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Chimp, Hangul And Person

By Shyam Kaul

In Vienna there is a 26-year old chimpanzee, named Hiasl. He is fond of eating pastry, enjoys watching TV, and his faourite pastime is painting. But he abhors coffee.

Hiasl's lovers and other animal rights advocates are now busy waging a legal battle to get the chimp legally recognised as a "person". If they succeed, it would entitle Hiasl to get donations for his food and upkeep, as the monthly expenditure on this account runs into thousands of dollars. Under the Austrian Law, only the status of a "person" could give Hiasl a legal entity and enable him to hire a paid guardian to taking care of his upkeep and other needs. It would also qualify him for the right to own property.

Here in Kashmir, we are having, more or less, a similar situation. But in this case it is not an "animal" that is seeking to get the status and rights of a "person". It is actually someone who is already a "person", but is being denied his natural and fundamental rights as a "person". It is the exiled Kashmiri Pandit (KP), who, inspite of being a "person" of the status of a hereditary citizen of Jammu and Kashmir, is for the past two decades, languishing in homelessness and running from pillar to post to establish his inherent right to live in his own home, in his own land of ancestors, as a free citizen, without fear or danger to his life and property.

Kashmir, it is relevant to mention here, is also the exclusive habitat of the majestic stag, called Hangul or Hangal, which is among the endangered animal species, and has been for a long time, struggling between survival and extinction. It is an interesting coincidence that among the Pandits of Kashmir, Hangul of Hangal is a surname. No doubt, it is limited only to a small number of families, but going by the turmoil, violence, terror and killings of past two decades, with all the diastrous consequences, especially for the KP community, it would be apt to apply the surname Hangal to the entire endangered human species of Kashmiri Pandits.

Today in the din of happenings like Round Table Conference (more curved than round), internal dialogue (less dialogue, more cuss words), peace process (more ballyhoo, less process), safar-e-Azadi (Safar sans azadi) and the deafening tumult about self-rule, joint management, troop reduction, demilitarisation, human rights violations, and what have you, nobody has time, nor inclination to listen to the voice of the displaced Pandit, who, undoubtedly is among the worst victims, if not the worst, of the twodecade old scourge of militancy and terrorist violence. Nobody has any answers to his questions, his demands, and his problems, and to the ultimate question of his return to his land of birth, and rehabilitation in honour and dignity.

Winston Churchill said once that, "There are a lot of lies going around..... and half of them are true." All that the Pandits in exile have been hearing, coming from the government during the past 18 years, are lies, but let alone "half of them", not even one tenth have come true.

What, for instance happened of the lie that the successive governments over the past 18 years have been feeding the KPs with that their return and rehabilitation in Kashmir was a "top priority" of the government? Or the lie about the government having ordered, several years ago, a survey of the KP properties, lands and other assets in Kashmir, with a view to preparing a detailed inventory for the benefit of the concerned community as well as the government? Or the lie about district commissioners having been asked to expedite the district-wise survey and compile the inventory at the earliest possible? Or the lie about the assurance of the government that all encroachments, forced takeovers and illegal occupations of KP houses, lands, orchards and other properties would be ended forthwith and the properties would be restored to lawful owners? Or the lie that the government had plans to assume supervision of all Pandit properties, back in Kashmir, in order to save these from falling into the hands of illegal grabbers? Or the lie about the government's "determination" to stop vandalisation, encroachment and occupation of KP temples, shrines and other religious properties in the Valley? Or the lie about taking "stern action" against the illegal sales of Kp religious properties, by some individuals, including non-state subject persons, who were not authorised by anyone to do so? Or the lie about opening up new avenues of employment to thousands of jobless KP youths, including those living in the Valley? It is interesting, and perhaps not for nothing, that Chief minister, Gulam Nabi Azad, unlike his predecessors and preceding governments in power, is maintaining a studied silence on the issue of KPs return to Kashmir? He appears to be acting on a popular Kashmiri saying; "Silence is silver; when observed, it is gold." Or is it a hint, an indication, of Delhi and Srinagar having finally wrapped the ribbon round the issue of the return of KPs to Kashmir and locked it up for all time? If, however, it is a lie too, then all that we can do is to hope that this one will not come true, either.

History tells us of the obliteration of people, groups, and communities, at different times, but the one that the KPs in perpetual displacement are faced with is unique. No doubt it started with the onslaught of the alien cult of terror and violence, dyed in religious fundamentalism, but the process is being systematically completed by our own secular, democratic and representative government. It is a clear instance of pushing a whole community, by no account obscure or unknown into disappearence from its own land of inheritance, before consigning it to the oblivion of history.

Is there no power of conscience, justice, fairplay and human concern, in this country, that would join the displaced and exiled KP in his struggle for reclaiming and regaining his inborn status and rights as a "person" of the soil of Kashmir? The fulfillment of the dream of this "person" of Kashmir will harm none whatsoever, but it will give him eternal peace and contentment "to breathe this native air, in his own ground."

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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