Return of Kashmiri pandits

By 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 when the armed conflict broke out).Though it is not the first rehabilitation package for Pandits but certainly appreciable and unique of its kind as the PM though having recently taken over is fast delivering on the promises made in his party’s election manifesto. The whole Kashmiri Muslim society seems equally excited about the idea, who have been communally labelled like anything and even sometimes treated directly responsible for the Pandit exodus, which is however a concocted myth. The fact remains that when turmoil hit the valley in 1989 and armed violent conflict started, the law and order literally collapsed and everyone’s life got endangered. The 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 helplessly lamented upon their forced migration. Not only Pandits but many Kashmiri Muslims left the valley in panic. The home ministry now is all set to approve an enhanced package of Rs. 20 lakh (2 million INR) per Pandit family for re-construction of their houses in the Valley, which is a welcome step and a decision with a human touch. However, the question is about the very design and methodology of the idea of “making the apprehensive return possible” after a gap of more than two decades with lots of trepidation 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 the factor of uncertainty has not gone from the valley. Also there has to be a holistic and comprehensive rehabilitation of not only Pandits but all other migrant groups or individuals be that Kashmiri Muslims, Pandits, Sikhs, Christians or others. Even those who crossed the border for training as militants way back in 1990’s but never returned and instead settled in Azad Kashmir (POK) need to be given a general amnesty and a chance to return back to their land with dignity. Also all those need to be amply compensated whose nears and dears lost their lives or turned handicapped during the conflict situation prevailing since decades. All those need to be helped also whose business affairs got affected due to the worst armed conflict and all the human rights violators need to be brought to justice.

Politicising the Pain of Pandits

Since Pandits left the valley, their pain and collective suffering got highly politicised by vested interests and tuned more to a hollow political agenda rather than a human rights issue. Instead of sincerely thinking about their true welfare and possible return, blame game and conspiracy theories along with a plethora of self fulfilling prophecies gained the ground. Though the central and state governments tried their best to make the Pandit return a reality however the consistent lack of proper policy and planning and unpredictable uncertainty/violence in the valley marred the whole scene. Whereas the politicians continuously benefitted by throwing blames on each other and most of them kept 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 shifting the entire blame to one person. Another blame mostly passed by politicians was that Mr Jagmohan (the governor) was appointed by the then Indian Home Minister Mr. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (now the PDP patron). Some foolishly blamed Pandits for their migration, while some illogically blamed Muslims (being the majority community) for the inhuman act and while some blamed the Indian government and many blamed Pakistan and its agencies, etc,. Frankly speaking, who is to be rightly blamed is still to be discovered. Therefore, discussing the exodus and playing blame games and benefitting from such tantrums is an old trend in Kashmir. Politicising the suffering and pain of communities like Pandits and other minorities to win political brownie points is simply condemnable but continues till 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 50000 Kashmiri Muslims besides nearly 2,50,000 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 out of fear of the known and unknown. Statistics show that, approximately 100,000 out of 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 multifold.

P. Parimoo, a Kashmiri historian and author in his recent book 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 Pandits have 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 total Pandits return 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. Also 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. 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 mere 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. Return of Kashmiri Pandits will not only benefit them, but the entire spectrum of 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. Getting 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.

Last Word

Let us not live in the old deficiencies and blames of the past but rebuild the pluralistic and secular Kashmir and revive the true Kashmiriyat-our hallmark. Let us hope Kashmir prospers in every way under the leadership of Mr Modi-the new prime minister who has vowed to follow Shri Vajpayee’s legacy and work for inclusive development of the whole state during his recent visit to the state. 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, issues of Pandit migration and pain, Killings of innocent Kashmiri’s and culture of uncertainty and impunity,etc,. Frankly speaking the state governments have not been able to return the feel secure psyche to the terrified masses since decades now, and common masses have alone being carrying the burden of conflict in all ways. Mr. Modi and his interventions are certainly relevant to Kashmir at the moment as he has promised the state Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat  back and recently announced that his government will win the hearts back and work for the development of all. Kashmir valley badly needs economic and peace packages to limp back to progress, peace and growth. Instead of abrogating article 370-our core identity and pride, 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 to their homes. For the purpose of safety, it is desirable that they must be facilitated to build up and live in Pandit colonies, if they don’t want to resettle back at places where from they had left earlier. There is no need to politicise this issue and make it yet another crisis agenda in the valley that now always keeps waiting for a spur.

* This article originally appeared in Pointblank7 and is being republished with the request of the author

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Adfar Shah

Adfar Shah is a Scholar of Sociology at India’s Central University Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]

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