One of the holes in peace regained prism in Kashmir is non-return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants to their homes in the Valley, which they had started leaving amid an atmosphere of fear 34 years ago. They might be categorized as a miniscule minority in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir , but their current status reflects that they are people of nowhere ,but they do signify and symbolize various aspects of the Kashmir issue and unless they return to the Valley , this issue will stay unresolved . It is a striking fact despite the government of India having claimed that the issue has been resolved with Pakistan pushed to corner and its minions in the Valley retreating to their cocoons in the face of aggressive anti-terrorism operations for the past over four years- the benchmark being the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. The real challenge is to bridge the gap between the generations born both within the Valley and outside of it since their migration. It is not just the physical gap, but that of the ideology, and diametrically opposite view of the reality and narratives. The migrants have become more Hindus – they see everything having gone wrong in Kashmir, where they believe that radicals have overtaken the space and time that existed before they came out of their homes
Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha reiterated on Monday- October 24, 2023, to create facourable scenario for permanent settlement of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley . That speaks of the government’s continuing efforts to improve the security situation to the extent where the Kashmiri Pandit migrants whose number is estimated around three lakhs can go back and live safely in the land of their ancestors. The improvement in the security situation is a fundamental to the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley but more than that creating social and communal harmony of pre-1980s is a greater imperative. That has been lost and it needs repair of a different kind. When security situation is referred as the starting point for their return, what is being ignored is the gap that has widened between the communities. Bridging that gap is the biggest challenge than anything as the security denotes two things- that the security situation is being improved to enable Kashmiri Pandits to return .And, the onus of the matching level of security and peace is being placed on Muslim population in the Valley
Government, by improving the security situation, is legitimizing its anti-terror measures and its definition of peace, in which it sees resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandit community in new pieces of land and homes. Somehow the acceptability of return of the Kashmiri Pandit community among Muslims has not been factored in.
The security aspect has three dimensions for Kashmiri Pandit migrants – first, they had started migration from the Valley when they felt insecure as fears about their existence and way of life came under threat. A historical study of the situation that emerged in late 1980s and early 1990s, shows that the Pakistan sponsored terrorists who had combined their religious and political goals in resisting the Indian rule, took on Kashmiri Pandits as their first target. The community members were seen as last post of India, and also as the only hurdle in creation of their real-time objective of creating an Islamic state.
Three tools were used to achieve the objective of the still elusive Islamic rule in Kashmir. Anti-India campaign that had started in prelude to the arrival of gun. The gun was a manifestation. The anti-India atmosphere did not come with the alleged rigging in the 1987 polls, it had been in the psyche of sections of Kashmiri Muslims since 1930s, when Muslim conference was set up by Sheikh Abdullah. This not only challenged Maharaja’s rule to usher in real time democracy in the state , but more than that it was a revolt against Hindu rule . Kashmiri Pandits had been the victim of this anti-India sentiment. Post Maharaja’s rule, they were subjected to various kinds of hardships. They were given a feeling that they were not as important as they were in the past and they would have to abide by the changed situation and riles – that is Muslim rulers’ way of interpretation of rights and duties. The Pandits ad stated anticipating their bleak future .They started migrating in ones and twos to other places in the country. Some came down to Jammu and others shifted to different parts of the country. But with their great devotion to education, they became quintessential to Kashmir. They were associated with good education and backbone of civil services. It’s true that many Muslims respected them , because they were good teachers , doctors and officials because they outclassed others in learning and imparting education .But by late 1980s , the things had become quite turbulent for the community to the extent that it had become very, very difficult for its members to survive and sustain as Kashmiri Pandits .This was an existential threat for them, as they represented India, Hindus and one of the major obstacles in spreading ideology of radical Islam in which temples , Hindu way of living and their being educated , inspiring teachers, doctors and other professionals had no space .
This space is yet to be regained, despite 65 per cent fall in terrorism and high -end developmental activities. The tourist arrival now close to touching 2 crore this year inspired new confidence in the local population that has been the biggest beneficiary. The moot question, however, remains that whether the local population is willing to share the neighbhorhood, economic fortunes, employment and other social activities with the community that has been outside of the Vale for over 34 years. The links and bonds have broken, and there is none in the new generation inheriting the sense of guilt over the migration of Kashmiri Pandits. Their fellow Kashmiris of late 1980s have either gone to grave and they are too weak to influence the new generation. The sad truth is that the government that many of the Muslim elders, though they continue to reminiscence old days, but they too have come under influence of the period of turbulences. They are not only living with a sense of loss of the Kashmiri Pandit neighbours, but they are also conscious and mourn the loss of thousands of Kashmiri Muslim youth who died, as militants in the anti-terrorism actions or when Kashmiri Muslims were caught in crossfire or deaths caused by the security forces’ actions .So the security situation and its improvement doesn’t hold the key to the return of Kashmiri Pandits back to the Valley.
Second, what all the migrants continue to suffer and endure during the period of migration that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. They became homeless in the matter of days, despite having concrete and well- constructed homes in the Valley. Worse was that they had become refugees in their own state. What they experienced during the migration period, which is continuing with no signs of any deadline for this to end, is a status of people of nowhere. They have outlived their welcome in Hindu majority Jammu long ago. This is worst case scenario for them.
Third , is it really security situation , perhaps though crucial aspect , yet it is not the only factor -their acceptability in Kashmiri Muslim society is the real issue .The laws like abrogation of Article 370 and grant of domicile certificates to the non-permanent residents of the erstwhile state have not yielded conducive atmosphere ill date . If four years have brought tourists in unprecedented numbers, which has restirred the tourism economy to new heights, that should not be seen as permanent peace. Tourists are temporary guests, but the return of the Kashmiri Pandits is something that has to come with a tag of the permanency. This is the real problem for the government to overcome and for the local Muslims to accept Kashmiri Hindus as the neighbours next door.
(Arun Joshi is author of “Eyewitness Kashmir; Teetering on Nuclear War and senior journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir, writes on South Asian affairs)
Disclaimer: This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write-up have nothing to do with www.prameyanews.com.