Pandits: Kashmir's Pariah, Nation's Compatriot

Greater Kashmir

At the outset, this author would take this opportunity to thank Hasseb Drabu for complimenting, in his recent Article “Pandits: the pariah, legally”, my three decade old narrative that Kashmiri Pandits, the Indigenous people of Kashmir, are integral to the land of Kashmir. He has wittingly or unwittingly, opened new vistas for the Kashmiri Pandit political demand and its resolution ie, the establishment of their homeland in Kashmir. He has also raked up, in a subtle way, the “silver lining” for carving out the Jammu state for Jammuites, keeping in view their long battle for their existence.

It is a fact that the Kashmiri Pandits played a key role in convincing the nation about the necessity of abrogation of Article 370 and 35A as victims of their fallout in various ways. This is also true that they rejoiced the happening once the gutsy government in New Delhi went for the kill with determination and resolve in August last year. In a larger scheme, a man of the stature of Drabu knows well and surely, that the issue of domicile is peripheral, politically speaking, once the “monster” stands dead and buried for good. However, the hangover of the monster may have its toll, for some time more.

The Kashmiri Pandits, throughout the last three decades of exile, took their issue/s from the small and undeveloped narrow lanes of Jammu city to the sprawling lawns of India Gate in New Delhi, from the Press Club of Jammu to The Hague, the legal capital of the world, from the Jantar Mantar in Delhi to the extravagant Geneva, from Mumbai small screen to Cansas & London in Europe, from Muthi and Jagti Refugee camps to the politically exorbitant New York and Washington DC. It was a political fight of different sorts where not only a state or a nation, but the global players and international opinion makers were to be convinced that they were fed with only a one-sided story about Kashmir till date.

Gallantly did Kashmiri Pandits their job to tell the world that  it was a design to ethnically cleanse the Kashmir valley of the “pariah” for good to establish a theocratic state in or outside the domain of Indian union. The politically marginalised, economically squeezed and socially isolated Pandits, the paraih in Kashmir, became the first targets and victims of their genocide which led to their extermination from the land that they belonged to from days immemorial. They were conscious of the fact that it was not their first exodus, and such persecution they had to suffer earlier as well, and so only, because they were the Hindus of the Kashmir valley they built with their own hands.

The struggle beyond 1990 was not a fight similar to the struggle led by one of their genius greats, Birbal Dhar, who adventurously in 1819, made a political deal in the Lahore Darbar with Maharaja Ranjeet Singh to end the Pathan rule in Kashmir. Jabbar Khan, the Afghan governor, had, by then, earned the honour of being called “Jabbar-Jandha” by all sorts of Kashmiris in Kashmir. The Sikh forces under the political leadership of Birbal Dhar forced Jabbar Khan in Shopian battle grounds, to escape to a place from where he remained untraced till date for the last two hundred years.

This time the battle had to be fought in an entirely different way. Constitution, democracy, elected governments, media glaze, human rights, seminars and conferences with resolutions and documents, processions and parades, sloganeering and speeches, exhibitions and books made the march for Kashmiri Pandits somewhat easy since they were the victims of all these banners right from 1947 onwards. Having experienced the inevitable, they graduated in the art of struggle in exile, and made the difference with sheer hard labour, wit, pen, determination and character. It was similar to learning while earning, and the struggle paid off after a long and laborious “fight for right and rights”.

This author has been consistently saying that there were four factors responsible for the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the valley, i.e.:

1. The fundamentalism sponsored and abetted by Pakistan,

2. Connivance and support of J&K government to the crusade against the Pandits in the valley.

3. Failure of successive Governments in New Delhi right from 1947 to discharge their responsibilities in Jammu and Kashmir, and

4. The abject surrender of the Muslim majority community in Kashmir to protect the minuscule minority, the Pandits in 1989-90.

Some important public personalities in Kashmir, over the last one decade, expressed their unconditional apology to the Pandits for their failure to protect them in their hour of need. They went to admit that even the Jagmohan theory was a conspiracy against them. Some even talked in terms of “forget and forgive” in this context. With all humility at command, Kashmiri Pandits have ceased to be vengeful right in the womb of their mothers. They may forgive, but they cannot forget the facts of history since they need to learn from them for all times to come. That is the only guarantee not to commit the historical mistakes again.

Coming to the domicile issue, it should not be surprising now why the J&K Bank, the financial position of Jammu and Kashmir or the para paraphernalia attached with them came to such a low recently. The genesis is old and deep rooted and every Finance Minister of the state and every Chairman of the bank contributed to the mess. But here is a man, dear friend Drabu, who was in both the positions to deliver, at different intervals. One example will set the ball rolling. His assertion that the Kashmiri Pandits have been left ‘high and dry’ after the release of the Domicile Notification is a glaring example as to how the reading, study, research, analysis and development of an issue used to be done at the highest level in the state now Union Territory of J&K.

The Notification grants the domicile rights, even after the amendments, to four categories of people in Jammu and Kashmir. One category includes specifically, the Kashmiri Pandits, in the form and nomenclature of the “Registered Migrants” with the Relief Commissioner’s office at Jammu. A poltician-bureaucrat-former minister can commit such a mistake on record is indeed appalling. This author, immediately after the amendments in the Notification, was the first to take up the matter with the relevant quarters about the fifth catagory of people belonging to Jammu and Kashmir who were not included in the Notification. Articles by me in this connection were published by all the top three English newspapers of the state in the month of April 2020. This fifth category of people includes hereditary residents belonging to all faiths and regions in the UT, Kashmiri Muslims included which Drabu didn’t refer to.

It is an issue of natural justice and so needs to be taken up forthwith. The Gazette Notification is silent about this important and an integral section of the J&K society. It becomes our moral duty to express our concerns in this regard and espouse the rightful claim of the people who otherwise should have been ordinarily included in the Notification as the fifth category of the Domiciled people of the UT of Jammu & Kashmir. The people of Jammu and Kashmir since times immemorial have been going to the regions outside their state for education, business, jobs and other assignments. Time to time persecutions have also led to their exodus from their homestead. Sometimes they would come back to their state and live and settle there once again. However, since 1947, the time of our independence, this process did not stop.

The original inhabitants and the hereditary residents who possessed the certificate of state subject of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state continue to live outside Jammu and Kashmir in many parts of India and the world. Since they are not in a position to prove their stay of 15 years in the state/UT, hence they are not covered by the new Notification on Domicile issue. Similarly, most of them are also not registered as “migrants” with the office of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner. In such a situation, this vast chunk of our brethren belonging to Jammu and Kashmir state ceases to be the Domicile of the UT of J&K, though they possess the Hereditary State Subject certificates as well.

I raised this issue with the official representative of the PMO and the government of India some days ago and it needed to be pursued further. It would be the travesty of law of natural justice including the human rights infringement, along with the denial of indigenous people’s rights to the hereditary state subjects to deny their birth right to them to be a part of their birth-land, both physically and legally. The new law can’t be arbitrary in this regard at any cost.

As per a rough estimate, there are half a million of such people living all round the world since 1947 and they originally belong to the divisions of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and parts of the occupied land of Jammu and Kashmir. All such people among them who possess valid state subject certificates of J&K, the progeny of their blood and the daughters-in-law in their families have a natural and legal right to claim the Domicile status, irrespective of whether they are included in the Notification or not.

It would be in the fitness of things that the government of India, at both the levels, Prime Minister’s Office & Ministry of Home Affairs reviews the new law in this perspective and takes the concerned into confidence before taking the last call. Interpretation, rules and by laws for the recruitments are yet to come, but this Gazette notification will have an overriding effect on the land laws and rules in the UT, eventually. Therefore, it becomes important to make it sure that the fifth category of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir are granted hearing and justice in time and the government makes amends before it is too late.