The migrant Kashmiri pundits once again raised the issue of separate homeland during their meeting with the Home Minister recently. Interaction with pundits, however, reflects that only a handful of persons, who accidentally became the leaders of the community, put forth such demand for purely political reasons. The community has rightly disowned such leaders.
A twenty-five year designer in my office has not seen the pundits. Their, homecoming, therefore, makes no difference to him. Similarly a pundit boy of same age has not seen Kashmir. He is not nostalgic about the Valley like his elders. He does not want to come back. The generation that is nostalgic about Kashmir will fade away in a decade or so. What happens after that? The policy makers in New Delhi must have considered this question. Notwithstanding this, New Delhi seems keen to settle the pandits in air tight compartments in Kashmir. The Chief Minister has been asked to identify land for `creating a state within a state'.
The people of Kashmir have never objected to the return of the pundits. In fact they have been extending invitations to them from time to time. When some of them come here for pilgrimage or tourism, the Muslims accord them a warm welcome, take them to their places, feed them and make them comfortable. But, the response from the pundits has been very discouraging especially since 2010.
Shabir Shah was manhandled during a press conference at Jammu immediately after his release in 2010. Syed Ali Geelani was almost assaulted by some furious young men at New Delhi. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq was heckled three times by the so-called nationalists. Earlier Malik Muhammad Yasin received some tough moments at the hands of migrants. A case of sedition was filed against Geelani, Arundhati and Prof. Sheikh Showkat Husain for the views they expressed at a seminar. The attacks on leaders came at a time when they (leaders) felt the need to reach out to the people of India but the migrant turned `nationalists' seem determined to foil all such attempts. And this has not gone down well with the people of Kashmir. Now they have started believing that the migrants have been excessively pampered by the government and also by the pro-resistance leadership.
However, the people of Kashmir still want them back and are ready to play an important role in their honourable return and rehabilitation at their native places. Seperate homeland or compartments are simply unacceptable. The government of India and the migrants have to bear in mind that the people of Kashmir alone can facilitate return of the pundits. The government of India with all its military might has failed to get them back in twenty- seven years. An experiment urging the pundits to stay in Valley after their appointment has failed. Some people were appointed and made to live in quarters at Ganderbal, Budgam, Pulwama and elsewhere. All of them want to go back. They do not want to live in a `prison'. This is what they have repeatedly conveyed.
Kashmir is known for pluralism and inclusiveness. pundits and Muslims have lived together peacefully for centuries. But something went wrong in 1990 and Kashmir lost this speciality. Twenty-seven years down the line, they are willing to uphold this glorious tradition. But New Delhi cannot thrust pluralism on them for its political compulsions.
It seems that the most important exercise about the issue has not been undertaken yet. Are pundits interested in coming back? Has anybody asked the most important question? Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR) sponsored interactions between the two communities shows that the pundits especially their youth are not ready to return. Of course some elderly people want to visit the valley for nostalgic reasons. Most of them do not want to settle here permanently. The youth believe that they have got azadi (freedom) from what they call `Muslim hegemony'. They get admissions in technical institutions, jobs in multi-national companies-something which they could not even dream of in Kashmir. So why should they come back?
Another unfortunate development that has to be considered by Kashmiris, their leadership and New Delhi is the declining number of `resident' pundits. The number has registered a marginal decrease during the past seven years. Now a few families live here. Has somebody explored the reasons?
There is no dearth of saner elements in the pundit community. A harsh reality has dawned on them and they seem genuinely concerned. According to them, the pundits have drowned in a huge human ocean called India. The race is getting diluted with every passing day. After fifty years, the endangered Saraswat Brahmin may go extinct. The race needs to be preserved but not the BJP way. It cannot be preserved in a hatchery. The elements mentioned above have already taken a series of measures and are in touch with the people in Kashmir. They have urged the younger generation to speak in Kashmiri, avoid family planning and strengthen Kashmiri culture. Their joint efforts may one day fix the problem. Rushing through the process in a mechanical way is not going to serve any purpose. The migrants for the information of all are not experimental animals.
(Author is Senior Editor Greater Kashmir)