The Khirbhawani festival has once again brought thousands of migrant Kashmiri Pandits to the shrine at Tullamula. Ever since Pandits left Valley following the outbreak of militancy in 1989, the annual festival hosts the largest gathering of the community. And in the brief period that the Mela Khirbhawani lasts, it recreates the harmonious communal environment that Kashmir has always been known for. The migrant community interacts with the members of the majority community who extend their help in the smooth conduct of the festival. Muslims offer milk in earthen pots to the pandits.
Muslim shopkeepers sell flowers, earthen lamps and other material required in the performance of puja. The pandits who have their ancestral houses in the village visit their neighbours. For once everything becomes same again. One reason for this is that it is the common people of the two communities who meet each other unburdened by the baneful politics that has created imaginary divisions between them and kept them from resolving the real ones. This year's festival has come in the backdrop of the determined efforts by the centre and state governments to rehabilitate the migrant community in Valley.
The plan is to create "composite townships" where Pandits will be resettled along with some proportion of the Muslim population. However, the project has run into serious controversy with political and civil society groups in Valley voicing their opposition to the creation of new colonies, which they believe will be exclusively for Pandits. Similarly, Pandits have practical and security issues of their own. But as many Pandits at Khirbhawani have told this paper, the solution will not lie in politics but in the dialogue between the two communities. More so, when the dominant public opinion in Valley and among Pandits too is to find a way to live together again, like we have done through centuries.
We need a formal and informal civil society contacts, and a serious public debate to discuss and deliberate various solutions and work out a consensus. This may take some time but is the only surest guarantee for a future free of the mutual mistrust and the tension. The Khirbhawani festival provides the best proof of the continuing bonhomie between the communities. That is, if any proof was needed at all.