Why Do We Continue To Conveniently Ignore The Cries Of The Kashmiri Pandits?

Posted on April 21, 2014 in Specials

By Raj Kosaraju:

Hindsight is always 20/20. Yet while we are in a particular situation, we tend to make things out to be what they aren’t and infer wrong meanings. We kick ourselves, thinking, If only I had known then what I know now. Like the word “fatigue” frequently shows up in the headlines, preceded by a host of adjectives.

kashmiri pandits

Congress suffers budget fatigue. Sports teams lose because of travel fatigue. Trains derail because of driver fatigue. Soldiers face battle fatigue. Trusts and Non-Charitables go unfunded because of donor fatigue. There was even a report recently about young people suffering Facebook fatigue. All these reports, and more, are accurate. We are a society of tired people in a tired world. What’s more, simply by believing what we had seen, no matter our background, history, race, or education, we could restore our long-lost connection with the Kashmiri Pundits.

I am all the more curious to know the strong linkages that exist between Saraswat Brahmins and Kashmiri Pundits. It is indeed a pleasant coincidence when I discovered it recently, and am very happy to know about it. I had several friends who were Kashmiri Pundits and also had several friends and college mates who were from Saraswat Brahmins communities from Pune and Mumbai. When I talk to my KP [Kashmiri Pandit] friends about reconciliation and hope in Kashmir. I am mostly shaken by the response. After so many years, their anger, bitterness and hatred towards Muslims remains.

Kashmiri Pundits, the peaceful followers of non-violence are victims twice over. First, they lost out to religious zealots and terrorists who forced them to flee in fear from their homes and, second, they have lost out by languishing in poorly run refugee camps that have deprived them of their remaining dignity.

The Pundits have been waiting for 24 years hoping that the day of their return with honour and security to their homeland would come. It has not so far despite the considerable improvement in the ground situation. In the meanwhile, the plight of the Pundits has been slowly forgotten. Everybody sheds crocodile tears over their sufferings, but there is nothing more by way of action. The future of the Kashmiri Pundits as an important dimension of the Kashmir problem is less and less talked about.

Pundit properties were either destroyed or taken over by terrorists or by local Muslims, and there was a continuous succession of brutal killings, a trend that continues even today. Ethnic cleansing was evidently a systematic component of the terrorists’ strategic agenda in J&K, and estimates suggest that, just between February and March 1990, 140,000 to 160,000 Pundits had fled the Valley to Jammu, Delhi, or other parts of the country.

Simultaneously, there were a number of high-profile killings of senior Hindu officials, intellectuals and prominent personalities. Eventually, an estimated 400,000 Pundits – some 95 per cent of their original population in the Valley – became part of the neglected statistic of ‘internal refugees’ who were pushed out of their homes as a result of this campaign of terror.

Not only did the Indian state fail to protect them in their homes, successive governments have provided little more than minimal humanitarian relief, and this exiled community seldom figures in the discourse on the ‘Kashmir issue’ and its resolution.

There are few days sadder than the anniversaries of the exile of the Kashmiri Pundits. Over the last few days, there have been postings on the internet and some impassioned tweets but we all know — with an air of tragic inevitability — that when this anniversary passes, when bloggers have moved on to other subjects and something else is trending on twitter, that the Kashmiri Pundits will be exactly where they have been for the last two decades: nowhere people with no homeland to call their own.

I’ve been reading about the plight of the Pundits for quite sometime now. But, try as I might, I cannot understand the attitude of general indifference which greets their situation. Put brutally, the truth is that hardly anybody seems to care.

Kashmiri Pundits are decent, educated people who have always eschewed violence and who, in the face of grave provocation, have never resorted to attention-seeking terrorism. Instead, they have put their faith in Indian democracy, hoping that politicians will recognize that injustice has been done to them and offer some recompense.

Sadly, both India and democracy itself have failed them. Nobody pays any attention to their cause. And politicians do not regard them as electorally significant enough to merit any concern.

And yet, it is hard to see why this should be so. The fate of the Pundits is an international scandal by any standards. Between 1989 and 1992, the majority of Kashmiri Pundits were forced out of their homes by militants. Men were murdered, women were raped, property was destroyed and threats were issued. It was made clear to the Pundits that they were no longer welcome in Kashmir — a state that constituted the only home they knew — because they were Hindus.

Hundreds of thousands of Pundits fled because they feared for their lives in an exodus that was a microcosm of the Partition’s flood of refugees. Some believed that this was a temporary phase — exactly as many refugees had believed during Partition — and that when the violence was over, they could return to their homes and resume their lives.

This was to prove a doomed hope. The ones who did dare to go back faced more violence and intimidation. And as for the others, there was less and less to go back to. Their homes were forcibly occupied and taken over by strangers. Their shops were looted. Their businesses were closed down. And in many cases — in what must count as the greatest tragedy — the Pundits found that their neighbors had profited from their absence and actively opposed their return.

There is a term for this sort of thing even though we, in India, are reluctant to use it: ethnic cleansing.

Whenever ethnic cleansing has occurred over the last few decades — in Eastern Europe for instance — the world has sat up and taken notice. The United Nations has got involved. The world press has treated it as a global story. And Western governments have tried to find solutions.

Except that in the case of the Pundits, nothing has happened. Nobody seems to care.

Forget about the international community, even our own government has remained curiously indifferent to the Pundits.

There has been no serious attempt to resettle them. Scores of people have lost everything and have been reduced to poverty, swallowing their pride and living on hand-outs in refugee camps. But few politicians — across parties — seem to feel that this is a national shame and that India owes it to the Pundits to give them their pride back.

As for returning to Kashmir: forget it. It is not that all Kashmiri politicians are hostile to the Pundits.

This Thursday, chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted that Kashmir would remain incomplete until the Pundits came back. But the truth is that neither Omar nor any other Kashmiri politician can guarantee the safety of the Pundits or offer them any cast-iron assurances that they can resume their lives. And with each passing year, Kashmiri Muslims get more and more used to the idea of a Valley without Hindus. An entire generation has grown up in an Islamicised environment without Hindu colleagues or Hindu school friends. Many young Kashmiri’s simply do not remember an era where Kashmiriyat — the idea that all communities could live together in peace in Kashmir — was the prevailing ideology.

As for the rest of the world, when global conferences are held on tension in south Asia and on finding solutions to the Kashmir problem, the Pundits don’t even get a mention. They are the invisible people, too uncomplaining to matter and too decent to count for anything.

It is to the credit of the Kashmiri Pundits that they have not turned their cause into a Hindu-Muslim conflict. They recognize that Kashmiri militants are not representative of Indian Muslims and frame their case in terms of justice rather than communal feeling.

I wish that we could say that the future held out some hope for people who have done everything liberals advocate — followed a non-violent, secular approach — but I fear that the truth is that the world only cares for those who have a global lobby behind them or a few ounces of RDX in their pocket.

A clinical look at the sequence of rioting in Kishtwar since the targeted violence against the miniscule Pandit community and its forced exodus from the Kashmir valley in 1990 reveals a five-year cycle of aggression, viz, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, and now 2013, which can hardly be coincidental. The implication is grim: Long term plans, most likely in concert with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, have been made for the ethnic cleansing of Kishtwar’s Hindu community, as a prelude to achieving a festering dream (read sore) called Greater Kashmir.

The scheduled exit of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has made the region extremely volatile, with Pakistan determined to extend its influence on both frontiers pushing jihadis across the Indian side of the Line of Control to provide relief to the departing Americans. At the same time, the jihadi forces and their collaborators are exerting pressure on the Jammu & Kashmir Government to disarm and disband the Village Defence Committees that have served as the vanguard of the defence of Jammu region since 1995 and provided a sense of security to the beleaguered Hindu community.

Indian-administered portion of Kashmir is suffering with every moment death of human rights. Mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape & sexual abuse to political repression & suppression of freedom of speech have become an integral part of their day to day life. The Indian central reserve police force, border security personnel and various militant groups have been accused & held accountable for committing severe human rights abuses against Kashmiri civilians. The Kashmiri insurgents are of the view that Indian-administered portion of Kashmir is a part of Pakistan. Hence only the Pakistanis have the right to live on that land. But the question arises how far is it appropriate to create one’s existence at the cost of crushing the existence of those who are quite innocent & have no fault of their own, except that they were given birth on that land? This chaos has put innumerable questions before us demanding serious attention & immediate solution.

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