Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes says, “Writing is struggle against silence”. I say, writing is struggle against distortions too. Whenever there is an attempt to distort your story, you have to raise your voice and reiterate your story because your story, the truth, is the struggle for your existence. More so when you are away from home, in exile!
On Sunday evening, there was a debate on NDTV’s “We The People” on the subject “Kashmiri Pandits: In Search of Home”. The topic of discussion was the rehabilitation of exiled Kashmiri Hindus in Kashmir in wake of the recent Konsar Nag Yatra controversy. The reconciliation between majority and minority communities of Kashmir valley (Muslims and Pandits) was also discussed. That discussion prompts me to write this story.
Time and again, the reconciliation between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits has been talked about and debated under the ambit of Kashmiriyat (like the rhetoric that the solution of Kashmir conflict should be under the ambit of Insaniyat). Ah! This Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat! Kashmiriyat is used as a ploy to pretend that nothing happened in the valley to Kashmiri Pandits. When Pandits demand justice for the killings, rapes, loss, and homelessness, they are told there is Kashmiriyat.
Kashmiriyat, if ever it existed, is a term given to the mutual and peaceful co-existence of Pandits and Muslims in the pristine valley of Kashmir much before insurgency and terrorism. It has died in the valley many times in the past. Recently, Kashmiriyat died when the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits happened, resulting in their displacement from the valley. It died when Pandits were selectively targeted and murdered heinously. It died when a Pandit woman was raped and then cut into pieces by a mechanical saw. For those who don’t know, the exodus of 1990 is the seventh exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley.
That is not to say that Pandits and Muslims were always at conflict with each other in Kashmir. Of course, they lived together for hundreds of years till 1990. On an individual level, Pandits and Muslims have been very amicable. But as communities, they disagree, particularly over political views. Those disagreements led to a rift in 1990 when the majority of the majority community of Kashmiri Muslims (not all) supported the cause of secession of Jammu & Kashmir from the Union of India through an armed struggle in which Hindus were killed. They failed in their struggle for Azadi. Jammu and Kashmir is still very much a part of India. It will remain so. In the meantime, Pandits lost faith in the majority community of Muslims who happened to be their neighbours. Many Kashmiri Muslims chose to support the gun rather than their neighbours. There has existed a trust deficit since then.
It has been twenty five years since the exodus, but I haven’t seen even once the community of Kashmiri Muslims stand up for the Pandits whom they call their brethren. Rather, they have sided with those who have been responsible for their displacement. How can there be reconciliation between the community of Pandits and Muslims? There can’t be any reconciliation while there is silence over the killings and exodus of Pandits. Moreover, the myth factory in Kashmir valley still propagates the “Jagmohan theory” which states that the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan, is responsible for the 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley.
For reconciliation to happen, the past needs to be addressed. The path of reconciliation is through admission of failure by the community of Kashmiri Muslims in protecting their Pandit brethren. The path of reconciliation is by shunning the voices of separatism and religious intolerance. Reconciliation is difficult without justice for those Pandits who were murdered and raped. From past experience of the last two decades, frankly speaking, I don’t see that happening in the near future.
On the question of return of Pandits, it is not only about the level of militancy in Kashmir. It is about the nationality and religion/faith of Kashmiri Hindus on which they won’t compromise. How is the return of Pandits possible when there has been a continuous attack on their faith in the last two decades? A recent example is the shutdown of Konsar Nag Yatra by local Kashmiri Muslims. They had a problem with a small group of 40 Pandits who were supposed to visit Konsar Nag, a glacial lake located at an altitude of 12000 feet in Kulgam district of south Kashmir, as pilgrims. These Kashmiri Muslims believe that the Pandits will pollute the environment by going for a pilgrimage. It all happened under the garb of Kashmiriyat. The more they attack the faith of Kashmiri Pandits, the stronger their conviction becomes. Period!
P.S. I was speaking to my father over the phone yesterday. Among other things, we talked about upcoming assembly elections in J&K. He said, “There seems like a concerted attempt in goofing up of the electoral voter list of Pandits. How come there are mistakes (distorted names, missing names etc.) in electoral voter lists when these same voter lists were correct before. Is this a further attempt to erase them from Kashmir valley?” My father has been filling correction forms every other day.
(Originally Published in Newslaundry)