Mainstream, VOL LIII No 29 New Delhi July 11, 2015
Return of Pandits to Homeland: Need for a Humanistic and not Political Approach
Saturday 11 July 2015
by Aijaz Ashraf Wani and Mehrag Ud Din Bhat
Over the last few months a lot of political noise has been made over the issue of return of Kashmiri Pandits to their native land. However, instead of dealing with the issue from a humanistic perspective, it has been used, as has been the case most of the time, for political rabble-rousing and drawing cheap political mileage out of it. It needs to be mentioned that the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley is a very sensitive issue, both for the Pandit community as well as their Muslim counterparts in the Valley, and therefore needs to be dealt with utmost care and sensitivity. The multiple stakeholders in this process need to be taken on board so that the desired end-result, which of course should be a long-lasting harmonious re-union of the communities, is achieved rather then widening the gulf between the communities.
Kashmiri Pandits, a minority community in the Valley, form an important part of the ‘Kashmiri Identity’ as conceptualised by secular nationalists. The main tenet of Kashmiriyat is the network of socio-cultural and historical ties that bind all Kashmiris, regardless of religion, into an independent social collective.1 While Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) follow different religions, they share many cultural practices that are a fusion of the elements of their respective religious practices as well as the uniquely Kashmiri devotional and philosophical norms. Communal harmony has been a strong social norm in the Kashmir society. Social harmony and close association between the two communities has been regarded as one of the indicators of Kashmiriyat.2 Composite culture is known as shared popular culture. It is symbiotic in that people who share it have a cooperative and mutually dependent relationship. This composite culture has been a living reality of Kashmir and this living reality of Kashmir came into existence through the interaction between people of different faiths.3
In Kashmir, for centuries people affiliated to different faiths have lived together and their religious affiliations never affected their sense of belonging to each other as Kashmiris. The close and constant interaction between the people of different faiths in Kashmir developed a culture that became an important component of the Kashmiri ethnic identity irrespective of their religious affiliations. It is to characterise the harmonised living together of Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, with differenees but without conflict, that the term Kashmiriyat has been used.4 Prof Ishaq Khan, a well-known Kashmiri historian, regards Kashmiriyat as a vibrant experience of living together of Pandits and Muslims in a symbiotic relationship.5 Thus the core of the Kashmiri ethnic identity lies in the composite culture which, however, does not mean that the different communities had divergent views on issues regarding the socio-economic and political aspects concerning their community or the State at large.
But after the turmoil of 1989, the centuries-old Kashmiri ethnic identity/Kashmiriyat has come under attack after the tragic migration of the Pandit community from the Valley of Kashmir. The 1989 popular uprising in Kashmir against the Indian state caused natural fear in the minority community and that was exploited by the state and other invisible agencies, thereby, forcing the Pandits to choose the life of self-imposed, state-imposed and forced exile instead of continuing to live in Kashmir side by side of their Muslim brethren like the Sikh community, facing the ups and downs with equal share.6 The unfortunate migration of the Pandits is one of the greatest tragedies of the region; it is a story of human sufferings. No words can do justice to define the intensity of pain the possessive Pandit community went through in the hot plains of India living with a sense of loss and dispossession.7 Kashmiriyat was a construction of past symbols to endorse the secular ethnic identity. The secular credentials of Kashmiriyat cannot be revived unless the Kashmiri Pandit community returns to Kashmir.The community has contributed enormously to the furtherance of Kashmiri life and civilisation. They have been part of all the triumphs and tragedies of Kashmir’s history. After their unfortunate departure, many events, social occasions and religious festivals have lost their meaning. Their absence has left a permanent scar on the bruised psyche of every Kashmiri Muslim that refuses to heal.8 However, the (essential) return of the Pandit community needs to be accomplished in a proper and systematic manner. It should not be done in haste, as was the case as far as their migration from the Valley was concerned. It has to be a process, taking all the stakeholders on board, rather then an event.
The question of return of Kashmiri Pandits is a broad and important issue, an issue that has humanitarian and political implications and should be seen through the prism of Insaniyat,Kashmiriyat and Jhumuriyat.9 If it takes a communal dimension it will increase the hostility between the communities further rather than bridging the gulf. The return of the Pandit community should strengthen the age-old composite culture of Kashmir rather than damaging it further. Kashmir as a tolerant society is incomplete without the presence of the Pandit community in the Valley, but the politicisation of the issue is fraught with serious consequences.
In March this year, Narendra Modi and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed brought together the BJP and PDP’s political and legislative resources to convert the complex challenge of the State’s fractured mandate into an opportunity for the nation and the region. They embarked upon an alliance, which would catalyse reconciliation and confidence-building within J&K, thereby ensuring peace in the State.10 The issue of return of families of the Kashmiri Pandits, who had to leave the Valley more than two decades back, finds place in the Common Minimum Progr-amme (CMP), or what is referred as the “Agenda for Alliance”, of the PDP-BJP Government. The CMP reads that the government will strive towards “protecting and fostering ethnic and religious diversity by ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits with dignity, based on their rights as State subjects and reintegrating as well as absorbing them in the Kashmir milieu.... Reintegrating will be the process that will start within the State as well as the civil society by taking the community into confidence.”11
However, barely after two months of government formation the issue of return of Kashmiri Pandits snowballed into a controversy when the Chief Minister gave his assurance to the Centre that the government of the State will acquire and provide land for “composite townships” for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. The proposal of providing separate townships for the Kashmiri Pandits has caused ripples in the different political circles of Kashmir. Separatists have expressed strong resentment against the government plan to acquire land for the setting up of “composite townships” for the Pandits. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Mailk said: “It is an RSS ploy. They want to create walls of hatred, spread fire, divide the people.”12 Syed Ali Shah Geelani, while objecting to the separate townships for the Pandits, said: “In the garb of the return of Kashmiri Pandits, a state within a State is being created. It is unfortunate.”13
Not only the separatist leadership but there is a divergence of opinion even within the mainstream political parties as well as among some Kashmir Pandit organisations (especially those who did not migrate out of Kashmir) on the issue and it was termed as a conspiracy. Independent MLA Engineer stated: “The PDP is unfortunately acting as a facilitator in the grand plan of the BJP brigade to communalise and polarise the situation in J&K.”14 Fearing trouble in Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, while rejecting any “Israel-type settlement” for the Pandits, stated on the floor of Assembly: “I want to clarify that there is no plan for a separate homeland (for Kashmiri Pandits). There should be no noise and rumours that separate colonies are being established for the migrant community. We are not going to take any decision in haste. We will take all stakeholders on board on the return of the KPs.”15
Taking exception to the statement the BJP responded by saying that the party officially supports a separate homeland and proper security for the KPs. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh (who held meetings with the CM on the issue) stated that the Centre was not going back on separate settlement of the KPs. The BJPs chief spokesperson, Sunil Sethi, stated: “For a temporary period, clusters are necessary in the Valley because you cannot send KPs to their homes to get them killed.”16
One thing that needs to be mentioned is the fact that in Kashmir, from separatist to mainstream politicians, nobody is objecting to the return of the Kashmiri Pandits and all are ready to welcome them. More than that, and what matters the most, the common Kashmiri Muslims are all for the return of their Kashmiri Pandit brethren. Kashmiri Muslims are of the firm belief that the Pandits are a part of this land and their return will be a matter of joy for them but construction of separate homes in their name is a dangerous move of the rulers who want to divide the two communities in the name of religion. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the Hurriyat (Mirwaiz group), said that the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley is a humanitarian issue and should not be politicised. He said: “We are not against the return of the KPs as has been portrayed. Kashmiri Pandits belong to this land and it is a humanitarian issue which should not be politically exploited.” He further said: “Pandits should come and live along with their Muslim brothers rather than fall in the trap of the RSS-BJP agenda to polarise Kashmir on religious lines by seeking a separate township.”17
The problem lies in the fact that the BJP-PDP idea of separate colonies for the KPs in Kashmir would be and is being received as a communal agenda of the BJP Government aimed at further vitiating the relationship between the two communities. The separate homelands for the Pandits in the Valley is nothing but an attempt to disturb the secular and tolerant ethos of Kashmir which in turn is bound to add to the complexities of the Kashmir problem. A community cannot be made to feel secure by making it to live in isolation and under the permanent shadow of fear of the gun. And the separate colonies will always be soft targets for many vested interests as compared to resettling them among the local populace and mixed communities.
The already established separate colonies have created physical and psychological barriers between the two communities in the Valley. Reiterating the fact that living in separate and isolated colonies will be impossible, Motilal Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit, very rightly said that “it is not possible to live without Muslims. We depend on them and they depend on us.”18 Sanjay Tickoo, the President of the Pandit Sangrash Simiti, who is one of the Pandits who did not migrate, said: “Talk of exclusive townships is an emotional thing. It is not possible because it will be a state within a State”.19 Several prominent Kashmiri Pandits also participated in the anti-separate township rally organised by JKLF Chairman Yasin Mailk in Srinagar chanting slogans like “together we will live; together we will die”, and “separate colonies unacceptable”.20
Also we need to keep in mind that there are many Kashmiri Pandits who refused to migrate from the Valley and stayed here along with other minorities, and they never complained of any oppression or harm caused to them or their religious establishments in the Valley even when the majority community was going through the worst of the times. The Pandit population in 1990 was about 1,70,00. It has now been reduced to some 7000 (figures vary)—but all the 7000 odd Pandits have lived through the last terrible 25 years in the same mohallas as the Muslims—a shining beacon of secular togetherness in the most trying of times.The Pandits in Valley who stayed back formed an organisation called the Kashmir Pandit Sangarish Samiti (KPSS) which interacts with pro-self-determination groups on various issues and often supports them. Unlike Panun Kashmir, the KPSS is not in favour of a separate homeland for the Kashmiri Pandits. Its narrative on Pandit migration also varies. Sanjay Tikkoo, who heads the KPSS, is of the opinion that though there were threats and killings by militants of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 1990s, the common Kashmiri Muslim was not against us. He added that it was because of his Muslim neighbours that he and others like him did not leave Kashmir in the period of turmoil. He was critical of the Panun Kashmir of migrant Pandits, as it, according to him, is under the influence of pro-Hindutva political groups.21
So integral to Kashmiriyat is the imperative of the two communities living together that the hardline separatists, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, have been among the loudest in affirming the importance of the Pandit community returning to the Valley and condemning the idea of Pandits-only Bantustans.22
It is a fact that the fear of the Pandit community at the time when the gun was the only word in Kashmir cannot be ruled out. The fact that militants and invisible hands killed many Pandits in Kashmir again cannot be overlooked. But it must also be remembered that the number of Kashmiri Muslims killed by militants and invisible hands is much higher; so the grief should be equally shared. Around 75,000 (according to some estimates more than a lakh) Kashmiri Muslims got killed by the various agencies (state as well as non-state), which is a far higher number as compared to the couple of hundred Kashmiri Pandits.23 According to government figures, there were 351 bomb blasts and 1600 violent incidents in Kashmir in which 92 people were killed in 1989. In 1990, 1177 people were killed. As per the above mentioned figures, five Pandits were killed in 1989 and 97 in 1990. This would mean that as many as 87 Muslims were killed in 1989 and 1080 in 1990.24 While every life is important, if we keep on repeating that only Pundits were targeted and, therefore, forced to migrate, then the counter discourse could be that in statistical terms this number is insignificant as compared to the number of Muslims who lost their lives in the conflict. A Kashmiri Pandit who lives in the Valley along with Muslim neighbours, while talking about the atrocities committed by the para-military forces on the common man of Kashmir, opined: “If anyone could have run away from the Valley, it would have been Muslims,”25 While it is true that in the face of killings the Pandits felt that leaving the Valley to save their lives was the only viable option, the counter argument from their Muslim brethren, however, could be that Kashmiri Pandits migrated towards Jammu (as they had a place to go) and left behind the majority community (who had no place to go) to face guns, POTA, AFSPA, custodial killings, rapes, humiliations and rule of lawlessness. Therefore, it is very imperative to look at this issue from a humanistic perspective, recognise each other’s sufferings, stop the blame-game politics, get rid of conspiracy theories and not let this issue be communalised and politicised.
The Pandit community as a whole continues to be apprehensive about their security in the company of their fellow Kashmiri Muslims, and the BJP-Sangh Parivar is doing everything it can to aggravate these fears, howsoever unfounded. Hence, on the one hand, the movement for a Panun Kashmir, to be carved out of a portion of the Valley, where the Hindus would live isolated and apart from, the Valley’s Muslims, and not in composite neighbourhoods, has led to repudiation of the essence of Kashmiriyat (an institutionalisation of the wholly bogus line that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in the Valley, that they must remain separated). And on the other hand Pandits have remained merely a pawn in the political games of the Indian state and Hindutva forces, which have done precious little to help them in real terms. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that the violence directed at the Pandits by the militants was misused to deepen the communal cleavage and their exodus from the Valley was encouraged so as to help the security forces “deal” with the militancy.26
The issue of return of KPs must be viewed as a human issue and they must be resettled on humanitarian grounds. If the issue is exploited to serve political interests as it is being done now, it will escalate tension between the two communities and further dent the secular fabric of the Valley. The return of the Pandit community must not be an event but a process to gradually bring them back by providing them proper incentives in the Valley and ensure their well-being so as to integrate them with their fellow Kashmiris. That can only lead towards a long-lasting harmonious relationship among the communities and usher in an era of peace among them. It is not only about Muslims of the Valley and the migrant Pandit community but the views of the small Pandit community—that lived on in the Valley during the turbulent times, and have their own opinion regarding the return of the Pandits to the Valley—also need to be taken into consideration while reaching any final decision.
1. Wasim, Khalid, ‘Migration of Kashmiri Pandits: Kashmiriyat Challenged’, Working Paper No. 237, The Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, p. 2.
3. Bamotra, K., ‘Understanding Kashmiriyat’, Symposium held on Composite Culture of Jammu and Kashmir
5. Khan, Mohammad Ishaq, Kashmir Humanity Stifled, Amir Publications, Srinagar, 2007, p. 6.
6. Kashmir Times, Saturday, April 11, 2015.
7. Rising Kashmir, Friday, April 17, 2015.
9. Rising Kashmir, April 11, 2015.
10. Rising Kashmir, April 23, 2015.
11. Indian Express, April 8, 2015.
12. The Hindu, April 9, 2015, www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/zones-for-pandits-will-turn-valley- into-Palestine-hurriyat/article7082275.ece
15. Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2015.
16. Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2015).
17. Rising Kashmir, April16, 2015).
18. ‘Kashmiri Pandits: Why we never fled Kashmir’, Aljazeera, //www.aljazeera.com/indepth/spotlight/kashmirtheforgottenconflict/2011/07/2011761348189 84961.html
19. Kashmir Reader, April 11, 2015.
21. Wasim, Khalid, ‘Migration of Kashmiri Pandits: Kashmiriyat Challenged’, op. cit., p. 8.
22. Aiyar, Mani Shankar, ‘BJP’s Moves to Destroy Kashmiriyat’, NDTV, http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/bjps-moves-to-destroy-kashmiriyat-754479
23. Kashmir Times, April 11, 2015.
24. Kashmir Reader, May 1, 2015.
25. Wasim, Khalid, ‘Migration of Kashmiri Pandits: Kashmiriyat Challenged’, op. cit., p. 8.
26. ‘Quarter Century of Exile’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 1, No. 4, January 24, 2015, p. 7.
Dr Aijaz Ashraf Wani is a Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, firstname.lastname@example.org; Mehrag Ud Din is a Ph.D Scholar at the Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, email@example.com