Truth and Reconciliation
Kashmiri Muslims and pandits are trying to come to terms with the divide between them
POINT OF VIEW BY RIYAZ AHMAD
After a while, Kashmiri pandit migration is back in focus. This time, the mood is more introspective and less bitter. This is evident in the movie I Am by the director Sanjay Suri, himself a Kashmiri pandit whose father was killed by the gunmen in 1990. The movie has triggered fresh debate about the circumstances of the pandit migration from Valley and the relations of the community with the Muslim majority in the state. And for once, there is an element of recognition of each other's pain in the discourse.
The resulting environment of reconciliation has been further aided by the return of around 1700 pandits to Valley as part of the Prime Minister's Rehabilitation Policy. And what is heartening about the development is that not all of them are staying at the housing blocks set up at the secluded places by the government. Many have gone back to live in their native villages as tenants with their Muslim neghbours. Separatist leaders have contributed their mite by extending a warm welcome to them. Hurriyat (G) chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani went to meet the pandits staying at a camp in South Kashmir. Similarly, JKLF supremo Yasin Malik did the same. He raised his voice for the missing Kashmiri pandit youth in North Kashmir.
While we need to appreciate the positive tenor of these developments, the reconciliation will need the two communities to confront and accept the truth of what came to pass in the first place.
The current mood of introspection provides a rare opportunity to revisit the troubling source of the prevailing estrangement between them. The Pandits fled Valley soon after the outbreak of the separatist violence towards the end of 1989. Their migration has also its explanations and counter-explanation. While Muslims generally believe it was the handiwork of the then Governor Jagmohan, the pandits too have a standard reasoning: their selective and exclusive killings by the militants. Even though, one could grant a shade of truth in both the accounts, there was a fundamental apolitical driver of Pandit migration which both the communities find unattractive. That is, Pandits also left for ideological reasons. Here was a community caught unenviably between the expectation of a majority community with contrary political aspirations and the allegiance to a country they called their own.
What made things further difficult was that the majority population was locked in an unyielding tussle with this country which severely tested pandits’ efforts to negotiate the divide. And within the first year of the separatist movement itself, the pandit community had reached a point of no-negotiation and its own moment of truth. Random killings of its members only further accelerated this end-of-the-road feeling. Because they didn’t believe in the militant movement for an independent Kashmir or accession to Pakistan, why get killed alongside a struggle they had no stakes in.
But while we acknowledge the haplessness of the community under the circumstances, there is a parallel narrative, historically more convoluted and with a humanitarian angle that is much more pronounced. It is not the ‘rightness or wrongness’ of the situations that makes it so but the sheer size of the relative suffering. And it is the suffering of the Muslim majority in Valley in the course of the separatist revolt. Of course, it is difficult to blame a particular community for launching a political struggle or to put it more neutrally, for getting caught in an unfolding historical process. And once we have sorted out this intellectual tangle, one can formulate a degree of moral equivalence between the situations of the two communities.
The narrative of the Muslims in the state goes like this: Pandits were not selectively killed. Many more Muslims also died along their side for the same reasons. That the Pandit killings were essentially political rather than communal in nature. And of course, Jagmohan played a certain role in seeing pandits off. There is also an argument that the volume of the tragedy of Muslims in the state is disproportionately bigger than that of the pandits. Some call for the “compartmentalization of the grief”, which, it is argued, makes the Kashmiri pandit situation a small part of the larger Kashmir tragedy. Some also refer to a degree of recognition and sanctity for pandit deaths and complain that the killings of Muslims by comparison has become as a statistical heap, with ever-growing number of widows and orphans littering the landscape. This narrative feels outraged by the allegations of genocide by some Pandit sections, over-the-top propaganda about Talibanization of Valley, website after website spewing hate against Muslims of Kashmir and distortion of history.
There is a valid counter to this thinking among Pandits. That is, while Muslims are seen to have suffered for their rebellion against the state, pandits suffered for the mere fact of being co-inhabitants of the place. The community also harbours some genuine existential fears. While migration may have plugged a substantial section of pandit community into a brave new world of opportunities – many from the community largely make up a prosperous slice of Kashmiri diaspora – the community is menaced by some real doubts about its survival and identity that that have a resonance over and above the indignities of the camp life. The community has a legitimate all-pervading fear of ethnic extinction. And nothing exemplifies this better than the websites like kashmiribhatta.in whose singular task is documenting the names and profiles of Kashmiri Pandits in the country and their diaspora. The kashmiribhatta.in was launched in Jammu in February, 2008. “Knowledge about the community is fading,” wrote the site promoters grimly. “It needs all out effort to revive the same”. One can also find the exclusive kashmiri pandit matrimonials on some sites. There are also the lists of prominent pandit personalities on wikipedia documenting names of everybody from philosophers to politicians, bureaucrats to journalists and theatre artists to film actors. The community is also paranoid about its institutional and religious properties in the valley which it alleges are being sold off in the absence of effective government legislation to check it.
Over the past two decades, not only has Pandit issue become tangled with the larger Kashmir problem, acquiring the fraught political overtones of its own, but their return to their former homes is still viewed as a tricky proposition. So much so, that their return and rehabilitation in Valley has become the most exacting yardstick of the normalcy in Kashmir. Kashmir , it is said, can hardly be called truly peaceful until Pandits are able to return and settle back freely.
But this is not easy. Return and resettling back into the warp and woof of Kashmiri life cannot happen by state intervention which so far has tried to do it by building separate walled blocks and creating pandit ghettos. Such an approach will only perpetuate the divide and may even render it permanent. Only path is an honest acknowledgement of the truth of each other's narrative and building on it a vision of a shared future. But does this idealistic and wishful prospect have any chance in an intrinsically flawed setting of Kashmir, where vested interests monopolize the agenda and often subvert a clear perspective of the reality. But then what is the way-out?
Lastupdate on : Tue, 24 May 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 24 May 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 25 May 2011 00:00:00 IST
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