|Return of Kashmiri Pandits has to be rooted in uninterrupted inter-community dialogue|
| Amid the ugly clamour of extreme views over the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, a whiff of much needed fresh breath comes from a section of civil society, comprising members of all communities, which has decided to engage with displaced Pandits, government and all political parties to find an amicable solution that is not dictated by separatist calls or unilateral orders issued by the government. The group says they are unanimous to protect Kashmir’s composite culture and will not allow the segregation of Kashmiri society on religious lines. The group has rightly opposed the government decision to create separate and isolated townships for Kashmiri Pandits willing to return and at the same time also opposed the hardline position taken by the separatist groups to launch an
the scheme to bring back Pandits in secluded clusters which they deem are akin to Israeli kind of settlements. Though the devious designs of some in the government in framing such a policy that is likely to create more divisiveness, rather than bridge the divides, cannot be ruled out especially in view of the fact that RSS has time plan of changing the demographics of Jammu and Kashmir by settling outsiders in the state. The controversy has exacerbated apprehensions in the Valley that people from outside the state may be settled in the garb of creating the secluded colonies and townships for Kashmiri Pandits. However, such an excessively reactive response will not the issue, it will arouse and enhance the suspicions of the Pandits keen to return, despite the proclaimed emphasis of the separatist leaders that Pandits should be settled in their original homes and that the Muslims would ensure their safety. This is as over-simplified and immature a suggestion as the plan to settle Pandits in isolated and secure zones is obnoxious.
Neither side would be doing any service either to the safety of Kashmiri Pandits or to the cause of pluralism by taking the high moral ground of being the sole victim and of beginning an unstoppable process of ‘Othering’. While some right wing leaning Pandit organisations have ended up branding the entire majority community as ‘terrorists’ and ‘those who drove them out of their homes’, there are similar unwanted and hard reactions on the other side with the usually moderate legislator Engineer Rashid also chipping in with his rather controversial remark of seeking apology from the Kashmiri Pandits for deserting them. Clearly there are hard feelings on both sides and there are severe doubts and suspicions stemming from collective religious consciousness and the varying perceptions of the events as they unfolded when militancy began and the consequent flight of the Kashmiri Pandits. It may take time to sort out and reconcile these sharply opposed narratives and arrive at a consensus on some bare and bold truths, which may be unpalatable, as of now, among hardliners on both sides.
Pragmatism lies in first of all toning down rhetoric and then reaching out to each other and that is why an effort by a Valley based civil society group comprising of Muslims, Pandits and Sikhs is a welcome one, though one hopes that it goes beyond the rhetoric and indeed manages to engage with all stakeholders as well as with the government. Atleast, the spade work has been done – that is tothe very basic thing that Kashmiri Pandits are a part and parcel of the Kashmiri society and that there is need to begin consultations with them as to how conditions can be made feasible for their return. The government must facilitate this move and allow various groups to meet and interact with each other and ultimately be open to incorporate the suggestions that emerge from these discussions before a return policy is put in place. It has to happen in consultations with all sections of society and all communities. That process must begin at the earliest and needless to point out that that this must be an uninterrupted process.