By Kashi Pandit.
The Pandits are the small Hindu religious minority of Kashmir Valley of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1990, Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists made them the target of ethnic cleansing of Kashmir and finally forcing their extirpation from their homes and hearths. Ever since, the displaced community numbering nearly four hundred thousand is living in exile in different parts of India or in camps.
In a recent public meeting, Minister of State in the office of the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh asserted that the small religious minority of Pandits, extirpated from their homes in valley of Kashmir in early 1990 because of its ethnic cleansing, would return to the valley, the place of their origin. Some more public personalities have also said the same thing.
The other day there was a reference to the Pandit religious minority in the Legislative Assembly of J&K State also. In all probability, the issue will come up again in the State legislature.
The Minister is not only a good friend of the displaced Pandit community he is also knowledgeable about the story of ethnic cleansing and their exodus in 1990 and the aftermath of it. Naturally, we expect him to be less rhetorical and more insightful in the matter of Pandit return.
Since the issue is likely to become a subject of animated discussion in the legislative assembly soon, let us reflect on its seamy side enabling the lawmakers to be rational, fair and just.
From Pandit point of view, raising return and rehabilitation issue at various government or non-government sponsored levels is a ploy to circumvent the core issue of the Pandit religious minority community. It is to distract their attention from serious and fundamental issues to a non-starter, namely return and rehabilitation.
The core issues of the community are different from rehabilitation. We need to go to the roots. These are (a) current nomenclature (b) minority status (c) defining secularism, and (d) court of inquiry. We shall deal with each in some detail.
After their mass exodus in 1990, official nomenclature given to the Pandits is “migrants”. The nomenclature is contrary to ground reality being politically motivated. Migrants move to and forth out of their free will. Pandits left homes out of fear to life and honour. They cannot return as long as this threat persists. Under international law and the Human Rights Charter, their proper nomenclature is Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) because they have not crossed the borders of their country. Identifying them with migrants denies them the wide range of rights that accrue to them as IDPs especially the right to seek asylum in a foreign country because under UN Human Rights Charter they enjoy all the rights of Refugees.
The second core issue is of conceding religious minority status of the displaced community. The Constitution of J&K recognizes no group of its citizens as minority group on any count, religion, language, ethnicity or culture etc. However, the leadership of the premier political party of J&K, viz. National Conference of the days of framing the Indian constitution stubbornly insisted on inclusion of Article 370 in the Indian Constitution and special status for J&K State. Their plea was that J&K being a Muslim majority State needed constitutional safeguards against a numerically Hindu dominated Indian Union. We find some logic in this demand and, similarly, rights of Pandit religious minority in a predominantly Muslim State of J&K needed protection through special constitutional measure. As long as Pandits remain deprived of their minority rights, their return and rehabilitation in the valley under whatever module means relegating them to total political deprivation and loss of identity, and currently to blatant discrimination. The Pandit minuscule minority is too shocked to accept refoulment.
Interestingly, having safeguarded the rights of Muslim majority in J&K State of the Indian Union through Constitutional provision, the State hastened to disallow the rights of the J&K minority groups in the same breath. This brings double benefits to the Kashmir religious majority community while depriving its religious minorities of all benefits which otherwise would accrue to them if they were recognized as state level religious minority. The UN Human Rights Working Group on Minorities has formally recognized Kashmiri Pandits as “reverse minority”. Bringing in an amendment to State Constitution that recognizes the status of religious minorities is much more urgent and important a task than indulging in futile exercise of raking up return and rehabilitation issue of the IDPs.
The third core issue is re-defining “secularism” in the background of the history and politics of post-insurgency period in Kashmir. From Pandit point of view, the land of Kashmir valley is with India but not her people. Please discount so much of superfluous rhetoric in this context. Definition of secularism has to be made through the prism of valley Muslim leadership of all hues, pseudo-nationalist, anti-nationalist, pro-Pakistanis and pseudo-Pakistanis, one and all. Each segment has its own explanation. A Pandit would return to a place where he has not to see Pakistani, ISIS or black flags hoisted all around him; where Indian flag is not abused and desecrated at private and public places; where 14 August is not a day or revelry and 15 August a day of mourning. Pandits would like to know whether returning to live in such environs is in consonance with the definition of secularism in the lexicon of J&K Government. Theoretical interpretation aside, practically Kashmir is a diehard pro-Wahhabi State within Indian secular structure. Pandits want to go back to an Indian secular-democratic state and not an Islamic theocratic carnival. A State with its largest minority community extirpated at gunpoint cannot claim to be anywhere close to secularist dispensation. This has no takers. The Pandits summarize the attitude of local majority community in the simple sentence “get guns from Pakistan money from India”. To Pandits this is not acceptable.
The Chief Minster and the Prime Minister both publicly stated that Pandits would be rehabilitated in concentration in Kashmir. Hell broke out in the valley with this announcement. Not only were there widespread strikes and demonstrations against Pandit return, there were exchanges of harsh words also in the legislative assembly as well, where entire opposition including many on treasury benches joined their voice with volatile public in opposing the return of the Pandits. This demands re-defining of secularism. Pandits would want to return to their native land and not to the fief of particular community where not the law of the land but the sweet will of the fanatics prevails.
A natural corollary of demand for definition of secularism leads to the imperative of appointing a commission of inquiry into the rise of fundamentalism and armed insurgency in Kashmir in 1989 onwards, leading to the genocide of the community, killing of hundreds of innocent members and rape of their women and brutalities unparalleled in the history of barbarians. One young female teacher was gang raped and then cut into pieces under a machine saw.
The finding of this commission of inquiry will be the decisive factor about the return and rehabilitation of the IDPs.
Government should stop the divide and rule policy by doling out false promises and fake concessions to returnees. It should put the return and rehabilitation on the back burner, and take up the core issues already stated. The proud Pandits have nothing more to lose if their return is delayed by another half a century, by which time Kashmir will have reached the saturation point of hatred, viciousness and Wahhabi bigotry. As long as Kashmir has the beggar’s scrip slinging from its shoulder, and New Delhi has Don Quixotic bravado of munificence for the barbarians, Pandits must remain reconciled to their present state.
Lastly and importantly, the Government should constitute a joint committee of the Relief and Rehabilitation Department and the IDPs to submit a status report on the condition of the Pandits garrulously given petty jobs under PM’s policy package and posted to remotest nooks in the valley including those vulnerable to the terrorists from across the border. We have reports that they are in a very bad shape and need redressing of their grievances. A representative of PMO should also be part of the committee because these IDPs are employed under the PM’s policy package.
Kashi Pandit is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India.