The best option for Kashmiri Pandits is to take Muslims into confidence and live with them side by side so as to safeguard the secular culture of the state.

The issue of proposed “separate settlements” for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits (KPs) put forth by central government has received strong criticism from the people of valley. The issue caused political crisis and even Chief Minster Mufti Sayeed had to retreat and clarify his remarks that he did not favor “separate but composite settlements”. The BJP-led central government on the other hand, seems to be adamant to rehabilitate Pandits and had reserved package of Rs.500 crore for it.

kashmiri pandits 1 Politics on Kashmiri Pandits Homeland”

It is adamant to go ahead with its plan of separate settlements. However, the plan of separate townships is resisted equally by the masses, political forces as well as separatists alike in the valley. Though their interests and politics may differ, but they have a consensus on saying “No” to separate townships. The Kashmiris fully responded to the protest calls of separatists and strengthened their protest by passing them their legitimacy. The issue has renewed debate over the questions about rehabilitation of KPs and the complexities are showing their signs amidst crisis.

The KPs continues to live in exile from past 25 years and till today are unable to return their homes. Various governments from time to time assured KPs of their rehabilitation, but no serious effort was made.  The political parties included “rehabilitation of KPs” in their manifestoes but all in vain. Though attractive job packages were outlined several times for KPs but, both the central as well as state government failed to settle them. However, the situation now seems to be changing and favorable to the KPs.

The issue has now received the utmost attention because the BJP, which has made rehabilitation of KPs “inalienable” part of its politics is in power (with full majority in the center and a coalition partner in Jammu and Kashmir). The BJP is acting as a sole “spokesman” of Pandit community. While the plan had increased the aspirations of Pandits on the one hand, it increased the fears of Kashmiris on the other. It produced complexity for any rehabilitation plan of KPs. How Pandits have reached with this state of affairs and who is responsible for it? These are highly controversial questions.

Militancy and its Consequences

The two communities (Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims) had always lived in harmony. Even during critical days of partition, when the subcontinent was burning from communal frenzy, not a single communal incident was reported from the valley. However, the whole scenario changed after the popular uprising of 1989, followed by militancy. The eruption of militancy naturally dis-balanced the socio-cultural situation  and changed the fortune of the people.

Militancy, though a difficult fact to be absorbed by some people, was the expression of Kashmiri Muslims to secede from India and either to create independent state or to accede with Pakistan. But this expression had resulted in severe consequences; not only minorities but also the common Muslims of the state remained the target of oppression from both state as well as non-state actors. The Kashmiri Muslims fully supported resistance movement and participated in huge demonstrations against the Indian state. They along with the militants chanted anti-Indian slogans.

pakistani army killing indians Politics on Kashmiri Pandits Homeland”

It created natural fear in the minority and the two communities got divided. The Pandits on the other hand identified themselves with the Indian state and even some collaborated with the armed forces to crush down militancy. The militants in response killed some Pandits whom they perceived to be “mukbirs” (collaborators). In some cases, some heinous acts were reported. With the result Pandits had to migrate. They figure of the number of killings and migrated families of KP’s are highly controversial, subject to propaganda from multiple actors.

Contested Narratives

The “forced” or “self-imposed” migration of Pandits is one of the worst incidents of the Vale and no sane would have supported it. However, there are two opposite and contradictory narratives on Pandit migration. The first account blames Kashmiri Muslims and their fellow militants for forcing Pandits to migrate. From their view, it was a “forcible evacuation” or “exodus” of Pandits from their homes.

They interpret that militants were working to create an Islamic state and for the realization of it, targeted non-Muslims. The militants in their view were eager to control the valley and threatened Pandits to migrate. The second account claims that “it was “self-imposed” exile and declares state responsible for it. Jagmohan, then the governor, is primarily accused of making plans to evacuate Pandits from their homes. His objectives as claimed were to get “free hand” in dealing with Kashmiris and crush down militancy by teaching lessons to Kashmiris. This position is even supported by a section of Pandits who accuse Jagmohan for misleading them. However, both positions are subjective. Both sides forget that migration though unjustified was an inevitable consequence of the conflict. Moreover, the Pandit issue had remained subject to politics for political reasons.

However, it is ironical that Pandits blame common Kashmiri masses for their state of affairs. They had developed a strong sense of resentment against the Kashmiris and their narrative betrays a cold fever. Instead of objectively assessing the situation, they have made Kashmiris the prime target of their criticism.  However, their narrative is contradictory and shallow. While on the one hand, they accept Kashmiri Muslims were helpless to do anything and were insisted by the later to stay, on the other hand, they blame them for their migration. Some of them quote and misquote several incidents and slogans to prove it.

For instance, the slogan “EZalimo, E Kafiro, Kashmir Hamara Chod do (oh tyrants, oh infidels, leave our Kashmir alone) used during critical days 1989 was/is misconceived by them. This was a slogan used against Indian armed forces and not against Pandits. Similarly, the night of the Wandhama massacre coincided with the sacred night of Shab-e-Qadr of the holy month of Ramzan and the long night prayers and recitation of the Quran was perceived wrongly by Pandits.

The Pandits blamed Kashmiris for using loudspeakers deliberately so as nobody would come to rescue them. However, such long night prayers and the practice of using loudspeakers is a part of the traditional religious ritual of Kashmiris. But unfortunately these events are highly exploited by writers like Rahul Pandita who gives the impression that Kashmiris are communal. Perhaps this is their critical psychological condition due to the loss of their homes.

Politics on return of Pandits

There is nothing worse than the loss of homes and Pandits has a birth right to return to their homes. It was a great injustice to them and deserves remedial justice. But what sort of remedial justice, “rehabilitation” or “separate homeland”? Unfortunately, there are again controversy and politics of controversy on the issue of rehabilitation of KPs.

While some sections of Pandits demand separate settlements or “homeland”, others want to live side by side with their Muslim fellows. Some KPs claim that only through separate settlements would they be able to live securely and honorable life. On the other hand, there is no disagreement about the return of KPs in the valley and Kashmiris welcomes them but oppose any separate settlement plan. They consider it dangerous and fear that they would be turned into minority in their own homeland. They consider it a colonial arrangement and claim that it will lead to an Israeli-like situation.

The two contrary perceptions and demands had left the scope for political forces to enter and exploit the issue. While the BJP had become the chief spokesman of the concept of Pandit homeland concept, Huryat conference has assumed the sole spokesman ship of Kashmiris.

The politics of the mainstream political parties as well as the separatists has increased further complexity to the issue. All political forces have their interests at stake and some even have nefarious designs. The murky politics would erode all positive efforts.

Feasible and Genuine Solution

It is a critical question whether Pandits deserve merely rehabilitation in the valley or separate settlements which needed to be answered genuinely. I am a Kashmiri youth and arguing beyond academic analysis, welcome KPs to return their homes, but strongly disagree with any separate settlement plan. Such plan will lead to instability in the Kashmir.

Kashmir belongs to all and nobody can have exclusive claims over it.The Kashmir cannot be divided on religious grounds and any such demand should be opposed by all. The separate settlements would neither be feasible not due to KPs and any such idea is destructive for the composite culture of the state.  It is stupidity to demand what is not “feasible and due”. Such impractical demands merely prolong their exile.  To live in towns and ghettos won’t be a better option for Pandits which would further widen the gap between the two communities.

The best option for Pandits is to take Muslims into confidence and live with them side by side so as to safeguard the secular culture of the state. The KPs need to seriously ponder over the issue and prevent political forces to use them.

By: Mudasir Nazar 

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