By K.N. Pandita
The Valley witnessed massive resentment against return and rehabilitation of displaced Kashmiri Pandit religious minority. People observed complete strike. Offices, business centres, private and public transport, banks, markets, even the bar association, everywhere normal activity remained suspended for the full day. Civil society, government functionaries and the public feverishly responded to the call of the separatists, jihadis, pro-Pak elements and their cohorts.
In the process, the bottom of old and laboriously built farce of communal harmony in Kashmir stands exploded. Public protest and hunger strike expose theocratic underpinning of on-going struggle in Kashmir. Simultaneously, displaced community’s exodus also stands vindicated. Kashmir jihad is now an open book for the entire world to read.
Reaction in Kashmir to the statements of J&K Chief Minister and the Union Home Minster on the subject, soon after they met in New Delhi, was spontaneous. It began with mobs in Maisuma clashing with the police. Senior MLAs from regional and national parties spat venom against the Pandits in the Assembly, swearing to stall any plan of composite restitution in the land of their birth. Feeling the defiant mood of the public and their elected representatives in and outside the Assembly, the Chief Minister adopted polemical somersault in his narrative on the issue blowing hot and cold in the same breath. That is the post-militancy Kashmir political culture of all mainstream parties. One can understand the CM is doing tightrope walking. It is because of his choosing.
Some understanding between the partners in government on the subject is not mere presumption. Press reports even said that the land for Pandit rehabilitation was identified somewhere near Pampore. Home Minister may have made a slip of tongue by saying there was understanding with PDP on the matter.
Even the NDA government showed subtle ambivalence after its initial reaction to public demonstration. The Home Minister did not elaborate beyond saying that rehabilitation of the displaced community was party agenda. The MOS in the Home Ministry adopted posture that is more defensive. He said that though the government accepted return and rehabilitation of the displaced community in principle, yet it has not taken any decision on their composite rehabilitation. He avoided elaborating the term “composite” and deliberately left it to remain ambiguous like other stakeholders.
Governments that preceded Mufti Sayeed usually said that the Pandits belong to Kashmir — being the sons of the soil. It was a shift from the stand taken by Sheikh Abdullah who called them a trust “amaanat”. Notwithstanding unsolicited lollypops, no government and no political party spelt out any viable formula of their rehabilitation back in the valley. How could they when intentions are spurious?
All mainstream political parties in their heart want the Pandits to go back to their original residential sites in villages and towns. They do not go beyond that cryptic note; they subtly circumvent the irksome question of how, why and when of return. It serves their purpose to underplay the causes and course of the rise of armed insurgency and religious extremism in Kashmir in post-1990 scenario. Where are their original homes, shops, lands, orchards, household property etc? They consider it sacrilege to touch on these aspects. No responsible authority from Srinagar to New Delhi is willing to discuss the ramifications of return in the light of numerous apprehensions, which the Pandits have been articulating repeatedly. They dismiss Pandit apprehensions in a casual manner by appending the tag of communalism.
No government and no political party is prepared
Central and State government both deliberately circumvented the core issue — collapse of secularism and ethnic cleansing of Kashmir. New Delhi hoodwinked the Pandits by soliciting only peripheral issues. Most of the Pandits succumbed to their antics, the biggest and most disgusting of which was PM Manmohan Singh’s so-called package. The previous government found ways of subverting it as it was accountable to none, leave aside the Legislative Assembly. Even in exile, the minority community became a victim of discrimination.
Majority community in the valley will say that it is opposing only compact rehabilitation of the Pandits and not their return to Kashmir. May we sk why do they oppose their compact rehabilitation? What is the rationale? Hind baiters have spread the canard that a composite locale of the Pandits, (comprising less than 2 per cent of the total population of Kashmir), is tantamount to creating another Israel in Kashmir.
Pandits are closely watching the reaction of 17 crore of Indian Muslims and their leadership to this exclusivist mindset of valley majority. That is the litmus test of secularist credentials of largest Indian religious minority.
So far, no rational, legal and humanist response has come.
We expect sensible and rational elements among the Indian Muslims to play their role in defending the interests of religious minorities in this country where they are not only the largest but also form the second largest Muslim population in the world. Formal recognition of Mallapura as Muslim majority district in Kerala did not create another Israel for the Keralites. More than twenty thousand Muslim families from Kashmir who have built their houses in the peripheries of Jammu city do not pose the threat of a second Israel to Jammuits.
The Pandits believe that ordinary people in Kashmir valley may not necessarily support the protest call against the return of the native. Some would even welcome them. However, local political leadership, drawing heavily on theocratic reservoir, and with dangerous political aggrandizement, misguides the unsuspecting masses of people by spreading Israel-type canards to whip up their religious passions.
Srinagar hullabaloo is quite certainly for denying the departed native his political space in the valley. After Gerrymandering two of their traditional constituencies (Rainawari and Habba Kadal) in Srinagar, valley majority in the legislative assembly reinforced the policy of denial of political space to the Pandits by another enactment by virtue of which delimitation of constituencies remains disallowed until 2026. In this background, rehabilitation of nearly four lakh Pandits with nearly two lakh voting strength, in a composite locale in Kashmir, would mean defeat of the policy of political ostracizing of the Pandits. This is gall to local leadership: it is at the bottom of the stir against Pandit rehabilitation.
Ironically, those who vociferously apposed the proposition of composite Pandit rehabilitation are the elected members in the assembly. They are out to deny the Pandits the very rights through which they came to occupy a seat in the assembly and pontificate about the departed natives. In simpler language, they want the democratic rights for themselves but are not prepared to concede same rights to the Pandit minority.
Many people do not know that J&K Constitution does not accept any community in the State as minority on any ground, religion, language, culture or ethnicity. However, at the same time, it does not debar J&K religious majority community from their recognition as national minority in the light of Indian Constitution. In simpler words, a member of Kashmir majority community enjoys the privileges accruing to him as local majority as well as national minority.
About a decade and half ago, when I presented the case of ethnic cleansing in Kashmir at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, a great debate ensued in the Working Group on the definition of Minorities. Finally, in the definition clause of “Religious minority”, a sub-clause was added saying that there could be a “reverse minority as in the case of Kashmiri Pandits”. This was for the first time that Kashmiri Pandit community received recognition in UN documentation as a “reverse religious minority.” Regrettably, the then Government of India suppressed this definition to the detriment of the Pandit community.
Evidently, democracy for the people in Kashmir valley means that Indian State should protect and perpetuate the rights of the majority but the majority itself is not prepared to concede the same right to its religious minority. This is how the so-called mainstream political parties that were at the helm of affairs in Kashmir for sixty-six years in the past, nurtured the sapling of democracy. None among political leaders of various hues uttered a single word about the rights of the displaced persons in demanding rehabilitation in their native land in whatever way they liked and felt satisfied. Precisely, this is the recommendation of the Working Group on Internally Displaced Persons made to the UN Human Rights Council and is enshrined in the Charter for IDPs.
Clamor raised on the issue of rehabilitation of the displaced community is meaningless. Show me a single concise, concrete and decisive sentence spoken by any among the rulers in this country that responds to the wishes of the displaced community. Show me single political party that sincerely works towards return and rehabilitation of the Pandits. No party wants to own a no-vote–bank group. Departure of the native from Kashmir is what suits all mainstream political parties without single exception because it suits exclusivist ideology of the majority community of the valley. They will never set up an inquiry commission to probe the rise of armed insurgency and religious extremism in Kashmir. They will never ask for inquiry into Pandit carnages. They will never want to know why the properties of the Pandits were vandalized. However, they will insist on asking Pandits to go to their original homes, which exist nowhere. To tell them to come out with a clear, viable and justifiable formula of Pandit rehabilitation is to show the red rag to the bull.
Pandits know that like Kurds they have no friends. They know they should make the best of their extirpation by opening wings and flying into new climes and continents. Fortunately, they wield two powerful weapons, education and vision. The land where they plant their foot is their motherland.