The untold story of Kashmiri Pundits- from beginning to end

Of the varied landscapes of India, one of the most proclaimed places is the Kashmir valley. Its beauty has enchanted thousands over many years and inspired countless poets. A good measure of Indian movies in all languages has been set in the scenic valley. As everyone knows, although the muslim majority valley is famed for its beauty, it is also known for the violence it has been witnessing over all these years.  It seems while India is having its tryst with destiny, all that Kashmir has had is tryst with violence, and over the past two years, it has reached very high proportions.

Almost every day there are reports of militant attacks, and the security forces themselves admit that a large number of home-grown militants have sprung up. Where this insurgency leads Kashmir and how it is going to be put down are to be seen. One thing is clear, there is general public discontent over a large issue and the political parties claiming to represent Kashmiri people have simply lost the plot. But we will leave the current unrest and rewind to another one that happened around 27 years ago.

On January 20, 1990, violence broke out again in the Kashmir valley, this time targeted at the Kashmiri Pundit community. There had been a festering unease between the majority Muslims and the minority Hindus in the valley. The complete history of the relation between the Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims is quite complex and well beyond the scope of this article.  It is generally agreed that full blown riots broke out against Hindus of the valley in 1984, 1985 and 1986, after which the state Government under Chief Minister Ghulam Mohammad Shah was promptly dismissed. In 1987, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) started its violent operations. On January 19, 1990 Mr. Jagmohan was appointed Governor of J and K, which lead to Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah resigning immediately (due to a former political feud existing between them).

Kashmiri Pundit homes were looted and burnt. Local news papers had been carrying messages ordering exodus of Kashmiri Pundits for sometime already and the Mosques joined them by playing communal messages in their loud speakers over and over again. Using loudspeakers, almost all mosques openly warned Hindu men to flee frm the valey leaving their women for Muslims.

Ultimately many Hindus were killed cold blooded,  their women were raped  and their chindren thrown away. There was no option but to leave Kashmir if one was not Muslim. And there started the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits. They became refugees in their own country. The large scale exodus of Kashmiri Pundits is well documented and many first hand accounts are available. The issue is why are perpetrators of the riots not being brought to justice and why are the Kashmiri Pundits still, after 27 years, living as refugees.

The despicable conditions of the refugee camps in Jammu, Delhi and other places is a known fact. The State and Central Governments have taken note and introduced various packages for the return of the Kashmiri Pundits to the Kashmir Valley. All good on paper but there seems to be very little actual return of the Pundits.

Now there may be demand for an Islamic Nation to be carved out of the valley , but if one reads the hisory they would say it is unfair to even expect to impose Arabic laws in here. Kashmir was founded by Rishi Kashyap around 3,200 years ago and his followers came to be known as Kashmiri Pundits. Kashmir remained a secular state where Hindus, Buddhists, Shaivists etc. lived together and not even a single riot was among religious communities has been reported. The secular land became religious only after Shah Mir invasion in the 14th century when he imposed Islamic laws in the valley. Today there is no name of Rishi Kashyap and Pundits are out of their homeland.

Now it would be childish to expect a grand ‘Kashmiri Pundit home coming Mela’ but the inflow of the Pundits back to their homeland is not even a trickle. Improving the conditions of the refugee camps is definitely required but it is not a final solution. Refugee camps provided shelter and food when required and they simply cannot be made into permanent settlements. There have been efforts to construct ‘Pundit Colonies’ or enclaves housing the Kashmiri Pundits permanently. But many claim they resemble the Israeli Jewish settlements and therefore must not be established.

This stalemate cannot continue. The Kashmiri Pundits have been refugees too long and need to be rehabilitated in their homeland. There is no exclusivity here when Kashmiri Pundits call the Kashmir valley their homeland. Just as two siblings would call the same house their home, so do the Kashmiri Pundits call the Kashmir valley their home. No community can claim exclusive settlement rights over any part of India and the same holds for Kashmir valley too. Some argue that ‘Article 370’ that prohibits those living outside Jammu and Kashmir from settling freely inside that state holds good for Kashmiri Pundits too. But the Kashmiri Pundits homeland is the Kashmir Valley and just because they have been living outside the state due to violence and insurgency, they do not lose their right to come back and settle in the valley.

Such blockages to any form of resettlement is not going to solve the refugee crisis in any way. Further, no community or group has exclusive rights over any part of India and this has to be recognised by all stakeholders. Then there is the more complex question of rights over the property left behind by the fleeing people and the compensation to damaged or destroyed property. With 27 years gone, these questions will only complicate the already sensitive issue. The State and Central Governments should first concentrate on putting an end to the refugee status of the Kashmiri Pundits. Their right to settle freely in any part of India must be respected and they should be given all support to return to their homeland.

The single greatest hurdle for the return of the Kashmiri Pundits is the violence they expect to face in the hands of extremists organised by mosques. The people living in the valley should also take a step to welcome the Kashmiri Pundits by trying to bridge the trust deficit between the two communities. Even this basic step looks quite distant, given the current atmosphere in the valley. But one can always hope for the best. If the two communities start regarding each other as neighbours instead of intruders or oppressors, the foundation for Pundit resettlement would have already been laid. The Sate and Central Governments would then have to only deal with logistical issues, which alone, given the famed efficiency of our bureaucrats, will require quite a lot of heavy lifting by all concerned parties.

(The Article written by Bharathwaj Vasudevan, who is a well know researcher in India, exclusively for TheYouth)