Return of Kashmiri Pandits with Security and Dignity
by Ashwani Kumar
The author is the Convener of the Panun Kashmir Movement in Jammu.
The accession of Jammu and Kashmir state to the Union of India in 1947 brought in the sustained influence of Muslim majoritarian politics in the state patronised by the 'soft-state' perceptions of the subsequent governments at the Centre. Special status became a bargaining chip for the political elite of Kashmir through political machinations strengthening the Muslim precedence. It developed into a Muslim monolithic political culture and reaction over the period, giving rise to the secessionist movement in Kashmir. The forced mass exodus of three lakh Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley was the logical culmination of the militarised form of pan-Islamic fundamentalism bringing turmoil in this region. Having the experience of the Indian governance and lack of sense of history in certain political circles in the national politics, the secessionist forces have over the period since 1947, succeeded in creating confusion and division amongst the political elite of India to hoodwink the Indian people of the real dimensions involved, which are now unfolding to the misfortune of this country. The whole issue stands internationalised today by these forces having created a well-designed confusion of a disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir state, made possible by the fragile, vacillating and contradictory approach of powers-that-be at the Centre and its political allies.
The leadership of the present secessionist movement in Kashmir is quite clear that, even if the present movement fails in achieving the ultimate objective of independence from India, it will strengthen the ascendency and control of Muslims over the politics and other spheres of the state and thus legally convert Kashmir into virtually a Muslim state within the secular framework of the Indian Republic. The statements of the Prime Minister and others in the Government of India, including some Central ministers, regarding 'autonomy' and 'concessions' to the state show the sensitivity of the so-called secular and progressive forces in India to substantiate what secessionists in Kashmir desire. The National Conference, on the other hand, in particular, is demanding greater autonomy or pre- 1953 status for Kashmir as a prerequisite for any political stability in the state. The Government of India with the help of the other so-called secular- democratic elements, it seems, is slowly and steadily working in the direction of establishment of a monolithic political way of life in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that shall further strengthen the anti- national forces and move to the final secession of Kashmir will not be far off.
In such a situation or otherwise, the political dispensation for the people in Jammu and Ladakh for regional councils may formally take place, keeping in view the aspirations of the majority of the people of these two regions of the state. Any kind of such political reorientation shall bring into prominence the politically factorial position of Kashmiri Muslims, people of Jammu and Ladakh in the State. This will also, therefore, give official recognition to all the three factors in the socio- political scene of the state.
Survival Of Displaced Community
The issue of the survival of Kashmiri Hindu displaced community, naturally the fourth factor in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, shall have to be addressed objectively and with more seriousness. Their survival, life and traditions are directly linked with how the community is settled in the Valley of Kashmir, keeping in view the ground realities of the situation in the state and particularly in Kashmir. Almost all political and social organisations in the country are unanimous about the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley with salety, honour and dignity, once normalcy returns in Kashmir. But unfortunately, none of these organisations have till date tried to interpret these words into the articulation of the measures they would like to initiate in this direction. The practical feel of life the Kashmiri Pandits have been going through in Kashmir, with their experience of the last seven years of exile, forces the community to ask all and sundry concerned to explain what 'security, honour and dignity' implies. If the purpose of this parrot-talk is to create an impression in the minds of the Indian people that Kashmir was all roses and normal for Kashmiri Hindus before the armed strife, it is not only incorrect but also misleading. The coinage of 'security, honour and dignity' being used conveniently has, in fact, harmed this community in the context that the entire community has been kept as hostage to uncertainty and indecision about them. Time has probably come when the Kashmiri Hindus themselves will have to articulate what 'safety, honour and dignity' in Kashmir, once normalcy is restored there, means for them. It is high time we dwell upon the issue in the light of the historical experiences, national commitments and the new world order.
Safety, dignity and honour are generally relative terms. What they mean for one individual or a group of individuals may not necessarily be the same for all others. The heroic attempt of Pt. Birbal Dhar and the supreme sacrifice of his family and Pt. Harkar Bakshi paved the way for the Sikh rule in Kashmir in 1819 A.D. which put an end to the 500-year era of brutalities on Kashmiri Pandits at the hands of the alien Muslim rulers in Kashmir. The period witnessed hundreds of thousands of conversions, thousands of killings, three mass exoduses of Kashmiri Pandits and the wholesale destruction of Hindu shrines and historical places. After the Sikh rule, the State was reconstructed by Maharaja Gulab Singh in concurrence with the Britishers in 1846, consequent upon the Treaty of Lahore and the Treaty of Amritsar after combining six different regions with multi-religious and multi-lingual backgrounds. The region of Kashmir, primarily because of its rich cultural tradition and political vicissitudes, was automatically converted into the hub of socio- political activity in the state during the Dogra-British rule and afterwards. Although the Maharaja belonged to Jammu and used to stay at Jammu for six months of the winter season in a year along with his secretariat, yet Srinagar came to be recognised as the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The events that took place during the period of a century's rule of Dogras were responsible for bringing the other five regions of the state under the political shadow of the province of Kashmir. The accession of the state to India in 1947, the illegal occupation of almost three regions of the State by Pakistan in 1947-48, taking over the reins of the state by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as a result of an agreement between the Government of India and the Maharaja of Kashmir and persistent 'soft-state' attitude of the Government of India helped Kashmir and the Kashmiris (Kashmiri Muslims) to become front- runners in the political scenario of the state. The logical result of such a scheme of things was the neglect of the other two regions of Jammu and Ladakh at the cost of the aspirations of the people residing therein.
Although Kashmiri Pandits belonged to Kashmir and were also Kashmiris, yet they were subjected to violence and communal victimisation once again, right from 1931 when the Sheikh led frenzied Muslim mobs which made an attempt to finish Hindu minorities of Kashmir from the Valley. They were the worst sufferers in the new political set-up that was established in 1947 (and continues till date) which simultaneously initiated a discriminatory policy against the people of Jammu and Ladakh. The kind of life Kashmiri Hindus were forced to live in Kashmir from 1947 (the year that dawned freedom upon all Indians) onwards led hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus to leave Kashmir till the forced mass exodus of 1989-90 took place due to the turmoil in the Valley.
Apart from the trouble and turmoil through which Kashmiri Pandits has passed to during the Muslim rule in Kashmir from 1339 to 1819, they had to suffer even after the attainment of independence in 1947. The Kashmiri Hindus firmly believe that any special status of the state outside the constitutional organisation of India was the main destabilising factor for them in the Valley. It was the cause of the abnormality that prevailed in the Valley up to 1989. The return of Kashmiri Hindus under that very dispensation is no normalcy for them. The powers- that-be are now thinking of further diluting that status by granting 'maximum autonomy' to the state. The new dispensation shall close the valley for Kashmiri Hindus for all times to come.
Keeping out of discussion the future political set- up of the state, the Kashmiri Hindu visualises that after guns are formally given up by the Kashmiri Muslims, the Islamic fundamentalism shall continue to decide all social relations in the Valley for a number of decades to come, which is a way of its politics. The issues involving business, marriage, inheritance, etc., will continue to be influenced by the norms that may be prescribed by fundamentalistic majoritarian politics. The Kashmiri Pandits cannot reconcile to live under the shadow of such dispensation as it causes social strife and spoils the quality of life, culture and ethos.
To sustain and further the dominant factor of demographic composition in the Kashmir valley, Sheikh Abdullah's government did not allow thousands of Hindu refugees (including Sikhs) from Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied areas of the state to settle in the Kashmir valley in 1947-48. So much so that thousands of Dogra Rajputs and Punjabi- speaking businessmen, who were domiciles of Kashmir for the last 100 years, were compelled to leave the Valley between 1947 and 1950. Against this, a large number of Muslim refugees from Sinkiang and adjoining areas were rehabilitated in the Kashmir valley. The silent migration of Hindus from Kashmir from 1947 onwards till 1989 far exceeds the figure of the mass exodus of Kashmiri Hindus in 1990, leaving a small section of Hindus (approx 3 per cent of the total Kashmiri Hindu population) in the Valley. These hapless people, who were forced to stay back in the Valley due to their own compulsions, are now trapped and overwhelmed by circumstances.
The persistent and prevailing factor of displacement and dispersal of Kasmhiri Pandits by powers-that-be in the state has caused the loss of their effective political representation. It also broke and distorted the symbols of their cultural identity. No pocket of their concentrated representation was allowed to grow and flourish. A systematic fragmentation was induced from time to time to oppress and suppress this hapless community on the social, political and economic plane. The community had to move to Supreme Court, time and again, to complain against the discriminatory policies of the state government in regard to the appointments in government departments, promotions of teachers in the Education Department, selection in the protessional colleges of the state and admissions to the vocational institutions and beg for the redressal of their grievances. Revenue laws and practices were so fashioned that Kashmiri Hindus were deprived of their land holdings and consequent returns thereof. Thc chances of appointment of Kashmiri Pandit aspirants in the state government had considerably reduced and a majority of them was compelled to seek other avenues. The aftermath of the 1967 Hindu agitation in Kashmir resulted in the transfer of hundreds of the Kashmiri Pandit officials to the places outside the Valley. The Hindu educational and other welfare institutions in the Valley were openly discriminated and discouraged.
Hindu Houses As Target
The state governmenfs policy of Muslim precedence was supported by majoritarianism and mob reaction which had/has been/become a fact of life in the Valley. The result of a cricket match played somewhere in the world would provoke the 'faithfuls' of the valley to target Hindu houses, damage to a mosque in the Middle East would result in desecration of minority places of worship and property and Pakistan's President getting killed in an air-crash would subject the Kashmiri Hindus to abuse at the hands of Muslim mobs. The wide- ranging and pre-planned loot and arson of 1986 in the Valley, and particularly in Anantnag District shocked the Kashmiri Pandit community and it felt isolated in its own habitat, despite the existence of a colossal nation-state.
In an attempt to break from the ancient past, names of hundreds of places were conveniently changed in the Valley. Disputes were given birth to in regard to the rights of possession and property in respect of places of historical and cultural importance. A concept of so-called 'Kashmiriyaf, which is nothing but a bundle of half-truths and brazen lies regarding historical facts about the Valley, was introduced in connivance with the instruments of governance to distort the cultural impact of Kashmir. To this on-going process, the Government of India has all along been a mute spectator, willingly.
The Kashmiri Hindus and the people of Jammu and Ladakh share a common experience in regard to the discriminatory policies of the state government towards them from 1947 onwards. Fundamentally, the treatment meted out to them was due to the fact that Kashmiri Pandits and a majority of the people of Jammu and Ladakh were/are non-Muslims and that the state had overtly or covertly endorsed the fact of Muslim precedence in almost all the spheres of politics and economics in the state.
Despite this important similarity in the experience of Kashmiri Pandits and the people of Jammu and Ladakh, there are some pertinent dissimilarities as well. The Kashmiri Pandits have undergone a long barbaric era of 500 years prior to the Sikh rule in Kashmir which squeezed them from an overwhelming majority to a minuscule minority in their own habitat. Secondly, the Muslim mob reaction to the community in Kashmir established the fact that Muslims did and do not desire any co- existence. Thirdly, but very important is the factor of forced mass exodus of Kashmiri Hindus and their displacement throughout the country. And here lies the difference in the framework of the ideograph as 'to what 'safety, honour and dignity' means for each of these people.
The continuous struggle of the Buddhists in Ladakh for a Union Territory and later for a Hill Council and an overwhelming support by the people of Jammu to the demand of regional council for Jammu province are valid pointers in the direction of the aspirations of the people concerned. The councils, with wide executive and legislative powers, will be able to take care of the rights of the people of the two respective regions. This arrangement has the potential to guarantee the 'security, honour and dignily' to the domiciles of the two regions. In the case of Kashmiri Muslims, the government of India has already gone too far to accommodate them. Beyond a constitutional provision of Article 370 (which has been instrumental in creation of a state within a state and has also given rise to 'vested interests'), pumping in of thousands of crores of rupees into Kashmir and maintaining precedence of Kashmir in the politics of the state, the Government of India, it seems, is ready to concede more which in their thinking may be able to further consolidate the identity of 'security, honour and dignity' to the 'faithfuls' in Kashmir.
In the case of the Kashmiri Hindu community, the fourth factor in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the members of which have been forced to live as refugees in their own state/country, 'safety, dignity and honour' to the community means free flow of life. Ordinarily, there are three components of free flow of life. But so far as the experience of KPs with the system in which they lived/live and guarantee of right of franchise to the subjects of India is concerned, the free flow of life for them have four components. A system which provides commitment in regard to all the four essential components of free flow of life can only ensure 'safety, honour and dignity' to the Kashmiri Pandit community in Kashmir on their return to the valley. These are:
Four Essential Components
Since the community of Kashmiri Hindus has enough experience of 'co-existence' with the Kashmiri Muslims and the system that was allowed to grow and flourish in the state from 1947 onwards, it would be in the fitness of things that the constitutional provisions are invoked to specifically guarantee the community in respect of all the four components of the free flow of life. It is only through such a constitutional arrangement that the community will be ensured 'normalcy' and consequent 'security, honour and dignity' in the Valley.
Demand For Union Territory
The demand of the community for a Union Territory for seven lakh Kashmiri Hindus in the north and east of the Vitasta (Jhelum), besides its strategic value in the national context, should be viewed in this perspective that it ensures them a permanent constitutional guarantee in respect of all essential components of the free flow of life. Coercing people to believe that 'normalcy' has returned in the Valley is tantamount to keeping the nation in dark. And using some hapless people to establish one's "secular" credentials is again a crime which most of the time the lot being used for this purpose also does not understand.
The return of the community to the Valley for resettlement on permanent basis is not linked at all with the goodwill gestures of the majority community or of the government concerned. Neither pressurising its employees to join duties in the Valley does mean any settlement of the community in the Valley. Unless the sense of security is ensured through a constitutional and political dispensation, the free tlow of life remains a dream for the Kashmiri Pandit community. The option of a Homeland for Kashmiri Hindus in the Valley generates an inbuilt mechanism to ensure the free flow of life.
Making Things Rosy
Driving people to believe that things have become rosy in Kashmir and consequent application of pressure tactics to return shall ultimately put the members of the community to think of another option and that is dispersal. In such a situation, it will take a few years for the community to get drowned in the ocean of humanity and thus extinguish as a community with a history of more than 5,000 years. The responsibility for a situation like this shall lie upon the government, the political structure of the nation and the leaders of the community.
To save the community from further genocide in Kashmir and, at the same time, ensure the community its compactness and homogeneity, it is high time that all those who speak in terms of "safety, honour and dignity" try to understand the relevance of carving out a Union Territory for the community in the Valley. All other options, if there are any, shall, besides establishing secular credentials of "a few", actually invite the disaster of the dimension unknown yet, sooner or later, both for the community as well as for the nation.
The authorities concerned still have time to act, to save Kashmiri Hindus, to save Kashmir and to save India.