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Return of the natives – The Kashmiri Pandits

|By Adfar Shah|

The Modi led NDA seems committed towards ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits and the whole Kashmiri Muslim society seems equally happy with the idea.The home ministry is all set to approve an enhanced package of Rs. 20 lakh per family for re-construction of their houses in the Valley. But, the question is about the very design and methodology of the idea of “return”. Why are Kashmiri Pandits not coming back despite the government packages to woo them back?

While there is no doubt that 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 or Christians or others. However, the new rehabilitation plan should not be merely incentive based such as “the economic plans and packages” but the top priority must be given to the very question of security and safety of the human lives involved.

Politicising the Pain of Pandits

Some Kashmiri Pandits recently protested over the remarks of Omar Abdullah that the exodus of the community from the Valley took place in 1990 when Jag Mohan was the Governor.

Omar Abdullah maintained that when Kashmiri Pandits left the Valley, Jagmohan, who had his loyalties with BJP, was ruling the state (as Governor). Farooq Sahib was not in power. He said that Jagmohan was appointed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (now PDP patron), who was the Home Minister in VP Singh cabinet.

Discussing the exodus and playing blame games is an old trend in Kashmir.Politicising the suffering and pain of communities like Pandits and other minorities to win political brownie points is condemnable.

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 50000 Kashmiri Muslims besides nearly 2,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits in 1989-90 (who are now 6-7 lac in population).

According to some political observers’ Farooq Abdulah’s biggest mistake lay in his appeasement of the radical Kashmiri polity; the traditional adversaries of his late father, for vote bank considerations.

Taking advantage of his mediocrity, these elements penetrated and sabotaged practically all organs of State administration including educational institutions. 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’s stint over several years as CM and the 1987 rigged elections proved to be the last nail in the coffin.

Though Shri Jagmohan Malhotra 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.

Political Sociology of Exodus

According to a number of authors, approximately 100,000 out of 140,000 total Kashmiri Pandit populations left the valley during the 1990s. Other sources have suggested a much higher figure.

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.”

The bungling at all levels by the government headed by Dr. Farooq Abdullah had resulted in the massive exodus of nearly 250000 Kashmiri Pundits and over 50,000 Kashmiri Muslims from the valley. Dr. Abdullah, lost his nerve in sharp contrast to the stand of his late father who stood like a rock in a similar situation in 1947!

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 greater numbers in the 1990s.

The twin objectives of terrorizing the common man, coupled with paralyzing the State administration, had met with a substantial measure of success beyond the expectations of the key operators based in Pakistan.

Apprehensions of the Kashmiri Pandits

The forced displacement of about two and a half lakh Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley has left them feeling disillusioned and psychological disturbed.A majority of them felt as if they had been thrown away by a storm into a state of wilderness and their roots cut off.

Yet, it is a fact that every Kashmiri Pandit wants to come back home. No individual or community can stay away from their roots and not want to return. Setting up base at new places can never diminish the desire to reconnect with the motherland. Hence it becomes all the more important that the plight of Kashmiri migrants and the historical wrong that has been committed against them be addressed properly.

What needs to be understood is that they as a community have become averse to risk and hence, it is only infallible measures and resolute steps that can inspire confidence in the community to take a chance and come back.

The policy of compensating the Kashmiri Pandits by doling out economic packages and jobs only indicates the insensitivity of the government. Instead of politicizing their return, they need to be genuinely empowered by creating secure environs, integrating them back with the Muslim community and giving them their property back.

If their migration or exodus was not triggered due to economic reasons then why would they return for economic packages? The truth is unless and until their alienation especially within the political framework is not addressed, they will probably not return.

At the moment everyone in the conflict torn state seems hopeful under the new regime. The Omar Abdullah regime failed to pacify terrified masses who have alone being carrying the burden of conflict since decades.  The Kashmiri Pandits have been the most important pillars of Kashmiri nationalism and their return is important to keep the secular strands of Kashmir alive.

Getting them to return is not only about government policies and rebuilding the community but also about reviving their centuries-old bond of Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat . Here is hoping that Modi and his interventions are certainly relevant to Kashmir at the moment.

About The Author

(Adfar Shah is a (Kashmiri) Sociologist based in Delhi and guest columnist at Point Blank 7.Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com).

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