By Abdul Majid Zargar
With coming to power at New-Delhi, BJP has made the return of Pandiths to Valley a central issue first by a reference to the matter in the President’s address to joint session of Parliament followed by its mention by Minster of Defence, Arun Jaitley on his maiden visit to Srinagar in the last week. It is now learnt that Union Home Minstry has initiated talks with State Govt. & various Pandith groups to work out the modalties of the return.
It must be stated at the outset that every Kashmiri wholeheartedly welcomes the return of Kashmiri Pandits to their roots in the valley as they are part & parcel of the golden history, composite culture & secular ethos of Kashmir. A few observations, however appear in order to put the issue in proper perspective.
There is no denying the fact that with the onset of armed struggle in the valley, few innocent Pandiths became victims of militancy which generated a fear psychosis among the whole community. It was the then Machiavellian Governor Jagmohan, who channelized this fear into a great but devious political game with the twin objective of presenting the indigenous freedom struggle as a communal movement at national & international stage and leaving the streets open for massacring Muslims without inflicting any collateral damage on Pandiths.
Jagmohan’s nefarious role has been commented upon by senior & reputed journalists like Kuldip Nayar ( Times of India 18th April 1997),Brij Bharawaj(Kashmir times dated 25th November 1996) & Balraj Puri (Kashmir Times 21st May 1997). Wajahat Habib-ullah, a top official at that time says that his suggestion to Jagmohan to broadcast an appeal through State media, advising Pandiths not to leave was not accepted. Instead Jagmohan made or caused to be made several announcements that reassured Pandits that if they did decide to leave, refugee settlement camps had been set up for them and also that departing civil servants among the Pandits would continue to be paid their salaries at destination cities. According to political scientist, Sumit Ganguly, – Jagmohan had also announced that if Pandits decided to remain in the Valley, his government would not be able to guarantee their safety. And no wonder then that immediately after his recall by New-Delhi, he was rewarded with a Rajya Saba Seat for a job well accomplished.
Post migration, a false malicious compaign was started against Kashmiri Muslims. The vernacular media particularly from cow-belt regions lent a willing hand in demonizing Kashmiri Muslims. Besides some frivolous charges, it was alleged that Muslims looted & burnt the left over properties of Pandiths. This slanderous campaign continued for a long time till an upright Journalist Aasha Khosa broke the story of an unholy nexus between a DIG BSF, Mr. A.K.Joshi and few unscrupulous owners to torch their properties to claim insurance money.( Indian Express- dated 17-8-2000).
And while Kashmiri Muslims continued to be slaughtered on roads like Gaw Kadal, Tengpur, Zakura, Mashali Mohahlla and many more places, Pandiths, especially the poor & rural folk continued to suffer in camps in Jammu in most atrocious conditions of deprivation. It resulted in Kashmiri Muslims becoming hostage & Pandiths refugees in their own homeland.
The current status of Pandiths is aptly described by Arundhati Roy, an acclaimed writer, in these words. “Apart from losing everything they had and the only home they really knew, the poorest Pandits are still living in camps in Jammu in the worst conditions, and have had their voices hijacked by some well-heeled and noisy charlatans who feed off the destitution of their own people to get a lot of cheap political mileage. They have a vested interest in keeping them poor, so they can show them off, like animals in a zoo.— In all my visits to Kashmir I have sensed that ordinary Kashmiri Muslims feel a terrible sense of loss at the departure of the Pandits. ( interview to Thelka)
In view of these bare facts, it is of utmost importance that the return of Pandiths to their land is not tagged as an “Hindutva issue”. Their return must be graceful sans communal overtones & destination original homes & not separate ghettos. An important caveat is that Kashmiri Muslims have no issues or dispute with them & hence any talk of reconciliation, as put forward by various NGO’s, is simply not applicable.
Author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org