 kind of peaceful environment, then they have to wait for resolution of Kashmir which is nowhere in sight. They will have to decide whether they can wait for so long or take a decisive call and return to the Valley as it is with all its uncertainties and share the fate of fellow Muslims.
Author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org