Journey through dark woods

Kashinath Pandit**

We, the internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits will be entering 24th year of our exile. Neither the Central nor State government has made any serious contemplation about our return and rehabilitation. Prime Minister’s 2008 package is economic eye-wash and subtly silent about political implications of our return. In a handout titled PM’s Package – A Critique, JK Nationalist Movement, a Jammu-based organization has brought out its glaring discrepancies. As such the  less said about it the better.  

This and the saga of exodus in all its ramifications show that ethnic cleansing of a small religious Hindu minority in Kashmir Valley has not hurt our policy planners in the least. Their interpretation of secularism is something closely connected to vote bank politics. The vote bank politics in essence is the soft face of communal minority-ism.

I would like to appreciate the attitude of our exiled community of not depending for their survival on the largesse of governments or political parties in or out of power. That would have spelt our disaster. The community members have withstood cataclysmic onslaught with fortitude and endurance, thanks to their abiding faith in their nearly three millennia-old history and culture.

Much water has flowed down the Vitasta. The time for lamenting and brooding over the lost paradise is out. Let us think of today and tomorrow. I do not like this community of pragmatic and progressive ideas to waste its precious time and energy in futile exercises like debates on return to and rehabilitation in its native land or security and sustenance concerns etc. We have travelled quite a distance from these presumptions.

The primary concern of our community members is the education of our progeny to the highest levels of proficiency and accomplishment. For achieving that objective we have the capacity to make any sacrifice and we have already made. Our younger generation of boys and girls has grown up in an atmosphere of freedom outside Kashmir valley prison. Fortunately, they do not know what psychological and environmental slavery is. That phenomenon battered our ancestors for seven long centuries. This younger generaion may have faced economic hardships in exile, but they were saved the torments of tyranny of majority.

This younger generation is the hope and aspiration of our community in exile. We must, therefore, talk about them and guide them in how they are to manage their lives as the progeny of Kashmiri Pandits. Foremost is that they should abandon for all times two debilitating evils, namely anger and hatred. This means knowing the past but not getting swayed by the atrocities hurled on us.

The world is much wider and larger than just the Kashmir valley. The shackles that bound us to slavery and subservience for so many centuries are not for them. Like free birds, they have to soar in the heights. over realms and climes. No door is shut on them for all times; what is needed is knocking and knocking incessantly on each door that you want to open and enter. It has to respond to your unrelenting knocks.

Our young boys and girls in colleges, professional institutes, work places or in homes need to evolve self-imposed discipline. Talk less and do more. Share with your community members all that contributes to the welfare of the community. Diversify your professions. Aim at big openings and don’t remain content with small things and small initiatives. Carve your path on the behest of your inner voice and urge. For career building, focus on diversity of opportunities; defence services, scientific and technological research and excellence, administrative, foreign, forest and police services and all other services falling under UPSC, judiciary, higher academic openings etc. Think of private enterprise and venture. A community with commercial bent of mind possesses better chances of growth and prosperity.

Most importantly, acquire the local language and jump into political arena, link up with political segments mix with the teeming humanity around you and prove your mettle as a social and party worker, orator, ideologue and a servant of the people. The greatest advantage that you have is that you are not parochial, regional or sub-regional by dint of being people with no roots and no moorings.  Make the best of your rootlessness. If there is any community literally secular, non-parochial and national at its core it is our community. Make the best use of this very special advantage. Stalwarts like Nehru, Inder Kumar Gujral and Manmohan Singh, (also refugees) rose to eminence by adequately and wisely exploiting this positive factor. You can also do it.

Our young girls need to be given right education in their homes. Remember what Tagore said. “Look straight into the eyes of people you meet. Let you show that you speak with courage, with confidence and with purpose.” Abandon what is redundant, dress, diet, habits, mindset, fear, pessimism, hopelessness. Adopt modern ways and style of life; change the dress code that pushes you to physical slavery. Look at the young women in China, Israel, South East Asian countries and of course in the western countries. They dress themselves smartly leaving their limbs free to be used for work. Lock up your kitchens at 8 pm after finishing your dinner, and find time to do what would make you a vibrant community member; read books, newspapers, walk the parks, play with kids, discuss with elders, learn music, dancing, fine arts, join language courses and learn one or two foreign languages, go to women’s clubs for exchange of ideas and interaction with others who are more knowledgeable and in this way develop yourself into multi-dimensional personal. You have the capacity and ability to do that.

We need to come out of slavish mentality thrust on us by eight hundred years of the history of tyranny and persecution. Let us defy history by refusing to be slaves of sycophants, pseudo-secularists and political scoundrels. From slavery we need to wriggle out ad graduate to leadership. If we have fifty IAS and fifty IFS young men and women from our community, they will change the destiny of this nation. That is the quantum of intellectual potential we possess. But alas our youth are not aware of it and do not put it to use. Our youth need to be innovative in every thing.
Tape the Corporate segment of this country, a segment of tremendous power and influence. Make yourself indispensible not through stratagem but through honest hard work, dedication and purposefulness.

Lastly abhor the habit of castigating our own community members. Throw off what you think is unnecessary baggage of treacherous past and make your responsibilities light. We are submerged under meaningless rituals, senseless customs and superfluous religious and social practices. Throw off what is redundant and meaningless and adapt life to present day requirements. Relieve our womenfolk of the superimposed sense of servitude and make them full and practical partners in family, community and national affairs. Put this power house of creativity into use and don’t allow it to rust owing to prejudices.

I know many friends will accuse me of discouraging the community leadership in its 24-year-long struggle for return and rehabilitation in our place of birth in Kashmir. They will call me a cynic. I have a plethora of arguments to repudiate their charge but I will remain content with the following story of great historical significance expecting our youth to take cue from it:

In the early days of Islamic expansion, when Tariq, the commander of the Arab naval force was assigned the task of conquering Spain, he arrived in Andalusia on the shores of Spain and ordered his fleet to disembark and shift all the stores, arms, ammunition, ration and other stuff to the shore. Having done that, he ordered them to set the ships on fire. His commanders protested vehemently arguing how they would return to their native land if the ships were destroyed. “Our home is the land where our steps are planted. Every land is our land because it is the land of our God” thundered Tariq.

Dear community members, be firm and strong. Our journey is through dark woods but we have a promise to keep.
** Dr. Pandit is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University. He has pleaded Kashmir IDP case at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva for more than a decade after our exodus. He is based in Jammu (knp627@gmail.com).

(Kashmiri Pandits managed to survive under seven or more centuries of oppressive and autocratic regimes. But under democratic and secular dispensation of the Indian State, our birthplace was ethnically cleansed of us. Kashmir now belongs entirely to the pure people after impurities have been washed away. We have been extirpated because we do not belong to the faith of majority community of Kashmir. State and Union governments both refused to give us the proper nomenclature of internally displaced persons. Instead, they call us “migrants” thus linking our exodus or restitution to our free will. Have they allowed an atmosphere in Kashmir which will help us in formulating “free will”?
Entire Kashmiri Pandit community is in exile since 1990. It is dispersed, disjointed and fragmented. Its members are engaged in an unending struggle for survival, eking out a living in whatever part of the country or the world they can.
Twenty-three years have gone by. Neither the State nor the Union government has any clear policy or programme of restoring secularist dispensation in Kashmir. They are guided by vote bank politics. We are nobody’s vote bank for the reason that we are a very small minority of a few lakh of people that is usually ignored and forgotten.
In 2008 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced during his visit to Jammu 1618 crore rupees Return and Rehabilitation Package for Kashmiri migrants. Title sounds encouraging. But reading between the lines one finds that it identifies five categories of “migrants” out of which Kashmiri Pandits are one category. In other words PM’s package of 1618crore
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