The natives have a right to return to their land. No one can deny them this right. My classmates, Maharaj, Indu and Indira, my deceased teacher Kashi Nath Raina's children and grandchildren, have a right to return to their land of birth. To live in my neighbourhood as their forefathers lived with those of mine is their birthright. So equally, have my friend Anwar's nieces and nephews, my neighbours, hundreds of thousands from Jammu- my co-religionists and the have-nots living on the line dividing our land who were coerced to leave their homes or pushed across the 'ceasefire line' by the power that be.
In the morning penning down my column, I remembered, 'Roots: The Saga of an American Family', a novel written by Alex Haley that I had read long before as a young man. Then it had shaken me down the spine and made me understand that how even after generations one continues to remain tethered to the roots and instinct to return to the roots survives time and tide. Alex Haley has portrayed this instinct beautifully "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness."
Talking about a sizeable population of Kashmiri Pandits moving out to Jammu in 1990, on 19th January at primetime some shrieking and shrilling anchors and film actors on the corporate satellite television channels had launched a hate campaign against ninety percent sons of the soils. It was astounding, what they wanted to achieve by tarring every individual living in Kashmir in ugly colours. Can such hate campaigns help in the return of the displaced members of the Pandit community living in Jammu province or the states outside Jammu and Kashmir to their native land?
I leave the answer to this question to those who have been orchestrating these discourses. Nonetheless, without restarting a debate on the already much-debated question why and how our classmates, friends and neighbours left their home. Let me say, I believe that this community has every right to observe the day when they left their home and hearth as a day of remembrance. So have the members of the overwhelming majority of the state a right to observe 6 November as day of holocaust and exodus to remember the macabre killings on the same day in 1947. Moreover, the progeny of the peasants, artisans and craftsmen from the majority community who were driven out of their homes in droves like cattle through High Mountain passes into the plains of Punjab and arid lands bordering Afghanistan also have a right to remember those ugly days as the saddest and black days.
The travelogues of the European travellers are painful readings about the suffering of the multitudes- who suffered the brutal tax system and bigoted rule for their faith. European writers Vigne, Moorcroft, Taylor and Kashmiri writers like Paramu and Bazaz have fully documented the miseries inflicted on the overwhelming majority of people by the governors of Ranjit Singh. Writing about making Shawl weavers to pay taxes beyond their capacity Taylor says that 'from shawl weavers of Srinagar alone rupees 12 lakhs were exacted. This, of course, was also what the Kashmiri Pandit tax collector realized as their share of loot.' It is a hard historical reality that Birbal, Raj Kak and Ganesh Dhar were instrumental in inflicting pain and agony on the overwhelming majority after 1819 that had made them migrate in hordes in Punjab. In 1909, in the Lahore city alone one lakh, Kashmiri Muslim were living in most inhuman conditions as refugees in ghettos and struggling for a livelihood.
It is also hard historical reality that role played by Birbal Dhar and his cohorts in the persecution of the majority community was never allowed to enter into the narrative as Kashmiri Pandit community is pitted against the Kashmir Muslim. Birbal Dhar was seen only as a collaborator who had joined the brutal rulers only for his pound of flesh. Notwithstanding, provocation by the cruel revenue officers our forefathers had symbiotic relations with the community they belonged. This this legacy manifested in 1947 on the streets of Srinagar, when despite, the RSS sending its armed band into Srinagar people raised full-throat slogans of brotherhood and denied being part of the communal hatred.
When our elders prevented bloodthirsty demons of communalism from entering into the Kashmir Valley, the butchers of humanity targeted Muslims in Jammu. In a month's time, demography of this Muslim-majority province was changed. The macabre killings and exodus of the Muslims have been documented by important journalists like Ian Stephens of the Statesman and eyewitnesses like Krishen Dev Sethi and Late Ved Bhasin. More than half a million people from Jammu were coerced to migrate to AJK and Pakistan. This exodus was followed by many migrations to the other side of the line in 1965, 1971 and 1990. In 1990, thousands of people living in scores of the villages in the border areas of migrated to the AJK. These unlettered and unskilled people are living in small hutments.
Like the displaced Kashmir Pandits the displaced Muslims who are either living in the AJK or have migrated Pakistan have a right to return to their native land. Let me reiterate at the cost of repeating that the Constitution of the State guarantees their return to their native land. It is not time barred. The sub-sec-2 of section 6 part III reserves the rights of people who migrated even to Pakistan to return to their homes.
Instead, the shrilling anchors debating return of natives to their land let the all the State and India and Pakistan government work out a mechanism for the same.
(ZGM is the author of My city, my dreamland.He is a regular Greater Kashmir columnist)