Kashmir Issue: The Pandit Dimension

Published in Kashmir Herald, Vol. 2/No. 9, by K.N. Pandita.

Editor’s Note: ["While the rhetoric of Mufti Sayeed about restoring Pandits their homes and dignity is indeed commendable, there is yet to be any concrete measure taken by his government to fulfill this tall talk. Kashmir Herald hopes Mufti is not simply blowing hot air just like Farooq Abdullah used to do."]

Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed Sahib has been speaking about the internally displaced Pandits in private and in public. In comparison to the policy and approach of the previous government, it seems he is concerned about the issue. This is a healthy sign, and it is the duty of the internally displaced Pandits to put their case before him in right perspective.

There are apprehensions that he might have, over the years, formulated a subjective view of the entire issue, which can be faulty. Now as the Chief Minister, he has many opportunities of interacting with the Pandit leadership and also with some of his Pandit friends and acquaintances individually.

All this should augur well for the beleaguered community. But one can get down to brass tacks of the complex problem only when one develops a comprehensive and historical understanding of the ground realities in Kashmir. To say that the two communities lived in peace and amity would be a generalization, which time-serving politicians like very much. But it needs clarity and courage to call a spade by its proper name.

There are many cobwebs of confusion and misunderstandings created by irresponsible or incompetent historians about the Pandit minority of Kashmir. From 1339 AD, the date of advent of Islam in Kashmir, the Pandits have been on the receiving end till 1846 AD when Kashmir passed into the hands of the Dogras. Under the Dogra rule, a stop was put to five hundred years of Pandit suppression and oppression by the state machinery.

Many migrations of Pandits took place during this period. Some prominent Pandit families like the Nehrus, Katjus, Saprus, Kaws, Kouls, Tankhahs, Haksars etc. who rose to eminence migrated during the period of later Mughal rulers, Shah Jehan, Aurangzeb and others. Obviously they migrated because of intolerable oppression they had to face in Kashmir. This is well documented in the historical works and biographies related to these personalities.

The second exodus took place during the Pathan rule in mid-18th century. Most of the Kashmir Pandit families then migrated to Lahore and the adjoining areas. Most probably the Saprus of Pulwama from whose line Allama Iqbal descended had also migrated to Sialkot during this period or a little earlier. The poet reflects this in a beautiful couplet.:

Moti adan se lal hua hai yemen se dur
Ya nafeh-e gazaleh hua hai khotan se dur
Hindostan main aye hain Kashmir chhor kar
Bulbul ne ashiyana banaya watan se dur

The policies adopted by the popular government of National Conference soon after its assumption of power in October 1947 created many doubts in the mind of the Pandit minority. Many measures were not in line with the secularist profile claimed by the National Conference. The Land Reform Act dealt a harsh blow to the segment of the minority community that subsisted on their agrarian pursuits Kashmir was the sole example in independent India where land was acquired by the government without any compensation.

The Muslim landed segment managed to convert their holdings into orchards that lay outside the ambit of the Land Reform law. Thus emerged the strong constituency of Muslim orchardists in Kashmir that was to play a crucial role in the wake of the rise of militancy crescendo. This forced many Pandit families that had lost their lands, to bid farewell to Kashmir and seek the means of subsistence outside the State in different parts of India. Thus the process of migration of Pandits continued as before.The next onslaught on continuity of the Pandits in Kashmir was the incorporation of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution that provided special status for Kashmir. The way in which the Shiekh and his colleagues forced the Indian leadership to succumb to their diktat on this issue in the Constituency Assembly in New Delhi is a sordid reflection on the feigned secularist profile of the National Conference. The Shiekh had even threatened to rescind the accession of the State to the Indian Union if his terms were not accepted. Maulana Hasrat Mohani, the well-known Urdu poet and Congress MP in the Constituent Assembly resisted tooth and nail the incorporation of special status for Kashmir, prophetically announcing that it if accepted, it would prove the first step towards polarization of India along communal lines. When the terms were finally accepted, the Maulana went up to Nehru, placed his resignation letter before him and left the Parliament never to return again. Thus Nehru and his henchmen, one and all, disregarded the opinion of the Indian Muslim leadership in the Congress and unwittingly inflicted great punishment on the Kashmir religious minorities.

This development convinced the suspecting Pandits that the Congress –led government at the Centre was hardly any friendly towards them leave aside the State government and its dangerous antics. This prompted them to think of leaving their homes and hearths in search of a life with dignity and respect. Thus from 1947 onwards, the migration of the Pandits continued as usual.

From 1947 up to 1990, all state governments of whatever hue these were relentlessly pursued the policy of persecuting the Pandit minority in Kashmir in novel ways. They were politically disempowered. During the period there were four Delimitation Commissions each gradually diluting the Pandit concentration constituencies. In 1947, there were at least six constituencies, four in Srinagar and two in Anantnag, where the Pandits had 30 to 40 per cent votes. All of these were gradually diluted leaving not intact even the Habba Kadal constituency with 39 per cent Pandit votes. Today it remains appended to Zadibal, a Shia majority segment. In doing so, the NC planners killed two birds with one stone: the Pandit minority and the Shia minority both were hit hard.

In all walks of life, the Pandit minority came to be discriminated against. They were denied representation in the legislative assembly, in the council of ministers and in decision making bodies. In the matter of government jobs, the Pandits were segregated on the baseless plea that they had enjoyed privileges during the Dogra rule. How many Pandits had enjoyed that privilege when the total revenue per year of the State was three lac of rupees? Today the revenue of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is in the neighbourhood of two billion rupees a year. But the Pandits are made to suffer for the sins of a few that had managed to eke out a meager living a century ago.

In the wake of non-existence of private sector enterprises that would have absorbed the educated unemployed brigades of Pandit youth, in the wake of doors of government jobs shut on them, in the wake of their incapability of making any dent into the economic and business sectors, the Pandit youth were left with the only option of leaving their homes and hearth and struggle for a livelihood in the plains of India. The process of migration continued.

This is the physical aspect of Pandit exodus. There is a psychological aspect also no less nagging and compelling. Throughout the period beginning with 1947, the Pandits have lived under immense psychological strain. This was first caused by the conditions created as a result of the tribal invasion of 1947. In the western part of the then Dogra kingdom, the districts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Poonch, Baramulla and Rajouri where the tribesmen perpetrated atrocities, most of the killings of Hindus and Sikhs had taken place on direct or indirect instance of the local Muslim activists. This was hundred per cent true of the killings in Uri, Baramulla, Handwara, Kupwara, Lolab, Sogam, Langet, Sopor, Rafiabad, Pattan, Tangmarg, Magam, Khuihama (Bandipore) Sumbal, Sonawari, and right up to the Hindu localities in the peripheries of Damodar Vuder or the present day airport.

More than the painful reminiscences of the killings, loot and arson during the tribal attack is the falsehood stupendously spread by the NC leadership, and also resounded by the Indian leadership that during the tribal attack on Kashmir, the Muslim majority protected the Hindu minority. Had the tribal marauders entered the city of Srinagar, the holocaust would have no parallel in history. But does it mean that rank falsehood will pass for unsubstantiated truth?

This has been weighing on the psyche of the Pandit. And the result was that he never felt he was secure in the environment that had been created by political entrepreneurs in Kashmir. Despite his best efforts to hark the Central leadership at various level of the dichotomy in the policies of the State government, nobody was prepared to listen to them.

How could the Pandits feel comfortable in Kashmir and how could they feel secure when the stalwart of Kashmir namely Sheikh Abdullah stated in his biography Atash-e-Chinar that the Pandits were the spies and agents of India in Kashmir? What political clout or power had the Pandits to become spies and agents of a government that never responded to their plight? If at all there were any spies of India in Kashmir, they were the cadres of National Conference and its top leadership, which had entered into an accession accord with New Delhi. New Delhi has always adopted an anti-Pandit stance. If it were not that, its Sahitya Akademy, a very prestigious institute would not have conferred its award on the Sheikh’s biography that maligned the Pandits. This is how we explain the psychological strain or psychological exodus of the Pandits.

The Return to Valley
There has been a lot of rhetoric about the return and rehabilitation of the Pandits with “honour and dignity”. The cliché has been prostituted more than what it could take. The simplistic statement suits the Muslim dominated government of Kashmir, it suits the Muslim dominated political parties and it suits the Muslim elite of Srinagar. The reason is that it absolves them of their communal propensities. It washes off their shameful role of contriving the exodus of the Pandits. It puts under wraps the atrocities perpetrated against the Pandits in looting, burning, vandalizing, forcibly occupying, stealing and grabbing their material belongings and properties, lands and houses, shops and orchards. It masks their assault on Pandit cultural manifestations, the temples and temple lands, their age-old preserved artifacts in private homes and in worshipping places. What is more, the greatest loss has been inflicted on them by looting their libraries, which contained the treasures of Sanskrit, Pali and Farsi manuscripts. These looted libraries were dumped on roadsides and put on sale for tuppence as junk. The compulsion of taking back Pandits in bits and in total disarray is not out of any humanistic impulse but merely to whitewash the misdoing of the majority of people in the valley.

The Chief Minister plans to take some of the Pandits to be resettled around two shrines, namely Mattan and Tulamula. What purpose does it serve? Of Mattan resettlement, it is understandable in the sense that since Mattan is an n important stage in pilgrimage to Amarnath, and has also ritualistic history, the Pandit clergy the halting pilgrims will benefit class at this point. If it is so, then it means catering to the insignificant and minimal economic needs of a handful of people from among the Pandits. That does not mean coming to grips with the basics of the problem.

Those who might be willing to respond to the call of the Chief Minister will be the weaker elements among the Pandit community. Why should not the government take the stronger element among the Hindus back to the valley? If there is true secularism, why should not the CM give a call to the Indian nation (both Hindus and Muslims) to come to Kashmir and pave the way for the return of the Pandit community? This should be a strong nationalist section that can come to grips with the government with the dissenting elements, with the broad masses of Kashmiri Muslims and with the entrenched bureaucracy. The Pandit is pro-Indian. If he were not he would not have hazarded the exodus. He could have easily shifted loyalties in order to protect his life, honour and property. On the other hand, a Kashmiri Muslim is a pro-Pakistani. If he were not, he would not have treated the Pakistani terrorist as guest mujahid. He would not have provided him logistical support; he would not have volunteered to be his guide over the arduous passes; he would not have volunteered to be his mentor in identifying the Pandits to be killed; he would not have danced to his tune and destroyed school buildings, libraries, laboratories; he would not have looted banks and vandalized Pandit properties. How is it possible to bring the two communities together for so-called peaceful coexistence when there is inherent divergence in their very ideology and outlook? The simple inference of forcing or enticing the Pandits to return in shambles is only to create conditions for them in the valley where they announce their unstinted support to the separatist movement. That precisely appears to be the intention of the Mufti Sayeed government at the end of the day. If that is what the Pandit has to do, then why did he not do it in 1990? Why did he inflict on himself the untold suffering and privation of exile? Why did he bear the vagaries of weather and human nature?

Another objective of the Mufti Sayeed government in taking a handful of Kashmiris back to the valley in total disarray is to obtain confirmation of the Indian nation (particularly its Hindu segment) of its secular character. In the first place, let us say with regret and with surprise that the Indian nation, most of the Indian leadership and particularly the ruling class in New Delhi and at other State capital do not at all know the nuances of Pandit exodus and displacement. Like and ostrich, they bury their head in the sand and refuse to read the facts of history and the writing on the wall. Secularism is the most defiled word in Kashmir history. There never was secularism and there never shall be. The few hundred thousand Pandit religious minority lived as underdogs. They have lived a life of servility. Because of their numerical insignificance, because of their political bankrujptcy and because of their economic deprivations, the Pandits had no philosophy of life but that of survival. And he learnt the skills of survival amidst tornadoes of persecution and oppression. Therefore one should forget the word secularism. It does not exist in the lexicon of Kashmiris. Let everybody be clear about it. Return of Pandit to the valley after 13 years of total devastation of his history and civilization means exposing him to new enemies with commercial and economic interests – - those who have grabbed his property and ensured his exit.

The Solution
This Pandit question cannot be solved unless the core of the question is addressed. The ground situation is that the Pandits have been extirpated under a well thought plan. It has been meticulously executed. Indian government is a prisoner of Muslim vote bank syndrome. It cannot and will not confront the Kashmir government, Kashmir political leadership, Kashmir civil society, Kashmir bureaucracy and the Kashmir Muslim elite for their communal agenda directed against the Pandits. The Indian state is fully reconciled to an Islamised Kashmir in secular India. This is the ground situation and the Pandits understand it very well. They expect no justice, no fair deal and no humanistic approach by the Indian leadership.

However, since Mufti Sahib is exhorting the Indian nation to consider Pandit issue a national issue, and he is impressing upon the Central ‘Government his decisive policy of taking the Pandits back in disarray, the Pandits will be satisfied if the process goes along the following lines:

1. Constitute an Inquiry Commission headed by a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to go into the reasons of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmir, arming of the fundamentalists, the selective killing of Pandits minority and their exodus from the valley.
2. Develop a mechanism through which the Pandit minority is provided minority rights in accordance with the time to time recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission.
3. Devise a mechanism that gives representation to the Pandit minority in all the three organs of the State particularly in the law making institution.
4. Draw a plan of return and rehabilitation of the Pandits din consultation with their leadership (of all hues) for concentrated living in the valley.
5. The choice of implementing the Union Treaty status to the Pandit homeland is left to the Pandits. If they agree, then the State government should take proper legislative measures that reflect their aspirations.
6. The State government should provide the means of livelihood to each Pandit family. It could be in the shape of providing jobs in public or private sector, advancing industrial loans, not interfering in their educational/professional institutes, which might come up with the passage of time.

These are some of the issues that must be taken up for a threadbare discussion and debate not only on governmental level but on the level of intellectual class and the broad sections of Indian civil society. Why is it that the so-called human rights activists
and organizations in this country never organized a single seminar exclusive on the Pandit issue where the broad features could be thoroughly discussed?

Mufti Sahib has made an appeal to Indian nation. The Indian nation should respond by suggesting a countrywide debate on Pandit issue. The opinions thus framed will certainly help a lot in ironing out the angularities. Otherwise, the exhortations of the CM will mean nothing and will evaporate with the passage of time.

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