Saturday, 5 July 2014
RETURN OF KASHMIRI PANDITS, Adfar Shah
RETURN OF KASHMIRI PANDITS, Adfar Shah
India’s newly elected Prime Minister Mr Modi leading National Democratic Alliance (NDA=BJP+ other supporting parties) at the centre seems committed towards ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus of Kashmir valley who had left Kashmir in 1990’s and when the armed conflict broke out).
Though this is not the first rehabilitation package for Pandits, it is certainly appreciable and unique as the Prime Minister after having recently taken over is fast delivering on the promises made in the election manifesto.
The whole Kashmiri Muslim society seems equally happy about the idea, who have been communally labelled and even sometimes treated as being responsible for the Pandit exodus, which is however a concocted myth. The fact remains that when the turmoil hit the valley in 1989 and armed conflict started, law and order literally collapsed and the lives of all became endangered.
Minorities in such a tumultuous atmosphere turned doubly vulnerable and left their homes in distress. It is not that Muslims wanted them to leave, but instead lamented their forced migration. Not only Pandits, but many Kashmiri Muslims left the valley in panic.
Now the Home Ministry is set to approve an enhanced package of Rs. 20 lakh per family for re-construction of their houses in the Valley, which is a welcome step with a human touch. Nevertheless, the question remains about the very design and methodology of the idea of “making the return possible” after a gap of more than two decades with lots of apprehensions still in the collective psyche.
The new rehabilitation plan should not be merely incentive based — like the previous plans and packages — but the top priority must be given to the very question of security and safety of the human lives involved, as uncertainty has not left from the valley. Also there has to be a holistic and comprehensive rehabilitation of not only Pandits but all the migrant groups or individuals — be that Kashmiri Muslims, Pandits, Sikhs, Christians or others. Even those who crossed the border for training as militants, but never returned and settled in Azad Kashmir need to be given a general amnesty and a chance to return back to their land with dignity. Also all there needs to be ample compensation for those who lost family and loved ones, or handicapped during the conflict. Additionally, there needs to be helped for those whose businesses were affected due to the armed conflict.
Politicising the Pain of Pandits
Since Pandits left the valley, their pain and collective suffering has been highly politicised by vested interests. Instead of sincerely thinking about their true welfare and possible return, a blame game has been launched and conspiracy theories abound along with a plethora of self-fulfilling prophecies gaining ground.
Though the central and state governments have tried their best to make the Pandit return a reality a lack of proper policy and planning and consistent uncertainty and violence in the valley has marred the whole dream. Whereas the politicians continuously benefited by throwing blame on each other and by maintaining that the exodus of the community from the Valley took place in 1990 when Mr Jag Mohan was the Governor of the state, thereby passing the entire blame to one person. Another blame mostly passed by politicians was that Mr Jagmohan (the governor) was appointed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (now the PDP patron), who was the Home Minister of India then.
Some have blamed Pandits for their migration, while others have blamed Muslims (being the majority community), and indeed some have blamed the Indian government and even Pakistan and its agencies. Who is to be rightly blamed is still to be discovered.
Discussing the exodus and playing blame games and benefiting from it is an old trend in Kashmir. Politicising the suffering and pain of communities like the Pandits and other minorities and winning political brownie points is simply condemnable, but continues to the present date.
The allegations and counter allegations tend to either unwittingly overlook or wrongly simplify the complexity of the situation which lead to a mass exodus from Kashmir. One that included about 50,000 Kashmiri Muslims besides nearly 250,000 Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90 (who are now 6-7 lac in population).
The entire focus of inimical elements was to eliminate any symbol or entity that represented secular Kashmir in any way. As a result, the Kashmiri Pandits, the only Hindus of the Kashmir valley, who had constituted approximately 4& to 5% of the population of the Valley during Dogra rule (1846–1947), and 20% of whom had left the Kashmir valley by 1950, began to leave in much greater numbers in the 1990s. Statistics show that, approximately 100,000 out of the 140,000 total Kashmiri Pandit population left the Valley during that decade.
Other sources suggest a much higher figure. It would be naïve to believe that a highly organized and armed militancy surfaced all of a sudden. The fact remains that the undercurrents of militancy took strong roots during Farooq Abdullah’s’ stint over several years as CM and the 1987 rigged elections proved to be the last nail in the coffin. Besides Mr. Jagmohan can also be blamed for his nervous knee-jerk reaction when instead of arranging adhoc safe camps for Pandits somewhere in the Valley itself, he advised Pandits to leave Kashmir, which added to the pain.
In his recent work, P. Parimoo (2012) titled Kashmir Sher-e-Kashmir argues, “The nineties decade has been one of the Dark Ages for Kashmir as also for the rest of the country. It began with the Pakistan instigated ethnic cleansing in early 90s of Kashmiri Pandits and those of the Muslims who did not conform to the views of Pakistan backed elements. The period from 1989-90 witnessed the targeted killings of Government officials, media personnel, members of the judiciary, and members of the minority Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) community.”
Of Pandit Return and Apprehensions
Why have the Pandits not been returning to the valley back? The simple answer is that ‘fear cannot be without reason’, so we need to see even after invitations by all sections of Kashmiri Society, including the separatist brigade along with the Centre, why a total return of Pandits seems difficult. It is not that they do not love their motherland, but still they feel alienated and unless and until their alienation especially within the political framework is not addressed, probably they will not return.
That said, it cannot be argued at all that their reverse migration is not possible now because of their settlement outside. The plight of Kashmiri migrants, the historical wrong that has been committed against them needs to be addressed properly. It is a fact that every Pandit wants to return home back.
The forced displacement of about two and a half lakh Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley has caused a number of psychological and behavioral problems in them. The majority of them felt as if they had been thrown away by a strong volcano, a storm of immense magnitude into a state of wilderness and their roots almost cut off.
The policy of compensating the security woes of the Kashmiri Pandits by doling economic packages and jobs only indicates the insensitivity of the government. Instead of politicizing their return, they needed to be genuinely empowered by creating secure environs, integrating them back with Muslims and getting their property back to them. If their migration or exodus was not triggered due to economic reasons then why would they return for economic packages?
To get to the bottom of their problems, there is a need to closely observe their problems, see their plight in their settlements and understand the trauma that they have gone through. The return of Kashmiri Pandits will not only benefit them, but the entire spectrum of the Kashmiri population because they were one of the important pillars of Kashmiri nationalism. Kashmiri Pandits were also part of the informal educational institutions in villages and hamlets, thus keeping the secular strands of Kashmir alive. Moreover, no individual or community can stay away from their roots happily and not want to return. Becoming established at the new place of settlement can never diminish the desire to reconnect with the motherland. But then what needs to be understood is that they have already lost a lot in life and have become risk averse. As such, many of them have hardly enough to put at stake. Hence, it is only infallible measures and resolute steps that can inspire confidence to take a chance.
Let us not live in the old deficiencies and blame of the past, but rebuild the pluralistic and secular Kashmir and revive Kashmiriyat-our hallmark. Let us hope Kashmir prospers in every way under the leadership of Mr Modi.
At the moment everyone in the conflict torn state seems hopeful with the new establishment and expects a breakthrough in the prolonged issue of Kashmir and the issue of Pandit migration and pain, along with the killings of innocent Kashmiris and culture of uncertainty and impunity.
Frankly speaking the state governments have not been able to return the feeling of being secure to the terrified masses for decades now, and the common masses have alone been carrying the burden of the conflict. Mr. Modi and his interventions are certainly relevant to Kashmir at the moment as he has promised the state Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat that his government will win their hearts and work for development of all. The Kashmir Valley needs economic and peace packages to limp back to progress, peace and growth. Instead of abrogating article 370-our identity, it badly needs the abrogation of armed forces special powers act (AFSPA) and other draconian laws so that masses feel a true relief. Rhetoric and blind blame game apart, the fact is that every Kashmiri Muslim wants Pandits to return back their homes.
For the purpose of safety it is desirable that they must be facilitated to build Pandit colonies, if they don’t want to settle back at places where from they had left. There is no need to politicise this issue and make it yet another crisis agenda in the valley that now keeps waiting for a spur.
(Adfar Shah is a Delhi Based Sociologist and Columnist on Kashmir affairs at pointblank7 and various other national and international newspapers and media groups. Mail email@example.com).
Adfar Shah shuttles between New Delhi and Kashmir writing on South Asian societies and Politics for several publications besides Eurasia Review like Analyst World, South Asian Idea, Countercurrents, Amazons.com, Kashmir Monitor, Kashmir Images and other web portals and newspapers. Adfar is a Sociologist and researcher (at SNCWS, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) who continues to understand the Gender question, South Asian politics, Kashmir in conflict, Military sociology and Indian Military Apparatus, Af-Pak strain and Muslim identity issues. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org