Twenty-nine years on, the ghost of two irreconcilable narratives of the Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims continues to haunt Kashmir. Both communities have not just different but strikingly contrasting memories of what happened in January 1990. While one community recalls the dark days with bitterness of having to flee the Valley amid escalating violence and sense of fear and insecurity, the other is haunted by the string of massacres that followed starting from Gawkadal where security forces pounded down civilians protesting on the streets. Whichever side of the prism one views the days when Kashmir witnessed massive churnings that finally shaped the destiny of the Valley in ways that would have been considered unimaginable, the only agreeable point is that humanity lay in tatters and brutality began scripting its course in Kashmir, deepening the conflict and with that widening the chasm between the two communities, which often collectively view the past in singular narratives.
The narratives are so far apart that till date even the figures of the Pandits killed in Valley during the years of militancy and those who were displaced remain strongly contested. Official figures suggest 219 Pandits were killed and about 50,000 Kashmiris are registered as displaced families, the Hindu right wing groups project the casualties to be higher than a thousand and number of displaced to as high as 7 lakhs, a number that is more than three times higher than the total population of Pandits, according to the 1981 census. Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a Pandit community organization, comprising members who stayed put in the Valley after decades of militancy, disputes these figures and challenges the observance of ‘holocaust day’ observed by some extremist Pandit organisations with documentary evidence pegging total Pandit killings at 650 in all the years of militancy and with a claim that only 6 Pandits were killed prior to January 1990. The events since the eruption of militancy, viewed from these exclusivist and coloured prisms, have failed to reconcile the narratives of Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus. The greater tragedy is that it is the bitter and dominant narratives create barriers and obstruct any attempt to build bridges between the two communities, sharpening the exclusive memories of victimhood of one side with denial about the other side.
It are these contested theories that also obstruct the return of the displaced Kashmiris, though a larger onus is on the government for its inconsistency over the issue. Successive governments have failed to facilitate the process of inter-community healing and the BJP which has used the Kashmiri Pandit victimhood as a ploy to deepen the divide is hardly bothered about their plight. The most brazen reflection of the apathy was the BJP government’s stand in favour of closure on the petition before Supreme Court seeking justice for the Kashmiri Pandit victims of militancy related violence. It is evident that political forces and their petty political interests have widened the gap and bitterness between the two communities, thus making the conflict even more complex than its other political dimensions.
Amidst this dismal scenario, hopes for space of improvement of inter-community relations are often revived by some civil society initiatives. While some groups consisting of both community members have been trying to reach out to each other and entering debates, discussions and an informal dialogue on the social media as well as seminars and conferences, last week a whiff of fresh air came from Mattan, where some displaced community members seeking benefit of employment and rehabilitation package and living in the shabby camps took the initiative of raising donations for a starving Muslim family whose sole bread earner was arrested on militancy charges. These kind of incidents not only renew the faith of the Kashmiris in humanity amidst despairing circumstances, they also point out to the existing space for renewing traditional inter-community bonds despite three decades of bitterness. They also demonstrate that if government efforts for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits have to succeed, they need to be structured around community-based relations.