What about Kashmiri Pundits? Three Decades of Exodus

By Ram Puniyani

This January 2020, it is thirty years since the Kashmiri Pundits’ exodus from the Kashmir valley took place. They had suffered grave injustices, violence and humiliation prior to the migration away from the place of their social and cultural roots in Kashmir Valley. The phenomenon of this exodus had been due to the communalisation of militancy in Kashmir in the decade of 1980s. While no ruling Government has applied itself enough to ‘solve’ this uprooting of pundits from their roots, there are communal elements who have been aggressively using ‘what about Kashmiri Pundits?’, every time liberal, human rights defenders talk about the plight of the Muslim minority in India. This minority is now facing an overall erosion of their citizenship rights.

Time and over again in the aftermath of communal violence in particular, the human rights groups have been trying to put forward the demands for justice and rehabilitation of the victim minority. Instead of being listened to those particularly from Hindu nationalist combine, as a matter of routine shout back, where were you when Kashmiri Pundits were driven away from the Valley? In a way the tragedy being heaped on one minority is being justified in the name of the suffering of Pundits and in the process violence is being normalized. This sounds as if two wrongs make a right as if the suffering Muslim minority or those who are trying to talk in defence of minority rights have been responsible for the pain of Kashmiri Pundits.

During these three, many political formations have come to power, including BJP, Congress, third front and what have you. To begin with, when the exodus took place Kashmir was under President’s rule and V. P. Singh Government was in power at the centre. This Government had the external support of BJP at that time. Later BJP led NDA came to power for close to six years from 1998, under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Then from 2014, it is BJP, with Narendra Modi as PM, with BJP brute majority is in power. Other components of NDA are there to enjoy some spoils of power without any say in the policies being pursued by the Government. Modi is having absolute power with Amit Shah occasionally presenting Modi’s viewpoints.

Those blurting, ‘what about Kashmiri Pundits?’ are using it as mere rhetoric to hide their communal colour. The matters of Kashmir are very disturbing and cannot be attributed to be the making of Indian Muslims as it is being projected in an overt and subtle manner. Today, of course, the steps taken by the Modi Government, that of abrogation of Article 370, abolition of clause 35 A, downgrading the status of Kashmir from a state to union territory have created a situation where the return of Kashmiri Pundits may have become more difficult, as the local atmosphere is more stifling and the leaders with democratic potential have been slapped with Public Safety Act, where they can be interned for a long time without any answerability to the Courts. The internet had been suspended, communication being stifled in an atmosphere where democratic freedoms are curtailed which makes the solution of any problem more difficult.

Kashmir has been a vexed issue where the suppression of the clause of autonomy, leading to alienation led to rise of militancy. This was duly supported by Pakistan. The entry of Al Qaeda elements, who having played their role against Russian army in 1980s entered into Kashmir and communalized the situation in Kashmir. The initial Kashmir militancy was on the grounds of Kashmiriyat. Kashmiriyat is not Islam, it is synthesis of teachings of Buddha, values of Vedant and preaching’s of Sufi Islam. The tormenting of Kashmiri Pundits begins with these elements entering Kashmir.

Also, the pundits, who have been an integral part of Kashmir Valley, were urged upon by Goodwill mission to stay on, with local Muslims promising to counter the anti Pundit atmosphere. Jagmohan, the Governor, who later became a minister in NDA Government, instead of providing security to the Pundits thought, is fit to provide facilities for their mass migration. He could have intensified counter militancy and protected the vulnerable Pundit community. Why this was not done?

Today, ‘What about Kashmiri Pundits?’ needs to be given a serious thought away from the blame game or using it as a hammer to beat the ‘Muslims of India’ or human rights defenders? The previous NDA regime (2014) had thought of setting up enclosures of Pundits in the Valley. Is that a solution? Solution lies in giving justice to them. There is a need for a judicial commission to identify the culprits and legal measures to reassure the Pundit community. Will they like to return if the high handed stifling atmosphere, with alarge number of military being present in the area? The cultural and religious spaces of Pundits need to be revived and Kashmiryat has to be made the base of any reconciliation process.

Surely, the Al Qaeda type elements do not represent the alienation of local Kashmiris, who need to be drawn into the process of dialogue for a peaceful Kashmir, which is the best guarantee for progress in this ex-state, now a Union territory. Communal amity, the hallmark of Kashmir cannot be brought in by changing the demographic composition by settling outsiders in the Valley. A true introspection is needed for this troubled area. Democracy is the only path for solving the emigration of Pundits and also of large numbers of Muslims, who also had to leave the valley due to the intimidating militancy and presence of armed forces in large numbers. One recalls Times of India report of 5th February 1992 which states that militants killed 1585 people from January 1990 to October 1992 out of which 982 were Muslims and 218 Hindus.

We have been taking a path where democratic norms are being stifled, and the promises of autonomy which were part of the treaty of accession being ignored. Can it solve the problem of Pundits?

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