Facilitate the return of pundits from Kashmir
As a law-abiding Indian citizen and Indian Muslim, my heart is broken after witnessing the vile killings carried out by the Resistance Force (TRF) in Kashmir, including those of chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, principal Supinder Kaur and a Kashmiri pundit, Deepak Chand, who had returned from Jammu to his ancestral home, along with thousands of others since 1947. Sadly, the land of Sufi Saints and Sadhus, Syed Bulbul Shah, Mir Sayyed Hamdani, Nund Rishi ( Nooruddin Wali), Utpaladeva, Bhagwan Gopinath, Lal Ded, Rupa Bhawani, Habba Khatoon and many more have become hell
What is more lamentable is that no Muslim group has taken to the streets to condemn the killings. The case became even more heartbreaking when a spokesperson for the National Conference said that of the 30 Kashmiris ruthlessly murdered, 24 are Muslims! This Hindu-Muslim bandwagon that started in 1947 has not wavered to this day.
Police director general Dilbagh Singh said the aim was to attack and undermine the centuries-old tradition of community harmony and brotherhood in Kashmir. And as Srinagar Mayor Junaid Azeem Mattoo said, the attempt was to terrorize the growing number of tourists, as at least 30 to 40 flights had landed in Srinagar.
Such attacks will be a setback for the government’s sincere efforts to rehabilitate displaced Kashmiri pundits. Some time ago, Dattatreya Hosabale, the secretary general of the RSS, rightly said that the displaced Kashmir pundits must now return to their homeland, i.e. the Kashmir valley, with the assurance of their safety and security. Unfortunately, politics in the region has heated up as there is a lobby like JKLF (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front), APHC (All Party Hurriyat Conference) and others who are against it.
Nevertheless, the idea of Hosabalus is in line with humanity and democratic principles. In addition, he must obtain assurances from the current government, including the NSA, that their resettlement must be peaceful. If the Kashmiri pundits are to be rehabilitated, the primary need of the hour, according to Professor Sushila Bhan, is the cleansing of hearts on both sides. When the pundits return there should be no sense of revenge for the wrongs done to them in the past and as kind-hearted brothers, Muslims in Kashmir must not only welcome but help with their resettlement.
Har chehra yahan chand, har zarrah sitara / Yeh wadi-e-Kashmir, hai Jannat ka nazzara! These lines from Aboo, a duo of Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle in the mid-1970s, actually implored me to tell my parents to take me to Kashmir for my summer vacation. I remember that the peace had just started to deteriorate because of the community atmosphere. But the disaster for Kashmiri Hindus did not begin until 1989 and 1990.
Even today, at least eleven major militant organizations, and perhaps dozens of smaller ones, operate in Kashmir. They are roughly divided between those who support independence and those who support membership in Pakistan. The oldest and best-known militant organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), has spearheaded the movement for an independent Kashmir. Its student wing is the Jammu and Kashmir Student Liberation Front (JKSLF).
Although all groups receive weapons and training from Pakistan, pro-Pakistan groups are deemed to be favored by the ISI. The most powerful of these is the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. According to press reports, several hundred fighters from Afghanistan and Sudan have also joined some of the militant groups.
The major incident of ethnic cleansing of the Kashmir Pandits began on September 14, 1989 with a Kashmiri Pandit and political activist, Tika Lal Taploo, who was gunned down outside his residence. On November 4, 1989, High Court Judge Neelkanth Ganjoo was killed.
On January 4, 1990, a local Urdu-language newspaper, Aftab, issued a press release issued by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, asking all pundits to leave the valley immediately. Al-Safa, another local daily, reiterated the warning. On January 9, these warnings were followed by masked jihadists wielding Kalashnikovs who staged militarized marches and openly threatened and killed Kashmiri pundits who opposed them.
As darkness fell, the besieged Pandit community became panicked. A multitude of very provocative, communal and threatening slogans, interspersed with martial songs, urged Muslims to go out into the streets and break the chains of “slavery”.
These slogans were mixed with specific and unambiguous threats against the Pandits. They were presented with three choices: ralive, tsaliv ya galive (convert to Islam, leave the place, or be prepared to perish). Bomb explosions and indiscriminate fire by militants have become daily.
Between 1989 and 1991, over 95% of the valley’s indigenous Hindu population was driven out by a targeted campaign. Since then, around 63,000 families of displaced pandits, Sikhs and some Muslims have been living in camps in Jammu or the RNC region, as well as in other Indian states in India and abroad.
The ruthless ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandit community 30 years ago remains one of the darkest chapters in modern Indian history. The failure of the central government and the state at the time to officially recognize them as “internally displaced persons” and to allow them to return to their countries of origin with full dignity, security and the civil rights they deserve only amplifies this tragedy.
What is heartbreaking is that for 32 years the Pandits of Kashmir have continued to fight for their return to the Valley. They did not do so because the situation in the valley remains unstable and they fear for their lives. Most of them lost their possessions after the exodus and many are unable to return to sell them. Their status as internally displaced persons hurt them in the field of education, as many Hindu families could not afford to send their children to high-end public schools.
Certainly, what Hosabale wished for was something that should have been done decades ago. But previous governments were weak, lacking in resolve and willpower – unlike the current government, which amicably settled issues like the Ram Temple, Section 370, the triple talaq, and Shaheen Bagh. However, Hosabale should also know that due to the separatist and militant element in Kashmir, the return of the Pandits will not be easy. Nevertheless, if the NSA, the military and the state police decide to offer a harmonious life to these original inhabitants, nothing is impossible. The Kashmiri Pandits don’t have to be faced with a repeat of the ’90s.
The writer is the chancellor of the Maulana Azad Urdu National University, Hyderabad