Kashimiri Pandits : Time To Bring Them Home
The princely state of Jammu & Kashmir had to reluctantly give up the idea of staying independent primarily because of massive polarisation between newly born states of India and Pakistan. Only question remained was when and onto which side, since dynamics of the era didn’t leave it with a chance to chart an independent path. After passage of more than seven decades of intense and conflict filled history a pause to take a look back gives a sense to what went wrong. For Pakistan they lost out on integrating Muslim majority Kashmir, for Jammu & Kashmir it couldn’t stay an independent nation the way it wanted and for India the accession was a bitter pill as it came a bit too late in time when almost half the territory was already lost by the rulers of Kashmir to Pakistan. At the time it wasn’t a happy ending for anyone, it was the cruel fate which tied the region in a complex web of emotions & power struggle. It played out as a love triangle gone sour for one who couldn’t take the rejection and charted upon a lifelong revenge.
The demography of Kashmir reflected less than 5% of minority Kashmiri Pandits and rest were Muslims, giving it a status of Muslim majority state. Representation in the state affairs however, stood at almost 30% for Kashmiri Pandits, they were also better educated and form somewhat elitist part of Kashmiri culture. The part of history from independence till early eighties stayed rather uneventful. It was in eighties that the Kashmir as a leftover agenda started gaining shape and momentum. It also got impetus from the developments taking place within and beyond the region. The Sheikh Abdullah-Indira accord of 1975 is widely alleged to have given sharp inflation to dissatisfaction and a perception of sell out to India among common Kashmiris, which was encashed by both factions fighting for an independent status like JKLF and those who wanted integration with Pakistan like Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir. Beyond the border, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent involvement of Pakistan backed Afghan Mujahideen’s armed struggle and the Islamic Revolution in Iran gave a fillip to militant uprisings in Kashmir and subsequent targeting of Kashmiri Pandits.
As element of radicalisation took roots coupled with some serious political hara-kiri committed by state, Kashmir witnessed the beginning of a phase of armed insurgency, the first to be targeted were Kashmiri Pandits. They formed a minority, defenceless and most vulnerable part of the society who soon faced the wrath of armed militants, Political isolation and indifferent attitude from Delhi. While a tragedy of minority killings, loot and rape was unfolding on Kashmiri Pandits largely committed by radicalised militants and abetted by political class (who termed them as mukhbirs)New Delhi was busy identifying the correct nomenclature to define the impending exodus – refugees, internally displaced people or simply migrants? There’s lot in the name it’s said, as the former two terminologies would have created opportunities for international intervention New Delhi wanted to steer clear of all that this time round- A case of once bitten twice shy. There are different figures of this exodus which suggests, out of 1,40,000 approximately 1,00,000 Kashmiri Pandits left the valley and around 80 were killed. The figures compiled by CIA factbook an open source information, pegs it to be around 3,00,000 while the killings are estimated to be around 300 Kashmiri Pandits. The essence of all these varying data though states exactly the same things – targeted atrocities on Kashmiri Pandits, forced exodus in large numbers and focussed attempt towards ethnic cleansing.
Ethnic Cleansing or a Genocide
There’s No denying that Kashmiri Pandits were persecuted and forced to leave their homeland while the state looked the other way. Transforming Kashmir into a complete homogenous identity of Islamic society required getting rid of entire Pandit community and ethnic cleansing was naturally the most favoured means to this end. Ethnic cleansing was not an innovation by Pakistan’s ISI, the world has already witnessed such catastrophic events during World War 2, when Croatian military took actions to clear off territory of non-Croats in what they termed as “cleansing the terrain”. In the most well documented period of the Holocaust during same period, Nazi Germany pursued a policy of ensuring that Europe was “cleaned of Jews”. In the 1980s, the Soviets used the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the inter-ethnic violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. History has already seen this sick but successful experimentation which became an attractive proposition for ISI’s future plans. Some also termed the events as ‘genocide’ especially as per depictions through popular films and TV documentaries are concerned. However, ethnic cleansing has been distinguished from genocide in a watershed judgement by the European Court of Human Rights on 12 July 2007, while referring to events in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which the court remarked – ‘the intent that characterizes genocide is “to destroy, in whole or in part” a particular group, and deportation or displacement of the members of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group’. The argument gave a credence and clarity towards events leading to Kashmiri Pandits fleeing the region which can be attributed to ethnic cleansing but terming it genocide would be stretching the argument a bit too far.
Time to Turn the Page
The developmental indices reflect a clear shift to rapid growth; the Union Territory’s revenue collection recorded a huge 25.7% growth while GDP grew at 9.58% as compared to previous year. It made the Union Territory’s among top four performing states in terms of year on year growth. Statistics apart some ground facts are even more jaw dropping – Union Territory of J&K clinched a more than $10 Billion investment deal with UAE, mentioning Pakistan here would be apt which continues to beg IMF for a $6 Billion bailout package. This year the tourism economy is expected to shatter all previous records. The fact is Kashmir is not the same anymore, the sense of optimism is unmistakable across the sector be it industries, tourism, agriculture or infrastructure. It’s truly a remarkable effort from all government departments, private sector, entrepreneurs and biggest of all security agencies which have relentlessly worked behind the scene with a singular focus to stabilize and reconnect this region with national mainstream. It’s not that challenges have just vanished; but the crux of change is democratic institutions and local administration now stands empowered to address the issues by themselves.
Life, Livelihood and Sustenance
As per fair estimates more than 60,000 families of Kashmiri Pandits fled the valley, of that 40,000 are staying in Jammu camps, 20,000 in Delhi NCR camps while some others are scattered across other parts of the country. Though developmental data makes an impressive read but may not after all be inspiring enough to drive a swift come back of Kashmiri Pandits. It’s a historical scare on their conscious and needs to be holistically addressed, else it will not have a different fate than what happened to previous endeavours. The rapid evolution over past half a decade coupled with some smart steps expected from government, remains the best hope. A thoughtful look at how the dynamics may be moulded to support the cause will suggest that – life, livelihood and sustenance should form the central theme this time round for resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits.
Demonstrate the Will!
Secured residential settlements are the most basic requirements for this reverse migration to kick start. But making Israel style Jewish settlement for Kashmiri Pandits will be like holding the matchstick from the wrong end. An assessment of places where Kashmiri Pandits are desirous to settle down would give a fair idea to administration to bring up aptly subsidised model and gated townships with larger chunk kept for Kashmiri Pandits and rest of it open for families living below poverty line, this will prevent settlements to become community specific. However, the security framework should remain the responsibility of state Police only. Government must also ensure that atleast one member of each family gets suitable and assured employment, constitutional provisions of reservation for minority in government sector can be explored for same. Incentivising Private sector for including Kashmiri Pandits in their work force. Kashmiri Pandits can be offered lucrative incentives to explore self-employment opportunities. Time also calls for aggressive intervention by government, as confidence building measures for sustenance of these families, steps such as dual domicile status for limited period of say, 50 years, to any other state of their choice, policy for strong financial support & government jobs for next of kin of any victim of terrorism and tours of Kashmiri Pandits can be organised to expose them to current realities. These might appear extremely audacious moves but suchlike actions are need of the hour to thrust them beyond the orbit of continued mental stalemate. Time has now come to visibly demonstrate will of the state!